Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jul 15th 2010
Detroit Metal City
Aspiring pop songwriter Soichi Negishi can't believe his success in the music industry—mostly because his success comes from his loathsome alter ego, death metal guitarist Johannes Krauser II. But even as the dark emperor of metal, there is no rest for Krauser: he has to deal with his manager's demands, troublemaking fans, and fellow performers who also want their due. Mild-mannered Negishi, meanwhile, has issues of his own as he tries to break into the indie-pop scene: his aesthetic sense is suspect, fellow artists don't acknowledge him, and his own family doesn't respect his musical aspirations. However, such problems are miniscule compared to the arrival of a dark force who dares to challenge Krauser's throne ...
With each passing volume, Detroit Metal City seems to become ever more unglued, still searching for a solid storyline. Is it about Krauser having to perform increasingly perverted acts to maintain his reputation? Is it about Negishi and his continued failings as a wannabe hipster? Is it even about—as one chapter suggests—the struggles of one of Krauser's musical rivals? And as the subject matter grows more disconnected, it also grows more desperate, sometimes reaching to the furthest edges of the DMC universe in hopes that there may be some jokes left. For a series that once started out with such a clear, hilarious premise, it seems to have lost its way—and is trying anything to get back on track.
The stand-alone chapters in this volume are symptomatic of the mess that DMC has become, ping-ponging between bizarre Krauser incidents and bizarre Negishi incidents—and falling flat either way. In no particular order, we have: a retelling of Aesop's fable about the wind and the sun, Negishi proving his incompetence as a photographer, the Capitalist Pig from DMC's stage act having a crisis of identity, Negishi desperately clamoring for the attention of a female singer-songwriter, and an entire chapter that isn't even about Krauser or the band but disgraced rapper Kiva. Does the logic of these episodes make sense to anyone? Due to this lack of focus, the humor has become diluted as well, relying on the same old gimmicks over and over: the exaggerated depravity of the metal scene and Negishi's wimpiness in his everyday persona. Look, it was pretty funny the first volume ... or two ... or three. But past a certain point, the gags lose their freshness and need some kind of spark.
Luckily, this volume has a couple of glimmers of hope: the first is the two-part tale of Negishi's sister's wedding, which gets back to the roots of the series' humor. It's not just about Krauser being a sicko, or Negishi being a loser, but about the uproarious way in which those two worlds collide—and how polite society reacts to the collision. Negishi's metal-obsessed brother, as well as the unsuspecting bridegroom, make a great supporting cast as witnesses to this chaos. The last two chapters show promise as well, with rival bands from the Satanic Emperor festival making a comeback appearance and hints of a mysterious individual from the record label's "dark past." If this turns out to be an extended story arc that pushes Krauser and his shock-rock to its limits, then it might just be the kick in the pants that the story needs.
As usual, the awkward and sloppy artwork could use a kick in the pants as well—but it still has its moments, usually in depictions of grotesquerie. The Capitalist Pig chapter, for example, reaches a strange sort of beauty towards the end as it grows ever more shocking. And no one can deny that Krauser's many faces of terror and hatred are a gallery unto themselves. However, the clumsy linework and poor command of anatomy keep the artwork from reaching its full potential; sometimes it looks as if the characters have just figured out how to hold a guitar for the first time. It is only in gross exaggeration that the art succeeds—because it's incapable of subtlety. The overall page layouts lack finesse as well, often looking like a chaotic collage of images rather than visuals moving in a particular direction. Then again, that seems to match the situation that the story is in at this point.
A lack of subtlety is also the guiding principle for the dialogue; the script holds nothing back when it comes to off-color language and sexual content. Things get even wilder with the variety of fonts used to emphasize the characters' lines, but don't expect anything profound here—it's mostly the shock value and inappropriate subject matter that make the dialogue entertaining. Meanwhile, the sound effects reach their own levels of outrageousness: this translation replaces all Japanese characters with English text, resulting in gems like "SHLO-LO-LONG" when one of the characters reveals his goods. There aren't many cultural notes to be found in this volume, but then again, the madness of popular music culture speaks for itself.
At this point in the series, Detroit Metal City seems to have turned into one of those albums that one comes to dislike after having listened to it for too long. There are still some tracks that withstand repeated listening, but the amount of filler has become too much to bear—often resulting in the urge to skip. Volume 5 is just too full of chapters that go nowhere, jokes that stopped being funny two volumes ago, or jokes that don't come off as jokes as all. Factor in the often sloppy artwork, and it's hard to imagine sticking with this series for the humor (which keeps falling flat) or for the visuals (unless one enjoys checking out overdressed rockers and tubby middle-aged men). Yet there are still signs of hope, signs that Kiminori Wakasugi has some crazy ideas up his sleeve that will remind us why we fell in love with Detroit Metal City in the first place. If Johannes Krauser II ever needed a comeback, it's now.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : C-
+ Last couple of chapters suggest a great story arc just around the corner.
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