Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 28th 2011
Detroit Metal City
Mild-mannered Soichi Negishi dreams of making it as an indie-pop musician. However, his dreams have taken a horrific wrong turn ever since he took on the alter ego of Johannes Krauser II, outrageous frontman of the popular death metal band Detroit Metal City. Negishi's continued failure as an acoustic crooner is matched only by his terrible luck with women—and if it isn't his own awkwardness sabotaging his dates, it's his inadvertent lapses into Krauser mode. Meanwhile, a mysterious challenger with a ominous black aura has usurped DMC's reign atop the metal charts. With his confidence as Krauser now shaken, Negishi briefly returns home to rethink his future. But the call of music is still too strong, and Negishi is about to get the shock of his life when he learns the identity of metal's dark new god.
In all honesty, Detroit Metal City should have ended a while back.
While the series' premise was fresh and funny at the start, it's been running on fumes for several volumes now, grasping at any idea with the slightest comedic potential. That's how this installment begins, featuring assorted one-shot chapters where Negishi's bizarre dual existence constantly interferes with his attempts at being a sensitive hipster. While these sad-sack mishaps yield some amusing moments—a hairpin drift in a rinky-dink Corolla, an absurd takedown of a girl whose looks don't match her personality—the stories as a whole lack any cohesion or direction. Worse yet, they feel like the same joke recycled over and over: Negishi fails at attracting music fans or girlfriends, so he tries increasingly absurd gimmicks until he snaps and goes Krauser on everyone. Right, like we weren't already familiar with this in the previous 90 chapters.
If it's not the humor getting recycled, it's the plotlines themselves, with the middle chapters being about the band's latest release and another round of antisocial behavior as they try to outdo the competition. At this point, seeing the characters engage in depraved acts to prove how "metal" they are has become a predictable routine—and becoming routine is the one thing that should never happen in comedy. At least this subplot has a couple of character comebacks to save it: Ozzy Osbourne doppelganger Jack Ill Dark and "scat metal" band Deathism make their return, bringing in some continuity from previous story arcs (as well as a chance to laugh at Jack's post-metal career blunders). It also introduces the nameless cloaked-in-black contender for metal supremacy ... only to be interrupted by Negishi visting his folks in the countryside.
This ill-timed change of scene is the most glaring example of the series' scattershot approach: why wouldn't you continue with the plotline about the mysterious challenger? Instead, it seems that manga-ka Kiminori Wakasugi had this great idea to crack a few jokes about country living, then after two chapters decided he'd had enough fun and decided to jump back into the more promising story arc that he should have been working on in the first place. Negishi's latest nemesis turns out to have his own wimpy alter ego, and the parallels between the two characters—despite leading to even more recycled jokes—sets the stage for what should be a intriguing tenth and final volume.
With the humor fizzling out so badly, Wakasugi's crude artwork suddenly no longer seems like such a glaring weakness—not when there are plenty of other weaknesses to complain about. In fact, at this point he seems to have realized how to use that awkward style to his advantage: the chapter about Negishi's new love interest, with her unattractive horse face, is amusing specifically because she's drawn so grotesquely. Strangely enough, the reverse works as well: Negishi's new rival is supposed to have a model's good looks, and while Wakasugi isn't going to be drawing wispy bishounen anytime soon, he does make a point of comically exaggerating facial features that are traditionally considered attractive, like a strong jaw and full lips. But these quirks only go so far, and elsewhere the series is hampered by the usual artistic limitations: poor anatomy, stiff rectangular paneling, and only basic background illustrations (the exception being some scenic landscapes during Negishi's countryside visit).
So crude are the visuals, in fact, that they even manage to make the text look bad: the characters' actions call for lots of sound effects, and with all the Japanese text being edited into English, this often results in stray letters floating over the artwork and sticking out like sore thumbs. Then again, that kind of clunky design is a lot like how the entire series is drawn. And as if we need another reminder, tastelessness is an essential part of the dialogue as well—although the swears and sexual allusions don't come flying as frequently as they used to in the past. In fact, the script is almost banal by DMC standards, with the humor (weak as it is) generally being carried more by the subject matter than the way the characters talk.
Detroit Metal City's raw sense of humor—once so entertaining for its sheer offensiveness—has proven that even the wildest gutter comedy has its limits. Volume 9 tries the same old tricks that worked before, with bizarrely-dressed rockers committing foul acts, over-the-top expressions of rage, and a polite country boy letting his psychological screws loose ... but what once was shockingly hilarious has sadly become stale. Even the simple act of developing a storyline comes apart when the arrival of DMC's newest challenger is interrupted by Negishi making a pointless visit back home. With artwork never having been that much of a strength (aside from intentional ugliness), and the comedy having all but run out of steam, a dark and ominous threat to Krauser's dominance may be this series' last chance to remain interesting. Come on, Detroit Metal City, you only need to last one more volume.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : C
+ Still delivers the occasional clever gag, while a new character sets up a potentially dramatic story arc.
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