Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Nov 7th 2012
Detroit Metal City
Sub.DVD - Complete Collection
Soichi Negishi, a timid college graduate, loves anything that is trendy and stylish and slightly sissy: fashionable clothing, pretty actresses, French movies. But most of all he loves fluffy pop music. Preferably Swedish. So how was it that he ended up the frontman for Detroit Metal City, the loudest, nastiest, grossest death metal band on the Japanese indie scene? Who knows. Regardless, every night he dresses up in a blonde wig, metal armor and fright night makeup and growls about murder and incest and other lovely things to painted hordes of brain-dead fans. How's a boy supposed to live a fashionable pop lifestyle when his day job is the antithesis of everything he loves? He doesn't. Not when Johannes Krauser II, metal monster extraordinaire, is always there, lurking just below Soichi Negishi's tender skin.
According to Axl Rose, nice boys don't play rock n' roll—and the boys of DMC certainly bear him out—but an equally apt saying might go: nice boys don't make comedy. DMC is not a nice comedy. It's vulgar and mean and misanthropic. It's also inspired: a one-trick comedy that runs just long enough that it doesn't deplete its comedic stores and contains just enough grains of bitter truth that it cuts even as we laugh.
The average DMC episode is thirteen minutes long and divided into two six-minute sections, each of which builds to some crescendo of comic humiliation. Within their hyper-compressed confines are no socially redeeming messages, no overarching narratives, no complex characters, no involved relationships. Nothing much changes from episode to episode, not even the structure of the episodes themselves. In general Negishi will try to do something normal like go on a date with his hopelessly mainstream college sweetheart, or something hipsterish like sing his dreadful pop songs on a street corner, only to have things spin out of control until his metal-monster alter ego pops out and does something hideously horrible. And that's pretty much it. Wrap; roll credits; rewind and replay.
As tedious as that sounds, it works—and brilliantly. Part of that is simply its premise. If you have to be a one trick pony, it helps if the trick is a good one. And Negishi's dual existence—mild-mannered worshipper of whimsy by day, twisted leader of a metal cult by night—is a very, very good trick. The series takes sadistic pleasure in finding new and awful ways for Negishi's private and professional lives to cross over. Like introducing the foul-mouthed president of his indie label—a woman who could give Caligula debauchery pointers—to an elderly neighbor who thinks Negishi is just the nicest boy. Or sending Negishi to the rural refuge of his home, only to discover that his brother has become a DMC meathead. Or pitting DMC against a peace-and-love pop band run by an underclassman who idolizes Negishi.
It's rare to see a series that takes such obvious joy in its clearly limited plotting. Sure the broad strokes are the same, but the details are to die for: Krauser dancing a fruity dance with an indie-pop goofball before violating him in front of a national audience with his own tambourine. Krauser turning a sentai stage show into a feast of horror. Negishi reconnecting his elderly neighbor with what was obviously an f-ed up youth. Krauser using Negishi's farmboy skills to subjugate a rival's feared “Metal Buffalo.” That bad stuff will go down is a given, but the show has a genius for escalating the mayhem in bizarre and unexpected ways, ramping up its contrived conflicts until there's nothing for it but to laugh helplessly at the unfolding atrocity.
Of course, even the best one-trick pony eventually wears out its welcome. And there are certainly times when DMC's welcome gets pretty threadbare. It's an exceedingly mean-spirited show, with nothing to give but bile and acid. Its contempt is omnipresent and omnidirectional. Negishi is either a limp-noodle pushover or a seething lunatic. His band-mates are a shallow womanizer and a vile pervert and his boss a scotch-guzzling maniac. His rock competition is all psychopaths and posers and pretentious wannabes. Even the worlds of his dreams—be they the worlds of beautiful actors or style mavens—turn out to be petty and prejudiced.
An argument—a pretty good one—could be made that that's exactly what makes it so funny. After all no one ever herniated an audience by pulling their punches. The series' skewering of musical subcultures—the theatrical silliness of shock rock, the gangsta posturing of hip-hop, the political pretensions of punk, the self-satisfied frivolity of trendy pop—is deadly accurate, unmercifully cruel, and screamingly funny. The songs in particular are…well, words fail me. Let the songs speak for themselves. Negishi as Krauser: “I am a terrorist from hell; yesterday I raped my mom; tomorrow I'm gonna carve up my dad!” Punk girls the Golden Ball Girls: “Screw this inane society; rip apart those dirty politicians; destroy the world with our own hands!” Negishi as pop scribe: “When I wake up, you're next to me; holding a freshly baked cheese tart.” Genius.
Still, all the nastiness can wear on you after a while. Especially when an episode devolves into phlegm gags, or inexpertly savages the independent movie scene just to give the live-action versions of Negishi and his sweetheart Yuri cameos. Or, more damningly, when its treatment of Yuri crosses the line into misogyny. That she comes back to Negishi after everything he does to her means she's either the dumbest or most resilient girl in the world. At any rate, it pays to take the show in digestible chunks. Two episodes is about optimal. And if the humor leaves you cold—as it will some—drop the show like a heated turd. There's very little to DMC besides good, hearty, mean-as-hell laughs. Without them it's mostly an ugly, vicious exercise in crass provocation.
Emphasis on the ugly. The show has near-impeccable comic timing, with an art style that is uniquely suited to it, using homely designs and cheapo animation to fashion sight gags that are hilarious in their shoddy ugliness. Hiroshi Nagahama's approach—machine-gun dialogue, pushy narration, flash-edited mini-episodes composed to look like manga panels—is unlike anything on the market and has the added benefit of moving the show at warp speed from comic set-piece to comic set-piece.
The problem is that the whole thing is just so…fugly. From Negishi's admittedly hilarious penis-headed hairdo to the potbellied masochist that Krauser spanks onstage to the clunky animation, the show is downright hideous. Studio 4°C's animation is an embarrassment, the characters' expressions are grotesque, the settings are flat and dull. Of course, this is all quite intentional—there's a concert set-piece in episode ten that leaves no doubt as to 4°C and Nagahama's true capabilities—but if you don't laugh along with it, all you'll notice is what an aesthetic atrocity it is.
For all that its vicious humor is its main draw, DMC isn't as simpleminded as it first seems. There are strangely logical reasons for some of its moves—Negishi's pop and death metal songs are equally bad; he only finds success in death metal because the fans expect terrible music. (Or because they're raving mad; take your pick). Negishi himself isn't the MPD cliché he first seems either; it's clear from the way they cross over that Krauser's feelings are his own, just mightily suppressed by his deluded belief in his own niceness. The series' best jokes are crude and outrageous and wholly unexpected to be sure, but they're also fuelled by very real fears: fear that the people we pretend to be are becoming who we are; that the things we do to support our dreams may one day supplant them. DMC's acid can burn us just as readily as it does hipsters or metal fans. And that, as much as sheer hilarity, is what makes it one of the year's great comedies.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B-
Animation : D-
Art : D
Music : B+
+ A very funny, frequently vicious black comedy that backhandedly addresses some surprisingly serious post-college issues; brilliantly awful music.
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