House of 1000 Manga Detroit Metal City
by Jason Thompson,
Detroit Metal City
"They start feeling like prisoners, helpless/Till someone comes along on a mission and yells, bitch!"
Warning: this is a manga where the main character's power is to say the word "rape" 10 times in one second. Detroit Metal City is the one of the filthiest, most offensive comedy manga ever translated. At least it's upfront about it: the first dialogue on the first page is "I am a terrorist from hell! Yesterday I raped your mom, tomorrow I fuck your dad!" It's not like some of those shonen and shojo manga where they act all ages-13-and-up for a couple volumes and then spring the adult content on you, is it?
Not Detroit Metal City. This is an 18+ manga about bad, evil things: this is a manga about heavy metal, man. Johannes Krauser II is the vocalist/star of Detroit Metal City, Tokyo's most infamous metal band. Covered in white pancake makeup like the love child of King Diamond and KISS (whose song "Detroit Rock City" the title references), he smashes guitars and screams out songs with titles like "Kill 'Em All," "Rape That Girl," "Death Penis" and "Pig Bitch Intercourse." The kanji satsu, "kill," is painted on his forehead. He bites the heads off bats onstage, plays the guitar with his teeth ("Guitaris Dentata"), and, in his music videos, he crawls out of the grave in flames while being eaten by zombie babies. His fans are maniacs who worship him and think he's the devil incarnate. "If it weren't for music, I would have become a mass murderer," he says in interviews. Rumor has it that he killed and raped both his parents. Krauser II is hardcore.
But backstage, Krauser II takes off his makeup and becomes someone totally different: Soichi Negishi, 23-year-old virgin. (There's never any explanation of how he becomes a foot taller when he's in costume.) The real-life Krauser is a shy farmboy with a bowl cut, a guy whose mom still sends him vegetables from the back home, a guy who had no desire to become a transgressive psycho killer metal star. "Ugh…I've disrespected women again with those horrible song lyrics," he sighs in regret after yet another performance. The real Negishi is a sensitive hipster who likes Kahimi Karie, vintage clothing, the movie Amélie and Paris fashion. And though onstage he sings about rape and dry-humps a middle-aged man in thigh-highs and a ball gag, in real life he has a crush on a girl: Yuri Aikawa, his college friend, editor of the music magazine Amore Amour. But how can Soichi ever show her his shameful 'metal side,' she who is the embodiment of cute, socially responsible hipster purity? Can he ever become the kind of musician he wants to be? Can he achieve his greatest dream: "One day my song will be used in a soda commercial!"
Detroit Metal City is a superhero story. Not one of those superhero stories like Superman and Spiderman, about having the power to save the world, but more like Bastard!!or the old Jim Carrey movie The Mask, about having freedom from social constraints, the time-tested story of a wimpy, frustrated "nice guy" who escapes from his boring impotent life by going on a homicidal shooting spree putting on a costume so he can act as wildly antisocial as he wants to. Of course, Soichi doesn't really want to do those awful things he does in Krauser mode, honest; part of the joke is that he has trouble maintaining his "homicidal metal freak" persona and the mask often slips to reveal the dork beneath. (Magazine interviewer: "What's your favorite food?" Soichi/Krauser: "It's omelet rice…er, with human blood for ketchup, of course.") But equally, there are hints that the Krauser persona is the real Soichi deep down, moments when he gets pissed off and lets loose his schizophrenic inner rage. Sometimes the target is some pest or male authority figure—a cop, his middle-aged neighbor, or a rival musician—but most often it's Aikawa. The biggest running gag is Soichi spending the whole chapter trying to go on a date with Aikawa and then getting worked up and slipping into Krauser mode and doing something like screaming "You bitch!!" into her face. "O-oh no! I didn't mean it!" he always cries in the next panel, and she's always so startled she can't believe it happened.
So that's the kind of manga this is; that being the case, at times it's really, really funny. The absurd premise is played for absurd laughs and the profanity is insanely obscene. DMC's female manager keeps pushing Soichi to new heights of depravity, getting off on their sound ("Yeeeah ha ha ha! Fucking crazy, guys! DMC! I got raisin pussy I'm so wet!") and beating Soichi up when his song lyrics aren't good enough. ("This is a fucking poem for gay toddlers! Poetry doesn't get my clit hard, you dick fuck!") Soichi's bandmates are considerably less metal; the drummer, Camus, is a creepy otaku (though he's metal in his own way, being a demented pervert) and the bishonen bassist Jagi secretly wants to join a visual kei band. Meanwhile, Soichi spends his spare time writing pop songs about kisses and raspberries, and looks with envy upon his old college friend Hideki, who fronts a cutesy band called Tetrapot Melon Tea, the kind of band Soichi wishes he had. ("What do you think of making a cake while we perform at the audition?" "OMG! You are the hippest of hipsters! Yay!") Another big running gag in the manga is putting Krauser/Soichi in situations that are completely un-metal: Krauser playing soccer, Krauser as a wedding singer, Krauser inspiring a young fan who's in the hospital ("Who knew DMC was able to empower a young person battling for his life like this…I can't abandon this young fan!"). Perhaps the best segment like this is in volume 1, when Soichi goes home to the farm only to find that his little brother Toshi has become a DMC fan and is terrorizing the family. Soichi has no choice but to put on his Krauser costume and teach Toshi an important life lesson, that doing your chores and obeying your parents is what's really hardcore. The Family Guy did the same joke in their Marilyn Manson episode.
True metalheads won't find this manga to be a particularly in-depth about metal; Wakasugi isn't here to make obscure references or talk about the differences between Black Metal and Death Metal and Grindcore. The music and the bands, like the characters, are broad stereotypes. This being a manga, of course there has to be a tournament, so Krauser competes against other bands like Deathism (a Scat Metal band whose lyrics are all poop-related), Kiva (a rapper) and Kintama Girls, a "man-hating fem-core band". ("This one's for the dickless shitheads talking about raping women and calling us whores! DMC! Dickless Momma's-boy Cherry-ass! Crush, crush, crush, crush their balls!") In battle-of-the-bands style, Krauser fights Jack Il Dark (played in the movie by Gene Simmons), the "Father of Metal" who never performs without his two cobras and his Death Metal Buffalo. As the manga goes on, the storylines get more complicated, and Krauser fights deadlier opponents like his predecessor Krauser I (real name: Gaylord Kitahara), who can say the word "rape" twelve times in one second. As in all battles in the world of DMC, the losing musician gets bent over and butt-slammed on stage by the winner. Even inanimate objects are not safe from Krauser's virgin libido: he rapes a tambourine. He rapes Tokyo Tower. He gets drunk and threatens to rape his Amélie poster (("Whadderyoo laughinat Amelee? You gonna mock me cuz you're so hip?") In one scene, he rapes the air.
By "rapes the air," I mean "pelvic-thrusts the air," of course. When Krauser dry-humps someone onstage with his pants on, it's obviously sexual assault in real life, but for all the repetition of the word "rape," the actual sexual content of Detroit Metal City isn't much harsher than the sort of "accidental breast-grabbing" and other trivialization of harassment so common in less notorious shonen and seinen manga. (There's this in DMC too.) DMC reminds me a little of the underground cartoonist Johnny Ryan, among whose many offensive creations is Sherlock McRape, a detective who only accepts rape in payment ("My fee will be 45 brutal rapes!"). Ryan doesn't actually draw any of these rapes, and if you couldn't read the dialogue the comic would look completely tame. Of course, Ryan's whole purpose is to piss readers off by writing the word "rape" a lot (this is the same cartoonist who drew a strip called "69-11" with an airplane having mutual oral sex with the Twin Towers), so if you get offended, you're just falling into his trap. In the case of Detroit Metal City, is it ironic, hipster misogyny or just plain seinen-manga misogyny? To put it another way: is the misogyny the joke or the fanservice? Please write the answer in a 2000 word essay.
Unfortunately, Wakasugi is not as self-aware or as clever a cartoonist as Ryan, and/or a premise that works for a 20-page one-shot is too hard to stretch over 10 volumes, so in the second half of the series Detroit Metal City starts to get increasingly repetitive and old. If you've only got two hours, the 2008 Japanese DMC live-action movie is perhaps the perfect distillation of the manga, leaving out the most mean-spirited parts, or at least not repeating them over and over. (It was reportedly optioned for a US remake, but there's still no signs of one, six years later.) This is a sexist fantasy for introverted nerds, a parody of that fantasy, an intentionally ridiculous and over-the-top comic, a comic full of stereotypes, a comic that made me laugh out loud. It is what it is; all I can do is describe it. If I told this criticism to the main character, the odds are 50-50 that he'd apologize for making such a shameful comic. The other 50% of the time, he'd get mad and Hulk out—I mean Krauser out—and say, like he does: "You're fucking with the wrong shiitake farmer's son, bitch!"
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