Detroit Metal City, Vol. 1

Detroit Metal City is a rude, raunchy comedy that’s both a satire of death metal culture and a loving portrait of the folks who labor in its trenches. When we first meet the series’ hero, twenty-three-year-old Soichi Negishi, he’s wearing a fright wig, kabuki makeup, fangs, and a pair of knee-high platform boots that look like they were swiped from Paul Stanley’s closet. Soichi is the lead singer and guitarist for Detroit Metal City (DMC), an “evil core death metal band with a huge following.” Onstage, Soichi adopts the persona of Krauser II, Lord of Hell, spitting lyrics about rape, torture, and mutilation; offstage, however, Soichi is a sweetly metrosexual young man who loves Swedish pop music, Audrey Tatou movies, and shopping for stylish clothing in the Daikanyama district. How, exactly, Soichi ended up singing in DMC is something of a mystery; by his own admission, he left his parents’ farm hoping to start a “hip indie pop band.” Five years later, however, Soichi is living in Tokyo and performing in DMC while doing his utmost to conceal that fact. Try as he might, however, he can’t quite limit his loud, violent persona to the stage, as Krauser has an unfortunate tendency to manifest himself whenever Soichi is depressed, angry, intoxicated, or feeling rejected by Yuri, a pretty young magazine editor who shares Soichi’s passion for perky tunes.

The tension between Soichi’s two musical personae turns out to be a brilliant framing device for the story, allowing manga-ka Kiminori Wakasugi to have his cake and eat it, too. As Krauser II, Soichi can sing the kind of crudely misogynistic lyrics that might otherwise offend because we, the readers, know that DMC epitomizes everything Soichi disdains in real life — in effect, Soichi is our surrogate, expressing indignation for us so that we might laugh freely at the risque jokes. At the same time, however, DMC gives Soichi an outlet for expressing the darker side of his personality—for de-wussifying him, if you will—and acknowledging his deep disappointment that no one appreciates his gentle, sensitive side.

Nowhere is the tension between the Swedish pop star and the Japanese metal god more evident than in chapter twelve. While hanging out in a trendy boutique with Yuri, Soichi lands an opportunity to play a small, intimate gig in the store. Soichi jumps at the chance, performing a saccharine tune called “Sweet Lover”:

When I wake up in the morning
You’re there making cheese tarts.
Sweet baby, that’s what you are.
My sweet, sweet lover
Let’s go
Let’s dress up and go to town.
With cheese tarts in one hand,
You’re romping around.
Cut through the crowds
Let’s go to that store we love.
To buy those matching rings
I promised you.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet lover…

The song’s god-awful lyrics, however, meet with indifference, prompting the boutique owner to eject Soichi from the store. Dazed and wounded, Soichi goes on a drinking binge, his embarrassment slowly curdling into rage. He then dons his DMC outfit and performs “Bad, Bad Lover,” a darkly humorous re-working of his much-reviled love song:

When I wake up in the morning
You’re there frying your parents up!
Let’s go
Kill everyone dressed up in town.
With chainsaw in one hand
You’re slashing around.
Slaughter the crowds
Let’s go to that store we love.
To get those matching weapons
I promised you.

As one might imagine, there are only so many scenarios in which Soichi can transform into Krauser (and vice versa). Mid-way through volume one, I worried that the joke was beginning to wear thin, as Soichi once again found himself trying to explain to Yuri why, exactly, he’d suddenly started acting like a loud, foul-mouthed boor. Thankfully, Wakasugi finds some odd and marvelous ways to spin the story—none of which I’ll spoil for you—including a contest between DMC and an Ozzy Osbourne-esque rocker, and a visit to Soichi’s hometown, where his cheerful, clueless parents grow mushrooms and raise livestock.

All of these scenes are rendered in a crude yet energetic style; if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say Wakusagi didn’t do very well in life drawing, as his bow-legged figures sit awkwardly in the picture plane. Yet the very clumsiness of the art works perfectly with the story’s over-the-top premise, capturing both the intensity of DMC’s performances and the sheer stupidity of their on-stage antics. Were the art any slicker, many of Detroit Metal City’s most outrageous moments just wouldn’t work, as their verisimilitude would elicit a “That couldn’t happen in real life!” response from the reader.

Fans worried that Viz would sanitize Detroit Metal City for English-speaking audiences can breathe a sigh of relief. The script abounds in f-bombs, anatomical slang, and crude sexual humor, suggesting that Viz made every effort to preserve the tone and content of the original script. Translator Anne Ichii deserves special mention, as she did a terrific job of making the song lyrics funny in English, a task akin to translating “Big Bottom” or “Stonehenge” into, say, Czech or Chinese. (Just how does one say “mud flaps” in Czech?) The production team merits praise as well, both for their snazzy cover design and for their inclusion of 2009’s coolest extra: temporary DMC tattoos.

If you find South Park offensive, it’s a safe bet that Detroit Metal City won’t be your cup of tea. But if you can look past the swear words and lewd behavior, you’ll find a surprisingly funny, touching story about a musician on a quest to discover his true voice — crank up Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to eleven, and you have a pretty good idea how this crude, goofy story reads. Highly recommended.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media, LLC.


18 thoughts on “Detroit Metal City, Vol. 1”

  1. Melinda Beasi says:

    Oh, *awesome* review. 😀

  2. Katherine Dacey says:

    Thanks! You and Deb Aoki set the bar quite high — makes me wish I’d gotten around to reviewing DMC the minute it arrived in my mailbox… 😉

  3. Ed Sizemore says:

    Ironically, I hate South Park, but really enjoyed DMC. Something about everyone with a potty mouth being over 18 makes a difference to me 🙂

  4. Katherine Dacey says:

    That’s too funny, Ed! So much for helpful guidelines…

    I have a special fondness for South Park, owing to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s uncanny ability to parody every genre of music known to mankind: show tunes, bad 80s hair metal, even Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” But yes, the potty mouths and scatological humor can wear thin, especially when not much else is happening in an episode.

  5. Sam Kusek says:

    I love the Review, Kate. I completely agree with everything you said, except that you said it much better that I did!

  6. Katherine Dacey says:

    And I really enjoyed your review of DMC, too, Sam — that was one of your best to date. It was really well crafted and funny as hell!

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