DETROIT METAL CITY ( Detoroito Metaru Shiti), by Kiminori Wakasugi. First published in 2005, and first published in North America in 2009.
Soichi Negishi is a meek, mild-mannered musician from the countryside. He loves indie pop, peace and quiet, and all things chic. He yearns to write sickeningly sweet songs about walking on the beach and making cheese tarts with your sweetheart. Instead, he makes his living as Krauser II, the maddeningly bad-ass lead singer of Detroit Metal City. DMC is a band on the rise, but Soichi couldn't hate it more. He wants to write acoustic songs about fluffiness and love, not heavy metal songs about dead babies, rape, and murder! Still, no matter how he tries, he can never escape the metal. Whether it's when he tries to hook up with old classmates, make friends with fellow musicians, or even his own family life, Krauser seems to creep his way into the situation and threaten to ruin things.
I had high expectations for this series, as many people of my acquaintance said that it was a very funny series. After reading it, I can say that while the set-up is amusing (as are a few images, like Krauser in full costume riding a tractor), the volume never quite ascends to laugh-out-loud funniness.
It's not for lack of trying on Wakasugi's part. Soichi tries so hard to distance himself from his heavy metal alter ego, and he tries so hard to live up to his reputation as Krauser, and frequently he ends up failing at the former and inadvertently succeeds at the latter. It's less of a Spinal Tap-esque take on the rock star lifestyle as it a comedy of errors about a total dork who fell into rock stardom.
So, why does this manga not ultimately work for me as a comedy? I suspect the issue is the cast. Soichi is fine - his conflicts and personality are well established. Everyone else around him, though, is completely one note. His bandmates are lunkheads. His manager is a loud, vulgar metalhead who judges the quality of a song on how wet it makes her (and describes it in vivid detail). His fans are a lot of punks and thugs, and Soichi's love interest, the mild-mannered magazine review Aikawa, as as meek and mild-mannered as he is. They serve the story and jokes well enough, but they never really become characters that one can be even mildly invested in.
Detroit Metal City is a joke with a solid set-up but a weak punchline. It's a great set-up with a perfect nebbish for a lead, but it never quite takes things far enough to take it beyond mild chuckles.
Comedy mangas rarely feature (or demand, for that matter) any sort of complex, detailed artwork, and Detroit Metal City is no exception. The character designs are all kind of odd, with heads that seem slightly too big for their skinny, awkward bodies. It works fine for Soichi, because it reinforces his innate dorkiness and provides all the better visual contrast between himself and Krauser, but with everyone else it just looks strange. There's also a lot of stiffness to the poses, and when people headbang it's drawn in a way that makes them look like they have an extra head growing from their chest. This is one situation where I would actually welcome speed lines, because they would make the art LESS awkward.
That stiffness pervades the artwork all over - the characters, backgrounds, panels, you name it. Even the performances are drawn in a shockingly static manner. I suspect it's that stiffness that also hindered the humor of the manga itself. Without some sense of life to the art, even the funniest scenario seems to fall flat, like telling a hilarious joke in a monotone.
This was put out by Viz's Signature line, so it's printed in the slightly oversized format usually seen in that line. This volume actually came with temporary tattoos as an extra, but as my review copy was a library copy, those were long gone.
While Detroit Metal City didn't work for me personally, but I can see those more familiar with heavy metal getting a lot of enjoyment out this manga. It's not clever, but it is absurd and fun in its own way.
This series was released by Viz. All 10 volumes were released, and all are currently in print.
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