Once a month, Nick Hanover educates himself on manga by going on Adventures in the Floating World, learning about series he has missed out on over the years. This month, it’s Detroit Metal City, a bizarre comedy manga about Japan’s most extreme death metal band that originally ran in Young Animal, a Japanese lads’ mag of sorts, beginning in 2005.
Title: Detroit Metal City Vol. 1
Writer and Artist: Kiminori Wakasugi
Most musicians are familiar with the disappointment of being in a band with a sound that’s at odds with your personal taste. But Kiminori Wakasugi’s Detroit Metal City takes that concept to a Jekyll & Hyde-like extreme, depicting one young man’s desperate attempts to make sweet, European-style indie pop while secretly fronting the most brutal metal band in Japan. Like so many young twentysomethings, Soichi Negishi is adrift in life after college. Timid and quiet and prone to writing saccharine pop ballads, Negishi is the last person you’d expect to don corpse paint and a demonic costume, but somehow that’s the job he’s landed as Krauser II, the raging leader of the increasingly more popular death metal outfit Detroit Metal City. As Krauser, Negishi is a monster who claims to have killed his parents as a child while on the path to becoming the “Emperor of Hell,” and it’s clear that DMC is the outlet for his peculiar brand of nerd rage, even though his meek personality still manages to bleed through as he’s brutalizing submissive fans, terrorizing the media and humiliating the hip music mag editor Negishi crushes on.
In its first volume, Detroit Metal City is nearly as bipolar as its protagonist. On one hand, Wakasugi does a masterful job skewering the artifice and posturing of music in general, expertly contrasting the more obvious ways metal bands put on a front with the subtler ways indie darlings posture for fans and critics. On the other hand, it’s hard to figure out who Wakasugi is really mocking, as the brutal misogyny of DMC’s songs and rhetoric come across as goofy until you look a little closer at how shallow and undeveloped all of the female characters are. Is Wakasugi commenting on the violent sexism of groups like the Misfits? Or is it just a way of covering up a problematic view of women that isn’t as glaring?
As this column points out, I’m basically new to manga, and the works I’ve explored so far have featured less of what is apparently a pretty common problem with progressive female representation and gay panic gags in Japanese comics. But like a lot of teenage boys, I went through a Misfits phase and still singalong to shit like “Last Caress,” so I’m torn between viewing Detroit Metal City as an accurate, unflinching portrayal of musical extremism and a kind of stupid glorification of that same thing. It doesn’t help that the comic first appeared in a lads’ mag.
Still, as a loving parody of metal music, DMC is pretty fucking funny. Whenever Wakasugi focuses on the antics of DMC, the manga excels; DMC’s character designs are spot on, and given the story’s basic plot (the rise of the most brutal and popular metal band in Japan) and the look of Krauser and company, it’s hard not to compare the work to Metalocalypse, even though DMC debuted a year earlier and is far more popular in its homeland, where it has been adapted as a tv show, a live action film and almost got the video game treatment a few years back. Krauser’s look even has some Attack on Titan elements, with his armor’s exposed muscle and bone a nice touch that adds a dose of real horror to the otherwise starkly cool ensemble. Wakasugi manages to make every character, no matter how large or small, completely unique, too, and even the switch between Negishi as Krauser and Negishi as dorky indie dude is startling. Not too many artists can pull off the level of accurate and interesting character design Wakasugi does, especially not across such seemingly disparate scenes.
There’s also a great narrative hook in DMC despite its outlandish humor. Negishi’s struggles are pretty universal, even though most of us probably aren’t running around embarrassing people we have a crush on while disguised as an evil metal superstar. Negishi is buried under the crushing weight of unrealistic post-college expectations, and at its heart DMC is about realizing you shouldn’t run from what you’re good at, even if it isn’t what you imagined yourself doing as a grown up. For most people that probably comes down to making the most of an office job instead of embracing your inner rock demon,but Wakasugi approaches the story and his characters with the right amount of heart, which is necessary in any good comedy. That’s abundantly clear in a scene towards the end of the first volume, as Negishi returns home to visit his decidedly not dead parents on their farm, and discovers his little brother has turned into a full on DMC obsessive, studies be damned. Negishi ends up donning his Krauser outfit and surprising his brother in their yard, where he lectures him on how studying and doing chores are absolutely necessary if you ever want to wind up ruling as a demonic overlord. It’s a sweet moment, and hilarious, especially when it climaxes with Krauser joining Negishi’s family for dinner.
Of course, there are also plenty of scenes of rock star shenanigans, including a climactic battle between DMC and “Jack Ill Dark,” a Danzig-lookalike who is the current ruler of the metal scene. Dark challenges DMC to a metal duel that ends up featuring Krauser basically hanging himself and descending to the stage where he is revitalized enough to completely dominate Dark, ultimately sexually humiliating the legend in front of his own crowd while his band brutalizes Dark’s gear and pet cobras. That moment alone could have inspired all of Metalocalypse. There are also a whole lot of attacks on butts, physical and verbal, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I picked up Detroit Metal City because of its cover and the promise of bonus fake tattoos, and while I’m not exactly going to run out and track down the rest of the series, it’s nonetheless an entertaining glimpse at a more juvenile end of manga. I wanted this column to show off the diversity of manga, and how while some stereotypes about Japanese comics are true, preconceived notions that Western comic enthusiasts have cause them to miss out on a lot of great, fun work. Detroit Metal City is kind of a perfect work to illustrate both ends of that divide, since it fits in with some of the stereotypes I imagined filled manga (poor female characterization, questionable views on sex, butt attacks) with some unexpected elements (sharp insight on Western music, a Wet Hot American Summer approach to flipping narrative cliches, new kinds of butt attacks).
Recommended? Not completely; if you’re a metal enthusiast or fan of Metalocalypse, definitely. If not, you can probably skip.
Up next: Ode to Kirihito
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with Dylan Garsee on twitter: @Nick_Hanover