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Manga Review: Detroit Metal City Volume One by Kimihori Wakasugi

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Soichi Negishi, the nice guy hero of Kimihori Wakasugi's energetically rude death metal comedy, Detroit Metal City (Viz Media), is a man of dual identities. As Negishi, the sweet face 23-year-old with a bowl cut and a predilection for Swedish pop bands, he's a sensitive man/boy. But when he dons a wig, whiteface and a futuristic KISS-style costume, he becomes Johannes Krauser II, mother-rapin' front man for the indy "evil-core" band Detroit Metal City (any echo of KISS' "Detroit Rock City" is strictly intentional).

Loved by his rabid fans for his shrieking lyrics about sexual assault and murder (the band's signature song, "Satsugai" translates into "Kill 'em all") and hardcore monstrous persona, Krauser is an embarrassment to Soichi, who would rather be a singer in the mold of whispery-voiced Kari Kahimi than the raspy creature he portrays in DMC. Unfortunately for our sensitive new age guy, he can't get arrested singing sweet pop confections like "Raspberry Kiss" while his celebrations of rape and domination are finding a growing cult of fans. The foul-mouthed president of the band's label puts it bluntly: Krauser's violent lyrics get her wet, while just a few stanzas of "Raspberry Kiss" are a dehydrating turn-off.

The conflict between these two aspects of Soichi provide most of the comedy in this "mature" readers manga — which has also inspired a live action movie and a direct-to-video anime — the first volume of which is reaching American shores in an understandably shrink-wrapped edition. "This album contains nothing but the most profane of profanities," the back cover of DMC's debut disc warns. "Listen at the risk of your immortal soul." Viz could just as easily put a variation of this sticker warning on the back cover of the book since much of its dialog (especially that delivered by Death Records' leather-wearing president) can be gleefully obscene.

Poor Soichi is a victim of his underground success. When he's falsely accused of groping a cute young thing on the subway, a notepad of prospective DMC song lyrics ("Spread 'em wide, you sows!") makes him look even guiltier to both girl and subway cop. To make matters worse, his ability to lose himself in the Krauser interferes with his attempts at wooing a pop-loving girl named Aikawa. Prodded into doing air guitar to one of DMC's songs in a music store, Soichi so gets into character that he begins shouting abusive invective at Aikawa. Singing one of his death metal compositions in a karaoke bar, he becomes so wrapped up in the song's nasty lyrics that he gobs on his would-be girlfriend.

The big joke is that, though he'd hate to admit it, the appalling faux demon Krauser is as much a part of Soichi as his regular girly/man day self. Soichi's unwillingness to be open about his show biz creation makes Krauser an even more formidable figure in his life. Visiting his kid brother Toshihiko back on the family farm, for instance, he learns the boy's fannish adulation of the creature has led to his turning into a young delinquent. ("My music," Soichi thinks, "has wrought chaos on this family!") Instead of just telling the boy that Krauser isn't real, he dons the character's costume and makeup and convinces Toshihiko that doing family chores and studying will make him a better Agent of Evil.

Wakasugi's art has a loose alt comics look that's well suited to this broad material. He's especially fun capturing the awkward Soichi in poses that emphasize his geekiness and contrasting this with the strutting, self-assured Krauser. In DSMC, the pop geeks blush becomingly and stand stiffly and modestly, while the death metal types thrust themselves with aggressive abandon. Though the manga writer/artist states that he's musically more attuned to the sweet stuff than the hard core, the latter is obviously more fun for him to draw.

Volume One contains 12 stories, plus a bonus throwaway gag centered on Death Records' president. A few of the earliest pieces can get repetitious, our whiny hero bemoaning his role as Krauser one too many times, but once Soichi begins his comically erratic relationship with Aikawa, the book picks up steam and gets you rooting for its hapless Romeo. As a humorous dissection of the evergreen fight between day-to-day existence and art, between commerce and creative expression, Detroit Metal City nails its subjects with cheerful offensiveness. I'm thinking if the anime adaptation ever shows up on Adult Swim, they're gonna have to do a hell of a lot of bleeping.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.