Most of us have at some point in our lives a heartbreaking revelation. There are the things we want to do, and the things we do well. Worse, the two often have nothing in common. Such is Soichi Negishi’s lot: he wants to be a fixture of the hip turtleneck-sweater-wearing Tokyo scene, but he’s best at donning facepaint, assuming the alter ego of Krauser II and tearing it up on stage with his diabolical band Detroit Metal City. As Agent Smith once said, one of these lives has a future … and the other does not.
Over the course of three-and-then-some volumes of Detroit Metal City, we’ve seen how to play this dichotomy for laughs. The downside is that there only seem to be a finite number of ways to do this: as long as the basic gag is that almost nobody knows Negishi is Krauser (and vice versa), DMC’s going to be doomed to repeat itself. That doesn’t mean it’s doomed to not be funny, though, and some of the stuff that goes down in the third book is funny enough that you risk spit-laughing out your coffee on the guy in front of you if you read this on the bus.
So, there’s a plot. Not that it matters, since any plot in DMC has mostly been a way to hustle us from one joke to the next, but a plot we have nonetheless. This time around, it involves Kenny Ill Dark, the sultry daughter of the death-metal deity Jack Ill Dark (Krauser/Negishi almost got man-molested by him back in the first volume). She drops by to determine the depths of Krauser’s badassitude for Dad’s Sake: Jack recently lost his throne as the reigning god of evil metal to a Norwegian band named “Helvete” (Hell-vete, get it?). They’re headliners in a multi-band death-metal festival scheduled to be held at the foot of Mt. Fuji — and DMC’s invited to help put them back in their place.
Negishi has less than zero interest in being drafted into a Battle of the Bands, but Krauser has this funny way of asserting himself and running the show when everyone — Negishi most of all — least expects it. And so before long not only has Negishi (Krauser, rather) signed DMC on to play the show, but Negishi’s used the Krauser persona to enact (live, on-air, raunchy, hilarious) revenge on a colleague whom he thinks snubbed him, and keep a rowdy / horny pack of baying DMC groupies at bay by raping the air in his hotel room (no, I’m not going to even attempt explaining that one here), and defeat a French metal band in a display of Dueling Masochists. And you thought your fandom was weird.
I have discussions with friends about what constitutes a peculiarly Japanese approach to humor. One fellow I know stumped for the argument that Japanese humor revolves that much more about humiliation and indignity, and DMC could easily be Exhibit A for the prosecution in such a trial: half the jokes are about Neigishi/Krauser coming within a whisker of being unmasked in public, or about N/K turning the tables on his tormentors and having a field day with their shortcomings in front of others. I don’t know if that’s the whole truth; I could argue there’s just as much of that sort of thing in, say, South Park or Family Guy, and that there’s nothing exclusively or primarily “Japanese” about the butt of the joke being the joke. But I do think there’s a germ of truth there: the biggest laughs and the most outlandish gags in DMC all revolve around who ends up at — or as — the bottom.
The Bottom Line: The worst sin committed by any one volume of DMC is the way the gags can be a touch belabored. The first time Krauser’s fans let their enthusiasm for him excuse his own stupidity, it’s funny. By the twentieth or thirtieth such permutation, it’s merely par for the course and one wants the series to play that much further over its own head. That said, there’s something riotous and demented happening on almost every page — and I dare you not to laugh when Krauser speaks of a “Death Penis”. One “blackened with the experiences of many wars”. You’ll have to read the book to understand why he’s actually talking about a haircut.