The hardest thing about being ridiculous is keeping some semblance of ground rules. It’s OK to blow up the world on a whim in something like BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo or even South Park, but less easy to get away with it in Seinfeld (or Lucky Star). There, it wouldn’t be funny, just a distraction.
That’s in part what’s been a little startling about Detroit Metal City. They could have, at any time, turned the whole thing into a merry-go-round of absurdity where Krauser fights aliens and slices UFOs in half with his guitar. As crazy as things become in volume four, they all unfold according to a few basic ground rules: all that is funny in DMC must revolve around the fundamental absurdity, outlandishness, and lordly might of death metal. It does.
This volume caps off the “Satanic Emperor” arc of the series, where Soichi and his bandmates were dragooned into a battle-of-the-bands metal festival held in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. The competition’s brutal: e.g., Deathism, the “scat metal” maniacs whose songs all revolve around taking a dump. Their rise to fame is illustrated in a side story that, I guess, could be read as a parody of all those “challenger’s origins” episodes you’ve seen in sports manga like Hajime no Ippo and Ashita no Jo.
And then there’s Helvete, a gang of madmen vying for the Metal Throne … and whose lead singer looks just like Soichi right down to his silly bowl cut. I braced for the usual raft of mistaken-identity gags, but the book goes one better: it gives Soichi (as Krauser) a chance to take out his rage on a surrogate for his “softer side”. The whole mess climaxes with a guitar relay race, Krauser machine-gunning the audience with obscenities (which brings to mind Mel Brook’s defense of The Producers: “It rises below vulgarity!”), half the forest burning down, and Soichi once again regretting the monster he’s become.
Or maybe he was like this all along and just didn’t realize it. This is hinted at in a follow-up episode where he tries to find some peace at a Zen retreat — and needless to say, doesn’t find it, but instead finds his hands clasped firmly around the neck of the head monk. And the last chapters show us what happen when the band’s loyalty to its label is tested: you’d think Soichi & Co. would jump at the chance to get out from under the thumb of their borderline-loony manager, but Fate lends a punch to the throat.
One thing I do worry about with DMC is when, or maybe if, the bubble of tension they use to generate most of the humor gets burst. If Soichi falls down on one side or the other — if he becomes all Krauser or all Negishi — the fun’s going to evaporate. It’s watching him totter back and forth between both extremes that’s the source of the laughs, and a big part of the fun is taking bets on how far they can go before the whole thing goes sploosh. If it never does, I’ll be impressed.
By this point I’ve come to expect Detroit Metal City to deliver about as consistently as Ah! My Goddess (another series I enjoy), albeit in a completely different way. The latter is about love and friendship; the former is about a Kahimi Karie fan getting sucked into an evil world of speed-riffs and barf-in-a-barrel vocals. Anyone who’s ever giggled up their sleeve at bands like Abruptum or wondered when we’d see Japan’s answer to This Is Spin̈al Tap owe themselves a trip to Detroit.