How can a battle between heavy metal and freestyle rapping be so boring?
Once upon a time, a young anime fan who was catching up on all the Japanese cartoons he missed out on over the years noticed that a certain comedy anime called Detroit Metal City was in quite a few top anime lists. The descriptions stated it was a hilarious satirical takedown of the music industry with more laughs in it than an average season of Seinfeld, so said fan downloaded the anime eager to populate his top anime list with more “critically acclaimed” stuff and laughed his ass off at the “at the time” brilliant card the show played regarding how this badass heavy metal god was actually wimpier than Renton from Eureka Seven for twelve straight episodes. It was practically the only joke in the show, but he liked said joke so much that he instantly ranked it high on his increasingly overburdened “favorite anime list” upon finishing it, went to Frys a few days later for some random anime purchases, and bought the series for twenty-five bucks upon discovering a single copy next to some obscure series he had long since forgotten the name of with every intention of revisiting the joy of Krauser someday.
Two years later, said fan was eager to share the love with his friends who were visiting and put in his DVD for all of them to see. His friends were instantly turned off by the first episode, which would have annoyed the fan if it wasn’t for the fact that thanks to two years of criticizing the medium and getting caught up on most of what it had to offer, he discovered on rewatch that Detroit Metal City was not a good anime. Actually, that’s understating things. It was completely unfunny gimmicky shit that he only liked at the time because it was something he hadn’t seen before and revisiting the thing with a more trained mind revealed said series to be nothing more than a waste of a hundred bucks divided by four.
Something snapped in that fan that day, causing him to come to several realizations. 1) He should never listen to his colleagues (or anybody else for that matter) for actual opinions on things. 2) All post-Fumoffu anime comedies are utter tripe that would never hold up on rewatch even if he used to like them. 3) He shouldn’t overcrowd his “favorite anime list” with titles that have no rewatch value whatsoever. 4) One day, he would review Detroit Metal City and expose it for the smelly piece of poo that it was to all the fans who still claim that it totally holds up…you liars.
Okay, so as I mentioned in that Diary of a Caustic Blogger level-esque introduction, Detroit Metal City is a twelve-episode OVA series about a wimpy kid named Negishi and his efforts to live a normal wimpy life whilst dealing with the fact that he’s actually a heavy metal god named Krauser due to some unfortunate circumstances that I’m not going to bother describing because if I spoiled that punchline, then there wouldn’t be anything left. Unfortunately, his manager who always goes on about how heavy metal makes her wet won’t leave him alone. And even when she does, Negishi lives in an area where Krauser seems to be everywhere, so he just can’t help getting involved and regretting it immediately afterwards. I know Japan loves to advertise the shit out of certain popular products to the point that you’d think they were as famous as Brad Pitt, but it’s established pretty early on that heavy metal is sort of an underground music genre as is, and I’d think the J-Rock audience would greatly over-eclipse Krauser’s rape threats.
Anyways, each episode is only thirteen minutes long and follows the wimpy god’s daily life trying to play his happy Swedish pop and getting away from his actual talents, along with trying to impress a girl he knew from the past that hates his metal identity. Can’t say I blame her. If I had to play songs constantly about raping the police, the girl, and that little rabies-infected puppy, I’d want to listen to the Clannad band too. It actually got to the point where I had to train myself to hit the chapter skip button whenever the opening song started, the same way people skip Ali Project when they finish a Geass episode, because that song is up there with Parasyte’s opening as one of the worst I’ve ever listened to.
And if it wasn’t for review purposes, I’d want to chapter skip the entire episode as well. As I also said in my overly-dramatic intro, Detroit Metal City really doesn’t have much to its jokes besides “get Negishi in trouble, have his Krauser life solve the problem mostly because his fans are dumb, said solution is a hollow victory”. That’s not a bad thing in of itself, but there’s a couple of problems with that approach. First off, how is exaggerating the fakeness of what goes on behind-the-scenes in increasingly absurd ways a good satire of the music industry by any definition of the word? Just because you’re changing locations and saying a different aspect is fake doesn’t exactly make me overlook that you’re just saying “the music industry isn’t what you think it is!” to which I just go “no fucking shit, son!” after the first half of the first episode. Second, aren’t jokes supposed to be ironic? How is exaggerating a truth that wasn’t even fresh in 2005, let alone 2008, to its logical extreme supposed to be irony, buttmunch?
Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with DMC having one basic joke as long as you expand on it in creative ways. Seinfeld’s episodes all but guaranteed that the ending would screw the characters in every way. But Seinfeld didn’t exactly specify a method or the degree of the casts’ misery, allowing it so that even if you kinda know things aren’t going to end well, you’ll still get surprised. But DMC’s base joke comes with so many other restrictions that imagination gets shunted out the window. Well okay, I tell a lie. There is one imaginative aspect. It’s just that it’s a fucking stupid one.
The whole thing is animated in sort of comic-book style where scene transitions and appearances look really artificial. Apparently this was supposed to further exaggerate the comedic absurdities of the show, but considering the situations themselves push absurd to the limit, all it is is a kid grabbing too many cookies from the cookie jar and getting a sugar rush along with two days in bed. Every time Krauser says he’s going to rape me, it just comes off like some high school bully trying to recreate the phone scene from I Know What You Did Last Summer despite the fact that all you did last summer was read a book and play soccer. Yes, his identity is ultimately fake, but his character is supposed to be real. And a real character fools you into thinking otherwise even if you know it can’t really happen, the same way a good story sucks you in even though dragons will never exist in real life.
But you can’t really accomplish that with prose that inserts penis metaphors every which way, and whilst it’s true that trying too hard to achieve realism just makes *insert school anime here* more unrealistic than Dragonball Z, you can only take that so far before you realize you forgot to put any sort of grounding to your product entirely. And it’s impossible to relate to the characters beyond what’s written on Wikipedia because the style just makes them seem too distant and fake to the point that all I see is the voice actor doing the recording in the background rather than an actual kid going through struggles. Also, whenever a joke is actually made, said shaky-cam still visuals used to convey the jokes are always accompanied by a lot of dialogue that kill all sense of timing and draw out the punchline far beyond the point when it’s funny. Yeah, we get it. The characters are screwed. I don’t need to hear their inner thoughts on the subject matter!
So as a result, none of the characters are the least bit sympathetic or even have much of a personality. I don’t care if this kid is getting screwed by his double life, especially since nothing ever changes afterwards and it doesn’t seem to be that big a deal. Aside from the fact that he can play music better than I ever will, there’s nothing interesting about him. He’s entirely reactionary, and so is everyone he runs into. Yeah, that girl he has a crush on seems nice and all, but I don’t know for sure and the show will never let me know any time soon. Unless I read the manga, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to do that.
I mean it’s not completely unexpected that the director of this show would try to implement something unique visual-wise given that he’s also the guy who adapted Mushishi and Aku no Hana, both anime I gave money to in order to be my live-in hookers. But whilst those shows have subtle, yet calm moods that complement the story and bring them across in a visually interesting way, Detroit Metal City’s atmosphere is loud and obnoxious and has very little movement and instead of adding to anything, it just overstuffs the whole mess to the point that I don’t know what to concentrate on, resulting in an entirely forgettable experience. Nothing sticks but the novelty of seeing this in anime. And novelty’s expiration data is worse than the lifespan of a firefly.
Detroit Metal City could have been funny if the characters had any sort of actual grounding in reality rather than have both sides of Negishi’s life be as hyperactive and unfocused as a 70s hippie. If the show had dealt with the music industry the same way BoJack Horseman dealt with the movie industry, it wouldn’t exactly have been a riot, but at least there’d be strong characters and utilization of concepts to keep things going in case the jokes fall flat. That’d also be a concept unique to anime, except it’d actually have lasting appeal rather than the price tag I stuck on the front cover of its DVD box before laying it down on a yard sale table.