I first learned about Detroit Metal City via an ANN review of the manga. The purile, no-holds-barred, and vulgar work proved to be a comedic gem, and so when KiraRin goaded me into reviewing the Studio 4C OVA spinoff, I needed little convincing. Though the animation offers little that fans familiar with the manga won't recognize, the direction and soundtrack enhance the material admirably. True to its heavy metal spirit, the concert (OVA) does not deviate in content from the album (the manga) and the result is a work that plays out more or less like I expected.
DMC tells the entirely gag-driven story of Soichi Negishi, who despite his desire to become a fashionable pop musician, makes his living in Tokyo as the front man for a death metal indie band under the pseudonym Johannes Krauser II. To this effect, the OVA draws on a series of similar situations to extract maximum hilarity from the difference between the meek and upbeat Negishi and his brutally misogynistic and violent alter-ego. Though each vignette falls into one one of a handful of scenarios--Negishi meets with Yuri Aikawa, Krauser interferes; a rival tries to dethrone DMC; or Krauser solves a problem Negishi has in real life--and ultimately culminates with "Krauser does X crazy stunt", the hedonistic 'X's provide more than their share of explosive laughs that draw the viewer away from the similarities between various episodes. But the humor also oozes like a Demon Jewel (the loving nickname fans of the band give to Krauser's out-sized loogies) out of the anime's smaller moments.
Since the punchlines fall with the regularity of a dialed rhythm guitar lick, I--and likely most viewers--revel in the tiny, offbeat details like Negishi's short reveries on how he wishes his life would play out or his fascination with his prissy indie fashion. His optimism in the face of continued failure and social slight makes the inexorable pull of the Krauser's rage and misanthropy darkly funny. DMC leans heavily on its lead's magnetic personality to flavor its limited narrative vocabulary, and when this slight of hand works, the resulting humor verges on sublime, but without the quirky asides, the show's lack of novelty can cause some jokes to fall flat. For example, the OVA features Detroit Metal City in three showdowns with other musicians. While the match against Jack Il Dark and the all-girls' punk band escalate to the absurd for buckets of laughs, the battle against the rapper lacks the out-of-left-field moments and self-referential gags that break up the otherwise bland back-and-forth of Krauser outdoing a rival. Similarly, true familiarity with the source work sours DMC a little, by robbing the viewer of precious moments of surprise, and given the unsophisticated humor on display here, the otherwise limp narrative needs every advantage to succeed. As a result, unless you find the word "fuck" funny by itself on repeated exclamation, this anime tarnishes quickly on a second viewing.
The source manga's pages are cluttered and occasionally confusing, and color provided in the OVA goes a long way on its own to helping many scenes make more sense or achieve appropriate visceral impact. But in addition, particular decisions of the animators add some much needed tonal emphasis to the anime. Saturated with musical and rock and roll imagery, DMC's content meshes well with Studio 4C's preferred visual style and rhythm. In a longer, more focused narrative the jump cuts, strange angles, and chronological hiccups distract more then help the cause, but here these devices complement the shorter episodes and gag-driven pacing while also helping to pave over some of the clunky character designs. That said, the main humorous impact of the OVA derives from situations moreso than traditional sight gags, so the visuals need not rise above blocking Krauser/Negishi properly for his next bout of dry humping.
Much like the story, the devil is in the details. Yuji Ueda's portrayal of the Krauser certainly impresses when the demon works up a full head of anger and violence in concert, but it's when the plot catches the character off-guard and his softer self's mannerisms peek through that the voice-actor brings real flavor to the OVA. By matching the cadence Daisuke Kishio uses for Negishi when the frontman panics, Ueda-san seamlessly binds the Swedish-pop aspirant and the slavering guitar slayer into a single unified persona across the two voice actors' performances. Across the way, Negishi's seiyuu delivers a flexible performance capable of swinging wildly between the mewling and affable musician and his violent and angry repressed self. The potent mix of desperation and optimism that keeps the lad teetering on the edge of sanity shines through under Kishio-san's careful portrayal and helps drive home the hilarious disjoint between his on and offstage personalities and proves an able springboard for much of the OVA's gags. But beyond the lead, most of the glory rightly belongs to Ai Kobayashi's full-throated performance as Death Records' President who charges guns-blazing into every scene with a fusillade of profanity that manages to both offend and endear.
That "Satsugai" put DMC on the map should come as no surprise, as the song rocks hard. The tight, dirty vocals perfectly complement the the rolling bass line and brutal drumming. True to Negishi's genuis, the song proves an admirable earworm DESPITE its inaccessible style. In contrast "My Sweet Lover" plays like the empty piece of fluff that the show sells it as. While in another context, the castoff pop number would merely fade from memory, here it provides humorous juxtaposition against the vulgar events of each episode. Along with the intermittent pop performances and a number of other DMC tunes this soundtrack feels heavily integrated with its content in a manner akin to Nodame Cantabile--the music itself serves direct purpose in the anime.
The OVA derives most of its energy from the disparity between Krauser and Negishi. While the young musician would like himself (and the audience, and everyone he knows) to believe his alter-ego exists as a separate person, a good deal of surprisingly subtle humor emanates from situations wherein the two entities bleed together. After Krauser screams and gyrates through the initial stories, watching him sing and dance to a pop tune or get flustered in an interview both results in giggles and creates a sense of irony as the rocker's floundering reinforces the connection between his two faces. But those bits only serve as amusement between major set pieces that feature DMC's front man, and there, he shines with black, hilarious light. Feeding off the energy of the moment, the demon performs some crazy stunts and inspires strange behavior with a gleeful fatalism that makes it hard to dislike him no matter how revolting his actions.
In comparison, the supporting cast is a mixed-bag. Some characters, like the nonchalantly profane President or the nameless recurring fan manage to spice up every scene in which they appear, while others--like Krauser's band mates or his supposed love-interest--fail to rise to the occasion. True, series' short length and almost singular focus on Negishi leaves little time for developing anyone else, but even a modicum complexity could have helped flavor the main comedic offerings.
If you've got a strong gag reflex and don't offend easily, Detroit Metal City serves a platter of amusing laughs wrapped in decent death metal. Bouyed by the music-video inspired visuals and the fast-paced vulgar humor anyone who's ever found the word "fuck" funny should giggle at least once. Studio 4C's over-the-top visuals and excellent soundtrack accompany the subtle-as-a-brick content congealing the whole thing into a delightful mess of of rock and profanity.