Soichi Negishi might just be the sweetest indie rocker in Tokyo. He loves Swedish pop and Shibuya-kei artists like Cornelius and Kahimi Karie and the movie Amelie. He brings people gifts from his parents' farm, talks to his mom often and seems to like being a role model for his brother. Sometimes, during the day, he will hit the streets and sing pretty love songs for passersby. But Soichi is harboring a dark secret, one he would rather not have his mother or his crush learn.
In the depths of the night, when the stage lights rise, Soichi becomes Krauser II, lead singer of the outrageous death metal band Detroit Metal City. Soichi may not be able to get Tokyo teens to turn their heads when he performs, but Krauser II has sparked enough fantastic myths to launch a religion.
Created by manga-ka Kiminori Wakasugi, Detroit Metal City launched in Japan in 2006 and has since become an incredibly successful series that has also spawned an anime series, live action film, video game, compilation CD and a handful of singles by a band created for the franchise. Today, Detroit Metal City finally arrives in the US with the first volume of the manga available through Viz Media.
"We noticed this comic that looked like it was a comic about death metal," says Kit Fox, who edits the series for the U.S. market. "We started reading it and it was quite hilarious, really profane and over-the-top, but also at the same time really funny with a bit of sweetness as well. It seems a little odd for a comedy about death metal, but it's true."
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Like the popular animated series Metalocalypse, Detroit Metal City lampoons the conventions of death metal, the obsessive adherence to "evil" images and "brutal" music. The language is coarse, really coarse, but there's a purpose behind it.
"It's so over-the-top and ridiculous and silly that it's obvious that it's not meant to be taken seriously," says Fox. "It's impossible to misconstrue this."
Underneath the gags is a smart and biting commentary on rock stardom. Soichi's death metal schtick is no less manufactured than a pop star persona. It's not what he wants to do, but it pays the bills and, besides, no one seems to want to hear the art closest to his heart. The fans are all too willing to take every aspect of Krauser II literally, to adopt his image as their own, at least while the band resides at the top of the cultural zeitgeist.
Meanwhile, the indie pop scene, where Soichi desperately wants acceptance, adheres to its own strict guidelines. Detroit Metal City isn't just a send-up of a genre, but a satire of our sometimes cult-like devotion to music, the rivalries between scenes and that oh-so-human need to find a place where we belong.