Detroit Metal City: Laughing on the Outside

dmc-rip

Tear away the persona, then tear away the real person too.

I’ve been quite busy lately, and one of things I have turned to in my breaks is been Detroit Metal City. When the OVA adaption was originally being released there were a fair few positive and amusing posts about it, so I stored it away in my mind as a title for a rainy day. It seemed like a good idea to try it during last week’s downpour of deadlines.

It’s a good anime for the hard-working: it’s funny, its episodes are only fifteen minutes long and the jokes are delivered rapidly, so one’s mind is still active enough to go straight back to work once the fifteen minutes are up. But it wasn’t just amusing. I also found it satisfying for a reason quite unrelated to my poor time-management skills.

I don’t know how well I can articulate my satisfaction, but I’ll have a go. I think I’m satisfied by Krauser/Negishi’s double-minded predicament, which is simultaneously hilarious and quietly horrifying. Negishi/Krauser is, at best, a difficult person to be around. He also models, in an exaggerated way, the gap between inner and outer selves that we’re all to some degree familiar with, and the trouble that occurs when elements from one self seep into the other. This mix of unpleasantness and familiarity means that DMC‘s stories might make good material for a tragedy, if you toned them down a bit.

DMC keeps on the funny side of the line separating laughter and sadness, but it retains its interest in unhappiness as a kind of muted contrapuntal melody. (If an unmusical person like me is reaching for musical comparisons then I can’t be explaining this well!) I’ve mentioned the central problem of Krauser/Negishi’s double life, but tragedy’s also present in quite peripheral touches: Negishi’s mother’s nonplussed concern for his brother in the fifth episode, the immigrant[‘s] song in the tenth and the actress’s contractual obligations in the ninth, for example.

Some of these things are things we might worry about laughing at. A certain type of comedy, evidently a type I enjoy, uses that worry productively, just as a contrapuntal melody isn’t just there, but actively contributes to the overall effect. Is this one of the features of black comedy? Dai Mahou Touge / Punie-chan is cynical, but it can’t be serious in the way that black comedy can be: it can’t let its audience feel anything, because a moment’s serious consideration of its plots would be insupportable.

That might, however, be because it’s more parodic than satirical: DMT‘s premises relate to a genre of fiction (mahou shoujo stories), while DMC exaggerates a universal human experience and so has more potential to make us ask questions of ourselves. Satire is (hopefully) funny, but traditionally it’s meant to inspire reform too. Perhaps the more purely parodic something is (and DMT is pretty devoted to parody) the less it’s able to provoke us. I’ve just started to watch Dai-Guard, and while it does gently play with the mecha genre, its thought-provoking ingredient is its satirical angle on Japanese corporate culture and life spent piloting a desk.*

(This post sprang obliquely from some thoughts prompted by commenting here.)

* A metaphor stolen from the in-universe manual for the original Wing Commander. Does anyone else remember that manual? Puts me in mind of the short story anthology that came with Frontier: Elite II. Those were the days.

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19 responses to “Detroit Metal City: Laughing on the Outside

  1. Not really terribly well-connected overall to the post at hand, but your commenting on black comedy working better in a realistic setting made me think of the eighth episode of Paranoia Agent (‘Happy Family Planning’). That was and continues to be the blackest (darkest?) black comedy I’ve ever watched, the sort that you laugh at what is occurring on-screen, and then stuff your hand to your face to muffle the laughter because you realize how wrong it is to laugh at such a thing. I highly recommend it if you have not already seen it (and you don’t even need to watch the rest of the series, it makes sense on its own).

    As for DMC, I should probably get around to finishing that.

    • The very episode title ‘Happy Family Planning’ suggests that it might be a bit near to the knuckle! Thanks for reminding me about Paranoia Agent: I’ve had it at the back of my mind for a while, but I’ve never got round to investigating it. Maybe once this academic year’s finished I’ll have the energy to tackle the whole series . . .

      Realism’s sort of what I was getting at, yes. I suppose the word might be misinterpreted as referring to what I think of as ‘low’ realism: details of setting and such, like whether or not there are unicorns or mecha. With reference to this post’s comments on black comedy, I think we’re dealing with ‘high’ realism: whether the story relates to our humanity (this is a bit waffly, isn’t it?). I’d say something like Austen is unrealistic – for us – in a low sense, because most of us are unfamiliar with the physical details and social codes of the world she wrote about. But she’s routinely praised for realism in the high sense, her ability to reflect the way that humans behave – this is the reason that’s usually given by my teachers for her continuing popularity.

      Bit of a digression there, but there you go.

  2. Yeah, the inner/outer selves thing really holds the rape together.

    In comparison to something like The Simpsons, DMC’s end-of-each-episode-reset basically brought us back to chaos, not stability. Negishi’s default setting is in the ‘a problem arises’ part of the story. Instead of there being a new problem, then conflict, then resolution and normality, there’s just conflict and more of the same contradiction. Which is a cruel joke as much as it is a sad one.

    • Hah! I like that way of putting it, Negishi/Krauser’s fragmentedness uniting the scattered faux-rapes of his career. I definitely agree that DMC‘s default position in the story cycle is ‘a problem arises’, too. I remember that the last shot of the OVA is Krauser/Negishi busking in his spare time, but still using the Emperor’s ghastly guitar, drawing surprised and horrified comment from passers-by.

      Oddly, it reminds me of Yes, (Prime) Minister, which always returned to stability, but posed that stability (maintained by the Civil Service in the face of necessary change, or by the politicians because change would lose them votes) as the story’s central problem. It had a different attitude to chaos, but a similar default position of ‘a problem arises’ – or perhaps in Y(P)M it was ‘the same problem’s still here’. Hmm.

  3. Strangely wnough, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed nervously at Negishi’s predicaments or any of the techically inappropriate jokes in DMC. I’m not sure if that says the shows not as daring as it may seem, or I’m just a horribly disturbed individual.

    • I dunno, maybe it just shows (as always) that it’s all down to the viewer. I’m a naturally nervous person, and it may be that I would be nervous about almost any kind of humour. I don’t know if it’s entirely a matter of the show’s daring-ness, though: DMC (the band) try to break all the taboos, but DMC (the anime) isn’t as wilfully controversial as some things I’ve seen. The central problem of Negishi/Krauser’s double-mindedness isn’t especially controversial, I just find it saddening. But that may, as I said, be me . . .

  4. This was the first review of DMC I’ve seen that doesn’t contain the word “rape.”

  5. I find myself cringing with embarrassment at Negishi’s antics but unusually for a show that exploits cringe-worthiness for the comedy it’s restrained enough to allow me to actually watch it all, rather than fast-forward through the parts that have you really biting your fist in exasperation.

    I’m still not sure if we’re supposed to identify with him or just pity the guy. The nearest I can get in comparisons is This Is Spinal Tap because to me DMC has a lot to say about the music industry and how it works. I guess because visual kei is big over in Japan it has even more meaning but still…have you watch MTV or the Kerrang! channel lately?

    There is I think a bit of ‘lifestyle’ commentary as well, such as the duality of Negishi’s personality you mentioned. In #1o he’s actually worried about Krauser coming out in certain situations, which means the Krauser personality is more of an extension of himself, as opposed to an actor’s role he plays as part of his job.

    The Toyko Tower Rape scene is still my favourite moment though.

    • I’m not very well-informed about the music industry (and I’m not very familiar with MTV or Kerrang!), but I remember you mentioning a while back that it was commenting on all the marketing and self-presentation that goes on. I wouldn’t be surprised if DMC has a rich vein of satire directed at the music business which went right over my head (to mix metaphors).

      And yeah, the Tokyo Tower scene’s great. It’s a good example of the show’s habit of escalation (I imagine this is a common technique of comedy?) so Negishi/Krauser makes some off-the-cuff remark in between songs at a concert and winds up trying to rape a landmark.

  6. In #1o he’s actually worried about Krauser coming out in certain situations, which means the Krauser personality is more of an extension of himself, as opposed to an actor’s role he plays as part of his job.

    And we see that happen several times within the show, which makes me wonder if we’re seeing Negishi’s inner self just take more control of his outer self, or if a merging of the two can occur as well.

    • I’m not sure. Which self is the inner and which the outer at any one time depends on whether he’s in his Krauser costume or not. I suppose most of us probably maintain a set of subtly different outer selves for different contexts (the office, the home, the dentist’s &c) and Negishi’s situation echoes that too? I need a clearer-thinking, less tired person to come along and sort it all out diagrammatically, or something.

  7. Well, I’m neither clear-thinking nor not-tired, but I’d wrestled with the idea of who Negishi/Krauser really is when it’s all said and done.

    Just for kicks, I occasionally re-watched episodes with the opposite interpretation of the relationship between the Krauser persona and Negishi. Ordinarily, you’d think of Krauser as Negishi’s dark side butting in on his attempts at happiness in his more milquetoast everyday life. Whenever Negishi gives in to his anger or gets carried away by the moment, he lets loose and does something he winds up regretting later.

    However, interpreting Krauser as the “true” personality and Negishi as Krauser’s pansy-pants “dark side,” his bursts of rage and over-the-top over-the-top-ness take on a more triumphal note. Especially during the “You are already unfashionable” scene. That was definitely Krauser’s triumph–and a moral one, no less.

    • Interesting thought experiment. I hadn’t considered it, but I suppose I only assumed that Negishi is the ‘true’ side of the equation because he presumably existed before Krauser and because he was more comprehensible. I’m tempted to go back and do this myself . . .

      I like the idea of Krauser being capable of moral triumphs, too. Negishi has his own blind spots and failings (and perhaps you could accuse him of acting in bad faith for staying in DMC but complaining about it).

  8. Yes, long gone are the days of Wing Commander, when game manuals were pieces of literature in and of themselves, portals into an imaginary world. Now the craft of making them is a lost art; the modern examples that remain are thin and wasted shadows of their illuminated ancestors, packing little additional information beyond what is pertinent to installation.

    As for the rest of the post, I haven’t watched very much of DMC but more of Dai Mahou Touge.

    I think to add on to your analysis, the reason we relating to Dai Mahou Touge is harder also because of the fairly simplistic and single dimensional nature of the characters – which is a result of trying to parody a genre.

    At the end of the day, it’s difficult to identify with a bipolar magical princess from a candyland kingdom who dishes out professional wrestling moves with extreme prejudice.

    • I was pumped from reading the WC manual before I even installed it. Granted, I was young, but even so! Alas for the loss of imagination in the games industry.

      It does seem that parody tends towards characters which are, taken in isolation, pretty simplistic, because we’re probably intended to be thinking ‘Oh, yes, she’s a reference to characters X, Y and Z from these other shows.’

  9. Dear Animanachronism,

    Did you die?

    Your fellow blogger,
    Komidol

    P.S. Also Wing Commander is kind of cool but Freespace was where it was at.

    • Dear Komidol,

      No, I’m still alive and indeed I have a number of draft posts. None of them, however, seem quite postable yet.

      However, today I finished the final piece of assessment due this semester (a seen and unseen Old English translation exam — passages from Beowulf made it the MANLIEST EXAM EVAR) so hopefully I’ll have a bit more time on my hands. Until, that is, I have to write my final second-year essays . . .

      Regards,
      Animanachronism

      P.S. Freespace lacked Wing Commander‘s pulpy, cheapo sci-fi novel feel.

  10. “Incoming jump signature! Hostile Configuration!”

    I think not.

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