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.