Review of Excel Saga: Complete Collection
I know what you`re thinking, and you`re right. Just after a title has been deleted would be the worst time for a review, and now that Excel Saga has ceased to be produced for region 2 consumption, I`m daft to try to convince you to buy it. There is a flipside to that line of thought. Now that ADV`s licence has expired, there will be a grace period where copies of Excel Saga will remain in easy reach online and in stores, and probably discounted as well for swift clearance. It may be worth beating a path to your nearest internet connection and placing an order or two, before the only place you`ll be able to find it will be those highly inflated e-Bay auctions. Considering the hype that promises Excel Saga as the funniest thing created since the fart gag, I figured I`d see whether it was worth another plug. Originally released in the UK in six volumes by ADV in 2003, the series was finally collected in boxset form in 2007.
What did you have to look forward to after graduating school? University? College? A gap year? Work? An adventure perhaps? Excel is looking forward to global domination. After a brief bout with her own mortality, she joins the ultra-secret ACROSS organisation, which until her recruitment consisted solely of evil genius Lord Ilpalazzo… Excel adores her boss, and will do anything for him including assassinating the show`s creators! One quick reset button courtesy of the Great Will of the Macrocosm, and she`s soon picking up strays, namely the cute and delicious looking puppy Menchi. Global domination has to take a back seat when the cute alien teddy-bear-like Puchuus invade, bringing with them Martian Princess Hyatt, who is soon to be Excel`s partner. Meanwhile the adventures of afro wielding Nabeshin continue, and the travails of immigrant worker Pedro strike a chord in many a heart. The mayhem continues in 26 episodes and six discs…
1. Koshi Rikdo Assassination Plot
2. The Woman From Mars
3. The Sacrificial Lamb of the Vengeance Great Escape of Hell
4. Love Puny
5. The Interesting Giant Tower
6. The Cold is Winter! Snowed Under Episode
7. Melody Of The Underground Passage
8. Increase Ratings Week
9. Bowling Girls
10. Menchi`s Great Adventure
11. Butt Out, Youth!
12. Big City Part II
13. The New Year`s Year-End Party Hidden Talent Contest
15. More! Prop Memorial
16. Take Back Love
17. Animation USA
18. Municipal Force Daitenzin
19. Menchi`s Great Adventure 2. Around The World In 80 Hours
20. The Best Of Mr. Pedro
21. Visually Appealing Type
22. Invasion, Mother
23. Legend of the End of the Century Commander
24. For You I Could Die
25. We Will Not Be Held Responsible
26. Going Too Far
A 4:3 regular transfer, that is clear, sharp and perfectly acceptable to watch. This is a lively anime, with lots of bright colours and manic action, and all of that comes across with the minimum of compression artefacts and transfer flaws.
You get DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and signs. Actually there are four audio tracks on these discs, and at first glance it looks as if the stereo tracks are just repeated over. It`s just that with the AD Vid-notes popping up during the episodes, you need an appropriate gentle popping noise to announce them, hence the extra stereo tracks. It`s going beyond the call of duty for audio diversity, but it`s a nice touch. Incidentally, avoid the dub. Loud and annoying isn`t the same as `funny motor-mouth`. In the Japanese dub, Excel is the verbose one who has to be reminded to pause for breath. It`s a ream of dialogue that put paid to one English dub actress by mauling her vocal chords, requiring the role to be recast halfway through, but neither performance is something I can stand to experience for more than thirty seconds at a time, and I found it hard to make out what was being said. The original Japanese is much clearer and pleasant to listen to.
All six discs are housed in an m-lock sized case, but unfortunately it`s one of those two discs overlapping to one side set-ups, so you get four discs on either face of the case, and two held on a central panel. Getting one of the discs out intact involves a lot of prayer and hope. If the sight of Excel`s modesty preserved only by a horde of Puchuus is too much for you, then the sleeve is reversible. Each of the discs has a menu screen unique to it, and with varying degrees of humour. The discs also begin with a comedy copyright screen, that you will want to pause and read at least once. The episodes all end with comedy credits a la Naked Gun so don`t be tempted to skip ahead.
All episodes come with AD vid-notes, which use the subtitle streams to display little titbits of information during playback. They`re cultural reference pop ups, which ensure that few of the gags remain lost in translation, and even point out some moments of trivia. What`s astounding is that they are enabled for all modes of playback, so if you are watching in English with the signs track, or Japanese with the subtitles on, you can still get them, although you may have to be quick on the pause button lest you miss them.
You get the clean credits, the Japanese credits, a video piracy warning, the original trailers, plenty of production sketches and previews for Dai Guard, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Noir and Z.O.E Dolores.
There are plenty of eggs on this disc, with Menchi derived food commercials to find, among other things. You`ll also find the Japanese TV Spots, the CD Single and CD Drama spots, more production sketches, and previews of Dragon Half, Z.O.E Dolores, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 and Burn Up Excess.
Find The Mint game, which offers a urinal based alternative to the `Find The Lady` card game. There is a text interview with director Shinichi Watanabe, which runs to 9 pages. The production sketches are here, along with 5 pages of Menchi recipes. Previews are for Dragon Half, Noir, The Devil Lady and RahXephon.
You get the usual production sketches, along with previews of RahXephon, Dai-Guard, Dirty Pair Flash, and Z.O.E Dolores. You can see the first cut of the opening credits, as well as an opening credits timing sequence, both of them in a compare and contrast presentation with the final credits. Finally there is a preview for the Puni Puni Poemy spin-off, followed by a brief interview with the voice actress from the show.
More production sketches, as well as trailers for Martian Successor Nadesico, Final Fantasy Unlimited, King Of Bandit Jing, Najica Blitz Tactics and Full Metal Panic. There is a selection of brief interviews on this disc following the Puni Puni Poemy OVA, the Watanabe`s Puni Puni Poemy Interview, the Puni Puni Poemy Staff Interview, and Character Designs. There is a Daitenzin Commercial, and the disc rounds off with a few text pages of interview with Koshi Rikdo.
The production sketches are in the form of a 2-minute slideshow this time around. Trailers on the disc are for King Of Bandit Jing, Najica Blitz Tactics, Gamera 3: Revenge Of Iris, Final Fantasy Unlimited and Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. There`s a brief Puni Puni Poemy featurette, clean credits for the end of episode 25, as well as the opening and ending of episode 26, and finally there is an Easter Egg secreted somewhere.
Excel Saga is hilarious. Its combination of madcap characters, fast paced scripts, lightning wit, and surreal viewpoints make for a delightful and varied show that is tremendous fun. But I do have one or two reservations. The thing is, that Excel Saga is a parody show, each episode takes an aspect of anime, or a genre in particular and proceeds to milk as many gags, and poke as much fun at it as possible with the space of 25 minutes. It`s all well and good if you know anime inside and out, but for relative newbies, it`ll be like being chucked into the deep end of a swimming pool, with lead weights on your ankles. Pretty soon, a million gallons of references and in-jokes will be passing above your head. That`s where the AD-Vid-notes come in. These are essential pop-ups, which explain all the in-jokes, point out what obscure anime series may be referenced in a particular scene, which nuance of Japanese culture won`t be translated in the subtitles, and whatever trivia may seem appropriate at that particular point in time. It`s well worth watching the show at least once that way, with a quick finger on the pause button to boot. There may be points where the text obscures the whole screen, but it`s certainly worth it, and the next time you watch the show without them, at least you`ll know more about what`s going on.
The thing with Excel Saga is that when it came to adapting the manga, it was found to be pretty much unsuitable for broadcast purposes. It`s why director Shinichi Watanabe opted for the very loose adaptation and parody format that resulted in the final show. It`s also why each episode begins with a disclaimer from manga creator Koshi Rikdo`s animated form, that he has given permission for his manga to be adapted into the particular genre of the week, a so called `Quack Experiment`. What follows is twenty odd minutes of energetic surreal and usually idiotic mayhem with an ever expanding cast of animated oddballs, which then concludes with the results of the week`s experiment, followed by the cute dog Menchi howling a lament on her status as emergency food rations, over the end credits, conveniently translated by an onscreen interpreter.
It`s such a simple set up, with Lord Ilpalazzo sat atop his throne, announcing the mission of the week which his minion(s) will carry out to aid in his quest to rule the world. He`s elegant, motivated and aristocratic, completely at odds with his underling Excel, who immediately falls for his suave charms, and devotes her life to him thereafter. She is crass, a little dopey, and never afraid to use a paragraph (with footnotes) when a single word answer would be sufficient. She`s hyper energetic and full of get up and go, a combination that quickly persuades Ilpalazzo to have a trap door installed in his audience chamber. It isn`t long before Excel finds an adorable stray puppy that she takes in. Unfortunately as Excel is hungry more often than not, the puppy serves as an emergency food supply rather than an object of affection, and she names it Menchi, which means `mincemeat`. Naturally the dog remains in a state of constant panic, and is always looking for an avenue of escape. No good secret agent should be without a partner, and Martian Princess Hyatt arrives from the stars. She is the absolute opposite of Excel; soft-spoken, demure, and totally unenergetic, so unenergetic in fact that she is always on the verge of death, and it`s a rare episode that she doesn`t cross the verge. Thankfully one of the subsidiary characters is the Will Of The Macrocosm, a female depiction of the universe who acts as a reset button when things get too fatal. She falls in love with Pedro, an immigrant worker who was in Japan earning money for his family back home, when he died in a fire that Excel caused. Since then, and in odd moments of each episode, we follow his ghost as he tries to get his Sexy Wife and son Sandora back. Unique to the Excel anime is Nabeshin, Shinichi Watanabe`s afro-wielding, cool hero alter ego, who turns up in the episodes to move the plot along, perform some act of random heroism, or just act as inspiration. The Director Watanabe voices him as well, so it isn`t too odd that he never loses his cool. ACROSS would be a poor excuse for an organisation of supervillains if they didn`t have heroic defenders to oppose them, and to that end we must turn to Excel`s next-door neighbours, three young layabouts Watanabe, Iwata and Sumiyoshi. When Hyatt arrives, it perks up Watanabe who decides to make something of himself, and he becomes a civil servant to impress her. Unfortunately his roommates join him, and instead of receiving nice desk jobs, they get recruited into the city`s defence department, tasked to stop ACROSS. Hard-hitting Misaki soon joins them putting a smile on Iwata`s face and then a couple of black eyes, and soon two Ropponmatsu fembots join the team. Together, and under the aegis of boss Kabapu, they try various schemes to protect the city.
That`s your not too basic premise, and various other characters flit in and out of the show. What makes things invigorating is that each episode pokes fun at another aspect of anime, dipping in and out of various genres. We get alien invasions, b-movies, romantic comedies, social dramas, survival dramas, horror movies, sports anime, animal shows, youth dramas, detective shows, mecha anime, music anime, a Fist of the North Star send up and more. One week they decide to up the ratings, which means scantily clad women only can be shown on screen, introducing all sorts of interesting camera angles designed to keep the men off screen. They even send up the typical mid-season clip episode, and stop to poke fun at the `Japanimation` craze that hit the US in the late nineties, and which has led to anime`s current boom. For me the weakest of the episodes was The Best Of Mr Pedro, another summary show, as Pedro really only works in small doses, but even that made me laugh when it began with Koshi Rikdo adamantly refusing to give permission for a summary show, and then being mugged by Nabeshin and the rest of the anime production staff. (Intriguingly Shinichi Watanabe looks just like Nabeshin in real life, at least according to his appearance in the extra features.) There is a surprising degree of continuity to such a haphazard, barely controlled explosion of a show, but the final four episodes return to the basic premise of global domination, and offer an ongoing story, albeit just as madcap as the other episodes. After the end of the 25-episode run, there is a bonus 26th episode called Going Too Far, the episode that just couldn`t be broadcast on TV. In it is all the blood, sex and grossness that had to be left out of the rest of the series.
I found Excel Saga to be the funniest nutty anime that I have yet seen. Its sheer energy and pace, variety and irreverence obliterates any of its shortcomings, and results in an unparalleled experience. Following the acquired taste of Cromartie High School, it`s refreshing to just be beaten with a funny stick until you have to surrender, gasping for breath. But there is a niggling caveat to the show. It helps if you have a fair bit of experience with the anime medium under your belt. If you have seen several shows, and have a comfort level with the clichés and shorthand common with anime in general, then you will appreciate Excel Saga more. It`s just that if this is one of your first forays into the murky underworld of Japanese animation, then you`ll experience a sinking feeling, even with the Vid-notes. Normally I`d say leave it alone until you had seen more anime, but with Excel Saga now having been deleted, that`s no longer an option. This series is good enough, and zany enough to be appreciated regardless, and what I would do is buy the discs, and keep them to one side until you had watched a few more staples of the medium.
Of course if you already enjoy anime as part of a healthy balanced diet, then that stipulation isn`t necessary. Buy Excel Saga and partake of ten hours of animated silliness that is unlike anything you have ever seen, and likely will ever see again. Grab the discs or the boxset while they are still out there to be had.