Every once in awhile along comes a show that defies explanation. Or at least at first. And while an attempt can be made to explain the show to the uninitiated, it is usually best to experience the show itself. Such is Excel Saga, which has put me at a loss how to convey how utterly ridiculous, completely off-the-wall, and generally insane this show is.
Maybe I'll just start by describing the first episode. The episode opens with a notice from an anime version of the show's creator that he has given complete permission to create an anime based on his manga series. Odd. Then the opening sequence starts up, featuring Excel and Hyatt (Hyatt to be introduced a couple episodes) singing a catchy pop tune in various locales (including a male bath house at one point), all the while Hyatt struggling to not cough up blood. Then the show begins. We meet Excel, happily skipping on her way to school, blissfully ignorant of everything around her. Including a ten-ton truck which promptly flattens her. Alas, our short-lived herorine is, well, short-lived. But all is not lost, for as Excel's departed soul is floating in an astral void, she hears the voice of the Great Will of the Macrocosm. The Great Will explains that Excel has too much to live for to die now. That, and it wouldn't be good for the story if the heroine died in the first scene. So the Great Will sets things right, not once, but three times, all in the first five minutes. It seems Excel just can't avoid being killed.
We soon get to the real plot, if this series can be said to have one, and learn that Excel is a member of the ideological organization ACROSS—a group planning to eventually conquer the city. The commander in charge is Ilpalazzo, an imposing figure with little patience for Excel's hyper demeanor. But since she appears to be the sole member of ACROSS, he puts up with her and gives imparts her first task: assassinate Koshi Rikdo, the creator of Excel Saga.
And so Excel embarks on her task; or at least tries to, as the insuing madness and sheer randomness of the show makes it hard to really tell what is happening at any given moment. I think the story is reset at least once or twice more, and assorted subplots pop up from time to time involving an immigrant worker and the Lupin III-inspired character, Nabeshin (the show's director, no less). There's also the matter of Excel's neighbors, three unemployed slackers who, well, slack.
Did I mention the show is insane?
Excel Saga is one big hodge-podge of comedy, tossing out gags of every imaginable form. Every episode parodies a specific genre, taking elements from that genre then turning them on their ear. Between parodying typical anime stereotypes to Japanese video games to Western culture, it's hard to find something the show doesn't make fun of. Excel Saga even parodies itself on more than one occasion.
But Excel Saga is not without its caveats. For example, while I read faster than the average person, this series taxed my subtitle reading skills something fierce. Excel often speaks about three times quicker than a normal person, resulting it lots of hurried subtitle text flashing past the screen. Very often I would deligently read the subtitles, then rewind the scene to concentrate on the visual antics of the characters. In addition, there are also numorous instances of multiple characters dialoguing at the same time, which again, requires more than one pass to take in.
The English dub of Excel Saga is noteworthy because Jessica Calvello, originally cast as Excel, was forced to leave the production mid-way after overstressing her vocal cords. Her replacement, Larissa Wolcott, does a good job picking up where Calvello left off. But, the English version of Excel comes off with a harsher, screechier sound that the original voice of Kotono Mitsuishi. For this reason, I prefered listening to Excel Saga in the Japanese, even with the taxing subtitles.
Excel Saga has bright, colorful artwork and animation typical of anime made for television. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. The show even apologizes for its own production values, when it spins out a joke about production team running behind schedule and resorting to a clip show for one episode.
For someone who has never had much success with parody anime, Excel Saga is a welcome surprise. While the individual quality of the episodes varies, the overall series maintains an unwavering tone of wacky exuberance. And more often then not, it works. That said, this series is best suited for seasoned fans of anime who won't be put off by the absurdities of Japanese humor and numerous anime parodies. But if you've got a hankering for a little comedic insanity, Excel Saga is hard to beat.
The Verdict: * * * * (good)
|last modified: 01/16/2004||The Anime Critic and associated content © 1999-2003 Pete Harcoff. All rights reserved.|