EXCEL SAGA (1999-2000)

 

Format:  26 24-minute episodes on 6 DVDs

Rating:  PG-13 (AC, AL, GV) for most episodes, R (N, AC, AL, GV, and generally sick content) for last episode

American Production:  A.D. Vision

English Dub Production: ADV Films

Japanese Production:  Victor Entertainment

 

Grading

 

Premise:

A

Story:

A-

Writing:

A

Character Design:

B+

Animation:

B

Artistic Merits:

B

English Dub:

C+

Musical Score:

B

Opener:

A

Closer:

A

 

 

Humor Content:

A

Action Content:

B

Drama Content:

C

 

 

DVD Presentation:

A

DVD Extras:

A

 

 

OVERALL:

A-

 

Synopsis

In this “Quack Experimental Anime,” the secret ideological organization ACROSS seeks to take over the world to save it from corruption and ignorance, but it plans to start by merely conquering F City (a generic Japanese city) first. Its efforts are directed by Lord Il Palazzo from a secret underground (read: sewers) base and carried out by Lord Il Palazzo’s overly exuberant and hopelessly love struck minion, the young woman Excel Excel. After a couple of episodes Excel is joined by the gorgeous but perpetually terminally ill space princess Hyatt (who dies several times each episode) and both are commonly accompanied by their “emergency food source,” a cute dog named Menchi, as they attempt to carry out Il Palazzo’s directives.

 

Quotes

      “Hail, Il Palazzo!” (Excel and Hyatt)

 

The Long View

      Excel Saga is the ultimate anime parody series. It is a work of inspired insanity that leaves no stone unturned in its search for a good (or even bad) joke. No well-known anime series released up through the year 2000 is safe from its twisted reinterpretation, nor is any other aspect of Japanese popular entertainment and culture. It is shameless in the way it pokes fun at everything its writers think they can get away with, including themselves and the series itself. Its episodes are so densely-packed with jokes that repeat viewings (and liberal use of Pause and Slo-Mo buttons) are often required to catch them all, and even then a viewer not particularly well-versed in Japanese language, culture, or anime in general will miss quite a few of them. Even so, there’s more than enough going on to keep one entertained and hardly an episode goes by without multiple laugh-out-loud moments. It is, arguably, one of the most purely funny anime series ever made.

      The humor in Excel Saga works on many levels. American viewers should well appreciate the wacky slapstick and utterly absurd characters, particularly the frenetic enthusiasm of the lead; watching her is like watching a three year old that has just loaded up on sugar and downed an extra grande expresso. Most of the recurring characters are jokes in themselves; there’s way too many noteworthy characters to mention here, but suffice it to say than some characters appear in every episode just for the sake of appearing in every episode. Each episode has an overarching theme that is a parody of a particular anime series, a peculiar style of anime, or a common element of Japanese culture; for a breakdown of these, click here. Embedded within the general parody for each episode are numerous individual parodies of everything from commercials to video games to other unrelated anime series, all boiled together into a pool of sublime silliness. No opportunity for a joke is missed; even the names of the main characters are a joke. (They’re all the names of prominent hotels.) It’s not unusual for the writers, directors, voice actresses, or even the creator of the original manga on which the series is based to pop up as characters in the series. Each episode has an “official” authorization by the original creator for the writers and director to do whatever they’re going to do to the episode, and neither these nor the “Next Episode” entries at the end of each episode are immune to being played for jokes. Even the opener and closer, both of which are quite entertaining in their own right, have hidden jokes. And always read the credits! The jokes in them change from episode to episode.

      Plot is mostly irrelevant in a series like this, and really only exists as it serves to set up the parodies. Major developments in the “conquer the city” plot don’t happen until the later episodes, though there are two significant subplots that see a bit more development: one concerning the development of the Office of City Security (which includes the young recruits eventually teaming up with androids and suiting up as a super-hero team), the other concerning the affair that the Great Will of the Macrocosm has with the ghost of Pedro, an immigrant worker from some unnamed South American country. (Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.) And there are some love stories, too, of a sort. Will Il Palazzo ever acknowledge Excel, or is he more interested in Hyatt? Can one of the neighbors of Excel and Hyatt win Hyatt’s heart? Can another neighbor of Hyatt win the heart of a female android assigned to work with him? Will the alien race of cute teddy bears known as Puuchuus succeed in conquering the Earth with their futon beater-shaped weapons? (Oh, wait, that’s not a love story.) Overall, though, Excel Saga is primarily an episodic series, with a tag at the end of each episode commenting on whether the mission for that episode succeeded or failed. Most of the time they fail.

      The graphic content of Excel Saga stays at the PG-13 level except for the infamous 26th episode. It is appropriately titled “Going Way Too Far” and never aired on TV in Japan because of its extreme content. It’s an exercise by the writers and artists in seeing exactly what they could get away with, and as a result it’s one of the most hyper and consistently funny episodes in the entire series. It also packs altered versions of the opener and closer – the former is stupidly overkill on graphic bloodiness (but that’s the point), while the closer is an interesting case of role reversal.

      The writing for Excel Saga is so clever and inventive in its execution of various parodies that only rarely will you become bored with the jokes or find them to be tired and clichéd. Technical merits are unremarkable overall, but the dubbing deserve special comment. Excel Saga is a series that a lot of people never thought could be adequately dubbed into English, partly because the writing was rife with puns that would not translate well (or at all) into English and partly because the rapid-fire delivery of the lead Japanese voice actress would be difficult for any American actress to duplicate. I must complement the two actresses who voice the title role - veterans Jessica Caliverro and Lorissa Wolcott - for giving it a wholehearted try. (Lorissa replaced Jessica for the second half of the series after Jessica bowed out over concerns about what the role was doing to her voice.) They fall a bit short of capturing the smooth-flowing energy of the original, however, so in this case I must recommend the subtitled version over the dubbed version. Still, the English version is worth watching the second time around since some of the verbal jokes mutate in the translation. It’s also easier to use the ADV Notes bonus feature while watching the series dubbed.

      If you like Excel Saga, look for the spin-off series Puni Puni Poemy, now available on DVD in the States.

 


DVD Extras

      ADV Films pulled out all the stops on producing the DVDs, creating some of the most inventive and dynamic DVD setups to date. Each of the six is markedly different in style and keyed to the theme of one of the episodes on the DVD. (Note that the menus for the 6th volume are considerably more racy than for other volumes.) The exact extras vary from volume to volume, but include some of the following:

·       Company trailers (all DVDs)

·       ADV Notes (all DVDs) – Much like VH1’s Pop-Up Videos, this feature, when turned on, inserts pop-up blurbs into the episodes which explain various puns and specific cultural parodies that might be lost on the common American viewer. This is a wonderful feature that I wish was more commonly-available in anime DVD releases; its presence alone raises the DVD Extras grade up a full step. I highly recommend re-watching an episode with this feature on after you’ve watched it once normally.

·       Clean opener/closer (both regular versions and Episode 26 versions)

·       Japanese opener/closer

·       Production sketches (all DVDs)

·       Original trailers/TV spots

·       Japanese CD Single/Soundtrack/Drama spots (vol. 2 - worth watching)

·       Easter Eggs – Vol. 2 is scattered with snippets that include still shots, adverts for Menchi food products, and a couple of things that I’m not exactly sure what they were supposed to be. They are in the skulls and file folders scattered throughout the menus, but you’ll have to play around with the remote a lot to access them all.

·       Menchi recipes

·       Text interview with director and creator

·       “Find The Mint” mini-game (vol. 3 – oh, I’m not going to tell you about this one; you have to try it for yourself!)

·       Opening credits timing sequence and first cut

·       various Puni Puni Poemy-related previews, interviews and adverts

·       Daitenzin commercial (this concerns the sentai – i.e. super-hero team – doujinshi that is feature in one episode)

 

Bonus Extras:

·       ACROSS membership card (vol. 1)

·       Office of City Security recruitment poster (vol. 2)

·       “Excel vs. Hyatt” Tapping Sumo set (vol. 3)

·       Excel poster with facial feature stickers (vol. 4)

·       Excel Saga board game (vol. 5)

·       Excel Saga postcard (vol. 6)

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Excel

Jessica Caliverro (vol. 1-3),

Lorissa Wolcott (vol. 4-6)

Hyatt

Monica Rial

Lord Il Palazzo

Jason Douglas

Nabeshin

Brett Weaver

Pedro

Rob Mungle

Great Will of the Macrocosm, Sandora, Matsuya, one of the Puchuus

Tiffany Grant

Gomez/That Man

Mike McCrae

Rikdo

Paul Sidello

Menchi

Hillary Haag

Iwata

Mark Laskowski

Watanabe

Jay Hickman

Kabapu

Mike Kleinhenz

older Ropponmatsu

Kelly Cousins

 

younger Ropponmatsu, one of the Puchuus

Kira Vincent-Davies

 

Shioji

Spike Spencer

 

Episode Parody Theme Guide

#1: Intro/set-up episode - no theme

#2: Invasion from space/cute cuddly creatures

#3: Military drama

#4: Hand-held dating sim games

#5: Social drama

#6: Survival drama

#7: Horror

#8: Pretty Girl anime (only female characters appear, although male characters are heard)

#9: Sports anime #1 (bowling)

#10: Talking animal story

#11: Youth drama/sports anime #2 (baseball)

#12: Detective drama

#13: Review episodes/New Year=s festivities

#14: Adult female androids

#15: Juvenile female androids

#16: Quasi-lesbian relationships involving female androids

#17: The American anime scene and the mafia

#18: Doujinshi (underground fan comics based on mainstream characters) and super-hero teams

#19: Animal anime and adventure travel anime

#20: Summary episodes

#21: Pretty boy rock anime

#22: Space drama anime

#23: Post-apocalyptic anime

#24: “no gags” episode

#25: Series finale - not a specific parody

#26: excess in all senses!

 

 

 

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