Movie: Every once in a while comes a series so strange, so twisted, that it defies description in any reasonable manner. One such series is the now infamous Excel Saga: Imperfect Collection, a show dedicated to the legions of anime fans populating the planet, both in Japan and the United States. This was the description in last year's Best Of Anime article: "How can you describe Excel Saga in a paragraph? Hmmm. It is kind of like a whacked version of Monty Python on acid. Even that isn't quite right. It is a very funny, fast and furious, sharp edged humorous anime that does not take itself, or anything else, seriously. Every episode is a parody of a different style of movie or show. Excel Saga parodies space operas, Dragon Ball, low-budget action films, Captain Harlock, dramas, Fist Of The North Star, cute animal shows, Gundam, romance anime, Mighty Morphing Power Rangers and even American anime fans. It makes fun of every aspect of anime, and does it well. The reason the series succeeds is because even though there is a lot of seemingly random action and events in every episode, most of it does have some meaning in the plot. That they can sustain the humor and still advance the overall plot through out the 26 episodes is amazing. A very good transfer and excellent on screen notes make this bizarre series one that every anime fan should at least check out", by famed anime reviewer, John Sinnott. While far too brief, that paragraph captures the essence of the series in all its glory.
The show focused on a young, Super Gal type female, Excel, who merrily skips home from school one day, only to be killed in an auto accident. She is magically revived, anime style, in order to serve a despot wannabe conqueror, Lord Ilpalazzo, in his plan to take over City "F", a major metropolitan city (probably Fukuoka, home city of the original writer) as the beginning of his plan to bigger and better things. After all, why set your sights on conquering the Universe when a much more manageable goal seems prudent? Okay, as the series progresses, other characters are introduced, the main one being Hyatt, a gal that becomes Excel's sidekick, and Menchi (literally translated to mean: "minced meat"), a dog that serves as food for thought almost as often as for the table when Excel gets hungry.
Each episode of the 26 episode series tackled a different anime style of writing and design, making it the most comprehensive parody ever made. There were no anime stereotypes, or characters, left unscathed as Excel and crew ran rampant through the multitude of shows in this excellent collection. Much like Magical Play, the only boundaries seemed to be the imagination of the creator, Koshi Rikdo, who even skewered himself in the first episode. The American translation, directed by long time anime fanboy Matt Greenfield, also managed to keep intact the spirit of the original Japanese version (so I'm told, my Japanese is about as good as my Russian), a tribute to his long admiration for the genre.
With fitting tributes to shows like Nuku Nuku, Sailor Moon,Slayers, and Steel Angel Kurami, the show further attacked, however playfully, the myriad of bizarre circumstances that anime is known for in those shows too, often skillfully slipping references into the background for other fanboys to appreciate. In short, if you blink, you'll miss something, making the replay value of the boxed set as high as I could possibly imagine (I don't give a "5" to just anything you know). As a side note, Excel looked like Lina Inverse from the Slayers series, part of which I believe to be a conscious choice on the part of the original creative team that transformed Rikdo's manga, Shonen Gahosha "Young King Ours", into this series. While very hit or miss, the rapid fire nature of the jokes was such that you could literally study this show and spend years uncovering all the material it covers. No true anime fan should pass up the opportunity to own this release but the same holds true to fans of pop culture as well. Keep in mind that television networks, videogames, and a whole lot of other things we all hold near and dear were on the plate too. I've watched this set three times and always manage to come away with something new so I'm suspecting you will too.
If you have even a passing interest in anime, this is the Holy Grail of parody for you and worthwhile even when some of the material fell a bit flat. I give it a rating of Highly Recommended for such people but if you're a true Otaku, you'll already own the DVDs that comprise this set. For the record, there wasn't anything new to the set from the original separate releases but the price point has been greatly lowered, making it a steal compared to so much of the anime released these days. Check it out and you'll see how much is going on so fast that it'll make your head spin. I stopped just shy of giving the set the ultimate rating due to the fact that it is so tailored to anime and popular culture fans as to be nearly inaccessible to the rest of you but I'll say that if you get this set and learn to understand it, you'll earn the equivalent of a master's degree in anime.
Picture: The picture was presented in the originally produced 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. I thought the colors were accurate, the styles of anime presented to be exceptionally accurate in their portrayal, and only some limited pattern noise and grain got in the way of my enjoyment. The up side is that so much took place throughout the show, you're not going to have time to notice any minor flaws.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese (the original track) or English (the well done dub). Both were solid in all aspects although the separation varied depending on what was taking place on the screen. In the fight scenes, the audio was all over the place, nearly making me think it was in 5.1 Dolby but during the exposition moments that all anime has, it stuck primarily with the center channel (no surprises there). This is one time when the dub track will likely be heard as the better of the two tracks since the translation of the original Japanese kept some of the more obscure language jokes from hitting home but consider them as two distinctive flavors to be enjoyed (with the English track an extra of sorts).
Extras: My favorite extra of the entire series was the pop up cultural notes. When selected, these would use the pop up video style of explanations to give you a clue as to what was going on and some of the insider jokes that less knowledgeable fans might miss. There were also the usual trailers, clean openings, clean closings, commercials, FBI and Japanese piracy warnings, music spots, interviews, recipes, games, and sketches to accompany the episodes, all held together in a decent cardboard box but the "AD Vid-notes ™ were the bomb here and I think everyone knows it.
Final Thoughts: You had to know that when a series makes it into the top ten Best Of Anime 2003 article based on only a couple of episodes, the show had to be great (and it was), with the value of a lower price boosting it up in terms of buying it versus renting. This is one that you either get or don't get with little middle ground for the uninitiated. Take solace in the fact that if you don't get it, you'll be saving a lot of money by passing up other anime too although a fan like myself considers this to be indispensable as a comedy and reference to all the anime on the market (even the designs of the characters, camera angles, colors, and other technical aspects were copied in painstaking detail here).
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime article!