One of my biggest pet peeves about anime is that series never seem to break the preconceptions of their genre. Most shows can be categorized into the harem, sci-fi, giant robot, or even high school comedy genres. Nowadays it takes a special kind of show to shatter the mold and make an immediate impression on you. This is especially true if you've been an otaku for a long time and have seen many series. Ladies and gentlemen, Excel Saga is that rare and special show.
When I first started watching some of these episodes I was reminded (loosely) of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. It wasn't so much the theme of the series that made me think about that show; it was the complete and total random nature of things. At first I have to admit that I was put off by the madness that was spewing from my television, but once I became accustomed to what Excel Saga was all about I fell head-over-heels in love.
Each episode starts out with a declaration by the creator of the manga, Koushi Rikudou stating that he gives permission to turn the Excel Saga anime into a different genre. Going into an episode means you never know what to expect. One time it will be about a horror or the next will be about science fiction. Whatever the particular theme of the week is, you can rest assured that it will be nothing like you'd expect.
Due to the nature of the show and the way that the structure is set up there is hardly any continuity. Snippets appear in one form of another for brief instances in many episodes but for the most part the stories just follow the cracked out adventures of Excel and ACROSS.
Excel is obviously the main character of this show. She is an energetic blonde with the attention span of a puppy that always finds herself getting into trouble. Throughout the series she dies more times than you can count, but it's all for the greater good of ACROSS and Lord Ilpalazzo. It is Ilpalazzo's wish to conquer the city and since Excel is in love with, and adores him she naturally goes along with whatever he has planned.
Seeing as the ACROSS organization only has two members their lofty goals may seem difficult to achieve, despite Excel's resourcefulness. In comes a beautiful woman named Hyatt. While she may not be quite as exuberant as Excel she is loyal to Ilpalazzo in every way. The only problem is that she is anemic and finds herself passing out, coughing up blood, and dying at just about every turn. She also finds herself the object of affection for Excel's neighbor, Watanabe.
Watanabe and his two buddies are some of the secondary characters that frequent nearly every episode in this series. They don't really do much for the whole plot though they are there for filler and comedic relief (as if this show needs more of that). Menchi, Excel's dog, also falls into the same category and finds herself being treated as emergency ration meat whenever Excel gets hungry. Other characters that appear throughout the series are Pedro, Nabeshin, and Great Will.
Nabeshin has a lot of influence in each episode and is one of the key focal points in continuity for this series. His role is merely a sub-plot but throughout the 26 episodes here we see him pop in to kick butt and look cool. He's recognizable by his afro, which he uses to supply himself with an endless array of weaponry. Pedro is an immigrant worker living in Japan who eventually finds the power of the afro and becomes one of Nabeshin's lackeys. His life is turned upside down when he dies and meets the Great Will. Especially when he wakes up in bed next to her.
Each and every episode here is a real treat. Because of the structure of the series, the show stays fresh from start to finish and arguably only gets better as time goes by and characters become more established. Excel Saga becomes so irreverent and nonsensical as it catapults towards its glorious (and too hot for Japanese TV) ending. From Koushi Rikudou having himself killed in the first episode to random insanity involving enough blood to drown the planet; things never get dull in this anime.
Exactly what transpires here is so hard to explain with a straight face. If you're looking for one of the most unique and standout shows that you'll ever see you owe it to yourself to pick up this collection. Watching it once and then watching it again reveals subtle details that you may have missed the first time around. Every frame is chockfull of lunacy and brilliance, even though that is a fine line to walk. Check it out and you won't be disappointed.
Originally airing in 1999, Excel Saga is a show that wears its age well. The 1.33:1 full frame image came across crisp and relatively clean on DVD though there were a few points where aliasing and grain was noticeable. The colors are eye-popping vibrant and the animation style matched perfectly. This is a great looking show that could have benefited from a widescreen presentation but thanks to the quality of the material it's an easy thing to over look.
2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo is the way to go with this show; or at least that's what this release would have you think. A 5.1 selection would have been preferred but what's here (in Japanese and English) comes across decently with the stereo sound quality. The soundstage isn't very diverse and there isn't a lot of channel separation but that's what you'd expect from a presentation like this.
Lately ADV's thinpak releases have been difficult to predict. Some of them have all of the bonus features from the original releases intact and some of them come out as barebones as you can get. Sadly, the latter is the case with this set since Excel Saga offers nothing supplemental apart from some previews of other shows.
Like I said, Excel Saga is just one of those special shows that are rare in the world of anime. Sure it's totally irreverent and yes it's completely insane, but I challenge you to find a show that is as entertaining as this one is. I was glued to the set for each episode and addicted to their brilliance. Being able to get a great show like this for the pricing point of a thinpak is a dream come true, even if we do lose the added bonus of supplemental features.
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