Excel Saga Vol. #4 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Sunday, December 22, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2003



What They Say
Yes, the producers of the most demented anime ever produced are getting desperate, so in order to keep up the ratings, Excel and Hyatt find themselves facing new, Highly Merchandisable Characters, gimmick episodes and even SEXUAL JEOPARDY (I'll take "lesbian android overtures for $100, Alex!") It's all in the service of Ilpalazzo and ACROSS as our favorite set of social misfits once again plunges into the breach as the plot sickens... er, thickens... in the fourth incredibly bizarre volume of Excel Saga!

The Review!
It?s starting to look like the odd volumes are my favorite, as this volume takes a dip down in entertainment value compared to the third volume

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. The series continues to sport a pretty decent stereo soundtrack that makes good use of the forward soundstage with some amusing amounts of directionality. There?s nothing going to the rear speakers here though, but the forward mix is done well. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout and the music plays out nicely when it?s called into service.

Video:
Much like the previous volumes, this is a sparkling clear transfer. Colors are rich and vibrant without any noticeable over saturation. Cross coloration and aliasing appear to be pretty much non-existent. There?s hardly anything I found problematic in this transfer at all. If you liked how the previous volumes looked, expect more of the same.

Packaging:
The new character and her creator take center stage with this cover, continuing in the really neat art style we?ve seen on the previous covers. There?s lots of purple tones to this cover, so it?s really eye-catching with me and overall looks good, though it?s intentionally busy. The back cover continues with the odd angles seen on earlier volumes, so discerning actual facts against the comedic moments is a slight challenge, but worthwhile as there?s plenty of good humor here. The insert provides a different image of Excel and the new cast member while the reverse side shows Nabeshin alongside the chapter listings and the extras available. There?s also a bunch of pack-in extras here. The main piece is a fold out poster that has a large blank version of Excel?s face. What you get is three pop-out sheets that have all kinds of eyes, mouths, noses and eyebrows. You get to custom design your own Excel expression!

Menu:
I?m not sure what style was intended with these menus, but while they?re visually interesting to look at, they?re hell to maneuver around in. With shifts in direction that aren?t easily noticeable or intuitive, you?ll find yourself going forwards and backwards instead of going up or down when you want. There?s animation from the show playing in one section under a stylized lense while you have a rotating Excel head screaming every now and then along the bottom. Access times are good but not very fast, though still better than the previous volume as there aren?t any transitional animations between them.

Extras:
The extras are a bit thin this time around, and in another sense, not directly related for the most part either. We get another round of excellent vid-notes, so there?s no complaints there. The production sketch section is okay, but really suffers from having black line art on a red background, which causes the image to just really jitter quite a bit. The opening credits ?first cut? edition is here, which I believe is the one used during just the first episode of the series. The timing cut version of the opening sequence is interesting, especially if you can?t tell the difference between the two even when it?s pointed out to you. Fleshing out the remainder of the extras is two pieces for Puni Puni Poemi, with a preview trailer for it and a talk with one of the Japanese voice actresses for it. While these aren?t bad, there?s no ?why these are here? explanation for people who don?t really know that it?s a spin-off OVA. I?d rather have seen these extras on the Puni disc anyway instead of here.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
To my surprise, it actually took two sittings to really be able to finish out this disc, which is close to how I felt with the second disc. A lot of what makes this show good to me comes from the wackiness combined with Excel and Hyatt and a good dose of Menchi and the supporting cast.

Things go off in a different route from the start here as we get the series producer making an in-show appearance and begging from Rikdo to get a new cast member to help spice things up and to draw attention from the fact that there?s no plot yet. Even Nabeshin brings this up later, keeping the in-joke going nicely. With permission granted, things segue into the show itself where Kabapu meets up with an old friend who has the amazing ability to create just about anything. Once he stops following his lolita complex though, which is amusingly disturbingly well done. Kabapu?s request eventually shows up the next day in the form of a young woman named Ropponmatsu. She?s a bit stiff in some respects, but she?s now part of the team that Iawata and the others deal with. Of course, Iwata falls madly in love with her, completely oblivious to, well, just about everything.

The introduction of this character, who reappears in different forms later after we learn that they actually ordered 20,000 copies of her, brings a new element to the show, but it feels similar to Hyatt?s continual deaths. And that itself has dropped off as the series has progressed. But what Ropponmatsu ends up doing in the episodes where she actually appears in is to draw more time away from the leads. She does get some amusing moments, but for the most part I found the episodes where she was primarily featured to be fairly forgettable.

The best episode here though, and the one that saves the disc in many ways, is when Illpalazo sends Excel and Hyatt to the US to deal with animation. Their journey ends up bringing them into contact with Pedro?s son, Sandora. Sandora has come to the US to help support his parents and to earn money. He wants to be a Japanimation artist and is working for someone by making cels. That someone is actually a mafia boss, who is making cels for the Puni Puni Poemi series that can be sold on the black market for exorbitant amounts of money. There are just so many cultural jokes on so many sides here that it?s a boggling episode to watch.

It?s also one of the best episodes to watch in English. Excel and Hyatt?s arrival in the big city has them trying to deal with the natives, so you have Excel speaking very poor Spanish at everyone, only causing them to get infuriated. Then you have Sandora and his South American accent, the mafia bosses with their horrendously campy Italian accents and then just everything else that gets shoved into the pot and it?s like a mental overload. It?s one of the advantages at times with dubs in being able to really discern an accent, something that can be difficult (or non-existent) in the Japanese dialogue.

For those wondering, we did take in the majority of this disc in English during the second round, and much like the earlier volumes I found the new voice actress for Excel to be spot on. There?s a slight slight slight loss of the insanity that Jessica Calvello brought to the role, but Larissa Wolcott really nails the role fast and I?m betting that most casual viewers won?t even notice the difference. At least to my poorly trained ears, and having heard enough dub fans say over the years ?How can you tell the difference between the Japanese voices anyway?, I find it amusing. Hats off to Larissa for taking on such a key role midstride.

While I found less laughs overall with this volume, there?s still a lot of good material here, and comedy is definitely very much something that is unique to each person in what they find tickles their funny bone. This series still is plenty insane.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,A.D. Vid-notes,Open Credits Timing Sequence,Open Credits First Cut,Puni Puni Poemi OVA Preview,Puni Puni Poemi Interview with Yumiko Kobayashi,Production Sketches

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: C+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Excel Saga