Excel Saga Vol. #1 - Mania.com

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A+
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: A-
  • Extras Rating: A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.99
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Excel Saga

Excel Saga Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     May 27, 2002
Release Date: June 11, 2002

Excel Saga Vol. #1
© ADV Films

What They Say
Excel Saga is a one-of-a kind work of art that can only be described as the
ultimate parody of anime. From the opening credits - a rather odd spoof of
Japanese pop videos - to the ending song featuring Menchi the dog
singing/barking a plaintive ballad while a human interpreter translates for
viewers, nothing is sacred in the world of Excel Saga.

Key Facts: Excel Saga contains the chronically over-challenged and
understaffed secret ideological organization of ACROSS (total membership:
2), whose goal is to conquer the city of F. It contains your complete daily
requirements of Martian princesses, afro-wearing action heroes, mysterious
governmental agencies, space butlers, deranged comic book authors,
androgynous prisoners in iron masks, annoying roommates, removable
moustaches and a generous supply of adorably cute aliens bent on galactic
domination. Excel Saga contains one (1) emergency food supply/singing dog
and one (1) Excel, the most certifiably insane teenage girl to ever walk the
face of the planet.

The Review!
The DVD release that’s been two years in the making! The show that people kept asking about almost daily, beating it into the ground like a dead horse, demanding to know when it arrive! Well, a mere two years after the series completion on Japanese broadcast television and just over a year since the final volume of the Japanese DVD release, ADV Films has produced the first volume of the series that defies explanation.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. With it being a late 90’s TV series, it’s got 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.

Through two viewings on our HDTV setup, I’m hard pressed to find anything to complain about at all here. This disc is simply reference quality and I believe is the best looking disc ADV has produced yet. No cross coloration, no jaggies during panning sequences, no macroblocking in blue sky backgrounds, nothing but a smooth clean lush image. Colors are perfect and the overall look and feel of the show is what I get out of the region 2 discs I get. Definitely the makings of a crown jewel release here.

The layout for this package isn't exactly wacky like the anime, but it does make good use of odd angles and such to make its presentation. The front cover is a nice variation on the original Japanese volume 1 cover while using its kanji-ish looking logo to fool the viewer. The back cover uses a variety of angles to place information on, from the features to the story summary and production information. It's a creative approach that fits this show but would feel really awkward on others. Also included, at least with the initial release, is a small card that identifies the user as a member of ACROSS and gives a variety of very amusing checklist things and text gags. The only downside to it is that it feels very flimsy when compared to some other recent releases utilizing the same thing.

While over recent months ADV has been getting better with their menus, such as Gasaraki and Orphen, they’ve still not really reached a level where I thought they were just “right on” as could be. They were good, but not something that really stands out. Excel Saga, having so much to draw on, has given them some room to be really creative. The opening menu is your basic “gameboy console” with the buttons for the various features, which bounces in over the background of the Great Will of the Universe. Submenus have a similar background with various dead forms of characters floating through them while you wait to make your selections. Language selection is spot on and easy to make sure you’ve got right.

There’s a healthy selection of extras here, and one I want to single out. Let’s talk about the rest first. The first extra you get to see when the disc gets popped in as there’s the FBI warning. But it’s not the regular one, but something more in tone with the show, which is flat out hilarious and truly sets the tone of the disc. The original version of Video Piracy Warning in Japanese is presented in the extras section as well. We get treated to the clean openings and endings for the series as well as getting the original openings and endings with the Japanese credits on screen, which is something a good small but vocal group is calling for more of. There’s also a bunch of black and white production sketches showing character models and designs for the series.

The big extra though is the vid-notes. The best way to think of it, once these are selected, is as a pop-up translator. Or the otaku who knows everything about this series but you wouldn’t actually want in your house. During playback of the program (in either English or Japanese) with this selected on, a little Menchi will pop up with a varying amount of text explaining a sight gag, a particular pun, various references and just about everything under the sun. Do not watch the show without this one. Not only are they providing information that’s practically required to understand a lot of this show, there are enough of them that are just damn funny. During one segment you have Excel falling fast down a hole, and there’s some small sight gags along the way, but they go by far too fast to see. Even these have Menchi pop-ups playing during it. I certainly wouldn’t expect vid-notes like this to show up on every show, nor do they really belong in every show. They’re definitely more suited to a comical show rather than something like the Rurouni Kenshin OVA’s. But they’re just perfect.

And while not an extra, it’s definitely something people here will get some added chuckles out of. During the end credits for each episode, there are all sorts of jokes scattered throughout the English production credits section, different for each episode. Various things such as nicknames, the authoring house being called an Ice House (it’s official folks!) and who on the staff really likes hot dogs. Things like this definitely show what a labor of love this production is, as well as how little sleep these people are getting.

While over the past fifteen years or so of watching anime, there have been a few shows that have made just blink and go “what the hell was that?”, none of them have achieved the level that this show has. Excel Saga truly does take things to a new level of insanity.

The shows premise is very basic. We’re introduced to the new high school graduate Excel as everyone heads out of the school and onto their lives. Within ten seconds of her introduction, she’s killed by a truck. Well, you can’t have a series start off like that, so as we see her body floating through the cosmos, the Great Will of the Macrocosm complains that it’s no way to start a series and brings her back to life. Repeat this with different ways of dying over the course of the next couple of minutes and several resets later…

That gets you used to the quick and sharp edged humor of the show. Thankfully things do move beyond this gag though and we learn that Excel is the sole member of a group lead by the mysterious Ilpalazzo. Located in a secret underground lair, Ilpalazzo’s long range goals are to unify the world after removing all the corruption and decay from it. But unlike most people with the intent of bringing their version of harmony to the world, Ilpalazzo’s smart enough to start small, and that means he’s going to focus on this one city. Though at times it seems more like just one prefecture. Ilapalazzo has determined that the first major source of corruption that must be destroyed is the manga artist. These despicable people are among the lowest scum on the earth and must be destroyed. So Excel is sent off with a large sword in hand to kill her first manga artist, Koshi Rikdo.

It’s with glee that she goes to his residence (after declaring that it’s awful that such a person has a place with a roof). Just at the moment that she’s about to slay the awful manga artist, super deformed versions of her good and evil side appear. After all, the argument is that one should not kill ones creator, and Rikdo is responsible for the Excel manga. The resolution to all of this is simply mind boggling after a reset or two.

And that’s maybe about seven minutes of the first episode with about 95% of the jokes left out. Things come by fast and furious here. Each episode after the first essentially plays on a different style, such as one of them taking place in a newspaper company, another playing off of the American combat movie (done in widescreen and with truly awful American accents). There’s even an invasion episode early on with some of the cutest most disturbing looking creatures since the yellow rat made it to the U.S.

Excel Saga also boasts and amazing cast of characters who tend to interact with each other only in the most minimal of ways. While Excel is definitely the main character, scenes involving Ilpalazzo are quite amusing, from seeing him attempt to learn a guitar whose instructions proclaim anyone can learn to his continual playing of dating sims on his portable gamestation. Probably my second favorite character so far is Nabeshin, a 70’s styled character with the afro (complete with a hilarious afro song) whose involved in some mysterious adventures throughout the world. His storylines tend to along the background, but they bring various ties together throughout. Nabeshin is also based in some ways upon series director Shinichi Watanabe, with his name being a mixed to created Nabeshin. The character manages to pull off a wide range of emotions and skills, making their versatility in such a bizarre world a perfect fit. Nabeshin also has the perfect theme music when things focus on him, sounding like it was ripped right out of Pulp Fiction.

The second episode, which features the invasion, brings in my favorite character. That, of course, is Hyatt. A revived princess of some sort, she’s been suffering from some disease or illness that continually kills her. She’s barely able to move a few steps or stand longer than a minute before keeling over. Even talking often causes her to speckle blood down her lips. But she’s also the opposite of Excel in being very sweet and kind. She’s just not able to move along to well, as evidenced by her just pushing her body along the ground.

And who could not love Menchi? Menchi is a dog that Excel picks up during the first episode as a potential source of food should things get really bad. Of course, things are always really bad for Excel so Menchi is continually on the verge of being eaten, so she’s looking for ways to get away and survive. She’s a crafty dog, and with her name meaning “minced meat”, you just have to feel for her. There’s also a running subplot gag involving an early friend of Excel’s named Pedro, an immigrant building construction worker who only longs to go home to see his son Sandora and his Sexy Wife. He ends up in a lot of trouble due to his relationship of simply knowing Excel, enough so that he ends up being saved by the Great Will of the Macrocosm. The Great Will is a human sized version of a universe/galaxy of stars with arms. And a predilection for immigrant workers named Pedro who apparently is quite good in bed. These bits show up throughout the episodes as background gags to tie other gags together and just stop you straight and make you die with laughter.

One of the key elements to this show, and it’s one I’ve seen dismissed in other peoples thoughts on the show, is the music. Each character of course gets their own unique theme, and they get played fairly repetitively for their brief introduction in each episode and re-introduction in the same said episode, but the way it’s played out is perfect. Every time we get some quite time with Nabeshin, hearing the subtle sounds of his 70’s inspired music just sets the mood perfectly. The ending theme is also beyond perfect, as it’s sung by Menchi with translation by a woman in an oval to the side. If you didn’t feel bad for Menchi during the episode, the first time you see this you’ll just lose it.

This show is for those who just want to be continually hit by nonsense that actually does make sense in some perverted form. With the addition of the vid-notes, something that even the most experienced fan will want to use, this show has definitely brought a rare if not unique comedy to the US. The production values for it are quite high, with great colors, gorgeous character designs (mmm, Hyatt….) and great special effects. This is one of those shows that back in 1999 was turning the tide of just how good the computer animation could make things look.

Having listened to the majority of the English dub as well as the entire Japanese track, I think it’s time we take Jessica Calvello and simply send her to Japan for proper indoctrination. She manages to pull off Excel so perfectly here that it almost borders on creepy at times. The rest of the cast does a good job overall, but while there are definitely challenging roles to be found, it’s definitely Excel that’s the most challenging with the original adlibbing lines and speaking faster than possible. For you first year Japanese speakers, let’s hear you talk like Kotono does during the next episode previews! That should be part of every Japanese course.

If there’s anything that’s actually going to detract from this release, it’s all the naysayers who’ve been complaining about the lack of release since their initial announcement of its acquisition back in early 2000. While it’s definitely been two years since announcement to release (which is actually average for most companies, since most don’t announce acquisitions right away but sit on them for months), I’m extremely pleased that they had whatever issues there were that caused it to be delayed. Just think about it for a minute, would you really have rather it was released back in 2000 when they were releasing problematic titles like Ruin Explorers with its alternate angles, Nadesico with its overlays or other titles with varying degrees of changed dialogue? Never mind the authoring differences between two years ago and now, and the change to a six disc format.

All of the massive changes in the DVD production department for the past two years have culminated in this release. Gorgeous video quality, massive liner notes, great extras and the pop-up vid notes making all the injokes instantly accessible. I’m quite glad for the delays that have gotten us a superior product. This is a release where the region 1 owners can definitely feel truly great about their purchase.

Japanese Language,English Languge,English Subtitles,ADV Vid-Notes,Clean Opening,Clean Closing, Japanese Open/Close,Japanese Video Piracy Warning,Original Japanese Trailers,Production Sketches,ACROSS ID card

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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jnager 3/13/2012 10:13:22 AM

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