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Anime Reviews: Excel Saga
There is so much wrong with Excel Saga, in terms of both its quality and its mental state, but there is almost no anime out there that is sharper and funnier.
Title: Excel Saga
Production: Victor Entertainment
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 10/7/1999 to 3/30/2000
Age Rating: 17+ (mild violence, strong language, frequent partial nudity and suggestive content)
Summary: Excel Excel, senior member and toilet cleaner of the ideological organization of ACROSS, works tirelessly day in and day out to fulfill the goal of ACROSS: the conquering and cleansing of the entire world. However, as her supervisor, Lord Ilpalazzo, notes, conquering the world in one fell swoop is illogical and so they take it in baby steps by setting out to conquer F City in F Prefecture. Along the way, Excel must also take care of Ilpalazzo's various other tasks necessary to purify the earth, such as infiltrating the military, delivering bombs to choice locations, and killing off the story's original author for polluting the earth with filthy comic books. Will Excel be able to conquer the earth for the sake of ACROSS? Will she even be able to conquer F City? Or anything at all?
The Good: Absolutely hilarious; literal mountains of fun references
The Bad: Art and animation deteriorate in second half; lazy story and characters; may come across as exhausting or annoying to many
The Ugly: Puchuus are truly terrifying creatures
I'm going to feel really bad about this review. I just know it. This is one of the pivotal anime I discovered during my teenage years, and I was immediately enamored with it. How could I not be? I enjoy laugh-a-minute parody movies like Airplane! and Scary Movie, and this was the exact same thing--only, instead of American blockbuster thriller/horror movies, it was anime that was on the business end of the satire gun. Needless to say, I loved Excel Saga the first time I saw it and it fried my little mind. But as I watched it again, I realized my relationship with the series was a tenuous one.
But let's begin this review with the very thing that makes (made?) Excel Saga a big name in the anime community: the humor. My God, this anime is funny. There were entire episodes where I cannot stop laughing, and even episodes where I didn't laugh as often still contained comedic gold. The fact that the manga's author gives the studio permission to turn the series into various genres and styles is nothing short of brilliant. And they run the gamut of jokes, too. Do you like slapstick comedy? Excel Saga's got it. Do you like wordplay jokes? Got it. Innuendo? Got it. Deadpan snarking? You bet. Absurdity/juxtaposition? Yep. Mistaken identity? In spades! Referential parody? Oh, man, where do I even begin with that one...
Let's just say this: If you've seen nearly any anime made before 1999 (a.k.a. before the making of Excel Saga), it gets a spot in the limelight. Whether you're a fan of Leiji Matsumoto's space operas, the Gundam franchise, Lupin III, Fist of the North Star, the ever-popular Dragonball Z, or any of the many hundreds of others left unmentioned, there is a joke (or two or five) for you. But anime is not the only place references come from; if you're into Japanese prime-time cop dramas, Japanese game shows, or even the film Titanic, there's a joke (or ten) for you, too! If you've got a funny bone, the chances are good that Excel Saga will tickle it. And many other things, too.
Unfortunately, aside from its awesome opening and ending themes and enthusiastic voice acting, that's pretty much where the series' good points end. And now, with a heavy heart, I must bring up its many flaws.
First, while the art and animation start off vibrant and lively, the studio clearly and obviously ran out of money at the halfway point. Relying heavily on reused animation, two-frame movements, silhouettes, and simplified caricatures, this sudden drop in quality becomes impossible to ignore.
Second, the writing for the series is just flat-out lazy. Oh, I'm not talking about the comedy writing (that stuff is golden), I'm talking about the story and the characters. Of course the story is never the top priority in a spoof comedy, but it does require at least some thought to it--for example, Airplane! wasn't just about the airplane going out of control; it was about Striker trying to rekindle his love life and make amends with the past, with the airplane crisis just being the backdrop. See also: The Producers, Blazing Saddles, This is Spinal Tap. A spoof comedy should have a complete and satisfying story to go along with its myriad of jokes. With that said, Excel Saga's plot of "Excel tries to conquer the city, hijinks ensue" is extremely paltry in comparison. Oh, they try hard to add a story in the last 4 or so episodes, but it only serves to distract the series from its gags. A good comedy works its jokes in perfect conjunction with the plot, and this series fails to do just that.
Worst of all, this laziness extends to the characters themselves. They never develop or change, and they rely on gimmicky personality traits to maintain their identity. Excel is hyperactive and persistent, Hyatt is quiet and dies repeatedly from her anemia, Ilpalazzo is a jerk and secretly wants to be a rock star, and Pedro is sorrowful and hilariously racist. Congratulations, you now know everything there is to know about those four characters! Much like the storytelling department, a good spoof works best when its characters evolve and mature just as they would in a more serious story. Just because you want to rapid-fire jokes and references at the audience doesn't mean you get a free pass to fudge the important stuff!
On a final, and more subjective, note, there are just some people out there that will find Excel Saga to be either annoying or exhausting. Whether it's Excel's manic mile-a-minute dialogue or the sheer velocity at which puns and references are thrown at you, some aspects of the show are just too much for many viewers to take in all at once. In reality, the chief responses to Excel Saga are either "that was funny" or "that was annoying." And in order to determine which camp you're in, all you need to do is watch the first three episodes. If you like it, keep going. If you're getting annoyed, you'll probably want to walk away.
And in the end, that's Excel Saga. You'll either love it or hate it, and while I'm in the former category, I just can't overlook its bare-bones story and its meager animation budget. And there are a great many people out there who will just find it to be repulsively annoying and tiring to sit through. But as long as you're willing to turn your brain off and let the series have its lecherous, dirty way with your funny bone, you will find that you've never laughed so hard in your entire life.
Final Score: 6.5 out of 10. Excel Saga falls flat in its visual and storytelling departments, but when it comes to delivering big laughs, it may forever reign as the undisputed champion in the world of anime.