Been a while since I’ve done one of these, which is too bad because I’ve been meaning to get to some of them for a while. This is one I actually got sort-of on a recommendation. My friend back in college had watched it and been a fan, saying how great it was, so I picked it up and checked it out. And oh man…wow…
The best way to characterize this anime is being in the same vein as “Ren & Stimpy” or, in other words, an anime on acid. It has less gross body humor, though, which I think makes it a bit superior. The basic overall plot is as follows: Excel, a young graduate, has found employment working for ACROSS, an evil organization bent on world domination, and is working under its leader Lord Il Palazzo, a generic anime dark lord who believes the world is corrupt and needs to be conquered to establish order. However, the organization is “starting small” by trying to take over only a single prefecture, and it is Excel’s duty to go out on various missions to accomplish that end. Shortly into the series, she gets accompanied by fellow officer Hyatt and a dog/emergency rations named Menchi. Inadvertently, most of her actions end up running afoul of the “good guys” of the series: the Department of City Security headed by a clandestine official named Kabapu and run by rather clueless civil servants mostly oblivious to their own purpose as they are reluctantly turned into a zentai fighting force.
That’s the basic plot. What happens from there? Basically everything goes bat-sh’t crazy.
Excel herself is hopelessly lovestruck with Il Palazzo and fiercely devoted to doing anything she can to please him; all attempts of which are routinely ignored and, most often, Il Palazzo metes out extreme punishment to her for lack of focus and childishness. This includes often dropping her in a trap door that includes various things such as crocodiles, sharks, and bottomless-pits-in-progress-still-being-dug-while-she’s-falling-in-them, or simply outright blowing her up with a bazooka. Hyatt literally “sucks at life”, spontaneously dying and reviving multiple times in almost every episode. Since Excel is constantly poor and strapped for cash from her low-paying occupation, she keeps the dog Menchi around as “emergency rations” and frequently makes threats to cook and eat her, and as a result the dog tries to flee at every opportunity, and ends every episode singing a mournful (and translated) ballad about her plight while Excel darts in and seasons her periodically. And the Department of City Security is filled with clueless idiots with their own crazy quirks, such as one character only able to speak in floating words (like in a manga) and a pair of bomb-disposal androids who are horrendous at their job.
Each episode is literally a different genre. Seriously. One episode is a war movie. Another is a romance. Another is a sci-fi space opera. Another is a sports anime. And each one is done as a huge silly parody with outrageous cameos (such as Maetel from “Galaxy Express 999” and Blossom from “The Powerpuff Girls”), nods to other anime (such as using “Dragonball Z”‘s Kamehameha wave with both hands and one foot, paraphrasing “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon”, or an entire episode that’s a ripoff of “Fist of the North Star”), and lots of other off-the-wall jokes (such as how in one episode when they go to the USA all the basic American does is say obscenities in English). To be honest, this kind of makes the overall narrative hard to follow. You never can really tell what “actually happened” in an episode that carries over into the rest of the series and what is just wackiness as a gag. But since the whole series is not really meant to be linear or coherent and is more of a running joke series, it kind of works out.
There’s even frequent breaking of the fourth wall, such as Excel sent on an assassination mission to kill Rikdo Koshi, the author of the original manga, and Director Shinichi Watanabe AKA “Nabeshin” himself appearing in the series with his legendary afro (which is real, by the way…I’ve met him in real life at a con) to save the day as a deus ex machina. There’s the insanity of the Great Will of the Macrocosm, personified as a tiny galaxy with disembodied arms and lips, popping in to do literal cosmic resets whenever a character gets killed, the fact that the voice actor for the character does another character eventually leading to both characters becoming the same individual, and an entire insane side-story that unfolds throughout the series about construction worker Pedro and his quest to come back to life, reunite with his Beloved Son and Sexy Wife, and to defeat the ultimate villain: That Man (no, not the “Guilty Gear” one…just…watch the series).
What’s even more insane is that for the last few episodes of the series, the plot suddenly turns completely serious, eschews almost all of the humor, and actually is rather dramatic. In those bits of the series, Excel is faced with the reality that Il Palazzo will never actually love her and sees her as a failure and nuisance, and Il Palazzo himself gets his wish to conquer only to turn more evil and obsessed with more conquest. Even the “good guys” become more serious as they set out to stop him in an epic showdown, and…well, it’s all rather complicated for such a crazy series, but the bottom line is for an anime that is mostly like a drug trip, it manages to be remarkably endearing and touching.
And if that wasn’t enough, the series officially “ends” at episode twenty-five, yet there’s a twenty-sixth episode after the ending aptly named: “Going Too Far”. That title is most appropriate, as it not only has an extra, unneeded episode that’s more in the vein of most of the episodes, but the series also pushes itself into 18+ territory with feces, swearing, nudity, male erections, and girl-on-girl action…in other words, “going too far”.
As you may have guessed from my other series on my blog in which I do a Christian devotional…that episode was a bit too much for me, even understanding that it was just meant to be a big gag, and I thought while the concept was humorous the episode itself was rather inappropriate. Needless to say, this is a case where one episode skews the rating for the series as a whole, similar to how “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” would have been a PG movie if not for the one scene at the airport terminal that made it solidly an R.
But ignoring that episode and maybe certain parts of other episodes, the series is great. It’s funny, it’s wacky, it’s loaded with references that you enjoy looking for, and it’s so insane that you find yourself watching the next episode eagerly wondering what the genre will be this time. If that wasn’t enough, it actually manages to get into some heart in the last few episodes, which for a series that is so off-the-wall is not easy.
Most of the animes in the Junk Bin are one-season and can be safely forgotten. But as Adult Swim on Cartoon Network has shown us, there are a few one-season animes out there that deserve to be immortal classics. “Cowboy Bebop” is one. “Outlaw Star” is another. And what rightly deserves to be included in those ranks, to me, is “Excel Saga”.
Rating: 4 out of 5 (4.5 without Episode 26)
This world is corrupt! But this anime is fantastic!
What you should do with this DVD set: Pay homage to the great afro by assigning it a place of honor in your anime collection and spreading news of the Nabeshin to all your friends.