Hello and welcome back to the yet another perambulation into the depths of retro Anime…and this time it get’s weird. We roll back a bit from last time and dip our toes into the 90’s for the 1999 released ‘Quack Experimental’ Anime that very often cracks me up.
Tonight we brave the unending madness that was ‘Excel Saga’.
I have an odd sense of humour. Most people might say this; but I truly believe that my journeys have given me a rather unusual humour that needs a blend of very strange and especially ironic things to happen in order to get my funny bone tickled. Western comedy has provided me with some good laughs over the years, but very few have had me in breath-less hysterics on the floor…at very least not since I was a child. This all changed when the old SciFi UK channel provided me with this gem of an Anime comedy.
Based loosely on the Excel Saga manga (which I have recently been reading and enjoying veeeery much), this Anime followed the extreme trials of a young woman named Excel, who together with her co-worker & flatmate Hyatt were agents of the mysterious ACROSS organisation. Headed by the ‘benevolent’ Lord Il Palazzo, the Girls of ACROSS aimed to Take Over the World (or course!), but being pragmatic they focused all of their energies into conquering their home city first…and planned to work out from there.
And so our ‘heroes’ were essentially villains and the parallels with ‘Pinky and the Brain’ were difficult to ignore. Each episode featured ACROSS’s latest hair-brained plan for conquest, which due to various unfortunate (and often violent) mishaps would be doomed to failure.
Much of the comedy of Excel Saga came out of this constant failure, but also from very the pathetic existence of Excel & Hyatt. When they were not on ‘ACROSS’ duty, they would have to eek out a very basic existence in recession-hit Japan while bouncing from one part-time job to another. World-conquest was not a high-paying career path it seemed, and things had gotten so tight that the girls had kept a small dog in their apartment named ‘Mince’ (in the English dub) who served as their ‘emergency provisions’. Thankfully Mince was saved from her appointment with the grill, and she did provide for some of the best comedy in the show.
I should go into a little more details on the characters, as Excel Saga was very much character driven.
The titular Excel was the driving force of the show; who’s near constant mania and loyalty to ACROSS and Il Palazzo provided a tragic hilarity to her character. While she survived on the edge of near starvation, Excel suffered the role of an unaccredited field officer who would take the brunt of physical punishment while trying her hand at various part-time jobs. It was all down to Excel to moonlight in order to fund ACROSS and her very existence.
Coupled with the hapless Excel, we were joined by the ridiculously ill Hyatt. Quite literally named after the famous hotel-chain, this young woman lived and worked alongside Excel…whenever she wasn’t keeling over and suddenly dying. I’ve noticed characters like Hyatt before, and Mitsumi from Love Hina comes to mind straight away. This type of character is what I like to call a ‘Nearly Dead Girl’. This type of character is introduced to certain anime & manga whenever ‘sudden-death comedy’ is required. I’m also convicted that there’s an element of fandom that find’s attribute ‘cute’, although that seems very macabre. That said, so of Hyatt’s sudden-death comedy had me in hysterics a few times…so there’s something to it I think.
Meeting the threat of the ‘evil’ ACROSS, we also had a force for good in the form of the local government, and in true bureaucratic style they assigned some poorly trained civil servants to the task of protecting the city from super-villains. These were the 20-something crew of Watanabe, Iwata, Sumiyoshi, and the fiery Matsuya. Together they formed a sit-com all of their own while they tried and horribly failed to be ‘Power Rangers’ style superheroes. By coincidence they also happened to be neighbours to the ACROSS girls, and their attempts to interact provide for some of the anime’s most enjoyable comedy moments.
By now you have probably gotten the impression that no one is particularly good at what they do, and you would be right. This I believed was the point of the show, since the plot didn’t seem to be all that important. No…as long as we enjoyed seeing them fail there would be enjoyment.
We already had the makings of a good time so far in Excel Saga, but one extra element added a little extra fun that did make all the difference. Although I am normally very strict in my belief that the Fourth Wall (the invisible barrier between audience and show) should never be violated, Excel Saga crosses this wall with the inclusion of it’s own director.
Shinichi Watanabe (who I previously mentioned in my Tenchi Muyo: GXP retrospective) joined the cast of Excel Saga as his afro-donned Anime alter-ego Nabashin. Part-director, part-secret agent / detective / super-hero Nabashin operated parallel to the main plots of Excel Saga on his own quest aid foreign worker ‘Pedro’ and his son into becoming ‘Afro-Warriors’. Together the Hairy Warriors venture out to rescue Pedro’s “Sexy Wife” from “That Man”. This was both epic and ridiculous, but that was par for the course in Excel Saga.
To top off this insane Anime-cake, there was also as distinct lack of decency. Everything was fair game for laughs, and sometimes the show nearly went too far, both visually and in terms of what it was handling.
This went so far that one final bonus episode was produced, with the clear intention that it would be too extreme for broadcast. It was even one minute too long, ensuring that it would never be aired on Japanese television. This episode was made available on the DVD, and some European channels have broadcast it. Believe me, that if you ever manage to see this episode you will see why it doesn’t appear on TV too often. It was really quite extreme.
It this point I should wrap up this retrospective and recommend that you do track down this comic gem of an Anime. I also wholly recommend the manga, which I’m reading through right now!
Next time, I will delve back into the 80’s for a significant retro anime. Suit up and join me next time for the Orignal 1980’s Bubblegum Crisis!
Until then: (Trap Door Opens) “HAIL LORD IL PALAZOOOOooooooooooo........."