So back in the early 2000s at my first (or was it second?) Anime Expo I discovered Excel Saga. An anime based on the manga by Koshi Rikdo. The anime centered around the SECRET IDEOLOGICAL ORGANIZATION of ACROSS. Its members only number at three-which includes leader Il Palazzo, Hyatt and the main lead Excel. Four if you count the dog/emergency food supply Menchi. They are working to conquer the city of Fukuoka. Their enemies are the Department of Environmental Security lead by the mysterious Dr. Kabapu and his cracked staff-which are a bunch of early twenties who happen to live in the same apartment complex. Which is also where Excel and Hyatt live. Yet they don’t know they’re enemies. The anime was very much about satirizing/parodying anime tropes and genres with crazy adventures and characters. A neat little anime that was semi-popular but has since become one those “Hey remember that one called Excel Saga?”
Months after the final DVD in 2003 set came out Viz premiered the manga which I picked up. I had only looked at some manga before this and knew that a lot of anime adaptations stayed fairly close to the original source material. I knew Excel Saga would be different but I was quickly surprised by how much. Where as the anime was zany and over the top the manga adhered strictly to the plotline of Across vs. the Department. No crazy space adventures or parodies of high school sports manga/anime. Plus the manga did not include several characters like Nabeshin, Pedro and others. I knew some of that going in but was still struck by how different the series was.
Over the next few years I enjoyed reading the manga to the point where it eclipsed the anime. Rather quickly really. I don’t think I’ve been back to view the anime in years but I have went through this manga several times. The development of the characters and the world building presented an interesting pseudo-science fiction drama with comedy and drama. Its been one of my favorite books to buy every year and during the last few years with the volumes coming out at a snail pace, I always waited with anticipation.
Going in I knew a few of the characters. Excel is the lead-an energetic, enthusiastic, and tough as an ox lady. Hyatt, a gravely ill woman (she spits up blood and dies many times) with a very proper way about her. The manga also includes Elgala, a materialistic beauty with a nasty habit of saying her internal monologue aloud. She joins in after a few volumes. The Across leader Il Palazzo himself remains a mystery through out most the manga but his other half Dr. Kabapu doesn’t. The head of the Department of Environmental Security explained to his team his goals several volumes in. Talks of ancient technological city and a great weapon he seeks to destroy. His crack team includes Watanabe (the sad sack), Iwata (the dumb one), Sumiyoshi (he likes documenting sating sims), and Matsuya (the only capable one). None of which are really interested in the jobs he wants them to do. Assisting the team is Kabapu’s very capable assistant Ms. Momochi and the scientific genius of Dr. Shiouji. Shiouji was a problem character in the anime for his “admiration of young girls” which the anime ramped up. While Shiouji still has that in the manga is very limited and mostly reminded with one of his Ropponmatsu robots. Ropponmatsu I and II were robots built to help them in their fight.
From the start Rikdo sets up everything quick. You meet Excel and most her neighbors who Excel avoids. You get Excel on a few missions or jobs and the cast starts to expand quickly. Her neighbors all apply for civil service jobs and end up working for Dr. Kabapu. The misadventures of Excel and company develop while the neighbors are suddenly thrown into a weird position of ray guns and robots. The two groups cross paths in weird ways for a while. Watanabe crushes on Hyatt in the start and becomes the only non-Across individual she has semi-regular contact with. In one story the Department is sent into the sewers to “look for something suspicious” only for Excel to activate security measures. Eventually Iwata becomes a cyborg (he got cancer, died, Kabapu had Shiouji turn him into a robot) and almost does battle against Excel and Hyatt while wearing a sentai supersuit. When the apartment complex burns down everyone is moved into a new building including Excel, Hyatt, and Elgala with Hyatt being really the only one any of them ever see. One of my favorite parts is seeing Excel go through a brief identity crisis. Its weird to see Excel get depressed and question herself. Its all entertaining but with a story like this the development needs to move forward. Eventually two major developments happen.
It first is a meeting between Shiouji and Matsuya. The twos discussion creates an important alliance in the series. I never cared for Shiouji until Rikdo brought in his cousin Umi, a clumsy cosplayer who is love with her cousin (its weird) and Miwa. Miwa is Shiouji’s mother who is a scientist who makes people around her incredibly uncomfortable. When Matsuya talks with him we learn a few things of importance. First as that Shiouji’s father worked for Kabapu and actually developed the original Ropponmatsu units decades before using technology given to him by Kabapu (an item known as the core). Shiouji never knew his father but seeks to surpass him. We also learn that Matsuya has realized she won’t be able to quit working for Kabapu so she’s trying to find a way to avoid any confrontation with Across or dealing with Kabapu’s crazy ideas. Soon after this meeting circumstances arise that creates a momentous shift in tone. Excel, Hyatt and Elgala are outed.
The shift briefly has Hyatt having amnesia-soon we find a defense mechanism set. In that brief period she’s under surveillance while living with Watanabe. Once Il Palazzo gathers her, Hyatts memories return and off she goes to Watanbes tears and soon attitude change. Excel and Elgala are on the run when Il Palazzo comes for them. Also the Department loses its Ropponmatsu unit. There is technically two but each share the same Core. This leaves Shiouji building advanced robots that do not measure up and has Kabapu searching for answered. Suddenly there’s a time jump and soon rise ILL, a corporation that specializes in top electronics at amazing prices. Chairman Il Palazzo and his president Excel run it with Hyatt and Elgala doing various jobs including missions where they spy and gather evidence on targets. Its the high life. Except for the real Excel who is an amnesiac living with Shioujis family at his lab, with Umi nursing her and helping her. Dubbed Teriha we see Excel in a new light. She’s quieter, shy, and nowhere near as energetic or loud. Another development is the exposure of Kabapu to the public. He’s shown as a manipulator who helped hide scandals, appropriated tax payer money, and did some very shady things. The Department becomes more like city maintenance with Momochi running things and Kabapu a shell of his former self.
During this period Shiouji works on his robots while wondering what his mom is up to. Kapabu thinks back about his time with Shiouji’s father. Sumiyoshi considers if he should ditch the Department. Umi becomes close with Teriha who struggles with her memories. Miwa is… well… what is Miwa doing and why does she seem to know so much about so many things. A lucky break with a gold bar (first shown a few volumes earlier) helps get Kabapu on his feet and he decides to come after Il Palazzo. Both run against one another as mayor with Kabapu somehow winning. During this Elgala comes to the realization that President Excel is an imposter but for her troubles shes demoted and soon on the run from the law as a suspect in a tax evasion scheme (set up by Kabapu). She starts to look for the real Excel and comes across her when Teriha decides to help Ill Palazzo-a man she has been fascinated with and feels oddly drawn to. Excel, Elgala and the President team to try and stop a terrorist attack in ILL HQ which was not done by Kabapu surprisingly.
Explosion later and Excel’s memories are kick started. Excel and Elgala build a shanty house by the channel. they consider their options which includes dealing with the Excel imposter and their enemies from the Department as well as regaining their positions in Across. These plans get mixed up as Excel is wrestling with her new memories of Umi’s friendship. Umi broken up that her new sister is missing and unaware of what both Shiouji and Miwa know/knew about her. Excel’s new plans also make her and Matsuya allies to some degree. They scheme to exchange the imposter (who is really missing Ropponmatsu). Things go very well south with Miwa’s manipulations. This starts the build into the end where Across and the Department discover Miwa’s true purpose.
The last volume was a mixed bag with highs and lows and middle sections. There was action and for some resolutions. The three points that I most appreciated was after the showdown with Miwa it returned to the center plot point with Across’ attempts at world domination. That was a big surprise and the ending, a bit bittersweet with excel and Il Palazzo (back in form) disappearing into the unknown. Plus a throw back to a one off joke in volume 1. Other than that-the reasons behind Tenmagu Shiouji and his ropponmatsu model Miwa make me scratch my head. I don’t know or get what happened with Umi. The rest of the department and Across characters endings were very “things change, time to move on.” To some degree it worked. It read as though Rikdo had a road planned but the actual ending stop didn’t come along. While I wouldn’t put the ending up as a favorite, nor the volume itself, I’d give a resounding “it was okay.” The journey was more entertaining then the finish, and sometimes that’s how it goes.
Speaking of the journey, it greatly surprised me was how Rikdo did have something of a plan. It was hard to notice when the volumes started coming out a few times a year (in some cases once a year) but having recently reread them in order it quickly became clear. It also helped with the later volumes which I got confused with due to the lengthy time between volumes.
This series has been with me longer now than any series I’ve been reading next to Fables, and that series I got into late where as this one I was there since its US release. I’ve watched Excel go through ups and downs in her effort to please her lord Il Palazzo. Seeing sides of her I never expected going in. I’ve watched everyone grow or remain true to their goals. Was quick to read the volumes once I got them to see what shenanigans Kabapu tried to get his staff in. Reading the adventures of Across and all the others has been a bright spot every year. Its sad to see it go. I know its been actually over for some years now but damn US release dates-I had to wait extra long.
So thank you Koshi Rikdo for this book. Excel Saga has been an important comic in my life. Even when I was down on the material it still mattered. I’ll always be a book I think fondly of.