Excel Saga Volume 1

By Rikdo Koshi. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Viz.

One of my all-time favorite manga series, I want to review this from the start, mostly because the general reaction I get when I mention it is “Wait, that’s still running?” Or even worse, “Wait, that was a manga?”. A classic case of Adaptation Displacement, the anime that was released over here in 2002 was wildly popular, and the manga, coming out about a year and a half later, ended up disappointing fans who wanted more over the top lunacy.

But back to the beginning. First there was Rikdo Koshi the doujinshi artist, who did fan parody comics for various series running in the 1990s, including Card Captor Sakura. He also had an original hentai doujinshi that was collected into a volume called Municipal Force Daitenzin, a sentai parody about a group of idiotic people in powered suits trying to save the day. Two minor characters in that doujinshi series were the villain of the piece and his hyperactive, incompetent assistant. When Shonen Gahosha gave Rikdo the opportunity to create his own manga, he cut out the pornographic bits and made Excel and Il Palazzo the focus.

And so we have Volume 1, which seems very odd to read coming at it about 15 years later, with Volume 23 just having been released in Japan. We are introduced to our main cast working for the secret organization ACROSS: Excel, the still hyperactive and incompetent minion; Il Palazzo, her cold yet bishonen superior with a fondness for dropping her into a pit of water at the slightest provocation; Hyatt, a fellow minion at ACROSS with a nasty tendency to cough up blood and drop over dead; and Mince, a put upon puppy who gets deemed ’emergency food’ by Excel.

We also meet three of her neighbors, Iwata, Watanabe, and Sumiyoshi, but as yet they are not part of the main plot and almost seem to be off in their own separate manga. Notable is Watanabe’s first meeting with Hyatt, beginning his obsessive crush with her, and also Sumiyoshi’s tendency to communicate only in captions behind his head. (He also “speaks” in the manga in a heavy Geordie accent, Carl Horn’s attempt to show his Okayama accent while getting out of the Brooklyn/Southern trap most Viz or ADV manga fell into. Strangely, it works, though the phonetic absolutism of the accent can make him hard to interpret.)

At this point, the manga is still finding its feet, and there’s not much of the overreaching plot we’ll get in future volumes. There’s also not much here the anime watcher will recognize. The manga was only up to Volume 4 when it was licensed for anime, and the publisher requested that the anime not actually use the manga’s plotline (hence the “I agree to let Excel Saga be turned into a ______ anime” shtick). So the characters and basic plot (ACROSS tries to take over the world and fails) are the same, but the details are altered.

The humor is also a bit different. There is still some slapstick violence, and Excel shows her remarkable endurance even in the first chapter, but the comedy here stems from wordplay and ridiculous situations. Excel’s part-time jobs come before her minioning, as a girl has to eat, and we can also see from some of her complex rambling speeches (going off about the phylum and order of cave crickets, for example) that she’s quite intelligent. Excel isn’t stupid, just crazy, impetuous and a bit broken. Notably, when joined by Hyatt she starts to comment wryly on her health state, and shows signs of becoming a deadpan snarker. She’ll develop this far more once Elgala shows up in Volume 8.

There are occasional references to the anime in this translation, which is adapted and edited by Carl Horn and Dan Kanemitsu. Several jokes are Westernized, but notably the endnotes also note the original Japanese joke as well, which works out fine. Amusing bits include noting that Rikdo asked the anime version of Excel Saga not to have any panty shots (especially amusing if you know how fanservicey Excel Saga gets in later volumes), as well as Il Palazzo calling Jesus Christ a criminal of the State worse than Hitler and Aum Shinrikyo, much to Excel’s horror. (In case anyone is wondering, this is the scene they didn’t dare put in the anime, as the back cover notes.)

Excel Saga Volume 1 is just plain fun. It doesn’t have the healthy backstory we’ll get in future volumes, but you don’t need that right away. Instead, you just have fun watching Excel and Hyatt fail desperately for the glory of Il Palazzo, and her next-door neighbors assaulting each other for random slights. It’s a fun, funny manga.

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  1. Hmm, an intelligent Excel?That could change everything.

  2. Oh, I'm not saying she *uses* that intelligence… :)

  3. I love this manga so much, but it's completely dropped off almost everyone's radar. *Ah, to be a lone Excel Saga fan in a sea of internet* I'm glad to see someone willing to take the long trek to introduce new readers to the series. It's probably the most covert intelligent comedy in manga.

  4. You have convinced me to give the manga a chance! I watched some of the anime with a friend, but found it to be a little too over-the-top. It sounds like the manga, with less lunacy, might be more my speed. Helping matters is my completely awesome local library, which either has or is in the process of acquiring all 21 volumes available now.

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