By Rikdo Koshi. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialized in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Viz.
Given everything that’s been happening over the last few volumes of Excel Saga, this volume might read at first glance like it’s a bit of a breather. Miwa barely appears, and the same can be said for Il Palazzo. A lot of time is spent trying to ‘fix’ Excel – or rather get her to realize the fix she’s in, but this doesn’t really happen either, mostly as relying on Elgala to bring this about is both hilarious and terrible. What we do see here, though, is a continuation of Rikdo’s ongoing deepening of the characterization. Excel, Hyatt, Misaki, Umi, Watanabe, and even Iwata get depth to them here that makes you sit back and think about just how screwed up their lives have become, and how it’s a lot less easy to accept that now that they’re not cartoon people who get blown up a lot but keep reviving.
For all that I didn’t care for the Teriha plotline, its effects continue to be felt by the group. Umi is still devastated by the disappearance of her friend, and a scene with Iwata (who, for once, gives helpful and useful advice – something he lampshades immediately) shows us how desperately she is clinging to Teriha, given the difficulty she has making friends. There’s a rather startling monologue where she notes that her mother initially thought she was a prodigy, but then she met Shiouji and figured out how far from his heights she was. It’s heartbreaking, in that, although it reminds is that Umi isn’t really dumb, just a klutz and a bit ditzy, there’s also the feeling that she could have been more – at such a young age, finding yourself so limited must be crushing, and I think it helps to explain a lot of her personality, as well as why she’s so devoted to Shiouji. I wonder if he ever thinks about any of this?
As for Iwata, he starts off with minimal memories of the last several years, but thanks to an outbreak of mysterious plot (was this Miwa? It doesn’t quite have the same feel), he seems to be back to himself, physically and mentally (albeit still in an indestructible robot body). In fact, as I noted above, he seems to be a bit less thoughtless and jerkass-ish than before, though that might change at any moment (his variable personality continues to be a sign that he may not live past the series). He’s also the one who knows immediately how to get through to Excel, something Elgala has to be coached to say: mention Umi. As for Misaki, she has less to do here, but is getting more distrustful of everything – and I can’t really blame her, given what’s going on with Iwata and what Shiouji isn’t really telling her. Her emotions are becoming more visible by the day.
Watanabe and Hyatt, meanwhile, seem to have resolved their own plot – and I say seemed because things could turn on a dime at any time. This does lend itself to one of the funnier bits of the volume, where Watanabe attempts to stalk Hyatt but keeps getting distracted by things that require a superhero – which, as Kabapu notes, sort of defeats the purpose of a secret identity, even if its intentions are ultimately good. As if to reward him for doing good deeds (as opposed to being the uncaring sleazy louse he’d morphed into during the Teriha arc), he actually does get to catch up with Hyatt and have a conversation with her. And… it doesn’t go his way, as expected. What surprised me was that Hyatt basically confirms here that she does have feelings for Watanabe, and does now remember him again. The only thing holding her back is her loyalty to Il Palazzo. Hyatt is by her nature one of the most opaque of the Excel Saga bunch, so it’s good to see her getting some depth as well.
And then there’s Excel. She now has an indestructible robot body as well – one that doesn’t even need to rest and power up, to Shiouji’s surprise – and can now finally keep up with Il Palazzo in every way. But it doesn’t seem quite enough, and even constantly heaping abuse on Elgala isn’t the same. It doesn’t help that both Iwata and Elgala remind her of Umi, that being the only thing that might distract her from ACROSS. Indeed, we get to see a rare shot of Excel acting tsundere, still attempting to deny that the Teriha memories are not quite as gone as she’s like them to be, and that she may need Umi’s friendship as much as Umi needed hers. (After all, Excel’s two closest female friends, Hyatt and Elgala, are not really all that close.) My favorite moment of the entire volume, though, was when she reported to Il Palazzo, making his only appearance in this scene. It’s arguable whether it’s really him, but let’s not go there right now. Instead of his usual abuse, he invites her to sit down by his side in the chair next to him. Hardly believing it, she does so – and the look on her face is possibly the cutest we’ve ever seen her, as Carl Horn remarks in his notes. For all that Excel’s devotion to Il Palazzo is used for humor, at its core is a deep, unconditional love. And it’s shown here at its purest, making you actually want to root for them to get together.
We now know that Excel Saga will end with Vol. 27. Luckily, Viz has sped up its release to twice a year again (probably as they now know it’s ending), so Vol. 25 will be out this April. Excel Saga has its faults, of course. The plot can get very confusing even if you do have the photographic memory required to deal with all the various subplots. And Rikdo’s fanservice fetish, now allowed to flourish after the series became a hit, can get very annoying to those who recall he used to draw girls with normal, if busty, proportions, and clothing that was a bit more modest. But there’s still no other manga series out there that has me as invested in its outcome as this (and yes, I have the last three in Japanese, but it’s not the SAME). Join me in April as I prepare to overanalyze Vol. 25 as well! And thanks to Carl Horn and Viz for continuing it to completion!