By Rikdo Koshi. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialized in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Viz.
In between all the body swaps, and personality wipes, and past lives, and pure hostile mind takeovers, it’s become increasingly apparent that one of the core themes of Excel Saga (the manga) has been identity. What is it that makes us who we are? Is it the bag of meat we currently inhabit? Is it that we think, therefore we are? What if we have amnesia? What if we’re put into a robot body? What if we are a reincarnation of someone else with similar memories? Lately it seems that our cast, especially Excel, need to have this question answered. And while I’m not sure this volume gives us anything definitive, it is one of the best at showing just how complicated this can actually be.
Let’s start with Excel, who is now back in her regular old human body after a couple volumes as a Ropponmatsu. Of course, ‘regular old human body’ has never quite applied to Excel, given she is capable of lifting several hundred pounds if she doesn’t think too hard about it, can open doors to ancient civilizations, and clearly has a past which Doctor Kabapu is trying hard to deny. (Kabapu and Shiouji’s greek chorus is one of the more frustrating things going on in this volume, mainly as Kabapu clearly has the answers but doesn’t want to say them out loud, and Shiouji doesn’t care enough.) Unfortunately, Excel, newly invigorated and with Hyatt and Elgala by her side, runs into Il Palazzo, and the shock causes her to have a mental breakdown for the last half of the volume.
Because of course that isn’t really Il Palazzo. Oh, it’s his body, all right. This is actually a major reason why Excel breaks down, as she can’t get over how Il Palazzo-ish he really is… until he speaks. And we finally get to see the truth about Shiouji’s father, Tenmangu. I’ve gotta say, we’ve been expecting him to be possessing Miwa’s body since about Vol. 13, which is… sort of true, only not. No, he’s now in control of Il Palazzo, and Miwa is a Ropponmatsu – one far more powerful than anything Shiouji could ever invent. Of course, this may not really matter all that much, as we’ve never really delved too deeply into who Il Palazzo really is. Excel figures out something is wrong purely due to the ideals she holds so dear – Il Palazzo talks about this “wonderful world”, and she knows her real love believes that this world is truly corrupt. (Given Excel Saga’s plotline, I really have to lean more towards Il Palazzo than Tenmangu here.)
Even if you can understand who someone really is, there’s always the chance of them disappointing you. Both Umi and Hyatt seem to hold Teriha/Excel on an impossible pedestal, one that she’s never really going to live up to. Elgala is more realistic about her expectations of Excel, but gets too lost in her own la-la land to be of any help. Misaki still has trouble rationalizing her love for Iwata, given what a giant doofus he is 90% of the time. Sumiyoshi always found Ropponmatsu 2 to be a loli pain, but is rather surprised by how angry her destruction makes him. And Watanabe disappoints EVERYONE, as his love for Hyatt has clearly not lessened (or ind3eed deepened) one iota.
The next volume of Excel Saga is the final one, and I’m fairly certain that we won’t be getting everything answered. But we should at least clear up a few things, and hope that at least some of these people can live happily ever after. Or at least get a good night’s sleep. God knows they need it.
(Also, Excel’s face when she realizes that’s not Il Palazzo is beautiful yet achingly sad at the same time. This series can still hit the heartstrings when it wants to.)