Excel Saga Volume 21

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

At long last, folks, we are caught up with Excel Saga. At least until next week, when Volume 22 comes out. But for now, back to one year ago, when Volume 21 came out! Yes, it may be down to once a year, but Excel Saga marches on! (On a quick tangent, I note that one of the endnotes in this volume takes up almost an entire page telling us that Iwata’s ‘Sexy Adventure’ was in English in the original Japanese manga, and then telling us about Lupin III’s third season. In detail. Tremendous detail. Only Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service brings you this level of endnote, a level that may go beyond the fringe of reader comprehension, and reminds us that editors are for OTHER people. It’s awesome.)

Meanwhile, in the actual manga, Excel has grown frustrated with being unable to see Il Palazzo, and decides it’s high time she and Elgala go looking for him. So it’s back to the sewers, in a nostalgic retrospective that reminds us of the good old days of Volume 6 and its control room of deathtraps. Excel and Elgala run into one of those deathtraps, namely a torrent of water coming down the pipe. Luckily, Excel has a solution to drowning: Elgala, who she proceeds to suck all the air out of like an aqualung (as Carl notes in an endnote, what’s the opposite of the Kiss of Life?). Luckily, they both survive, and manage to make it to the locker room and get back in uniform. It’s really been a LONG time since we saw the uniforms.

As this is happening, the Security Force cast are relaxing at a hotspring. This mostly consists of Iwata trying to peep on Misaki while she’s bathing, only to be foiled by the mines she had thoughtfully set up. The most interesting part of this chapter is seeing Miss Momochi’s teasing side, as she asks Misaki if she wants to swap room assignments so that she can be with Iwata. Misaki actually drops her sake cup, and I would too. This is the most Momochi has spoken in 21 volumes, as she gets to talk more once Iwata accidentally tries to molest her instead of Misaki in the middle of the night. (He actually feels remorse at this, a rare Iwata trait.) We still know absolutely nothing about her, and we may never know, but it’s as close to character development as she gets.

Meanwhile, Excel is back in Il Palazzo’s throne room! Elgala is not, mostly as she was trailing behind, and failed to notice that doors don’t automatically open for her. Excel has enough trouble, though, as she’s dealing with seeing Hyatt once again encased in some sort of cryostasis chamber (presumably to try to make her well again), not to mention Il Palazzo immediately dropping her into the pit. The pit! Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve seen the pit? So nostalgic… Anyway, she manages to avoid falling by merely dislocating both hips, and discovers that the Il Palazzo on the throne… is a HOLOGRAM! Of course, now she’s wondering exactly how many times before Il Palazzo has deployed a fake to deal with her.

As this happens, Shiouji is trying to infiltrate ACROSS’s base as well, using Ropponmatsu II. She does very well, until she runs into RopponExcel, who smashes her across the room (and into Elgala, but it’s not the worst damage she’s ever suffered). The real Excel arrives and sees her double abusing a child, and tries to go to town on the robot. It’s actually rather startling that Excel is able to hold her own, given we’ve previously seen Excel having tremendous difficulty lifting Ropponmatsu I. Perhaps she just has to not think about what she’s doing? In any case, it’s yet another example of Excel having superhuman strength and endurance, something we’re likely used to by now. The battle doesn’t last long, as Excel and Elgala retreat and leave the two robots to fight it out.

Excel and Elgala continue their attempts, now trying to get OUT of the base. This involves Elgala holding Excel’s hand, as she finally gives in and admits that the doors won’t open for anyone else. (Excel blithely notes that she’s never noticed such things at her rank.) Unfortunately, they run into Miwa, who has now pretty much taken over the base, and she expels them forcefully down an even BIGGER pit. After all this wackiness, Il Palazzo returns to his throne (seemingly not a hologram now, although I hesitate to use the word ‘real’ in regards to Il Palazzo anymore) with a rejuvenated Hyatt and RopponExcel at his side.

So everyone’s back to square one… at least until Iwata, for reasons still unclear, wakes up in the body of Ropponmatsu II (who got creamed by RopponExcel, and is back in the lab for repairs). After some brief awkwardness showering with Umi (and more lampshading that, despite seeming to be a total perv, Iwata has only ever been interested in Misaki – like Momochi, he mostly feels guilt when seeing Umi), Iwata knows the best way to abuse being in someone else’s body – go find Misaki and try to sneak into her bed as Ropponmatsu II. This goes about as well as you’d expect, though it does take Misaki at least 6 pages to figure it out – is she slipping? So she stomps him unconscious… and he wakes up…

…in RopponExcel! OK, we now have no idea whatsoever what is going on with Iwata now, as he can apparently jump between any robot body unconsciously. Now he’s in Il Palazzo’s base, and trying to figure out what’s going on. He meets up with Hyatt, who’s still trying to figure out “what’s wrong” with her sempai, and reminds her of Watanabe, something which seems to cause her to dribble blood a little. Again, we see that a brainwiped Hyatt seems totally healthy, but the moment she starts remembering things, she is coughing up blood again. Iwata, somewhat poleaxed to realize that he’s in the body of “Teriha”, ends up bolting, and quickly arrives at the same secret room Excel almost got into 18 volumes or so ago. Sadly, it appears to zap him, and he ends up back in his own body.

Shiouji, delighted to get new information on his mother’s secrets, no matter how unintentionally Iwata did this, decides to interrogate him, with Misaki’s help. This goes very badly, as Iwata gets more and more random, and Shiouji notes that a human brain just has trouble adapting to a robot’s processes, and that Iwata is becoming increasingly unable to perceive reality. Yes, even more so. As this happens, Hyatt is out for a walk, trying to get her brain around what’s happening to Excel – still. Not one for great thoughts, our Hyatt. Sadly, she runs into Sumiyoshi, which again triggers memories, causing her to cough up blood and pass out into the river. Naturally, where does she end up? At Excel and Elgala’s cardboard domicile at the riverbank, where Excel has a computer setup as part of her attempts to become more worthy of her Lord. (She did the physical part as well, stopping only when Elgala was at the point of exhaustion. Excel was unfazed, of course.) Elgala notes that she used to be horrible with computers, and we see Excel flashing back to her time as Teriha, where she was reading tons of the Professor’s programming books merely for something to do. Clearly Excel is remembering SOME things about Teriha, but is generally too embarrassed to admit them.

So our power trio are together again, once Hyatt returns from the dead, and just in time, too, as the computer is giving a message to all members of ACROSS – from Il Palazzo! What could it be? Well, we’ll find out next week, when Volume 22 arrives in stores.

Summary of Volumes 1-21: Excel Saga is awesome, and needs more love.

Excel Saga Volume 20

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

Hallelujah. After what seems like a lifetime, this is it. This is the volume. Excel is back, baby! And as if to celebrate that fact, Rikdo has gone the extra mile, giving us one of the absolute best volumes to date.

However, at the start of it, we’re still focusing on Teriha, who has heard the news about a bomb at the ILL building. She runs into Elgala, and the two of them break into the building through the parking garage. Some lovely stuff here, mostly as Teriha has no idea who Elgala is, but still feels the need to punch her hard enough to break her jaw out of sheer instinct. Elgala, for her part, is happy that she’s in a manga, as she manages to shake her head a bit and get rid of all the bone and cartilage damage (though she notes ruefully she can’t do it twice in a row). And as they head up to find the bomb, Iwata is heading down, having transformed – midair – into his sentai suit, something which went absolutely fine except his head is now backwards. This fazes him not a bit. Lastly, Il Palazzo has sent RopponExcel down to find the bomb as well, and the three groups all run into each other at once.

RopponExcel, also seemingly running on instinct, takes out Iwata fast (it’s more emotion than we’ve ever seen from her, and clearly implied she shared Ropponmatsu I’s memories somewhat), and finally is face to face with Teriha. Elgala clearly wants some form of confrontation, but unfortunately there’s still a bomb, as RopponExcel and Teriha tell her. In unison. Elgala is rather disturbed by the almost Zen-like bond the two share, as they even find the bomb at the same time – RopponExcel using her super investigating skills, Teriha by pure instinct. RopponExcel starts to defuse the bomb, but sadly the bomb’s creator (take a wild guess who that is – no prizes, she’s the only real villain the series has left) decides to set it off then and there. This takes out RopponExcel, but Teriha and Elgala were shielded. And what’s worse, there were TWO bombs – and one has been delivered to Il Palazzo’s office.

Teriha takes off, racing to the top floor, bolting past a rather stunned Hyatt (who has slowly been realizing that Elgala was correct about a fake Excel but not really having the will to do much about it) and tells Il Palazzo – right as the bomb explodes, sending them flying out the top window of an 80-story building. And they start to fall. And it’s the falling – after so many drops into the pit, or falls into the sea, or just plummeting in general – that wakens Excel’s memories. In fact, it may almost be conscious – Teriha seems to know what’s about to happen, and tells Umi ‘bye-bye…’… before starting up in maniacal glee and screaming “HAIL, IL PALAZZO!” It’s fantastic. If only Il Palazzo felt the same – he shoves Excel away from him and activates some sort of antigrav device, the teleports out with the inactive RopponExcel. Excel plummets into a nearby handy river. Elgala merely gets trampled in the mass exodus from the building. And Hyatt is MIA.

(Oh yes, the Security Agency watches all this via remote, and does its best snarky commentary. Relevant here is that a) Iwata points out to them that Excel is Teriha, and had in fact been living with the professor for a year; b) everyone has pretty much guessed that Miwa was behind all this, but can’t do much about it, and c) Umi is devastated at Teriha’s absence, walking around in a stupor. Shiouji, showing a rare bit of compassion, notes she isn’t the sort of personality to let this bring her down for long, and will snap out of it soon.)

What follows next is perhaps the BEST MONTAGE EVER, as Excel tries to piece together what she’s been doing. Yes, she has her memories back, but all her time as Teriha is now gone. We see her escaping her plight in Vol. 15. We see her on a boat, which is promptly destroyed. (For fans of the anime, Pedro makes his 2nd and final appearance here.) She’s in China, dressed as Chun-Li, trying to do a dash-and-dine with roast pig. We see her in Russia, with a Cossack helmet, then fleeing a la Anastasia. She goes to America via the luggage hold (and, it’s noted, is freezing to death in there – a bit of realism in a not-very-realistic anime), where she ends up as a NYC police officer (no, I’m not making this up), but she still can’t escape the enemies constantly chasing her, who eventually capture and chain her up. However, the sight of… wait, this sounds ludicrous. Even Excel tells herself to calm down and notes that her memories sound more like a movie than something that actually happened. Made an awesome montage of Excel being silly, superhuman, and generally Excel-ish, though.

So Excel is now back to her normal self, something that delights Elgala when they come across each other on the riverbank. Elgala may get abused by Excel, but at least it’s the abuse she’s used to, and not confusing new abuse. Excel, meanwhile, is rather disheartened to learn she’s somehow lost an entire YEAR (one of the few times the manga actually tells us how long things take) and been replaced by a duplicate. Elgala’s pep talk doesn’t help that much, but Elgala’s insults do, and soon Excel is back to her old self and deciding that they will raise money that will help them get to Il Palazzo.

So they start by becoming shrine maidens. This may, in fact, be the funniest chapter in the book, one which plays on the then-current anime Kannagi, which was taking otaku by storm. They’re doing it supposedly to aid an old, bed-ridden priest, but don’t seem to care about him too much – especially not when he goes mad after Excel carves the Sacred Tree into a life-sized idol of Il Palazzo. However, they do make the shrine incredibly profitable, and the cash is soon rolling in. Sadly, this does not mollify the priest, who gets his revenge by burning the shrine down. Excel and Elgala weren’t in it at the time – they were drinking out on the grounds – but that doesn’t matter, as Excel’s Il Palazzo shrine is in there, and she goes back to get it after much struggling (Elgala generally values self-preservation a lot more than her senior). This leads to my favorite two pages in the entire volume, where we see Elgala, saddened and crushed as she gazes into the fire where Excel has just thrown herself. We then cut to what Elgala sees – Excel, burned to a crisp, holding into the preserved Il Palazzo idol, her hands in a ‘V’ sign. “You win, senior.” Excel then notes that it wasn’t even about the statue, and that she had to make sure that “she can go through fire or him.” One reason I love the later part of the manga is Rikdo’s ability to be incredibly silly then turn serious on a dime. Luckily, Excel reminds us of her insane healing ability here as well, as her charred flesh is fine the next day.

The last chapter has Excel, Elgala and Menchi – still homeless – freezing to death at the riverbank. Excel decides that this may be a good time to use some of the money she hid from Elgala to buy a hotel room. It’s rather fun being reminded of Excel’s incredible parsimonious, as well as her very sensible reasoning for hiding the cash from Elgala – Elgala would likely spend it all in about 5 minutes. So they get a cheap hotel room – which is clearly haunted. Sadly, only Elgala seems to notice the ghosts, and Excel solves the problem by getting the manager (who is clearly aware the room is haunted) to knock a few hundred yen off the price. She then leaves Elgala to freak out and goes to buy groceries, noting rather grimly that she does see visions, but pays them no mind – meanjing she is still haunted, to an extent, by her Teriha memories. This is not helped by her then SEEING Umi off in the distance. She starts to go after her, but is stopped by Professor Shiouji, who notes that seeing Excel would merely make Umi worse right now, and that if she doesn’t remember her time as Teriha, she doesn’t belong here. It’s really rather harsh, but entirely accurate. A melancholy Excel returns to the apartment, where Elgala is now seeing her skeletal remains in mirrors and the wallpaper seems to be concealing a dead body. Excel finally agrees that yes, something is wrong with the apartment, and they flee back to the freezing riverbank.

It was wonderful to see Excel and Exgala back to their old tricks here, and I hope Hyatt is able to join them soon. However, the plot continues apace, and Miwa’s plans – whatever they are – are not showing any signs of being stopped. What happens next? I guess we’ll find out soon!

Excel Saga Volume 19

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

Sorry for the rush, but I got sidetracked for a while, and now need to wrap up these reviews so that I can review Vol. 22 when it comes out in April. :) And there’s a lot to talk about with this volume, which continues the very, very long Teriha arc.

Our ‘villains’, the City Environmental Security Administration, don’t have quite as much plot-related stuff to do in this volume. The highlight manages to be Iwata’s insane desire to get a driver’s license, which fails not because he’s a total freak who would wreck a car by merely looking at it, but because he is dead. Cyborgs with false identities have difficulties getting basic amenities. So Iwata does the next best thing, and gets a bicycle, which he can drive at superhuman car-like speeds. This goes about as well as you can expect, and he merely ends up smashing Sumiyoshi’s brand new car that he was able to buy.

They also get focus in the final chapter, which is about a bomb that’s been planted at ILL’s giant office tower. This concerns Dr. Kabapu greatly, not only as the bomb isn’t one of his, but because he did plant a different, MUCH BIGGER bomb that might go off if this other one does – and level part of the city. Well, he gets bored easily. The highlight here is seeing Misaki’s face as she realizes how screwed up the situation they’re in is. She actually facepalms twice in two pages. Il Palazzo, of course, is not deterred by something as gauche as a bomb, and tells his employees not to panic or flee but merely look for suspicious packages.

Meanwhile, we also have Hyatt, who hasn’t really coughed up that much blood lately, possible as she’s been relatively stress-free. That ends here, as she’s starting to worry about Elgala’s words to her about Excel being a replacement. This leads, of course, to copious coughing of blood and collapse. Still, she’s better off than Elgala, who really hits rock bottom here. Having already been demoted to the fifth sub-basement, she’s now been scapegoated as the culprit in an embezzlement plot that Kabapu is trying to pin on Il Palazzo. Il Palazzo solves this by simply telling Elgala to be the best fugitive she can be, and then promptly forgetting about her. And so it’s back to pursuits that are somewhat familiar to readers of Excel Saga – dine and dashing, and sleeping in a cardboard box under the bridge. Not to mention fleeing the police courtesy Iwata’s bicycle, in a nice dovetailing of plots that reminds you how insane everyone in this cast is.

She’s not alone, however, as she is joined eventually by Menchi, who gets a long chapter devoted to her, the first in several volumes. She’s been having it soft recently, and in fact has had to be put on a diet to avoid diabetes. That changes here, though, as Elgala is now on the lam, and Hyatt has fallen over dead again. So Menchi leaves the apartment to go find help, and ends up getting completely lost. Things get even worse when, at a park, she runs into Umi and Teriha – and seeing Teriha brings back all the old trauma of her time with Excel (in a full, 2-page spread, no less), causing Menchi to flee in terror and end up nearly drowning in the river. Luckily, Elgala is already there to rescue her, even if she was fishing for actual food. Menchi will do in a pinch!

And lastly we have Teriha, who gets the most serious chapter, as she writes in her journal about her life with Umi and Profession Shiouji. I’m somewhat torn here, as this is quite well-written, with Teriha noting that she’s having a pleasant, if somewhat unusual life. But she’s consumed with half-formed impressions of her past self and Il Palazzo, so everything is consumed by melancholy and the idea that she’s living a lie. There’s a rather chilling juxtaposition of a photo that was taken of Teriha with Umi, Professor Shiouji, Miwa and Iwata, which we then see at the end with Teriha completely removed, as if she’d never been there. And finally, at the end, Teriha hears about the bomb threat. And flees, headed to ILL’s office building, because even if she can’t remember anything, she HAS to do something to save Il Palazzo.

This is the last complete volume with Teriha, and it’s as frustrating as ever. Rikdo knows this, of course, and much of Teriha’s arc has played on the frustration of the reader. We don’t want this shy, passive, emotionally stunted girl, even if she may be more cute and moe. We want our heroine. We want Excel. Luckily, events are starting to come together, as Teriha, Elgala, and the Security Sentai Force are all converging on the ILL towers to try to stop the bomb from going off. Stay tuned for the exciting Volume 20!