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ADV Films presents
Excel Saga #1: The Weirdness Has Begun (1999)

"Excel... Wake up, Excel... Excel, you must not die the moment the show starts. Life is valuable, but more than that, consider the storylines."
- The Great Will and Microcosm of the Universe

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: November 14, 2002

Stars: Takehito Koyasu, Omi Minami, Satomi Koorogi, Shinichi Watanabe
Other Stars: Yuka Imai, Takashi Nagasako, Wataru Takagi, Jessica Calvello, Jason Douglas, Kelly Manison, Hilary Haag
Director: Shinichi Watanabe

Manufacturer: MOFC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (17+)
Run Time: 02h:05m:00s
Release Date: June 11, 2002
UPC: 702727023521
Genre: anime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AAB+ B-

DVD Review

Excel Saga is nothing less than the Naked Gun of anime. The genre is still a novelty in the States (albeit one with a fervent fan following), so the idea of an anime parody doesn't necessarily translate well to an American audience. However, Excel Saga is so bizarre, so joyfully irreverent, that it doesn't much matter how familiar you are with anime, or even, in fact, if you are familiar with it at all. It's full of sight gags, quirky characters, and off-the-wall humor, and its madcap energy can be appreciated by just about anyone.

That's not to say that the true trivia buffs won't get more out of it. Each episode of the series follows the exploits of the nefarious group A.C.R.O.S.S., the members of which are bent on world conquest (all three of them). Why do they want to rule the world? Well, Lord Ilpalazzo doesn't think it's a very nice place, and he'd like to see things cleaned up. His henchpersons are Excel, an exuberant, if slightly stupid, devotee who's always hungry (but never fear, she's got her trusty dog Menchi around as emergency rations). And then there's Hyatt, the very vision of the typical mysterious anime princess, what with her origins in space and her past all shrouded in mystery. Except she also has some sort of fatal disease which causes her to keel over dead every five minutes. Not that Excel manages all that much better—she dies about 10 times in the first five minutes of episode one (don't worry, the Great Will and Microcosm of the Universe will bring her back, as long as she isn't in bed that day).

As I'm sure you've gathered, the main point of Excel Saga is not to tell a coherent story, but to cram as many jokes and non sequiturs as possible into a 24-minute period. And here's where the die-hard otaku will have one up on everyone else—each episode also skewers a particular sub-genre of anime. For example, one parodies the popular "dating sims" that are huge in Japan. The animation mimics the look of the games perfectly, and sends up their conventions by throwing Excel and the ever-terminal Hyatt into the mix.

The animation is flat-out gorgeous, with intricate detail packed in just about everywhere. And it's the little things that really boost the humor level. Say, for example, the constant trickle of blood down Hyatt's cheek. Or the ultra-cute stylings of Menchi, who makes goo-goo eyes at the screen and begs us to rescue him from Excel's dinner plate. Director Shinichi Wanatabe has even included himself as a character—the ultra-cool Nabeshin, sporting an afro that conceals two machine guns.

This disc contains the first five episodes of the series, an excellent value (particularly if you gauge your purchases by "laughs-per-minute"). While I normally prefer (and recommend) watching these discs in their original Japanese, I must change my turn for this series only. The team at ADV has done a wonderful job with the translation, working hard to carry over puns and gags that would make little sense if directly translated. And Excel speaks so quickly, the subtitles can't begin to cover everything. Heck, even in English I can barely understand her.

I'm only familiar with anime in passing, and I still found myself laughing my head off at Excel Saga. I'm sure the hilarity ratio increases with your knowledge of the material. And if you're still not sure this is the show for you, ask yourself this: does the idea of a plaintive ballad sung in howls by a puppy pleading for his life, while a translator in the corner tells us what he's saying, make you smile? Then this is the show for you!

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This is about as good as anime transfers get. Colors are amazingly bright, but never oversaturated. Blacks are nice and deep, with good shadow detail. Fine detail is very good, and I noted no instances of aliasing or artifacting. I can't image 4:3 material looking much better than this.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Japaneseyes


Audio Transfer Review: Though this 2.0 mix features no support from the surround channels, it does present the material quite nicely across the front soundstage. Directionality is good, and used quite creatively at times, and speech is well placed in the mix and never overpowered, which is saying something—the effects fly fast and furious on this show, almost as quickly as the dialogue.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Zone of the Enders, Burn Up Excess, Super Atragon, Dragon Half, Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, Farscape: Season 2
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. AD Vid-notes
  2. Clean Opening and Close
  3. Japanese Opening and Close
  4. Original Japanese Privacy Warning
  5. Production Sketches
Extras Review: ADV includes all their usual extras with this release, with one laudable exception. Aside from the clean opening and close and the original Japanese opening and close, there is a brief gallery of production sketches and a cheeky piracy warning. And that's all well and good, but what you'll want to check out are the AD Vid-notes (basically a text commentary in "pop-up" form, with cute little Menchi heads and speech bubbles appearing every few seconds). Excel Saga is packed with anime references and in-jokes, and the notes explain them all for you. They also point out puns in the original Japanese dialogue, or simply offer cute observations and pithy comments. They're entertaining. They're funny. And by placing the jokes in context, they make the show all the more enjoyable.

Rounding out the disc is the original Japanese trailer and a trailer gallery with spots for Zone of the Enders, Burn Up Excess, Super Atragon, Dragon Half, Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, and Farscape: Season 2.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Excel Saga is nothing if not bizarrely inspired, and even anime neophytes will find it good for a laugh. ADV has put together a nice package for this much-anticipated release, and the AD Vid-notes alone are worth the price of admission.

 


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