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ADV Films presents
Excel Saga #4: Whatever It Takes! (1999)

"Out of my way, you ignorant masses!"
- Excel (Larissa Wolcott)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: January 13, 2003

Stars: Takehito Koyasu, Omi Minami, Satomi Koorogi, Shinichi Watanabe
Other Stars: Yuka Imai, Takashi Nagasako, Wataru Takagi
Director: Shinichi Watanabe

Manufacturer: MOFC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (17+)
Run Time: 01h:40m:00s
Release Date: January 14, 2003
UPC: 702727023828
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BAB+ B-

DVD Review

You know, I always thought I was someone who'd never be offended by off-color humor, so I have to hand it to Excel Saga for managing to find the one subject that even I find rather distasteful in a comedic context. But child molestation humor? Not so much my thing. Nevertheless, it pops up several times on this disc as a new character appears—a brilliant inventor who gets his jollies from watching elementary school-aged girls sliding down the slide at the park, and who always seems to have a young girl or two to lead around by the hand. The helpful AD-Vid Notes describe his fixation as a "Lolita fetish," but even Lolita had at least reached puberty (at least in the Stanley Kubrick film; in the novel, she was 12).

But then, I suppose this is the type of series that wouldn't be content lest it upset each and every audience member at least once, so I'm not all that put off by this disc's attempts. After all, the show moves so fast that almost before one joke or visual gag occurs, another has popped up to distract you. The four episodes included this time around aren't quite as funny as those that have gone before, but they're still moderately amusing, and one in particular stands as one of the very best of the series thus far.

In episode 14, the producers decide that they need to introduce a new character to help sagging ratings, so they invent the sexy robot Ropponmatsu. While Ropponmatsu herself is rather humorous (I like the way she embodies all the typical anime android clichés), she unfortunately interacts not with our loveable anti-heroes Excel and Hyatt, but with their rather dull opponents in the mayor's office. One of them, Iwata, falls madly in love with her, despite her mechanical disinterest. Luckily, Excel does get to act a little bit crazy as she tries to plant a bomb somewhere in the city (a bomb that only Ropponmatsu has the expertise to disarm... right?). In episode 15, the producers are again troubled, this time because they ordered thousands of Ropponmatsu action figures which likely won't sell too well after her early demise, so a slightly younger, shorter, and more bubbly version of the character is introduced to annoy everyone. The storyline is redeemed when the focus shifts back to Excel, who becomes the object of the mecha's affection in episode 16 (cue hentai humor... now!).

Episode 17, however, is the saving grace of the disc. Excel and Hyatt are sent to America to judge how difficult it will be for A.C.R.O.S.S. to take over the country. There, they meet Sandora, the son of Pedro, the unlucky ghost who has been wandering the barren wastelands of the universe since Excel killed him in the first episode. Sandora has been slaving away creating art for an anime series (which turns out to be the Excel Saga spin-off Puni Puni Poemi) controlled by the mob. The result is an onslaught of anime meta-references and fandom parodies. Listen up when Excel comments that she would have taken a role in the Sailor Moon anime, but the dubbing was done in Canada.

I've always said that, unless you speak Japanese, this series is best watched in English. I'm usually a subtitle purist, but the jokes fly fast and furious on this show, and the text can't capture everything (not to mention the fact that most of the humor is extremely culturally specific, and won't make a whole lot of sense literally translated). Otaku were quite upset to learn that, with this volume, dub actress Jessica Calvello leaves the role of Excel, as the constant screaming required of her was wrecking her vocal chords. Many hoped that ADV would delay the series while she recovered; others blamed the dub director for telling her to shout every single line. Debate raged for days on various anime forums—Calvello performed just as well as her Japanese counterpart and people were loathe to see her leave. Personally, I understand her choice. A voiceless voice actress would be useful to no one. Regardless, Larissa Wolcott steps into the role starting with episode 14, and I'm happy to say that she is so good, most fans probably won't notice a change unless they stop to read the credits (not a bad idea, considering all the little jokes the ADV team slip in).

Even after a somewhat middling run of episodes, Excel Saga remains a favorite of mine. The frantic humor doesn't always hit the mark, but as long as the focus remains on Excel and Hyatt, I remain amused. No more kiddie porn jokes though, ok?

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: Disc four looks just as nice as the previous three. Colors are rich and vivid with no cross coloration. Blacks are nice and solid, the source material is presented without any obvious flaws or intrusive grain, and blacks are nice and solid. Aside from some slight aliasing in a scene or two, I have no complaints.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Japaneseyes

Audio Transfer Review: This mix is comparable with other discs in the series. Dialogue is well placed in the mix and always clear and supported. Music and effects are confined to the left and right mains, utilizing decent directionality throughout, making up a bit for the lack of support from the surrounds.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring You're Under Arrest, Devil Lady, The Samurai, Colorful, Noir, Black Lion
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. AD Vid-notes
  2. Production Sketches
  3. Opening Credits First Cut
  4. Opening Credits Timing Sequence
  5. Puni Puni Poemi OVA Preview and Interview with Actress Yumiko Kobayashi
Extras Review: The AD Vid-notes are again a much appreciated inclusion, the pop-up Menchi heads explaining each and every in-joke and reference to other anime series and Japanese culture in general. There's also another gallery of production sketches featuring various designs of this volume's new characters.

Two alternate versions of the opening sequence are offered, though I can't say I really see many differences between them and the one used for every episode; though the First Cut is slightly modified, the Timing Sequence looks identical.

A few tidbits about Excel Saga's OVA spin-off Puni Puni Poemi are included as well. Aside from a short preview (which includes no actual animation from the new program), there is a brief interview with voice actress Yumiko Kobayashi, who plays Poemi (and can be heard on Excel Saga as one of the "singers" of the theme song).

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

By now, anime fans know what to expect from Excel Saga, and volume four of the series provides few surprises. Its manic charms aren't as fresh as they once were, but it's still good for a laugh. Supposedly things get really crazy as the series winds down, so maybe we've still got something to look forward to.


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