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ADV Films presents
"What an out-of-character way to die."
DVD ReviewIn its first few episodes, Excel Saga was a joy to watch, a frenetically paced, maniacal parody of anime conventions. For a while, each episode would pick a genre to lampoon, and go all out. Once the writers began to run out of clichés to exploit, they began to rely more and more on their own running gags. Thus, while we all enjoyed seeing Hyatt keel over every five minutes over the course of the first three volumes or so, by disc five, the joke is barely recognizable as such (to their credit, the writers seem to realize this, as Excel comments on it for us). I could also do without the prolonged suffering of poor, disembodied Pedro and emergency food supply puppy Menchi, despite the fact that they were once my favorite aspects of the show. The new trend is to introduce lots of new characters to avoid the fact that there isn't much material for the regular cast to work with. As the show progresses, Excel has been less involved, and we barely ever see A.C.R.O.S.S. mastermind Lord Ilpalazzo anymore.
That's not to say that these episodes are totally worthless. Even the bad episodes are worth a chuckle or two, and there is at least one standout in this volume of four. Episode 18 is an energetic and highly amusing parody of Power Rangers-style programming as the employees of the Mayor's office are transformed into Strike Team Daitenzin and ordered by Kabapu to protect the city. Except they can't find anyone doing evil, or even breaking the law, so they use their powers to strike fear into the hearts of jaywalkers everywhere. I really enjoyed seeing them blast away at people for, say, littering. I think the episode could have gone farther to include the giant robots that are a staple of the genre, but alas. Episode 19 is another that focuses on the adventures of unlucky pup Menchi, who escapes from Excel's apartment and goes on a trip around the world with a rich heiress. It's a fairly decent installment, and there is some action as an assassin hunts down the girl, forcing Menchi to protect her. The ending is never in doubt, but it still works fairly well, though I can't help but think that episode 5 was a much better use of the Menchi character, and a much better fit for the parodying premise of Excel Saga.
Episode 20 is a total wash, as it is the obligatory clip episode. This one recaps the story of poor immigrant Pedro, killed by Excel ages ago, who has been wandering the Earth since in hopes of reuniting with his son and "sexy wife." Though the script sets up the clips with dialogue and title cards for "Pedro: The Movie," there is no disguising the fact that this is just filler we have seen before. Episode 20 gets things back on track with a funny musical parody that also goes father into sexual humor than the series has thus far (particularly a bit of shadow play that will be very familiar to anyone who has seen an Austin Powers movie). The plot, which revolves around a messenger sent from A.C.R.O.S.S. HQ to deliver new orders to Ilpalazzo, is incidental to scenes of the two engaging in deeply homoerotic interplay, including a scene in a field of flowers that was, for me, the highlight of the disc.
At this point, even the good episodes feel a little tired, and I just don't laugh at the series the way I used to. Still, this disc includes two very strong episodes, one decent, and one that's an absolute waste. Not a bad ratio, I'd say.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Excel Saga always looks great on DVD, and volume five is certainly no exception. Colors are once again beautifully rendered with no trace of smearing or cross coloration. Source materials are in pristine condition, and there's no evidence of aliasing or artifacting. Though the show itself doesn't have the three-dimensional quality of high-budget Disney animation, the DVD transfer is about the best it can be.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: DD 2.0 mixes are included in English and the original Japanese. Both sound very similar, and both are fairly good considering the source material. The action is confined to the front soundstage. Dialogue is transmitted primarily through the center, but there is some bleeding into the mains. The front soundstage is nice and wide, expanding nicely through sound effects and score. There is even limited directionality at times. All in all, a very nice effort for an anime series.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Rahxephon, The Devil Lady, Samurai X: Reflection, Colorful, Noir, Steel Angel Kurumi
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
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 is another gallery of production art and a worthwhile, multi-page text interview with Koshi Rikdo, the creator of the Excel Saga manga. My favorite extra is a spoof commercial of a "Daitenzin" series (the Power Rangers-style team featured in episode 18). I honestly have no idea whether this program actually exists, but the trailer is pretty funny.
Speaking of trailers, finishing off the disc are ADV previews for Rahxephon, The Devil Lady, Samurai X: Reflection, Colorful, Noir, and Steel Angel Kurumi.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsThis is the next-to-last Excel Saga disc, and that's probably a good thing. Though I am still enjoying the show, it really seems to be running out of steam in these later episodes, getting bogged down in self-parody and uneven attempts at satire (the clip episode didn't help things either). Let's hope that Watanabe and Co. do a better job with the episodes on the sixth and final volume.
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