Excel Saga

The first half of the first episode of the “Quack Experimental Anime” Excel Saga is a landmark in animated humor. Hyperactive, heedless Excel, who has just graduated from high school, skips merrily into the street, where she meets the grill of a truck. End of story? No; the Great Will of the Macrocosm, who looks like a nebula with human arms, notes that the death of the heroine so early in the story interferes with the plot and brings Excel back to life, resetting the story. (This sort of thing happens constantly; in the Excel Saga the deus ex machina is deliberately used as a basic plot device.) Excel, it turns out, is a member of the “secret ideological organization” ACROSS, the aim of which is to rule the world, starting with the city F in the prefecture F of Japan. The leader, Ilpalazzo, and Excel are the only members of the organization. Excel’s first assignment: liquidate all manga artists, beginning with Koshi Rikdo. By a curious coincidence, Rikdo is the creator of the manga Excel Saga. Then things really get silly. By the first station break, there have been five more deaths, three of them Excel’s.
The lunatic inventiveness up to this point is amazing, comparable to, perhaps exceeding, that of The Simpsons and Moose and Squirrel at their best. Unfortunately, the writers couldn’t maintain that level for long. The second half of the first episode, although good, isn’t as breathlessly insane as the first half, and subsequent episodes never quite rise to the level of the first. Not that they’re bad; the four other episodes on the first DVD, The Weirdness Has Begun, are all enjoyable. Each is a parody of a familiar genre: science fiction, war movies, romance, the press vs. political corruption. Other characters are introduced, notably the third member of ACROSS, the pretty, demure and anemic Hyatt, who dribbles blood and frequently collapses, dead (she gets better). There are also the Puchuus, space aliens out to conquer the earth, who are evil, ruthless and adorably cute; the slackers-turned civil servants next door; Menchi, Excel’s “dog” and emergency food supply; Nabeshin, the director’s action hero alter-ego who has nothing to do with the story but appears in every episode anyway; and, the man with the removeable mustache.
The second DVD, Missions Improbable, is not as good as the first. Although there are many funny moments, it feels formulaic. There’s less wit and more vulgarity. I probably won’t investigate the series further. The first DVD is worth a rental, but probably only the first. With its violence and occasional tastelessness, it’s emphatically not for kids.
Excel Saga, by the way, illustrates why anime should always be watched in Japanese with subtitles. Mitsuishi Kotono, the Japanese actress who voices Excel, delivers one of the most virtuosic comic performances I’ve ever heard. I don’t understand a word she says (that’s why we have subtitles), but it doesn’t matter; she nails Excel’s manic personality perfectly without ever losing control. Her counterpart on the English dub tries hard (too hard, in fact; she blew her voice out half-way through the series), but her efforts are painful to listen to.