Reviewby Mike Crandol, Jan 14th 2003
DVD 4: Doing Whatever It Takes!
ACROSS has yet to prove any real threat to the city of F, but Kabapu is taking no chances and enlists the help of his former student Dr. Shioji to construct a new weapon for the Department of Security. The result is Ropponmatsu, a beautiful busty android who aids the department in "protecting" the city, much to Iwata's joy and everyone else's dismay. Matters are further complicated and confused when Ropponmatsu is joined by a child-size counterpart, also called Ropponmatsu. In keeping with the unwritten rule of the universe that all members of ACROSS and the Department of Security must unwittingly live in the same apartment building, the two robots move in, where a glitch in their programming causes them to take an abnormal interest in Excel and Hyatt. Later ACROSS Overlord Ilpalazzo sends the girls to America, where they have an unfriendly encounter with the natives and run into Pedro's son Sandora, who has come to New York to become....an anime artist?
The second half of Excel Saga begins with an honest if shameless declaration from the creators that a new character is being added solely to boost ratings and sell more merchandise. While the show continues to earn my respect for its willingness to mock its own conventions so mercilessly, not even two Ropponmatsus can counteract the numbing feeling that begins to take hold after so many episodes of nonstop insanity. Having desensitized its viewers to the madcap antics, the show needs to work twice as hard to make them laugh, but for the most part it's business as usual. A giant robot death panda would have been hilarious 10 episodes ago but by now we're expecting that sort of thing. Then, Inspiration: after three half-hours of overheated yuks Excel Saga Volume 4 closes with one of the funniest 30 minutes ever animated.
The three-episode arc that introduces the Ropponmatsus is largely forgettable and sometimes painfully unfunny, but the new characters are nonetheless a welcome addition to the cast. The two androids do not really add anything to the show but the novel idea of an “adult' and “child' version of the same character coexisting at the same time is a lot of fun, even if Bruce Willis did it first. It's not their fault that the laughs have begun to dry up by the time they arrive on the scene…the elder Ropponmatsu's aptitude for blowing up is actually pretty amusing…but rather the increasingly forced zaniness of the Excel world. There's only so many ways to squish a Puchuu or send Excel hurtling down a trap door. The outing in which the Ropponmatsus' programming causes them to fall madly in love with Excel and Hyatt is more successful; the off-color lesbian jokes would make South Park proud. But it still doesn't measure up to sidesplitting euphoria of Excel's early episodes, and Dr. Shioji's obsession with very little girls is not funny here and it's probably not funny in Japan either.
Just when it seems like the show has worn out its welcome things turn around and once again Excel Saga is making milk shoot out of your nose. When Ilpalazzo announces his plan to send Excel and Hyatt to the United States on reconnaissance you know you're in for a treat. There's nothing quite so funny as seeing our own culture through a foreign lens, and when the lens is as cracked as Excel Saga's the end result is surefire hilarity. Thus the ACROSS girls find themselves in an America where everybody is a member of a street gang, the only words spoken are expletives, and any young immigrant's dreams of a better life are ruthlessly squashed by the local mafia boss. That's right, Pedro's son Sandora has come to the US to pursue a career as an anime creator, only to be exploited by a mob boss named (what else?) Corliogne. It's very late in the show before someone points out that anime is only anime if it's made in Japan, but no one seems to care.
Much of the humor in this episode is derived from Ilpalazzo and Excel's mangled attempts at the English language. Needless to say this creates a marked difference between the original Japanese and the English dubbed versions. The characters' bad English becomes a mix of bad Spanish and bad Ebonics, which is funny in its own way, but can't really compare with experience of hearing Kotono Mitsuishi saying "Me-erry Chree-st-mas!" to a group of inner-city thugs in that distinctly high-pitched voice of hers.
Speaking of the voices, this volume marks Larissa Wolcott's debut as the English dubbed voice of Excel. Jessica Calvello, Excel's original American voice, threw herself so wholeheartedly into recreating Mitsuishi's screechy chatter that she promptly damaged her vocal chords and had to retire mid-production. Wolcott is as good a replacement as can be, but somehow manages to makes the character even more grating than she already was. There's something of Project A-Ko's C-ko in this new Excel. Still, the voice is supposed to be annoying, and Wolcott and the other new cast members are worthy additions to an already stellar ensemble.
As the series progresses the quality of the animation begins to wane. The artists rely more and more on super-deforming the characters, which may fit the tone of the show, but personally this reviewer finds the broad humor funnier when things remain in the one-step-removed reality the cast normally inhabits. The art direction is still top-notch, however, with Versatility being the name of the game. Art Director Junichi Azuma no doubt put a lot of effort into adapting the look of the show to whatever genre it happens to be skewering at any given moment. The “America” episode features a wonderful sequence in which Excel sings the praises of both Japanese and American animation, all the while morphing into the likeness of Disney, Looney Tunes, and superhero cartoon characters.
Previous DVD volumes of Excel Saga have been tons of fun, but the layout of this disc is confusing to say the least. It's hard to navigate the garish menus with all the options crammed into the lower right of the screen. The extras are lacking in creativity as well; there's nothing here quite like the "Find the Mint" game on Volume 3 or the random button-pressing fun of Volume 2. What is here is a look at the evolution of the opening credit sequence (evidentially it went through a few rough drafts before becoming the final bit of insanity we all know and love), and a sneak-peek at the Puni Puni Poemi OAV. Yes, Sandora's bizarre anime creation is real, and it's coming soon from ADV.
The final episode of this release alone makes the disc worth having. Excel Saga is one of those infuriating anime series in which every fourth or fifth episode is Sheer Brilliance but is surrounded by stretches of more humdrum material, forcing fans to purchase the entire series to get the good stuff. It's probably too much to hope that a "best-of" Excel Saga DVD is in the future.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Ropponmatsus are fun new characters, Excel and Hyatt in America is the funniest thing since sliced bread
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