This week, a show about murder, gore, and the "other"; a show about ... more murder and gore, and one about luck.
Reviewby Mike Crandol, Mar 10th 2003
DVD 5: Secrets & Lies
Watanabe is shocked one morning when he wakes up dressed just like the Blue Power Ranger. When his coworkers show up wearing similarly goofy outfits, they discover that Kabapu has transformed the Department of Security into Municipal Force Daitenzen, a superhero vigilante team. Watanabe and company can't remove their ridiculous supersuits until justice is served in the city of F, but Iwata and the younger Ropponmatsu don't seem to mind. Menchi makes her second escape attempt and ends up traveling the globe with a wealthy industrial heiress, and Excel and Hyatt host a tribute to wandering soul Pedro, who has joined forces with Nabeshin to save his sexy wife and the Great Will of the Macrocosm. Then music idol Key shows up from ACROSS HQ to deliver an important message to Ilpalazzo and rock Japan while he's at it. Got all that?
Prepare to witness the true power of Nabeshin's Afro! Excel Saga continues to press the limits of nobrow comedy in the penultimate volume of the series, “Secrets and Lies”. The title is something of a joke in itself as ADV had previously used it to death on numerous other anime releases, and it goes well with the series' self-mocking tone. Overall this batch of episodes contains more genuine laughs than the previous couple of volumes, but their meandering, directionless plotlines just seem to be marking time before the big finale to come. Or, as Hyatt so bluntly puts it, “Maybe they've just run out of ideas.”
Recovering from the forced humor of volume 4's Ropponmatsu episodes, the show takes inspired aim at some more anime staples and even brings back some of the wonderful character-driven comedy that had distinguished early episodes before it was buried under all the wackiness. Many of “Excel's” obscure in-jokes bamboozle even the most battle-hardened otaku, but everyone will be able to appreciate Daitenzen, a searing sentai-spoof that sends the Power Rangers to the cleaners. Forced to perform ten good deeds before they can remove their Mighty Morphin' costumes, Watanabe, Misaki, and the rest of the Department of Security proceed to beat the snot out of litterbugs and jaywalkers while striking heroic poses. Anime newbies may not get Key, the glitzy J-rock idol, but Ilpalazzo's jealousy of Key's “visual appeal” and guitar-playing abilities is universal and much funnier than a lot of the more physical comedy Excel Saga is known for.
But ironically enough, it is the recap episode that is one of the most entertaining installments of the entire series….all-the-more remarkable given this is the second such recap in just 20 episodes. Of course, it helps that the subject of this retrospective is none other than Pedro, another of “Excel's” more universal and funniest running gags. The entire Pedro saga is revisited, and the viewer's patience is rewarded when the story is continued for several new chapters which blow the already-ridiculous story into another dimension of comedic insanity. As delightfully stupid as it is, astute viewers will notice this is going somewhere, and may actually have something to do with the larger story after all.
These episodes are all good for a laugh, but it's an awful lot of filler for so late in the series, and by now even hardcore Excel fans should be anxious for the show to just get on with it. While Daitenzen and Pedro will obviously play a part in the de facto final showdown to come, there's so much goofing around going on right now it's easy to forget there's any overriding story at all. Of course, Excel Saga has never taken itself seriously, and one shouldn't expect it to start now, but the first half of the series kept things interesting by developing its characters and establishing its own zany universe. In “Secrets and Lies” it is just spinning its wheels, and though it's still funny there's little substance behind the shenanigans.
There's not much to say about the series' technical merits that hasn't been said before. The animation is of average quality for a television anime; the art design is exceptionally versatile and serves Excel Saga's many genre parodies well; the music is appropriately goofy. Both Japanese and American vocal casts give tour-de-farce performances, and though I stand by my declaration that the series will always be funnier in its native tongue, I found myself constantly switching to the English track while viewing this release. The star of this batch of outings is Jason Douglas, who excels (pun intended) at bringing Ilpalazzo's pompous, self-important attitude to life just as well as– if not better than - original voice artist Takehito Koyasu.
In keeping with the show's nutty theme, the DVD releases themselves have been getting progressively more insane with each installment, and this is the craziest of them yet. Built around the rock-star motif of guest star Key, the menus are a Technicolor nightmare of sight and sound that provide a good chuckle but can be damned hard to navigate. This disc does however feature some of the best extra material so far provided for the series. There is a brief but hilarious interview with director Shinichi Watanabe, who really does look and dress exactly like his animated alter-ego Nabeshin, in addition to an interview transcript with original creator Koshi Rikdo. The Daitenzen commercial is a Grade-A hunk of cheese, and provides a tantalizing glimpse of events to come in the final volume. And dogged easter-egg hunters will be rewarded with some great classified newspaper ads put out by the characters. Oh, and let' s not forget the Excel Saga board game included with the first printing of the disc. Each “Excel” release has included some kind of free prize inside, and this is the best one by far. We will just have to wait and see if volume 6 includes instructions for the Excel Saga Drinking Game…
Only a total sourpuss wouldn't find something to laugh at in this fifth installment of Excel Saga hijinks, but this late in the game it would be nice if the show were doing more than the same old shtick. Though it manages to recapture some of the comedic spark that graced early episodes, it treads no new ground, either. Dedicated Excel fans will definitely want to pick this one up, but most casual viewers will be happy with just a rental.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ series regains a consistent level of quality anime comedy
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