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This world... is corrupt!
—Lord Il Palazzo, opening line
Excel Saga is a 27 volume manga written by Koshi Rikdo that ran from 1996 to 2011 in Young King Ours magazine as a way to mock the recession Japan was going through. The manga's title character, Excel, was based on a character from one of Rikdo's earlier works, Municipal Force Daitenzin, which was definitely not for kids. He was interested in expanding on the character and created Excel Saga as a spinoff of sorts. The Daitenzin themselves mostly carry over from that doujin as well, opposing Excel.
Excel Saga tells the story of the group ACROSS and their attempts to take over Fukuoka City as a first step towards World Domination. ACROSS's only minions, Excel and Hyatt, try to pay for food and rent while fulfilling the goals of their glorious leader Il Palazzo. Both girls are fiercely loyal to Il Palazzo, especially Excel, who is deeply in love with Il Palazzo. Unfortunately for Il Palazzo, while Excel is a near-indestructible force of nature, with innumerable skills, especially in adaptation and survival, she is also extremely hyperactive and incompetent. Hyatt meanwhile tends to die and revive at the drop of a hat.
Opposing them are the Department of City Security, made up of Misaki Matsuya, Toru Watanabe, Daimaru Sumiyoshi, and Norikuni Iwata, and led by Doctor Kabapu. Watanabe and Matsuya joined the department in the hopes of getting decent government jobs, not expecting that they would have to fight supervillains; Iwata and Sumiyoshi joined because they are Watanabe's friends. Ironically, both teams start out living in the same apartment complex, but only know each other as neighbours and not as enemies.
Early chapters would focus on a new temp job Excel and Hyatt had been hired for, and the ways they would try to fulfill a mission and not get fired. Or the story would be about a mission the Department was on, and how they would fail (or narrowly avoid killing themselves or each other with highly dangerous experimental weapons). Hints about the backstory of Il Palazzo and Kabapu were dropped early on, but were not the focus.
The story started getting more complex around volume seven. New characters were introduced, like Elgala, the third member of ACROSS, and roboticist Gojyou Shiouji and his family, which is teeming with unfortunate implications about his childhood. Il Palazzo created ILL Electronics, a front for ACROSS, and Dr. Kabapu and the Department of City Security tried to stop them. Excel got a lot more focus as her life became more difficult, and Ropponmatsu I, or "First", got more screentime, thanks to the device which allows her to move around and act independently and impersonate Excel. Misaki started working with Shiouji in the interest of figuring out what exactly is going on, what Kabapu is really after, what his real connection to Il Palazzo was, and why everything is tied to Excel.
Excel Saga has never had a large fanbase outside of Japan. Thanks to the sheer number of jokes and references it makes (and for fear of copyright lawsuits since it is licensed), no one has ever wanted to do a serious fan translation. The official translation by Viz, which has an entire section in each book dedicated to the sheer amount of untranslatable references and jokes they had to change, slowed down in 2008 to one volume a year. However, with the release of Volume 23 in April 2012, and the 24th slated for November, hopes are high that this may indicate a speedier release schedule to finish off the 27 volume series.
The manga was adapted into a twenty-six episode Anime in 1999 directed by Nabeshin. Since the anime's storyline was only loosely based on a scant five volumes of the manga, it changed several things, it has its own page, and tropes that only happened in the anime should go there. Because the anime diverged from the manga so early, many of the characters introduced later—most notably Elgala and Shiouji's family—do not appear in the anime at all.
The Excel Saga manga provides examples of:
- Absurdly Spacious Sewer: ACROSS's headquarters are located in the Fukuoka sewers, and at one point in both the manga and the anime, the department employees go looking for it. In the manga, Excel flushes them out accidentally by pulling levers in the pump room; in the anime they meet a Xenomorph and are flushed out by Nabeshin.
- Air Vent Passageway: Justified in Kabapu's underground base; as Dr. Shiouji pointed out, they have to be big in order for any sort of air to move though such a large place underground.
- Ascended Extra: "Mr. Manager", who only appeared once in the anime but became a recurring character in the manga.
- Author Appeal: The manga started out chaste enough, but as the series went on Rikdo let his old history of drawing adult doujin start to seep in. Dude loves drawing women's butts in tight pants, as well as much cleavage. Much of the "adult" art one can find out there for this series is drawn by Rikdo himself.
- Blank White Eyes
- Bleached Underpants: Koshi Rikdo was an adult doujin artist, as seen in Municipal Force Daitenzin which is the basis for Excel Saga.
- Clark Kenting: Played with. Matsuya undoes her ponytail and puts on a pair of glasses when she sneaks into a ILL Electronics store to look at the merchandise. Sumiyoshi spots her immediately.
- CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Whenever Excel tries to revive Hyatt in this manner. Justified in that for Hyatt, death is a temporary condition.
- Tends to be less clean in the manga, where blood tends to spurt from Hyatt at the smallest provocation.
- Death Is Cheap:
- Hyatt can die and revive repeatedly, though Excel and Elgala sometimes work very hard to revive her.
- Iwata, due to being a cyborg and because of experimental technology, though Dr. Shiouji does not appreciate all the time he wastes fixing Iwata's male body... down to every last detail.
- Disappeared Dad: Dr. Shiouji's father, the even more brilliant Tenmangu Shiouji, disappeared without a trace when Shiouji was four. Right before he disappeared he had discovered something about Kabapu and the technology he owned, and his disappearance is allegedly the reason Miwa became a My Beloved Smother mother. Tenmangu's disappearance seems to be the cause of a very uncomfortable relationship between lonely mother Miwa and her son's thorough distaste for busty women... which led to a mildly unsettling interest in very young women.
- Evil Versus Evil: Dr. Kabapu and Il Palazzo are both trying to take over Fukuoka using very illicit means, like espionage, mind control, and explosives the size of city blocks. In fact, despite being the villain, Il Palazzo has been less destructive than Kabapu. Which makes some of his employees wonder who the real madman is...
- Five-Man Band: The government anti-insurgent team: Daitenzin.
- Freak-Out: Watanabe suffers one of these after being dumped by Hyatt. And freak out is putting it pretty mildly.
- Mince had one after seeing Excel again. It was a two page spread of just her horrified face.
- Kabapu gets several of these. His expression in volume nineteen as he explains how he's not going to be a dictator—he's going to be more than a dictator to his terrified employees—is a thing of horror.
- Mince had one after seeing Excel again. It was a two page spread of just her horrified face.
- Gag Boobs: Rikdo's art originally kept things modest, then came Elgala, Umi, and Miwa.
- Good Angel, Bad Angel: Not just subverted but demolished. Watanabe's angel is actually his evil side, and his good side is dressed like Jotaro Kujo.
- Hellish Pupils: People from the lost civilization of Solaria have yellow cat eyes, a trait Il Palazzo, Doctor Kabapu, and Miwa Rengaya share.
- Honorifics: Excel usually refers to Hyatt as "Ha-chan".
- Jerkass: A good portion of the cast, since most of them are morally grey.
- Large Ham: Il Palazzo, Kabapu, Iwata, and Excel. Also Watanabe when he gets really worked up about Hyatt.
- Informed Ability: Supposedly, Elgala and Hyatt are a master swordsman and marksman respectively. Elgala has been seen holding a sword on the cover of volume 10, brings a stick to a possible fight and brandishes it like an Iaijutsu Practitioner, and claims to have found gold on a real-life The Legend of Zelda adventure. Hyatt once offered to throw a rock at a suspicious repairman and died in the process. That neither of these two have (so far) actually shown these abilities is remarked upon be Excel.
- Kiss of Life: Subverted in volume 21. Excel and Elgala are trapped in a flood. Excel looks like she is going to do that thing where they share oxygen. Instead Excel sucks all the air out of Elgala "like an aqualung", and leaves her to die.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: Manga vol. 4, when Excel is accidentally struck by a speeding car. She finds herself acting out her usual mannerisms, calling for "what's-her-name-chan" and hailing Lord Il Palazzo, but not remembering their names or faces. About a chapter later, Menchi suffers a bump on her head, too, forgetting that she's supposed to be Excel and Hyatt's emergency food supply, and willingly goes with them to ACROSS HQ. Menchi stays amnesia'd until Volume 9.
- This happens again in volumes 15, when Umi Rengaya finds Excel washed up on a beach with amnesia (this time, even her former personality is forgotten), resulting in her being adopted into the Shiouji household. Excel recovers her memory in volume 20.
- Hyatt suffers bout of amnesia (a volume or so before Excel's second one) wherein she forgets everyone and everything except Watanabe and ends up living with him and becoming engaged to him. She deserts him as soon as Il Palazzo comes for her and her memory returns.
- It's implied that Excel's "normal" state is amnesiac in itself. It's unclear why she fears needles and why Doctor Kabapu seemed to recognize her. At one point Lord Il Palazzo is disappointed that her whole memory still hadn't returned after a more recent amnesiac episode.
- Lost Technology: Il Palazzo and Kabapu have access to technology from the lost civilization of Solaria. Kabapu is allegedly trying to destroy the last of it to prevent a disaster.
- Lovely Angels: Excel and Hyatt when it was just them.
- Meganekko: Miwa for the MILF lovers, and Kanal—Sumiyoshi's little sister—for the Lolicon crowd (read: Shiouji).
- Oddly Small Organization: ACROSS, an organization that wants to take over the entire planet, consists of one man, one dog, and two to three women.
- Perpetual Poverty: A recurring theme, since the whole thing was supposed to satirize the neverending Japanese recession. Working for ACROSS doesn't pay the bills, so the girls repeatedly get temp jobs, which they always lose or run away from when they destroy the place. Meanwhile, Watanabe tries to get more steady work as a civil servant and ends up getting in over his head.
- Personality Swap: Il Palazzo eventually starts running Fukuoka by bribing city officials and using corrupt business practices, while Kabapu and his team try to conquer the city from his underground base.
- Iwata has had his consciousness unintentionally projected into both First and Second's robot bodies. Later in Volume 23, this happens to Excel as she wakes up inside First, who was disguised as her anyway while running ILL Corp. Unfortunately, Excel only sees her body as a tool that allows her to be more useful to her Lord, and doesn't seem willing to return to her body... which Shiouji warns may kill her.
- Ropponmatsu, in a strange way. Both Ropponmatsu 1 and Ropponmatsu 2 are the same processor/operating system/whatever being switched between two different bodies as the situation warrants, but the personality differences from the anime (where the two are different robots entirely, and actually meet at least once) are still apparent. This is eventually revealed to be because the Ropponmatsu 1 chassis is so heavy and unstable that the lion's share of Ropponmatsu's processing power is taken up just keeping her upright, while the Ropponmatsu 2 chassis is much lighter and better-balanced, leaving her processor free to be loud and obnoxious.
- Precursors: It implied that Kabapu and Il Pallazzo are the last survivors of "Solaria", battling over its Lost Technology.
- Puppy Dog Eyes
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Daitenzin and ACROSS.
- Reference Overdosed: The manga makes so many references that each volume of the English translation has a small encyclopedia worth of annotations in the back.
- Scary Shiny Glasses: Il Palazzo and Doctor Kabapu. Shiouji too at times, but they're the least scary thing about that guy.
- Scenery Porn: Beautiful shots of Fukuoka landmarks are drawn all the time.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Matsuya attempts this when she realizes that things are getting out of hand. Unfortunately she is caught and detained at the airport.
- Ship Tease: There is one in volume eleven between Matsuya and Iwata, where Matsuya admits she is thankful that Iwata got her to be more social while they were in college.
- There is another one in volume 22 when Matsuya kisses Iwata because he is stuck in Ropponmatsu's body and needs to be shocked out.
- This stopped being a tease when they actually became a couple; however, it hasn't stopped Misaki from (literally) punching his face in when he touches her, even as a cyborg.
- Shout-Out: See here.
- Slapstick Knows No Gender: The girls in this series find this out the hard way. Hyatt, despite her frequent deaths, is actually handled quite gently by the rest of the cast; Elgala is not so lucky. This is particularly apparent in Volume 23, when El is hurled from a cart at high speeds and lay bleeding on the ground. When others point out Excel's callousness in ignoring her, she realizes El is actually dying and wraps her entire face and arms in bandages to save face.
- Soft Water: Averted by Iwata when he falls 50 stories and lands in the ocean, which as Dr. Shiouji puts it, "May as well be cement."
- Sparkling Stream of Tears: Kapabu and Watanabe have done this.
- Super Sentai: Parodied with Department of City Security employees. Kabapu gives them Super Sentai uniforms and names the team Daitenzin, but they are not trained to handle the power of the suits, and often end up as a group of Destructive Saviors.
- The Sweat Drop
- Take Over the City: ACROSS's goal, as a first step towards taking over the world.
- Terrible Trio: Two warring Terrible Trios in fact, though eventually it turned into a terrible quartet versus a Five-Man Band.
- Theme Naming: Many of the characters are named after hotels or other highlights of Fukuoka.
- Trap Door: Il Palazzo's favourite way of punishing Excel for her failures is dropping her through a trap door in his throne room into a pit filled with different dangerous things. In the anime it's simply called "the pit", and in the manga it's called "the oubliette" (which is where the translator's note section in the English edition got its name). Excel does not mind though, and is finds the experience comfortable whenever she is separated from Il Palazzo.
- Victory Is Boring: Kabapu was suffering from this when we first met him. He had covertly seized power over the city and was actually desperate for someone to be trying to conquer or otherwise harm the city, just for some excitement. When Il Palazzo takes over Fukuoka he finds this out too.
- We Can Rebuild Him: Iwata dies of colon cancer and gets his brain put in a robot body. He is repaired many times due to his carelessness. Also invoked by Second, whom Shiouji has built more than one of, packed with different tools for different forms of espionage or combat.
- What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: Excel's enthusiasm for everything and Watanabe's enthusiasm for Hyatt means pretty much everything becomes awesome.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Il Palazzo abandons Excel to die on a desert island, and throws Elgala out on the street once she reveals she knows Competent!Excel is an imposter. She then uses a corpse-like Hyatt's authorization to regain access to the base, a long while later.
- The two diverge at the point where Ropponmatsu II (Nishiki) is introduced.