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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Excel Saga-Volume 1: The Weirdness Has Begun (1999)

Excel Saga-Volume 1: The Weirdness Has Begun (1999)

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Released 11-Dec-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Anime Main Menu Audio & Animation
On-Screen Information Track
Credits-clean open / close
Credits-Japanese open / close
Notes-Japanese video piracy warning
Trailer-Japanese (2)
Gallery-production sketches
Trailer-ADV Previews (5)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 121:54 (Case: 125)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:05) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Shinichi Watanabe
Studio
Distributor
Quack Experimental
Madman Entertainment
Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Toshio Masuda


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Song Lyrics
English
English Information
English Information
English Information
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, next episode teaser

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Humour, particularly word-play, is probably the most difficult subject to translate between languages. It depends on the interaction between the words of the source language, and the more different the languages are, the less likely it is that the word-play can be translated in any sensible fashion. Japanese is very different from English. Even humour which doesn't rely on word-play, but rather upon culture (whether it's long-standing, or the culture of the moment, like advertising and game-shows) will be difficult, or even impossible, to translate.

Excel Saga is a humorous anime series from Quack Experimental Anime. Its humour is based on word-play, on references to popular Japanese culture, and on lots of references to other anime series. This makes it quite difficult for us to understand, especially if you haven't watched every anime series ever created. I'm not quite sure who the English translation is intended for, because it requires a detailed knowledge of Japanese language and culture to appreciate.

The basics of this series are simple enough. Lord Ilpalazzo is disgusted by the corruption in the world, so he intends global conquest. He's going to start by conquering the city of F. His only help is the secret ideological organisation ACROSS, total agents: two. The noisy one is Excel Excel (Excel for short), a blonde girl with absolutely no appreciation of her own limits, and total and utter devotion to Ilpalazzo. The quiet one is Hyatt, whose major drawback is that she seems to spend a lot of her time coughing up blood and dying. They have a pet dog called Menchi (the strangest looking dog I've ever seen), who also happens to be their emergency food supply. There are a number of bit parts, many of whom continue to reappear (episode after episode) long after their contribution to the storyline has ended (witness Pedro, who had a tiny part in episode 1, who has appeared in every episode since).

Every episode involves a mission, and each is presented in a different style, under the authorisation of the original manga author, Koshi Ridko (his authorisation appears at the start of the episode). The five episodes on this disc are:

  1. The Koshi Ridko Assassination Plot (24:22)- presented in fairly straight anime form, this episode introduces Excel by killing her repeatedly, and having her kill the author of the manga
  2. The Woman from Mars (24:21) - presented in science fiction form, this episode introduces Hyatt in the process of having the Earth invaded by Pokemon-like teddy bears in nappies called Puchuu.
  3. The Sacrificial Lamb of the Venomous Great Escape (24:25) - presented in the form of a B-grade action flick. This episode introduces Nabeshin (a regular bit part in the series, voiced by the director), who is an action hero
  4. Love Puny (24:23) - a parody of love anime (and dating games), particularly Love Hina. Fleshes out Excel's three neighbours, and gives them a reason to get a job
  5. The Interesting Giant Tower (24:23) - a parody of Japanese afternoon and evening dramas. Excel and Hyatt take jobs at City Hall to try to spy on the local government. The Excel*Girls (who sing the opening and closing themes) get their first (but not last) walk-on role.

Excel is a bit shrill in both Japanese and English it seems to be fairly common in anime that a klutz heroine has a shrill voice.

Menchi (yes, the dog) sings (yowls) the closing theme, a mournful song about the prospects of being eaten. You really have to read the credits that scroll past there are always absurdities, ranging from minor to severe, in the English credits.

There is one extra on this disc that I consider absolutely vital. If you navigate to the Extras menu you can switch on the AD Vid-notes feature. In fact, I urge you not to watch this without it. It provides pop-up messages (with Menchi's face) that give background information on Japanese culture explaining many of the situations that seem otherwise incomprehensible.

All in all, this is a strange series, and one which will probably only appeal to big-time anime fans with a warped sense of humour. I wasn't sure if I'd like it. Strangely, however, I find myself reluctant to give up watching there must be some addictive element to it...

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is therefore not 16x9 enhanced. This is a TV series, so I rather expect that this is the original aspect ratio.

This is rather a good transfer, with very few artefacts. The picture is sharp and clear, with no apparent film grain. Shadow detail is a meaningless concept with this kind of animation.

Colour is excellent bright and colourful, with no colour-related artefacts.

There are no film artefacts that are worthy of mention. There's some aliasing, especially on the black lines outlining characters, ranging from near-invisible to quite noticeable, but never too troubling. There's no moire, and no MPEG artefacts.

There are five lots of subtitles, all in English. The AD Vid-notes feature is implemented using subtitles, and there are two levels of subtitles: just for songs, or full subtitles. The five sets of subtitles are the two levels of subtitles without AD Vid-notes, plus the AD Vid-notes with no subtitles, song subtitles, and full subtitles. You can switch between subtitle tracks on the fly, but it's easier to set the combination you want on the language and extras menus.

The disc is single sided and dual layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change is at 22:22 in Episode 3, in the black frame between the end of the episode and the start of the closing credits. It's a superb place to hide the layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

The soundtrack is provided in English and Japanese, in Dolby Digital 2.0 not surround encoded. I listened to all of the English, and two episodes of the Japanese. Strangely, there are four soundtracks, but they seem to be two each of the English and Japanese I found no obvious differences between the two English soundtracks.

The dialogue is usually clear, except where two characters are talking at once, which happens more often than you might expect. During the next-episode teasers Excel speaks at incredible speed, but quite clearly I had to listen to each one repeatedly to understand, but that's because my brain doesn't accept words that fast! While audio sync is impossible to judge in animation, there are no obvious problems.

The score comes from Toshio Masuda, and is suitably over-the-top it is well-written for this series. Some of the characters (such as Nabeshin) have their own themes that come up whenever the character is getting a scene.

The subwoofer and surrounds are given nothing to do by this soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

The menu is animated with music. Quite unusual, and themed around a Gameboy-like game.

Trivia Track AD Vid-notes

This is a must if you want to understand half the jokes in this series it is a subtitle track that pops up snippets of information explaining the cultural references in the show.

Clean Open/Close (3:01)

The opening and closing credits without English credits over them.

Japanese Open/Close (3:01)

The Japanese version of the opening and closing credits.

Video Piracy Warning (0:20)

Two still panels with Kanji warnings about piracy of limited interest here, I'd have thought.

Original Japanese Trailers (2:37)

Two trailers that advertised this series in Japan.

Gallery Production Sketches

Sketches showing the designs of various characters. There are 27 frames in all.

Trailers ADV Previews

Trailers for five other ADV series. Don't know that "preview" is accurate, though, because the selection includes four series that have already been released here.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

This series was released a little while back in Region 1. The DVD content sounds exactly the same, but the R1 included an extra in the form of a small ACROSS id card not a huge difference. Even the cover art looks to be essentially the same, but the R4 costs only a few more Australian dollars than the recommended price of the R1 in US dollars with the exchange rate sitting at around 0.56, that makes the Australian version a lot more attractive, no?

Summary

A strange, but compelling, anime series given an excellent transfer to DVD.

The video quality is very good.

The audio quality is good.

The extras are reasonable.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Sunday, December 29, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS905V, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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