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 to Take Over the World. 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 head-over-heels in love with him. 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 problematic 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 takedowns 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 many untranslatable references and jokes they had to change, slowed down in 2008 to one volume (sometimes two) a year, and quietly completed its run in January 2014.
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 the first five volumes of the manganote , it changed so many things it needed 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.
- The Big Damn Kiss: In the penultimate chapter, after it is revealed that Iwata is in fact alive in every sense of the word, Matsuya gives him one of these... before proceeding to pummel him in true Matsuya style.
- 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.
- Bookends: The final chapter of the series ends when Excel mentions a certain old hag back in chapter 1.
- Cerebus Syndrome: Downplayed as there's still a lot of comedy to be enjoyed, but once Il Palazzo shows himself and ACROSS to the whole city things get noticeably more serious.
- Chekhov's Gun: Elgala finds a gold bar in Volume 11 that she hopes will help the trio with their finances. It goes missing for six volumes and turns up in Volume 17 when the City Security troop find it going through their garbage and Kabapu is able to use it to build capital to regain access to hidden funds and resume his power base.
- 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. Her "Eeeeek!" at being discovered was uncharacteristic and quite charming.
- CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Whenever Excel tries to revive Hyatt in this manner. Justified in that for Hyatt, death is a temporary condition. When Excel disappears, Elgala works out an actual routine very quickly.
- 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. Although it is revealed in the last volume, by Watanabe, that Shiouji is not obligated in any way to reconstruct the cyborg with "hairy man parts", but does it because he's that much of a perfectionist.
- Deconstruction: A recurring tagline for the English translation is "What happens if you try to act like an anime character in real life?" Somewhat subverted, though, in that there seems to be a bit too many wacky, over-the-top characters for Real Life.
- Ropponmatsu I also becomes a deconstruction of the Do-Anything Robot, being packed so full of gadgets that she weighs a ton (literally) and there isn't much room left over for a personality.
- 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...
- 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.
- Gainax Ending/Golden Ending/The Bad Guy Wins: Fittingly. ACROSS and the Department of City Security team up to get Excel and Il Palazzo back to normal and kick out Il Palazzo's second personality, which turns out to be Dr. Shiouji's father. ACROSS forces Shiouji's father to build an entire army of Excels, which ACROSS uses to successfully take over Fukuoka and force the Department of City Security to surrender. Then ACROSS takes over the entire world in a week. Having accomplished their goal, Excel and Il Palazzo remove their presence from the world and Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, but not before leaving Hyatt and Elgala on Earth with their memories wiped and their physical and mental impairments fixed so they can lead normal lives.
- 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".
- 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.
- Ha-chan finally gets her chance with a sniper rifle in the final mission, where she repeatedly drills Watanabe from long range. Fortunately, Watanabe was wearing his uniform, so he's fine.
- Jerkass: A good portion of the cast, since most of them are morally grey.
- 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.
- Large Ham: Il Palazzo, Kabapu, Iwata, and Excel. Also Watanabe when he gets really worked up about Hyatt.
- 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. According to the final volume, Excel herself is a by-product of the cosmic artefact known as The Core, which holds, according to Dr. Shiouji, "countless personalities." Her default state being an amnesiac is commented on by the awakened core, which states (while wearing Excel's body) that the shell it inhabits was "empty to begin with."
- Living with the Villain: Excel lives with Dr. Shiouji and Umi for a while after losing her memory and becoming Teriha.
- 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.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Excel's enthusiasm for everything and Watanabe's enthusiasm for Hyatt means pretty much everything becomes awesome.
- 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.
- A Pig Named "Porkchop": Excel names a stray dog she designates foe emergency rations “Menchi”, a.k.a. mince meat.
- 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.
- Sentai: Parodied with Department of City Security employees. Kabapu gives them 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 team of five.
- 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 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. This is part of the reason he immediately abdicates after conquering Earth.
- Vile Villain, Laughable Lackey: Excel is her boss Il Palazzo's biggest obstacle on the path to Take Over the World, by the "virtue" of being a worthless (if fiercely devoted and energetic) underling. When Il Palazzo finally drops his Orcus on His Throne act towards the end of the series and fires Excel, he immediately proves himself a scarily efficient villain on his own (with a little help from Hyatt, who also proves a much more competent minion as soon as Excel is out of the picture).
- 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 Nishiki, whom Shiouji has built more than one of, packed with different tools for different forms of espionage or combat.
- 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.