Wednesdays Watching Anime – Excel Saga
November 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
This week, after our not-quite hiatus, we’re doing “Love (Loyalty)” by Kobayashi Yumiko and Takahashi Mikako, the OP for Excel Saga!
Because I think people enjoy when I ask the question, “How Do You Make an OP for This Anime,” I’ve got my eye on Excel Saga now. Much like Cromartie High School, the second OP to be discussed in this series, Excel Saga is typically sold as out-of-control zaniness, at least to overseas audiences. People die a lot, there are casually grotesque jokes, and the art twists and turns to suit the tone of the moment. Isn’t anime ridiculous?
That’s not why I like it, of course. I’m special in that way. I like Excel Saga because it’s a show that relentlessly changes its genre with every episode. Sure, almost all of them are alloyed with a healthy dose of parody, but it’s still a treat to watch a talented staff, including the inimitable Watanabe Shinichi as director, use the same characters and setting to put on a sports anime, a disaster movie, and a children’s adventure show. All of these are also just funny, even if you’re not familiar with the genre of a given episode, and that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
What’s the point of an OP, in such a scenario? The characters of Excel, Il Palazzo, Hyatt, and Menchi are paper-thin, defined mostly by one or two features in their respective personalities that dictate their relationships with each other. They don’t really need to be established through the usual vignettes of an opening animation. Instead, we just have an odd nightclub bit, performed by Excel and Hyatt in incongruous settings like a city street and a bathhouse. They do a stiff little dance in time to the music, the bystanders are indifferent. Excel takes a pratfall and Hyatt coughs up blood, we are indifferent. The remainder of the OP slowly disintegrates into nonsense, after the first forty seconds. During the bridge, different characters are thrown onscreen, often without a backdrop for context — let alone any narrative to their successive appearances. Things erupt into action, people run around, and the song goes on about bananas for a bit. It’s only after another frantically awkward dance by the two heroines that we are brought back to a semblance of normalcy.
It’s all a mess — the anime as well as this post about it — but it seems to have been made that way deliberately. In an interview, Watanabe confessed that he’d written “Love (Loyalty)” in five minutes while on the train. Even if that’s put on as an act, like a lot of his “Nabeshin” persona seems to be, there’s still a distinct air of amateurish haste to Excel Saga that’s utterly pervasive in the OP. Really, that’s one of the more fascinating things about this anime: it’s such a competent parody of so many different genres, but there are also some intentionally bad jokes and plot holes in order that it live up to its subtitle of “quack experimental animation.” The OP falls apart, just so that we can see how it comes back together.