By Rikdo Koshi. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Viz.
Welcome, my friends, to the Teriha arc! Excel Saga has turned another corner, and now we get to see whether it can do something it's never really tried to do before. Namely, whether you can have 4 1/2 volumes of Excel Saga without Excel.
We left off in Vol. 15 with the realization that Il Palazzo had kidnapped Ropponmatsu I and is using her core with an Excel body as his company president. Sadly, the people closest to Excel, namely Hyatt and Elgala, don't notice the difference, despite the complete personality change. Meanwhile, the real Excel has managed to escape from her hellish priestly torments, only to be near-dead in a gutter, where she is found by Umi. Umi takes her back to Shiouji's, and it becomes rapidly clear that Excel has lost her memory.
This is not the first time we've seen memory loss as a plot point in Excel Saga, and it's not really a surprise. Il Palazzo has had holes in his memory the entire series, and it's been implied that Excel herself in 'normal' mode is also forgetting a lot of her past, whatever that may be. Unlike the 2-chapter memory loss in Volume 4, however, this one is a biggie. She not only can't remember who she is, but her personality is totally different. Meek and introverted, she is the diametric opposite of the Excel we all know.
Eventually it gets out that Umi has brought home a 'stray'. Shiouji wants her thrown out, but Miwa overrules everything, and enjoys groping Excel's breasts just as much as she does Umi's. So Excel stays, and is given the name 'Teriha' since she can't remember her own. (To avoid confusion in future volumes, I'll continue to call her Teriha as long as she's lost her memory, and will call the fake Excel 'RopponExcel' to emphasize who she really is.)
This is not to say that Teriha is a complete blank slate. She clearly has the memories, buried beneath the surface. Watching a shot of Il Palazzo on TV (advertising his company) leads to a major freak out, as she knows he's important but can't recall why. We also see that she's still hardcore about saving and/or rescuing any money she can find, and is very good at selling merchandise, even to otaku. Excel is there somewhere, buried under Teriha's memory fuzzed persona.
It's not all Teriha this volume, though. Kabapu and his team are at a low ebb, as he's lost all his power, influence, and money. The shock of this seems to have a physical effect on him, as he ages rapidly throughout the volume, to the point where he's a shrunken, wasted old man at the end. The security team are sticking by him, but that's more due to inertia and the need for paying jobs than any loyalty. Momochi DOES have loyalty, and is worried about him, but she's Momochi, so we really know nothing about her and her inner mind's workings at all. IN a real sense, Kabapu spends this volume alone. And really, he sort of deserves it. I've noted before that he does villainous things, and we see many of those here in flashback, showing his bribery and dirty tricks.
RopponExcel, Hyatt, and Elgala are still living the high-powered exec lifestyle, although Elgala is bitching about it, to no one's surprise. We also see how unobservant both Hyatt and Elgala are when a giant power failure shuts down the city. They're in a glass elevator on the outside of the building at the time, and not only does it stop, but RopponExcel collapses as well. Elgala tries to lift her, but finds she now weighs almost a ton (herniating her disc as she tries it, too). Eventually, RopponExcel wakes up and manages to save them by ripping the elevator to the correct floor with her brute strength. Elgala stares, wondering when her sempai got superpowers. (She clearly needs to read previous volumes, but even Excel was never THAT strong.)
The power failure also catches Iwata & company, who are out celebrating New Year's and destroying priceless national treasures for the lulz. And, for once, we actually get a little revelation, as we see the cause of the whole thing was Miwa, in her own underground base, attempting to power... something. Or, more likely, someone. Miwa once again manages to be the closest this series will have to a final boss character. What's more, due to Kabapu's flashbacks, we see that she was a meek, shy young woman 20 years earlier. Something happened after her husband disappeared to make her what she is today.
(The fan theory is that she is her husband in some way, be it bodyswap, mindswap, or what have you. This is easily the most popular Excel Saga fan theory out there, topping all the Solaria stuff, and as has been noted, it'll be more of a surprise if it's NOT true.)
Rest assured, by the way, that there is still a lot of comedy in this volume. The entire chapter featuring Iwata and Sumiyoshi having an eating contest, run by Ms. Manager (still not Emeraldas, in case you were wondering) is hysterical. Watanabe has completely turned to evil, and is all the funnier because of it. And Teriha is dragged to Comiket by Umi, and forced to dress up as Cure White (man, this came out back when Pretty Cure's FIRST season was new!). She's a little freaked out by it all, but does note that the uniform is... the wrong color somehow.
I'll be honest, I love all of Excel Saga, but this arc has issues. Notably, Teriha is so passive that it makes you long for her memory to return with the fire of a thousand suns. She's really far better being manic. Still, it's not happening anytime soon, so instead we'll prepare for Excel Saga 17, where Kabapu may actually die!