By Rikdo Koshi. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Viz.
Hallelujah. After what seems like a lifetime, this is it. This is the volume. Excel is back, baby! And as if to celebrate that fact, Rikdo has gone the extra mile, giving us one of the absolute best volumes to date.
However, at the start of it, we're still focusing on Teriha, who has heard the news about a bomb at the ILL building. She runs into Elgala, and the two of them break into the building through the parking garage. Some lovely stuff here, mostly as Teriha has no idea who Elgala is, but still feels the need to punch her hard enough to break her jaw out of sheer instinct. Elgala, for her part, is happy that she's in a manga, as she manages to shake her head a bit and get rid of all the bone and cartilage damage (though she notes ruefully she can't do it twice in a row). And as they head up to find the bomb, Iwata is heading down, having transformed - midair - into his sentai suit, something which went absolutely fine except his head is now backwards. This fazes him not a bit. Lastly, Il Palazzo has sent RopponExcel down to find the bomb as well, and the three groups all run into each other at once.
RopponExcel, also seemingly running on instinct, takes out Iwata fast (it's more emotion than we've ever seen from her, and clearly implied she shared Ropponmatsu I's memories somewhat), and finally is face to face with Teriha. Elgala clearly wants some form of confrontation, but unfortunately there's still a bomb, as RopponExcel and Teriha tell her. In unison. Elgala is rather disturbed by the almost Zen-like bond the two share, as they even find the bomb at the same time - RopponExcel using her super investigating skills, Teriha by pure instinct. RopponExcel starts to defuse the bomb, but sadly the bomb's creator (take a wild guess who that is - no prizes, she's the only real villain the series has left) decides to set it off then and there. This takes out RopponExcel, but Teriha and Elgala were shielded. And what's worse, there were TWO bombs - and one has been delivered to Il Palazzo's office.
Teriha takes off, racing to the top floor, bolting past a rather stunned Hyatt (who has slowly been realizing that Elgala was correct about a fake Excel but not really having the will to do much about it) and tells Il Palazzo - right as the bomb explodes, sending them flying out the top window of an 80-story building. And they start to fall. And it's the falling - after so many drops into the pit, or falls into the sea, or just plummeting in general - that wakens Excel's memories. In fact, it may almost be conscious - Teriha seems to know what's about to happen, and tells Umi 'bye-bye...'... before starting up in maniacal glee and screaming "HAIL, IL PALAZZO!" It's fantastic. If only Il Palazzo felt the same - he shoves Excel away from him and activates some sort of antigrav device, the teleports out with the inactive RopponExcel. Excel plummets into a nearby handy river. Elgala merely gets trampled in the mass exodus from the building. And Hyatt is MIA.
(Oh yes, the Security Agency watches all this via remote, and does its best snarky commentary. Relevant here is that a) Iwata points out to them that Excel is Teriha, and had in fact been living with the professor for a year; b) everyone has pretty much guessed that Miwa was behind all this, but can't do much about it, and c) Umi is devastated at Teriha's absence, walking around in a stupor. Shiouji, showing a rare bit of compassion, notes she isn't the sort of personality to let this bring her down for long, and will snap out of it soon.)
What follows next is perhaps the BEST MONTAGE EVER, as Excel tries to piece together what she's been doing. Yes, she has her memories back, but all her time as Teriha is now gone. We see her escaping her plight in Vol. 15. We see her on a boat, which is promptly destroyed. (For fans of the anime, Pedro makes his 2nd and final appearance here.) She's in China, dressed as Chun-Li, trying to do a dash-and-dine with roast pig. We see her in Russia, with a Cossack helmet, then fleeing a la Anastasia. She goes to America via the luggage hold (and, it's noted, is freezing to death in there - a bit of realism in a not-very-realistic anime), where she ends up as a NYC police officer (no, I'm not making this up), but she still can't escape the enemies constantly chasing her, who eventually capture and chain her up. However, the sight of... wait, this sounds ludicrous. Even Excel tells herself to calm down and notes that her memories sound more like a movie than something that actually happened. Made an awesome montage of Excel being silly, superhuman, and generally Excel-ish, though.
So Excel is now back to her normal self, something that delights Elgala when they come across each other on the riverbank. Elgala may get abused by Excel, but at least it's the abuse she's used to, and not confusing new abuse. Excel, meanwhile, is rather disheartened to learn she's somehow lost an entire YEAR (one of the few times the manga actually tells us how long things take) and been replaced by a duplicate. Elgala's pep talk doesn't help that much, but Elgala's insults do, and soon Excel is back to her old self and deciding that they will raise money that will help them get to Il Palazzo.
So they start by becoming shrine maidens. This may, in fact, be the funniest chapter in the book, one which plays on the then-current anime Kannagi, which was taking otaku by storm. They're doing it supposedly to aid an old, bed-ridden priest, but don't seem to care about him too much - especially not when he goes mad after Excel carves the Sacred Tree into a life-sized idol of Il Palazzo. However, they do make the shrine incredibly profitable, and the cash is soon rolling in. Sadly, this does not mollify the priest, who gets his revenge by burning the shrine down. Excel and Elgala weren't in it at the time - they were drinking out on the grounds - but that doesn't matter, as Excel's Il Palazzo shrine is in there, and she goes back to get it after much struggling (Elgala generally values self-preservation a lot more than her senior). This leads to my favorite two pages in the entire volume, where we see Elgala, saddened and crushed as she gazes into the fire where Excel has just thrown herself. We then cut to what Elgala sees - Excel, burned to a crisp, holding into the preserved Il Palazzo idol, her hands in a 'V' sign. "You win, senior." Excel then notes that it wasn't even about the statue, and that she had to make sure that "she can go through fire or him." One reason I love the later part of the manga is Rikdo's ability to be incredibly silly then turn serious on a dime. Luckily, Excel reminds us of her insane healing ability here as well, as her charred flesh is fine the next day.
The last chapter has Excel, Elgala and Menchi - still homeless - freezing to death at the riverbank. Excel decides that this may be a good time to use some of the money she hid from Elgala to buy a hotel room. It's rather fun being reminded of Excel's incredible parsimonious, as well as her very sensible reasoning for hiding the cash from Elgala - Elgala would likely spend it all in about 5 minutes. So they get a cheap hotel room - which is clearly haunted. Sadly, only Elgala seems to notice the ghosts, and Excel solves the problem by getting the manager (who is clearly aware the room is haunted) to knock a few hundred yen off the price. She then leaves Elgala to freak out and goes to buy groceries, noting rather grimly that she does see visions, but pays them no mind - meanjing she is still haunted, to an extent, by her Teriha memories. This is not helped by her then SEEING Umi off in the distance. She starts to go after her, but is stopped by Professor Shiouji, who notes that seeing Excel would merely make Umi worse right now, and that if she doesn't remember her time as Teriha, she doesn't belong here. It's really rather harsh, but entirely accurate. A melancholy Excel returns to the apartment, where Elgala is now seeing her skeletal remains in mirrors and the wallpaper seems to be concealing a dead body. Excel finally agrees that yes, something is wrong with the apartment, and they flee back to the freezing riverbank.
It was wonderful to see Excel and Exgala back to their old tricks here, and I hope Hyatt is able to join them soon. However, the plot continues apace, and Miwa's plans - whatever they are - are not showing any signs of being stopped. What happens next? I guess we'll find out soon!