By Rikdo Koshi. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Viz.
At long last, folks, we are caught up with Excel Saga. At least until next week, when Volume 22 comes out. But for now, back to one year ago, when Volume 21 came out! Yes, it may be down to once a year, but Excel Saga marches on! (On a quick tangent, I note that one of the endnotes in this volume takes up almost an entire page telling us that Iwata's 'Sexy Adventure' was in English in the original Japanese manga, and then telling us about Lupin III's third season. In detail. Tremendous detail. Only Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service brings you this level of endnote, a level that may go beyond the fringe of reader comprehension, and reminds us that editors are for OTHER people. It's awesome.)
Meanwhile, in the actual manga, Excel has grown frustrated with being unable to see Il Palazzo, and decides it's high time she and Elgala go looking for him. So it's back to the sewers, in a nostalgic retrospective that reminds us of the good old days of Volume 6 and its control room of deathtraps. Excel and Elgala run into one of those deathtraps, namely a torrent of water coming down the pipe. Luckily, Excel has a solution to drowning: Elgala, who she proceeds to suck all the air out of like an aqualung (as Carl notes in an endnote, what's the opposite of the Kiss of Life?). Luckily, they both survive, and manage to make it to the locker room and get back in uniform. It's really been a LONG time since we saw the uniforms.
As this is happening, the Security Force cast are relaxing at a hotspring. This mostly consists of Iwata trying to peep on Misaki while she's bathing, only to be foiled by the mines she had thoughtfully set up. The most interesting part of this chapter is seeing Miss Momochi's teasing side, as she asks Misaki if she wants to swap room assignments so that she can be with Iwata. Misaki actually drops her sake cup, and I would too. This is the most Momochi has spoken in 21 volumes, as she gets to talk more once Iwata accidentally tries to molest her instead of Misaki in the middle of the night. (He actually feels remorse at this, a rare Iwata trait.) We still know absolutely nothing about her, and we may never know, but it's as close to character development as she gets.
Meanwhile, Excel is back in Il Palazzo's throne room! Elgala is not, mostly as she was trailing behind, and failed to notice that doors don't automatically open for her. Excel has enough trouble, though, as she's dealing with seeing Hyatt once again encased in some sort of cryostasis chamber (presumably to try to make her well again), not to mention Il Palazzo immediately dropping her into the pit. The pit! Do you know how long it's been since we've seen the pit? So nostalgic... Anyway, she manages to avoid falling by merely dislocating both hips, and discovers that the Il Palazzo on the throne... is a HOLOGRAM! Of course, now she's wondering exactly how many times before Il Palazzo has deployed a fake to deal with her.
As this happens, Shiouji is trying to infiltrate ACROSS's base as well, using Ropponmatsu II. She does very well, until she runs into RopponExcel, who smashes her across the room (and into Elgala, but it's not the worst damage she's ever suffered). The real Excel arrives and sees her double abusing a child, and tries to go to town on the robot. It's actually rather startling that Excel is able to hold her own, given we've previously seen Excel having tremendous difficulty lifting Ropponmatsu I. Perhaps she just has to not think about what she's doing? In any case, it's yet another example of Excel having superhuman strength and endurance, something we're likely used to by now. The battle doesn't last long, as Excel and Elgala retreat and leave the two robots to fight it out.
Excel and Elgala continue their attempts, now trying to get OUT of the base. This involves Elgala holding Excel's hand, as she finally gives in and admits that the doors won't open for anyone else. (Excel blithely notes that she's never noticed such things at her rank.) Unfortunately, they run into Miwa, who has now pretty much taken over the base, and she expels them forcefully down an even BIGGER pit. After all this wackiness, Il Palazzo returns to his throne (seemingly not a hologram now, although I hesitate to use the word 'real' in regards to Il Palazzo anymore) with a rejuvenated Hyatt and RopponExcel at his side.
So everyone's back to square one... at least until Iwata, for reasons still unclear, wakes up in the body of Ropponmatsu II (who got creamed by RopponExcel, and is back in the lab for repairs). After some brief awkwardness showering with Umi (and more lampshading that, despite seeming to be a total perv, Iwata has only ever been interested in Misaki - like Momochi, he mostly feels guilt when seeing Umi), Iwata knows the best way to abuse being in someone else's body - go find Misaki and try to sneak into her bed as Ropponmatsu II. This goes about as well as you'd expect, though it does take Misaki at least 6 pages to figure it out - is she slipping? So she stomps him unconscious... and he wakes up...
...in RopponExcel! OK, we now have no idea whatsoever what is going on with Iwata now, as he can apparently jump between any robot body unconsciously. Now he's in Il Palazzo's base, and trying to figure out what's going on. He meets up with Hyatt, who's still trying to figure out "what's wrong" with her sempai, and reminds her of Watanabe, something which seems to cause her to dribble blood a little. Again, we see that a brainwiped Hyatt seems totally healthy, but the moment she starts remembering things, she is coughing up blood again. Iwata, somewhat poleaxed to realize that he's in the body of "Teriha", ends up bolting, and quickly arrives at the same secret room Excel almost got into 18 volumes or so ago. Sadly, it appears to zap him, and he ends up back in his own body.
Shiouji, delighted to get new information on his mother's secrets, no matter how unintentionally Iwata did this, decides to interrogate him, with Misaki's help. This goes very badly, as Iwata gets more and more random, and Shiouji notes that a human brain just has trouble adapting to a robot's processes, and that Iwata is becoming increasingly unable to perceive reality. Yes, even more so. As this happens, Hyatt is out for a walk, trying to get her brain around what's happening to Excel - still. Not one for great thoughts, our Hyatt. Sadly, she runs into Sumiyoshi, which again triggers memories, causing her to cough up blood and pass out into the river. Naturally, where does she end up? At Excel and Elgala's cardboard domicile at the riverbank, where Excel has a computer setup as part of her attempts to become more worthy of her Lord. (She did the physical part as well, stopping only when Elgala was at the point of exhaustion. Excel was unfazed, of course.) Elgala notes that she used to be horrible with computers, and we see Excel flashing back to her time as Teriha, where she was reading tons of the Professor's programming books merely for something to do. Clearly Excel is remembering SOME things about Teriha, but is generally too embarrassed to admit them.
So our power trio are together again, once Hyatt returns from the dead, and just in time, too, as the computer is giving a message to all members of ACROSS - from Il Palazzo! What could it be? Well, we'll find out next week, when Volume 22 arrives in stores.
Summary of Volumes 1-21: Excel Saga is awesome, and needs more love.