By Rikdo Koshi. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Viz.
Yes, at last, we are CAUGHT UP with Viz's serialization of Excel Saga! Do you know what this means? It means you won't get to see me talk about it till April 2012, as Excel Saga is down to a yearly release. Ah well. In the meantime, we have the action-packed Volume 22! And I'm not joking, after the seeming stasis of the Teriha arc and its aftermath, things all seem to be coming together here, and everyone clashes against each other.
First off, to resolve the minor cliffhanger from last volume, Il Palazzo appears on Excel's homebrew computer to tell her and Elgala to keep doing what they're doing and do not attempt contact. Excel finds this suspicious, but sends Hyatt (who is not 'on individual assignment' back to him while she and Elgala reconnoiter. Excel is really dealing with a lot here - she's slowly getting her Teriha memories back, she's realizing that Il Palazzo has been compromised and can't necessarily be trusted, and she knows that telling Elgala this would be a mistake. So she puts a straw dummy of herself at the riverbank, and goes off on her own to sneak into Professor Shiouji's home base. Honestly, throughout this volume Excel shows impressive ability to think and plan. After everything she's been through, it's nice to see her get focused.
Of course, that's not to say she's suddenly competent. She does get into the base, through a combination of luck and her repressed memories. Once there she runs into Iwata, who is somewhat taken aback to find that Teriha is now attacking him. The two of them get into a fight as Misaki, Watanabe and Sumiyoshi also appear. Sadly, Iwata then recalls fighting Excel's doppelganger last volume and tries to use robot strength to knock Excel out. It works all too well, and now they have to deal with a captured fugitive.
Excel being Excel, she goes back and forth between berating her captors and demanding food. Well, she has been living as a fugitive for a while. They bring her food, and she eats about 12 bento boxes worth. Misaki even notes that she's not worried that it's poisoned, which Excel responds to with "You couldn't put enough in here to kill me." Probably true, but it's rare for Excel to be aware of her own superhuman attributes. She then gets into a long discussion with Misaki about their respective organizations, which ends up telling us more about Misaki than it does Excel. Excel is in her 'for the greater glory of ACROSS' mode, while Misaki is at her cynical best, noting she doesn't care who rules the world as long as she is left alone. Her image on Page 53 is actually rather scary in its combination of threat and disinterest.
They would like Excel to just go home, but the trouble is they aren't sure how she got in - and neither is she, since she did it mostly on instinct. She does decide to escape from the bed they currently have her handcuffed to, and gets out of her room by simply ripping out the computer lock with her bare hands. Sadly, this also sets off the big alarms all over the base, and gets Dr. Kabapu down there - who most certainly is NOT for letting her go. As all this is happening, Il Palazzo (or more likely Miwa) sends RopponExcel (called Isshiki throughout, aka 'First') to capture our Excel. Everyone converges in a hallway, and the two Excels, now that there isn't a bomb about to go off, have the big confrontation Elgala expected in Volume 20. Excel has mad kung-fu skills. Isshiki has a hand laser that can sedate into unconsciousness. Round 1 goes to Isshiki.
Isshiki, before this, also managed to break Iwata (yes, again) in two. This does not, however, prevent Kabapu from using his body as a puppet to attack Teriha. Given that Iwata is unconscious and therefore can't actually be stupid, this fight is far more even than many other fights involving Isshiki. Kabapu destroys her hand laser; Isshiki then destroys his control (and it is revealed that yes, it's Miwa rahter than Il Palazzo who's calling the shots for Isshiki). Intriguingly, Kabapu notes that Isshiki is EQUAL to Iwata in power, not surpassing him. Then the fight is promptly finished by Excel herself, who is still groggy but is awake, kung-fu fighting, fast as lightning, and REALLY REALLY ANGRY. She kicks Iwata (controlled by Kabapu) into a pile, grabs Isshiki, and screams into her face, demanding to know where Il Palazzo is. There's a short crackle, and just like in Volume 9 (remember Volume 9?), Isshiki shorts out in contact with Excel and folds like a ton of bricks. Excel, while noting that she's still really heavy, then PICKS HER UP OVER ONE SHOULDER and asks Misaki where the exit is. And then exits, as security's basically completely shot anyway. I merely note once more that when Excel is not paying attention to her limitations, she is astounding, given Isshiki weighs about one ton.
So now Excel is back on the riverbank, with Elgala. But as a bonus, she also has Isshiki, who is following Excel's orders, although Excel still can't get any information out of her. Elgala is hopelessly lost when having to deal with two Excels, and one of my favorite lines has her asking Isshiki to say "I am an imposter" after everything she says. Excel, though, is not just standing there having Isshiki catch fish and cook for them because she's good at it (though she is). She's trying to draw the enemy out. And when this happens, she sends Elgala out to deal with them. Sadly, it's only Professor Shiouji, who is totally unimpressed with Elgala's supposed stick-fighting skills. He asks Elgala to tell Excel that he, like Misaki, is not her enemy, but not her ally either - and that Umi is totally innocent in all of this.
As this is going on, Hyatt's corpse floats down the river, leaving a red tide in its wake. Upon revival, she notes that the ACROSS base was deserted. So our heroines are all back together again. (We also have the funniest part of the volume here, when Elgala is overexcited and Excel hands her what she thinks is water - only to find it's a cup of Hyatt's blood. She promptly hallucinates the Sanzu River, with her dead form crossing it in a small boat to get to the afterlife. Upon returning to reality, she notes "Senior Hyatt, yours is a dark eucharist.") (Oh, Happy Easter, by the way!)
Now Excel is positive that Miwa is their enemy, but needs more information. So after 'pretending' to have a fight to throw off their observers (which just causes Hyatt to collapse in a bloody heap in confusion), she and Elgala proceed to ambush Misaki, hogtie her, and toss her into their wheelbarrow (wow, it's REALLY been a while since we've seen the wheelbarrow). Misaki is very angry about this, for several reasons: 1) She would have talked to them anyway, no need for kidnapping; 2) not knowing what was going on, she set off her alarm so that Iwata and the others are coming for her, and 3) she doesn't have much to tell them anyway. She says Miwa's a free-agent, and more self-centered than evil. Iwata then comes to get her... in the body of Nishiki, as he's now body-hopped again. While Excel and Elgala escape, Misaki deals with this new crisis. Shiouji has no idea how he jumps bodies, his own body is slowly dying without his consciousness in it, and he doesn't know how to fix it. Last time Misaki punched him - this time, she tries kissing him (in Nishiki's body - Ropponmatsu 2, for those playing at home), a full page-and-a-half kiss of awesome. It works, though Misaki is starting to fray at the edges a bit with everything going on.
As is Watanabe, as the cliffhanger has him power up his suit when he sees Hyatt, his one true love, lying dead in the arms of "Excel", aka Isshiki. Watanabe's been 'dissolutely evil' for some time now, but it appears his feeling for "Miss Ayasugi" have not dimmed. Cliffhanger!
This volume was fantastic, showcasing Excel at her finest, giving Misaki and company lots to do, and having Elgala carry the bulk of the humor at her expense. All this and liner notes by Carl Horn! Do yourself a favor and buy Excel Saga. It'll make many folks very happy.