The best thing about this screwy comedy is that we never know when it is lying. The direction is a massive exercise in sleight of hand, the script a riddle within a puzzle, and guessing what the hell is going on becomes the most compelling reason to keep watching.
Level E smells suspiciously like Men in Black, with a backdrop of aliens who immigrate to Earth for various reasons and live among unsuspecting humans. But instead of counting down to an epic intergalactic crisis topped with macho laser battles, it narrowly follows the social chaos that occurs when one self-absorbed and utterly brilliant alien, Ouji of Dogura, throws misadventure and misfortune in everyone’s way. Indeed, this is comedy played any way but straight, and it relies mostly on the Prince being a complete dick while the rest of the cast try not to implode with frustration.
With no substantial stories and just a string of misadventures and non-sequiturs, there is really no point to Level E except to give Ouji a platform to fuck around. Veering from parodies of Power Rangers to moral parables on the ethics of poaching before swerving back to dubious character arcs, Level E simply relishes its moment in the viewers’ attention to do whatever the hell it wants. Any uncharacteristic sober lapses, for instance, quickly dissolve in the face of troll jokes.
This is a delightfully creative work and one of the most intriguing uses of aliens I’ve seen in recent years (although the manga is from the 1990s when this topic was trendy). But Level E is also a textbook case of fizzling out. Between the stunning introductory episodes, which arguably deliver the biggest laughs, and the final episode, which has the most fulfilling surprises, there lie a few misfires. One oddly sentimental diversion follows a mermaid-alien as she fights nasty poachers with the help of school children, while another has the heroes trying to prevent a nasty alien race of insect-like females marrying a human. These instalments do not, frankly speaking, make the grade, although they act as tolerable padding for a show this short and eclectic.
Level E doesn’t deserve the animation it gets - with such frenetic, schizophrenic content, I would have assumed a lackadaisical cartoon style to match. But Studio Pierrot has given it a sober, clean appearance and borderline bishounen character designs that seem altogether too pleasant. Admittedly, the budget doesn’t stretch as far as sassy-looking action or intriguing environments, but it looks deceptively sophisticated.
The soundtrack is modest and barely noticeable; apart from complementing scenes or adequately book-ending the content, it makes no significant impact.
If Level E can be said to be about anything in particular, it would be Ouji. His eccentricities not only dictate much of the comedy but also set the tone for the story. Simply put, things happen in Level E because the Ouji wants them to. It’s always gratifying to observe a narrative so wholly absorbed by one personality (the last example I remember is Light’s performance in Death Note). What makes Ouji a powerfully attractive protagonist is his enigma: all his words are lies nestled in truths or just plain lies, and sometimes he will speak the truth in a manner that looks suspiciously like a lie. The source of amusement (and his co-stars’ frustration) is the act of detangling his speech and behaviour to minimise collateral and psychological damage. In one sense, Level E becomes an extended character study of this individual so utterly removed from our reality not just biologically, but also mentally.
Ouji’s only rival for attention is the long-suffering bodyguard, Kraft. Kraft’s eye-reddening, vein-popping, twitching rages as the Prince systematically ruins his life fill in the gaps of relatable emotion where the Prince has no reach. As for the others, don’t get attached to them; none make any significant contributions except to get caught in Ouji’s madness and often exit the story as inexplicably as they enter it. Yukitaka Tsutsui is a particularly curious case as he appears to take the role of half of the comedy duo from the start only to be pushed aside two episodes down the line as the show runs in new directions.
Level E is an example of what happens when you come up with a great character and cater to his every whim. With snappy, on-the-beat comic timing and an eagerness to astonish the audience, Level E declares in a triumphantly addictive howl: ‘Just fuckin’ with ya!’ It is insane and unpredictable in a way that is simultaneously easy to relax with, although that same inconsistency means it guarantees only a smile a minute and maybe a laugh every ten.
Level E is basically a troll comedy around the farces of an alien prince. As long as you dig his obnoxious personality then the comedy factor will work on you. I must say myself that the first arc was highly entertaining since I had no idea what is going on with the setting; it felt very mysterious, scary and humorous at the same time in a way that reminded me of Men In Black. Yet as soon as it was over I was more prepared to see something similar in later arcs and thus the rest did not feel as amazingly funny as the initial episodes. Also, the prince trolls different people each time, none of which are as interesting as those in the first arc, thus you are left to stare at a cast you don’t care about much. It was only in the finale, when the prince again goes back to his first victims that the comedy factor went high again and even offered a cool and unexpected finale.
The type of humor the show uses feels very different from other comedies of its era, since it is based on a manga from over a decade ago, when otaku jokes and clichés hadn’t crawled in all shows yet. This helps to get something uncommon from it that sets it apart from the numerous slapsticks and satires of today.
The story aspect is weak and mostly underplayed for random actions the prince plays on his victims. Although each arc can work as a separate fully told story, there is little to no continuity amongst characters of different arcs, a thing which makes the whole plot to feel nothing much to care about.
The cast is basically separated into the Prince and All The Rest. He alone is very memorable and funny, simply because he is obnoxious and sadistic to his subordinates and victims. All the storylines start and end from his uncontrolled desire to play tricks on people; even those who care about him. All the rest are basically character archetypes who are being constantly trolled by him. Passive and constantly in amok, they are mostly a parody of their respective molds, yet they never become memorable in the long run. The baseball player and the alien researcher’s daughter from the first and last arcs are by far the most interesting ones, followed by the Prince’s unfortunate bodyguards. Character development is close to zero and it is mostly colorization all you should expect from them.
The production values are awesome! Comedies are notorious for their cheap animation and overuse of deformity yet Level E offers consistent proportions and detailed colors and backgrounds almost all the time as means to fool you it is all serious. Even the soundtrack is made of pieces more fitting to an action / adventure than a comedy, still part of the same joke. I must say I liked them a lot and didn’t expect such a good overall from a minor studio such as David Production. I guess that is part of the troll jokes. And so is the director Katou Toshiyuki, who has a thing for directing shws with the single letter E in their title. He also did a fine job in Looking for the Full Moon so he is good when he wants to.
Being unorthodox and with a highly memorable lead character, Level E is easily becoming entertaining. It still has very few chances of rewatching it, since the troll jokes work only once and there is no overall story or many interesting characters.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 2/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 2/2
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 2/3
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Analysis: Premise 1/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 0/2, Plausibility 1/2, Conclusion 1/2
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: Presence 2/2, Personality 2/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 0/2, Catharsis 1/2
VALUE SECTION: 3/10
Analysis: Historical Value 0/3, Rewatchability 0/3, Memorability 3/4
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 3/10
Analysis: Art 1/1, Sound 0/2, Story 0/3, Characters 2/4
Level E was a fun surprise! The mostly non-existent story consists of the misadventures of an obnoxious apathetic alien prince seeking ways to alieviate his chronic boredom.
This was mostly episodic only in nature until the last episode connected the various sub-plots and turned the whole show into a cohesive story. Which turned out to be typical of this atypical anime - the last minute turn-around of everything you thought you knew.
Most episodes featured the dastardly Prince Baka doing things to other people and causing controversial situations, and then TWIST Prince Baka's hidden motives and agenda are revealed and things turn out to be different than you thought. And funnier.
It feels so GOOD at the end when the surprise comes from a totally unexpected direction!
The animation quality is astoundingly good for this kind of story and helped raise my enjoyment level for the show. The sound quality was also good and in sync; even though the opening theme was distractingly called Cold Fingered Girl (main protagonist in the show is male (admittedly somewhat androgynous with long flowing blond hair) and opening credits shows this male character in various situations. In keeping with the Surprise Twists motif of the show, perhaps?
Title of the show, Level E, was also an unsolved mystery to me. I thought perhaps it was a twist off of and nod to the director's other work Code-E. Turns out, the author, Yoshihiro Togashi, stated that after renting a videotape called "Level 4", he affirmed to himself that he should name the series using the first English Language letter of the word "alien". When he was informed that the first letter of the word Alien was "A" and not "E", he replied that he always associated the term alien with (the movie) E.T. Okey dokey then.
Definitely a character-driven and not plot-driven show based entirely on the laughs provided by genious troublemaker Prince Baka from the planet Dogra. Most of the rest of the cast is replaceable and eminently forgettable. Except perhaps for Baka's long-suffering bodyguard/servant Kraft.
Despite a lack of plot or character depth, an amusing and fun ride! I did enjoy this.
SECRET SANTA REVIEW
This anime is really just a gag comedy.
Contains a lot of refrences and tropes, but has no actual plot. The animation isn't too bad and the anime itself is hilarious.
The characters themselves have no depth, so just watch for the laughs...if you get the joke that is...the humor is quite crude at times.
Story – Imagine if aliens resided on Earth in disguise alongside us humans! There would be aggressive aliens, peaceful aliens, and aliens that are on the verge of extinction. Not noticing their presence, they would be right under our noses living with us in harmony. That’s until Prince Baka shows up in baseball star, Tsutsui’s apartment…
Characters – There’s a huge variety of different aliens in this series and it’s certainly interesting to watch them! From flesh-eating aliens to alien assassins, new species are always being introduced to the show. The little backstories created for each alien race were also all different and exciting.
Our main character, Prince Baka, is a prankster who lives for tricking people. He’s very playful, light-hearted, and not too very bright. He’s also quite annoying at times. His poor loyal henchmen must have such a hard time always having to be by his side. They often play the victim of his antics and are all fun to watch. Tsutusi, the baseball star, has a love/hate relationship with Prince Baka and it’s great to see their interactions. The entire cast of this show were portrayed wonderfully.
Art/Animation – The artwork for this anime is very shounen and that’s understandable because it was actually created by Yoshihiro Togashi of Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter. I often found that Tsutsui’s facial expressions and actions were very similar to Yusuke from Yu Yu Hakusho, so I wasn’t surprised to find out that Level E was by the same man. The artwork isn’t very complicated and there aren’t too many details; it’s simple. It worked perfectly for the anime because the animation was able to come out very smoothly. Fight scenes were very clear cut and you could see every single movement taken. The animation was very strong and enjoyable to watch.
Music – The music was fairly weak for this series, unfortunately. There were a couple of suspenseful songs used for some serious moments, but otherwise there wasn’t anything extraordinary. The only memorable song was the jazzy opening, sang by Chiaki Kuriyama,
Pros – Level E is a master of storytelling. Its ability to fool you into believing something is actually happening in the anime is extraordinary. I was deceived almost every episode because the layout of the episode was so believable! The producers of this anime did such an excellent job in directing this show by properly generating the moods that certain situations took place in.
Level E also has a fantastic sense of humor, as it actually made me burst out laughing pretty frequently. The material used was spot-on and had perfect timing. Tsutsui and Prince Baka actually reminded me of a manzai duo; with Tsutsui being the tsukkomi and Prince Baka as the boke. They constantly had epic interactions and their “fighting” was more hilarious than anything else! Seeing them argue back and forth with each other was very amusing to watch. Although the humor can be slightly random in some episodes (Prince Baka appearing out of nowhere was random in itself!), the comedy can be at its best when you are least expecting it.
Cons - If you don't like having your leg pulled, then this anime isn't for you. There are tons of "troll" moments in this anime that sometimes even I would actually get annoyed. Imagine watching something like Attack on Titan and finding out it was all a dream. It gets frustrating! Level E isn't as serious, of course, but many events in this anime turn out to be hoaxes or experiments that Prince Baka conducts for his own pleasure. He may be having fun, but it's annoying when you’re watching a whole episode about something mysterious and it turns out to be a tv show. Kind of makes you think, "What's the point of watching if everything turns out to be fake?"
Another downfall is that Tsutsui disappears for a few episodes. His interactions with Prince Baka were priceless and that is where the best comedic moments stood. The lack of his presence was very risky and the anime felt like it was missing something. The anime still had funny scenes, but they just weren’t as amusing. Plus, I really enjoyed seeing Prince Baka getting punched and kicked around.
Overall - Level E is definitely something I haven't seen any anime do in a while! It’s not everyday that I see a comedy mixed with some drama and sci-fi, so that’s pretty awesome. It wasn’t a perfect anime, but after the last episode, I was kind of seeking more. Too bad the manga is only 3 volumes long. Prince Baka may have won a spot in my list of “Most Annoying Anime Characters”, but Level E’s comedy and storytelling were spot on.
Rating - 7.5/10