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
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
Why are aliens so attracted to Earth? It's a question that many fans of science fiction have pondered at one time or another, and there have been a number of different answers - vacations, natural resources, food and water, building a hyperspace by-pass, enslaving the population, experiments and general curiosity (to name a few). Of all the possible explanations though, boredom and baseball are two that probably wouldn't spring to mind.
Togashi Yoshihiro is a name that fans of Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter will recognise, and as popular as those two franchises are, like every mangaka he has a few skeletons buried in his closet, one of which is Level E. The original manga was serialized in Weekly Shounen Jump from 1995 to 1997 for a total of sixteen chapters, and in a very weird irony (or maybe it's fate), since 2003 Gintama has also been serialized in the same magazine, and it's a good bet that Sorachi Hideaki found some inspiration from Togashi's earlier work.
The story begins with Tsutsui Yukitaka, a young man who is due to attend Kisaragi High School in Yamagata in order to play baseball. Unbeknownst to him, aliens from across the galaxy have come to live on Earth, and while they are all aware of each other, humanity has little to no knowledge of their presence (thanks to some fancy disguises). Tsutsui's troubles begin when he finds an elegant young man sitting in his new apartment, wearing his clothes, reading his books and drinking his tea. He is Baka Ki El Dogra, an alien who has crash landed on Earth and is now suffering from amnesia.
What follows is a story about the beneficial relationship built up between aliens and humans by bonds of trust, respect, friendship, and all those other nice things.
And if you believe that then you probably watched E.T. instead of Level E.
Now at first glance it may seem like the plot is focused on simply telling short stories over the course of thirteen episodes, and to a certain degree this would be a fair assessment. That said, one of the things that is generally overlooked is the overarching theme of the series as it isn't immediately obvious. The reason for this because there is very little in the way of continuity between story arcs, and even with "subtle" reminders viewers will often forget that this tale is really about boredom, and the lengths to which a person will go in order to be "entertained".
There is a serious side to proceedings though. Level E features some dark topics which can sometimes seem at odds with the fact that it's a relatively lighthearted anime, but like Gintama these act as a foil to keep things interesting while offering the viewer some food for thought (the whole thing with the baseball stadium being one example of this). The apparent lack of any real direction to the storyline is also purposeful as it allows for a style of situation comedy that many shows have attempted over the years, but few have actually mastered. The quirky blend of parody, slapstick and satire can sometimes be reminiscent of a good episode of Blackadder or Red Dwarf, and Togashi's distinctive sense of humour has been retained, refined, and on a few occasions, improved upon.
Which rather neatly leads me on to the visuals.
Level E has had quite a face lift from the realistic designs of the mid 1990s, but this is actually an improvement as anyone who has read manga will know that in terms of looks, it hasn't aged well. The characters are particularly noteworthy as rather than completely re-inventing them, Takeda Itsuko has instead decided to retain specific physical traits from the original design, and simply update clothing, facial structures and features, etc. Now offering praise here may seem counter intuitive to some, as the generally accepted rule for adaptations is that aspects like character design aren't that important as much of the work has already been done. The truth is that completely redesigning or simply adapting from a different medium is easy in comparison to making something look fresh and new whilst retaining key elements of the original work, and that applies to almost everything in this anime, from the characters and backgrounds, to the aliens and their spaceships.
One of the more surprising things about Level E is the quality of the animation, especially the sometimes exaggerated actions during comedy sketches. The irony here is that while the characters generally move very well, it's Baka's cartoon-like antics and deadpan delivery that really steal the show. In addition to this quality of the CG is pretty good, but not without fault as there are a few odd moments that do stand out. That said, special attention has been paid to spaceships and visual effects to create some rather imaginative set pieces that add a different dimension to the series.
The opening theme, Cold Finger Girl by Kuriyama Chiaki, features a decidedly pop art styled sequence that, aside from the aliens, has almost nothing to do with the main theme of Level E. In essence the OP is nothing more than a joke on the viewer as it is designed to make you think this is a serious anime, and in that respect it reminded me a little of the trick played by Renkin San-kyuu Magical? Pokan. The ending theme, (Yume) ~Mugennokanata~ by Vivid, features a more traditional sequence that focuses on starry skies, planets, UFO sightings, cattle abductions, and close ups of Baka's face as he looks windswept and interesting.
To be honest, there's so much cheese in the ED that you could easily start a business, yet like the OP one can't help but think that somebody, somewhere, is having a laugh at the viewer's expense.
As for the background music, there are a variety of suitable tracks on offer that remain rather subtle, but add definition to particular scenes. The score and audio effects are well choreographed, but it's the acting that takes pride of place, thanks in part to the lack of background music in many scenes. Namikawa Daisuke hasn't had many lead roles in comedy anime, which makes his portrayal of Baka Ki El Dogra truly surprising as he excels not only in terms of timing, but also delivery. The rest of the cast perform to a very high standard as well, but in a very real sense they're nothing more than the stage upon which Namikawa's Baka frolics, dances, and generally amuses himself.
Now given that this is a comedy series one might still expect a degree of character development, but that isn't actually the case. What Level E does have though, is characterisation, and lots of it. Everyone is clearly defined as an individual from the outset, with all the quirks and foibles that come with being a free thinking individual who is subject to no man or alien overlord.
Except for when they're dealing with a certain blond haired, blue eyed humanoid.
Baka is quite simply the dynamo that drives everything in Level E, and his indefatigable spirit, unbreakable will, and towering intellect are ever present in his constant search for something amusing or interesting. In many respects his entire personality (barring the intelligence), is very similar to Guu's (from Jungle wa Itsumo Hale Nochi Guu), in that both really do care little for the people that get dragged into their schemes, and both really seem to enjoy making their closest companions have a nervous breakdown.
Level E's humourous approach to alien/human relations is something that may initially sound like a straight copy of Gintama, but don't be fooled. While the two bear some similarities, at their core they're as different as chalk and cheese. The irony is that this series actually makes a great introduction for those who want to know how funny Gintama is, but are daunted by 200+ episodes. Then again, maybe it's only natural for their to be some link between the two given the history of the original manga. Suffice to say that anyone who likes comedies about aliens on Earth, or strange little girls who tend to eat, well, everything (and I do mean that), will probably find something appealing in this series.
That said, as enjoyable as this show is, it's unfortunately more of a blip on the radar than a sign of changing trends in the anime industry. Sadly the future looks set to contain more high schools and harems, which is a shame as Level E is a fine example of how good manga, novel or game adaptations could be, especially if the source material is up to standard.
Still, it's better than having Baka in charge, so I suppose we should count our blessings.