In the present day, hundreds of extraterrestrial species walk the Earth. Some are pacifistic, others violent. Some are here for research purposes, others are career criminals. However, humans don't know they are here.
Now, one more alien has arrived on Earth. One of the universe's foremost geniuses with a personality that's bound to attract all sorts of trouble.
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.
'Level E' is based on a short SF comedy manga by Togashi Yoshihiro, the author of 'Yuu Yuu Hakusho', and 'Hunter X Hunter' manga series. The first episode was a perfect introduction to the series. The story begins with sudden appearance of a self-proclaimed alien in the form of a flamboyant soft-spoken blond young man. Baka prince has a strange sense of humor, and everyone around him get dragged into troublesome situations because of his selfish and often reckless actions.
The story development in this series is characterized by its spontaneity. One event naturally leads to another as the premise and character personalities are subtly exposed.
Great storytelling is capable of conveying messages without blatantly spelling them out, and this is exactly what happens throughout the series. The smooth storytelling gradually paint the world of 'Level E' by introducing the other alien races present on Earth through the prince and his team's activities, slowly developing the prince's character and his troublemaker ways.
You never know what will happen next, the series never ceases to amaze with crazy plot twists in every episode. The scrupulous delivery of comedy in this series will leave you laughing throughout each episode. Story aside, the hilarious humor is enough to keep you watching.
The high quality of animation is apparent with unobtrusive 3D-CGI, detailed background, interesting camera angles and movement, and realistic-looking character designs. Not only that, the quality of art and animation stays consistent throughout the series.
Everyone sound like they should, and especially the prince's soothing voice was done extremely well, jovial yet emotional. The BGM is used very efficiently, played only to change the mood, which made the rapid pace of unfolding of the events viable.
The OP is the biggest surprise of the series. Written by former BLANKET JET CITY guitarist Asai Kenichi and vocal by... Kuriyama Chiaki! What?! In case the name doesn't ring a bell, she's a semi-A-list actress who played the tsundere chick in 'Battle Royale' (2000) and high school girl with mace in 'Kill Bill Vol.1' (2003). OP is a unique rock song that's rather dark. While ED is a generic but catchy visual-kei song, the way it meshed with the ending animation was brilliant.
I feel it would have been better if 'Level E' followed a single story with Yukitaka instead of fragmented arcs and fillers, but everything was summarized brilliantly in the end for a very satisfying conclusion to a roller coaster joyride of a adventure by the carefree prince.
"This planet is full of liars"
"But it gets us a lot of cash"
Shounen anime has continued to experience an unabated spike in recent years, and shounen comedy, specifically, has had quite a few entries recently with more coming up every season. Many of these titles have not been all that great, so when Level E was first announced many people, myself including, were skeptical and expectations weren’t all that high. But after finishing the anime I must say it not only exceeded my expectations but it also turned out to be a pleasant surprise; I mean, the kind of pleasant surprise that makes you feel
thoroughly trolled, leaving you either somewhat disappointed OR wanting for more, depending on your taste.
The anime adapts 7 of the 8 arcs from the 90s manga of the same name by Yoshihiro Togashi (Hunter x Hunter, Yu yu Hakusho). The manga has a strong experimental feel to it, in that it seems to follow more of a “stream-of-conscious” approach to storytelling; its as if the author chose some lazy afternoons to just sit, relax and write whatever came to his mind. A direct result is that the story has no central point or anchor to it for the most part, and the mangaka hardly makes an effort to bring any complexity to the characters or the narrative. It just flows freely; employing clever humor, adding flavors of different genres such as romance and suspense/thriller, and a structure that resembles more like a 80s/90s sitcom with strong classic sci-fi “alien” culture influences (for instance, the “E” in the title, was intended by the author to be a direct reference to “E.T”). This has been translated by the anime with strong visuals, a streamlined narrative, more comedy and added dialogues to make it more suitable for TV viewers of today. Failure to appreciate this experimental nature, or a conscious dislike of this attribute, may completely ruin the experience of the show.
The synopsis is highly misleading and could give a warped image of what the show is; and its hard to tell what the story is about without spoiling much. Keeping that in mind, I think there are some things about the show that everyone should know right off-the-bat..
The main character is a blond alien called Prince Baka, who likes to make everyone’s life miserable because, well, he’s a jerk; a highly intelligent, devilish and poker-faced master prankster (to be more precise). He is the only central ‘thread’ that holds the plot, and the supporting characters are more or less ancillary to his existence. Your enjoyment of the show will partly hinge on how much you end up liking his character.
The show does not follow a central story and instead has a episodic story-arc format comprising of 7 story-arcs in total. Furthermore, the cast of characters is huge compared to the short-length of the show and you wont see the same faces in every arc, giving the impression of a lack of central characters at first glance. There’s at least 2 episode where we dont even see the main character and the focus is instead on some supporting cast. This is less of an oversight and more of a natural consequence of the experimental nature and aesthetic inclinations of the show. The cast is a motley collection ranging from alien mermaids, high school students to a elementary school teacher-cum-alien assassin and her students who unwittingly fall for the prince’s impish pranks etc.
A note of warning here; if you’re the sort of person who looks for a central direction or plot to their anime, with dramatic character expositions; and a lack of complexity or central structure bothers you, then you should probably think twice before watching this show. But if you tend to appreciate episodic shows more due to their potential variety than you might feel right at home with Level E. Its a crying shame though, that despite its sitcom-like structure it is a very short series when it could have been much longer.
Not only is the show episodic, but it also dips its beak in a wide variety of themes; if you’re under the impression that Level E is an all out comedy than you have to know that that's not true. To borrow a famous movie quote, Level E “is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get” next. Comedy is a major part of the show, but the mangaka/writer takes full advantage of the episodic format and delves into other genres such as drama, thriller/horror, mystery and- yes you guessed it- romance. Each of these themes are explored in at least one story arc.
Again, this is a double-edged sword, as some might not appreciate how the show does not stick to one genre, theme or story. But others might like it for exactly the same reason. A natural downside of having an episodic structure and a variety of themes is that some episodes aren't as good as others or some people may like a particular arc that others don't, and vice-versa.
Humor, is a highly subjective aspect, and depends a lot on taste. Level E’s humor has certain attributes; Its basically a sitcom approach with a clever running-gag, spontaneous plot-twists, somewhat restrained bursts of crazy antics and devilish escapades, and the occasional spoofs thrown in for good measure. Besides the obvious nod to “E.T” in the title and the first episode, the series has strong references to 90’s JRPGs, Power Rangers and, among all things, Lion King. People more acquainted with the Alien sub-culture before its death at the hands of vampires, zombies and werewolves would also pick-up some occasional X-Files and Men in Black vibes. As such, the manga has a distinct 90s feel to it that is clearly discernible in the anime adaption despite the modern production values and techniques employed.
Speaking of production values, the character designs and art of the manga have been revamped and presented with top-notch realistic art style, atmospheric backgrounds and a handful of scenes with dazzling experimental visuals that are sure to stand out long after you have finished the show.
The background music is not anything stellar, but its quite decent and fitting. Its the Op/Ed songs, however, where the music really shines.The punk and alt rock influenced Op song with its galloping riffs and catchy vocals, sung by Chiaki Kuriyama (of the Kill Bill fame) and animated with some brilliant visuals, is easily one of the most memorable OP songs I’ve heard in recent times. The Ed song by ViViD is a fiery and energetic Alternative/Progressive JRock more reminiscent of “Abingdon Boys School”.
The Seiyuu cast has done an excellent cast and delivered their punchlines with natural ease whenever needed. Special mention should be given to Takehito Koyasu (Kraft) and Daisuke Namikawa (Prince Baka) both of whom have had a considerable experience and have lent their voices to some of the most recognizable anime characters in recent memory.
To sum-up, Level E has some interesting tricks up its sleeves; its variety, strong visuals and charming characters are some of its strongest points. At the same time, its short length, lack of central direction/structure, sudden plot-twists and its artistic inclinations can be potential downsides for some, depending on tastes.
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.