Level E 13

Level E goes out on a lofty note, which is not surprising considering the high level of quality it has sustained. A somewhat inocuous cliffhanger last week instantly comes into play: and more signs that the princess is not who she says she is surface. What follows is an intoxicatingly entertaining and confident story of intergalactic political intrigue and cerebral (and physical) cat-and-mouse.

As per usual, this story never lets you see all the cards it’s holding until the very end, but you’re having so much fun, you don’t have time to scratch your head. Things are always kept nice and breezy, even with the fate of earth on the line, but the lack of serious drama is never a problem. When Prince’s brother – who turns out not to be his brother, but then again, actually is – attacks him with a sword, we see perhaps for the first time what a truly slippery bastard he is.

But that double-twist – that his brother and bride are impersonating imposters to attempt to trick him – is perfectly executed. His brother may not be a match for him, but the princess is at least a match for him in the brains department – and perhaps even someone worth falling in love with. Thus in this final arc, Prince’s whole purpose for being on earth – to find some exploit worth his time and effort – would seem to pay off. And the final twist with the cat…nice touch! Rating: 4

Series Mean Ranking: 3.500

Level E 12

Wherein Prince’s royal duties finally catch up to him. His extremely conservative, polite, courteous younger brother arrives on earth. He’s a prince to, but he won’t allow his brother to shirk his responsibility to marry the princess of another world, a tradition that goes back generations and maintains peace and galactic balance. He wouldn’t even think of taking his brother’s place as Doguran King; he just isn’t wired that way.

Similarly, the princess, despite never having met Prince, is ready to marry him on the spot, having prepared for such a thing all her life. She loves him deeply, despite the distance between them, and it’s pretty clear she wouldn’t be the woman she is were it not for the encouragement Prince unconsciously instilled in her to be the best damn princess she can possibly be.

Yet again Level E proves it can present us will all new characters and they can be iimmediately deep and interesting. I also find it awesome that Craft is 100% on Prince’s side, because there’s nothing he’d like more than for his more sensible younger brother to take the throne. And the massive alien fleet in Earth orbit lends some nice gravity to the festivities.

Tsutsui and Miho are also in top form trying to be on the Princes side while becoming just as endeared with the lil’ bro and betrothed as we are. This is definitely a tough one: the Prince doesn’t want to be hemmed in by marriage; but he doesn’t seem to have a lot of options with all the political stuff at stake (and all those ships in orbit who came to witness the wedding). The finale should be something. And, oh yes…Craft’s yellow Camaro puts this episode over the top, ratings-wise. Rating: 4

Level E 11

Level E finally returns to the life of Tsutsui and shows the Kisaragi baseball team in action, and hilarity ensues. The show rebounds after an episode that lacked almost any comedy. The whole team is swallowed up by the concentration of one teammate; they end up in a dream world consisting of a baseball stadium.

Naturally, Prince tagged along to see if anything could be done to destroy team cohesion through caustic mutual suspicion, but he fails to entertain himself in any meaningful way, as Tsutsui has a shorter fuse then ever, and is more than happy to toss the blonde Doguran around before he can finish his insidious sentences. The team is a bit stumped about what to do, until a rival team appears, then it’s game on. The goal is no longer to escape, but to play some friggin’ ball.

As most of the episode unfolded in this dream world, there was a really eerie and surreal light and droning sound to the place; it was sold really well as a kind of mind prison for the team. The overzealous captain was good for a laugh or two, and Craft crashing a perfectly good third-gen Honda Stepwgn when he hears that the Prince is involved is also pretty alright. Rating: 3.5

Level E 10

This was one of those episodes I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: was this mermaid-type maiden actually the Prince in drag again? Would some unexpected comedic twist break through all the syrupy sentiment and seriousness? Well, in a word, no.

Prince wasn’t present at all. And even though this episode was played mostly straight, with hardly any laugh-out-loud moments (although Yokota always looks funny, what with his mustache, gut and grey hair), but you know what? I still enjoyed it. Level E tells such good, interesting stories with such regularity, they more than earned the right to do a more serious and dramatic one.

I didn’t even mind the return of the Color Rangers, even though I didn’t expect to see any more of them. The fact that they carry on their duties as rangers shows that Prince’s schemes don’t always end in bitter suffering for others; something good comes out of them, on occasion. The kids’ alien teacher even makes a cameo, helping out in he nick of time, then slinking away just as briskly. Considering she’s a talented assassin, and overly flashy would miss the point, her limited role was logical. Rating: 3

Level E 9

So the big cliffhanger, which I thought was just a joke or misunderstanding (won’t get fooled again…though I will), is that Princess Saki’s human suitor isn’t a man at all. This was surprising, because despite her whelpish voice, she looks pretty masculine, and so far the character has been pretty clear-cut between how the genders are drawn.

Level E has pretty much the same character design as Bantorra, which I listed as my favorite series of last year. It wasn’t my favorite because of the character design. Most costumes just looked overwrought and silly, while their figures were dolllike and their gazes glassy and cold. That’s okay, because with both shows, the shortcomings of the design and animation are completely overshadowed by their merits.

With Level E, those merits include an uncanny ability to mislead, fool, and entertain with charmingly bizarre stories and effective comedy. An anime about an alien maiden who will wipe out the human race if she mates with one needn’t be overdramatic and serious; in fact it’s better of not being so. Yet, far from being innocent and oblivious of the effects of their reproduction, the Macbac actually takes a great deal of pleasure in watching the races die out. Being in love is like sinking your teeth into your prey, and such.

Considering the Macbacs’ sinister motivations, I’m 100% behind Craft foiling their plans, even if it means stooping to the Prince’s convoluted, illegal scheme of cloning Mikihisa to trick the Macbac. After all, we’re talking about the preservation of humanity here. Makes you grateful not all aliens want to wipe us out, and have the power to prevent others from doing so. Rating: 3.5

Level E 8

Level E switches gears from the Color Rangers to a new and potentially more dangerous scenario: an alien princess has come to earth to find a human mate. Only problem is, when she finds one and they reproduce, a virus will be transmitted which will quickly spread to all males, rendering them sterile and eventually rendering the human race extinct.

Craft and his two underlings must ensure this doesn’t happen (Prince is in the jungle somewhere, watching bugs mate for some reason…that in and of itself is funny). So Craft meets her in a remote and isolated winter resort. What he wasn’t counting on: a guy who was just turned down by a friend he wanted to be more than a friend with meeting eyes with the princess. It’s love at first sight, and the shounen won’t let anyone come between their love. That can only mean one thing: SNOWMOBILE CHASE!!! Wait, what? Okay, sure, why not?

The romance is a problem for Craft, because he’s part of the Earth Defense Force, and if he doesn’t defend the smitten kid from the cute and innocent foreign princesss, humanity is doomed. His attempts to dissuade both of them throughout the episode are as ineffective as they are hilarious. I imagine if there was ever a Men In Black anime, it would be something like Level E: interesting missions in which the world is always on the line, but the show is never too stern or serious about it. Rating: 3.5

Level E 7

All in all, week 7 of Level E was a great wrap-up to the Color Rangers arc. It didn’t stick with the same formula as last week, as the kids have arrived at the castle to hear the King’s pleas for aid: the show also continues its penchant for misleading its audience. It would have had us believe a girl one of the rangers likes has been kidnapped, but the damsel in distress is just the Prince in princess drag.

They keep running with this too, as the Prince has designed the game so even he doesn’t know whats next. This leads him to aquiescing to the evil General Luci’s demand for marriage, including S&M and role-playing. The fact that Luci’s AI needs to bone up (no pun intended) on wedding night practices is a useful and hilarious stall. The fact the all-powerful “demon lord” is a kindly mini-Prince is also a nice touch.

So even though this group of kids got into the spirit of Prince’s game, while learning how devious and insincere he can be, they still let him get the better of him, as he lulls them into false security by returning them to Earth – only so they can reunite in the classroom and be transported right back to the RPG world. You can really taste the anguish and misfortune of the Prince’s victims…and it tastes great. Rating: 3.5

Level E 6

No matter what random situations Level E puts its characters in, it has thus far always ended up both entertaining and hilarious. This week the grade schoolers are seemingly free of the Prince’s mischief and their Color Ranger bracelets. However, once gathered in class they are warped to a distant planet, and to the next phase of the Prince’s mission to harass and annoy.

This isn’t just any planet; it’s an weird RPG planet, and I’m actually surprised how much I enjoyed watching the rangers go through the world and level up their powers. Reluctant and apathetic at first, they quickly get used to their costumes and start to have fun, rather than constantly mouthing off to one another. It’s great to see characters we’ve only known for two episodes to develop so much so rapidly and yet so naturally.

This arc looks to have one more episode left, in which the rangers face the game’s boss in a goofy-looking rainbow castle on a hill. Meanwhile, their alien teacher Tachibana worries about them, perhaps hinting she’ll have a more active role to play next week. For now, I’m just enjoying this bawdy, clever comedy. Rating: 3.5

Level E 5

The Prince of Dogura continues his quest to hassle, torture, and annoy people for his own amusement. This time it’s a quintet of middle schoolers. Once again the series does and excellent job introducing a group of people in a hurry and they all have distinctive and interesting traits, and none of them act like your typical anime school kids. One looks like he has graying hair already, which is just plain odd.

Anyway, the series also toys with the mood by presenting the kids – now saddled with Power Ranger-style powers by the Prince – with a seemingly serious an deadly threat: their teacher is an alien assassin. This turns out to be true, but the fact she does it to earn money to travel the universe is just…hilarious. So too is her little remark about babies. Frightening, but funny.

Anyway, these kids weren’t just around for this episode; they’ll be back next week, to jump through more hoops for the Prince, who’ll be laughing all the way to the…Dogura bank, or some such. I wonder if we’ll ever see Tsutsui and his cute neighbor again, or if they were merely part of that first arc. Whatever the case, this series seems to know exactly what it’s doing. Rating: 3.5

Level E 4

After the introductory arc, Level E takes a brief detour, apparently delving into the lives of four high school dudes who witness a girl being eaten alive by a classmate. After being referred to an “eccentric” researcher by a drug-adled acquaintance, and after said researcher uses their fear of death to handsomely extort 1 million yen each from them, they learn the truth: their bogeyman is an alien; one of only three of his kind on earth, and back home, they eat the female to reproduce. Hence he wouldn’t attack males. It’s a bodily function, like hunger or thirst.

That’s wacky enough, but it’s played straight all the way through, and with a rougher, more hand-drawn animation style than we’re used to. Of course, that leads to the ultimate conceit of this episode (spoilers ahead!): it’s just a pitch by Prince for an anime intended to facilitate the revealing of aliens on earth to the human race. Oh, and the whole operation to organize this pitch takes place in Tsutsui’s flat, much to his chagrin!

This was yet another great story within a story, leading the audience on with a fairly compelling sci-fi mystery, then pulling the curtains to reveal that it was all going on in Prince’s imagination. The producer he meets with warns the premise is too dark. Looking at the lineup of shows this season, a dark premise requires lots of boobs (re Freezing)… fortunately Level E dives into dark places but always comes up for air, and is always good for significant laughs. Rating: 3.5

Level E 3

Another triumph of quickly-paced, well-timed humor with a little MiB style interstellar relations blended in for extra flavor. I love how the apparently extremely aggressive rival aliens are baseball fans and so agreed to help Prince with a very convoluted scheme to piss people off. They do this because their race just happens to know Tsutsui is a rising star and want his autograph.

Apparently that’s what Prince does: cause suffering in extremely convoluted ways. He’s a genius, but he only wants to screw people over and make them regret ever knowing him. The film insults just about everyone we know so far, and despite essentially being a recap, it’s remixed nicely and littered with hilarious slogans and narration, as well as funny reactions from Tsutsui, Miho, and Craft.

So now Prince has been put in charge of security on earth, which is not part of Dogura’s domain. Most of humanity is unaware of their protectorate status, but that’s okay, as it isn’t as if they can do anything about it. Just like that, the introduction arc concludes. Rating: 3.5

Level E 2

Level E delivers laughs from start to finish, with surprisingly late timing and great physical comedy and wordplay. Even the emotional final scene of the first episode, in which the alien reveals his true self, turns out to be a lie/joke. Without trying, the guy drives Yukitaka up the wall.

It’s also great to see other aliens in action. Like Men In Black, they are all over the place, and they’re all from different worlds, and aren’t all exactly buddy-buddy. But I like how so far things never get too serious, and just when you think they do, the punchline arrives. It makes sense that this guy is a prince too…I mean look at his hair.

Even better is the fact that despite this series is so funny and lighthearted, there is the threat of interstellar war if Prince doesn’t show up at some galactic conference. Yukitaka (whom Miho figures out was once was, maybe still is, a chivalrous punk) doesn’t like it, but the fact remains, Prince has killed someone. Not a human, but an alien of another race. That’s worse. And it probably means more trouble for Yukitaka and the humans around him. It should also be hilarious. Rating: 3.5

Level E – First Impressions

David Production brought us Book of Bantorra, one of my favorite series of 2010, but Pierrot is responsible for Bleach and Naruto, so I had no idea what was in store with Level E. Fortunately, the opening episode was strange and interesting, with an infusion of comedy and lightheartedness. This series definitely does things its own way.

The rundown is pretty clear-cut: Tsutsui, an upstanding young lad from Tokyo moves to a small town to enroll at the high school and play baseball, and gets tangled up with an alien who just crash-landed there. He also meets his neighbor, the lovely Miho, who just happens to be the daughter of the scientist investigating the alien. What was going to be a glorious springtime of ladies and baseball immediately becomes far more complicated.

While the character design and other production values are nothing to write home about (obvious CGI cars are getting a kinda old), Level E’s strength lies in the verbal sparring between Tsutsui and his alien squatter, and the decent set-up. There are a lot of possible ways this could go, as both the prologue and OP insinuated a much wider scope of storytelling: an MiB-like situation in which aliens are everywhere, but most humans are blissfully unaware. All I know is, there’s a certain je nais se quoi, original vibe to this series; and I’m definitely looking forward to how it proceeds. Rating: 3.5

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