An alien prince with a penchant for pranks and tomfoolery crash-lands on Earth, which also happens to be a clandestine way station for any number of alien species traveling incognito. Messing with them -- and his new human friends -- soon takes precedence over things like duty and honor.
A bracing and funny opening for this show quickly gives way to something a lot more disjointed and aimless. This should have been a minor classic, but instead it's more a of cute time-waster.
- The premise and setup are hilarious, and so are many of the individual gags.
- Becomes too aimless and unfocused for its own good.
- Director: Toshiyuki Kato
- Animation Studio: Pierrot
- Released By: TV Tokyo
- Released Domestically By: FUNimation
- Audio: English / Japanese w/English subtitles
- Age Rating: TV-14 (language, sci-fi violence, suggestive situations)
- List Price: $64.98 (BD/DVD combo)
“Is everyone from space messed up or what?”
That line, uttered by a perplexed Earthling teenager, is a fine distillation of most everything you need to know about Level E. It’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets Jackass, as an alien prince with a gleefully malicious sense of humor crash-lands on Earth and sets about doing his otherworldly best to screw with the local population. He does a pretty good job of it. And yes, most everyone from outer space is pretty messed up.
What Level E lacks, unfortunately, is the momentum to take its big burst of inspiration and really see it through. It starts with one set of ideas, then channel-surfs between several more before finally remembering to pick up where it left off and give us something vaguely resembling a conclusion. On an episode-by-episode level, it’s never short of yuks and sly shots, but as a show it adds up to a lot less than it ought to.
If these aliens weren't already illegal, they should be
The first few episodes set up the premise, and again are so sly and smartly put-together it’s not hard to feel like something really special is going on. Apparently aliens have been visiting Earth for quite some time—mostly in secret, and taking great pains to disguise their presence whenever possible. One night the prince of planet Dogra, a dashingly handsome fellow named Baka (which means idiot in Japanese), crash-lands on Earth and allegedly loses his memory.
I say allegedly because the more we find out about Baka, the more we’re led to believe everything he does is a put-on, up to and including faking bouts of amnesia just to mess with people. He shacks up with a local high school student, Yukitaka Tsuitsui, an aspiring baseball player whom he blackmails into keeping silent about the fact that his new roommate is from outer space. Yukitaka would love nothing more than to boot this dweeb out, alien or no alien, but he quickly finds himself in up to his neck—especially when Baka’s own men come looking for him.
This is all great—funny, witty, unpredictable—for about three or four episodes. Then the story begins to step wrong, mostly by losing track of Yukitaka and spinning off one new plotline after another about Baka messing with other Earthlings. E.g.: five schoolkids discover their teacher is in fact an alien, after which Baka kidnaps the kids and turns them into a kind of sentai-style fighting team on a planet that the Prince has turned into a giant Nintendo-style 16-bit RPG. And then there’s another subplot about another alien species that might destroy the human race if it mates with a human, and a story about the kids meeting an alien mermaid who kills anyone that lies, and … you get the idea.
A string of gags isn't a story
The problem with all this stuff, even as it generates laughs on its own, is that none of it feeds back into the original setup. It feels terribly scattershot, as though the writers got bored with their first premise and decided to throw it over in favor of a fresh bowl of Plot Gumbo. What’s worse is that because Yukitaka is one of the few halfway relatable characters in the whole thing, it becomes hard to care about what happens, and so ramping up the craziness doesn’t make the goings-on any more interesting. And having Prince Baka take center stage doesn’t help: the more we see of him, the more we realize he is a jerk, and that you can only make a jerk worth watching unless a) he does something that makes him fascinating or b) he becomes less of a jerk. No dice on either account. We do eventually come back to Yukitaka and his friends, but in such a roundabout, throwaway fashion it feels
I suspect the problems stem directly from the source material: Yoshihiro Togashi’s manga, he of Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter × Hunter fame. Level E is splattered throughout with many hints of Togashi’s love of SF and horror, both Eastern and Western. Dogra has a sister planet named Magra, and Dogra Magra is the name of a famous Japanese work of surrealistic horror from the 1920s. Yukitaka Tsutsui’s own name is a possible tongue-in-cheek reference to superstar Japanese SF author Yasutaka Tsutsui, author of the novel that inspired Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. Winks at everything from E.T. to The Lion King abound. But winking and nudging aren’t the same thing as creating a solid, sustained story, and this show is yet more proof of that.