From the creator of Hunter x Hunter comes an infuriatingly entertaining comedy.
Prince Baka is one of the most brilliant minds in the galaxy. It’s a shame he loves using it for his own entertainment, which mostly consists of tormenting those of lesser mental capacity. After his escape pod crashes on earth, Prince Baka takes a liking to the earthlings
and to including them in his games. All seems well and good for the prince (to say nothing of those he torments), but perhaps there is someone else out there who can match wits with him?
The Good and the Bad
Infuriatingly entertaining. That’s the best way I can sum up my experience with Level E. Coming into the show having only heard “stylish comedy” in reference to its quality, I was more or less prepared for anything. Or so I thought. Level E’s main goal, it seems, is to simultaneously tease its audience without crossing the line of intolerability. It’s a dangerous game to play, but Level E generally does so with surprising success.
The credit for the 13-episode show’s achievement most likely belongs to the original creator of the manga from which the anime is adapted, Yoshihiro Togashi, who is well-known for his work on long-time Shounen Jump title Hunter x Hunter. Understanding Level E as Togashi’s brainchild provides easy answers for most of the show’s successes. Despite its billing as a comedy, Level E isn’t afraid to draw from any number of other genres, including horror, mystery, suspense, sentai, and even romance. It’s just the sort of genre-transcendent creation one would expect from Togashi, and Level E comes off as very self-indulgent because of it. However, unlike Nisio Isin’s Monogatari series, which is often labeled as self-indulgent, Togashi’s indulgence takes the form of breadth of interest, rather than idiosyncratic jokes. Rather than being excluded by Togashi’s indulgence, we’re invited into it, for better or for worse. Level E also shows traces of Togashi’s reigning thematic concerns, most prominently his interest in stretching the limits of humanity. Level E never really engages with these themes at a deeper level (it is a comedy, after all), but having them there does add a slight amount of weight to the otherwise lighthearted proceedings.
The show is divided into a number of short arcs and standalone episodes, the strongest of which are the first arc and the last arc. The common denominator in both of these is human character Yukitaka Tsutsui, who serves as the hot-tempered straight-man to Prince Baka’s nonsense. Yukitaka’s presence serves as an effective balance for Baka’s arrogant calm, and the episodes without him fail to present another character who has similarly effective comedic chemistry with Baka. Of these remaining episodes, all vary in terms of humor quality and emotional engagement, but none fail to be entertaining.
Another stand-out character who deserves mention is Baka’s head bodyguard, Craft. Although he hails from Baka’s pacifist race, his temper is as hot as Yukitaka’s and his distaste for the prince even stronger. Watching Baka torment Craft is disconcertingly funny and satisfying, in a way that watching a hyperintelligent jerk tease a meathead has no right to be.
Visually, Studio Pierrot’s and director Toshiyuki Katou’s work on Level E is really impressive. Although it’s tough to tell where the manga’s inventiveness ends and the anime’s style begins, Level E experiments with a wide range of visual styles as allowed by the variety of story arcs that are told. The Color Rangers arc, set in a game world, uses bright effects to invoke the game atmosphere; the episode “Field of Dreams!” uses a washed out color palette to portray the ethereal nature of the world; and the episode “From the Darkness” invokes a horror atmosphere better than most horror anime can.
The Funimation dub is one of the stronger dubs I’ve heard from the company. Vic Mignoga’s performance as Prince Baka is varied and flexible to match the prince’s vast array of moods and personas, while Micah Solusod turns in the show’s best performance as Yukitaka. In limited screen time, Lindsay Seidel does a nice job as Yukitaka’s neighbor, Miho. The ensemble cast of the show rounds out the sound nicely, leaving the dub track as equal to, if not better than in places, the original Japanese. As with most dubs, there were performances in both languages that I preferred to the other, but the English dub is noticeably stronger than the Japanese in the first and final arcs.
The background music is serviceable and effective without leaving a lasting impression. There are a few groovy hooks scattered here and there, but overall it does its best work when supporting the various atmospheres of the show. The OP, “Cold Finger Girl,” is a gritty track somewhat reminiscent of the Durarara!! OPs, while the “ED,”(Yume) ~ Mugennokanata ~,” is a fantastic power ballad. Of the two pieces of theme music, I preferred the ED, but both are very good songs well-worth checking out.
The first disc includes the Color Rangers’ English dub cast commentary on episode 7. Mostly consisting of the cast joking around together, there’s not much of substance amidst all the laughter and puns. The second disc includes Vic Mignoga and Micah Solusod’s commentary on episode 13. Compared to the first commentary episode, Mignogna and Solusod’s episode is far more coherent and far more informative. Although Mignogna takes up most of the talking time, it’s fun and enjoyable to hear the two actors talk about their experience on the show. Also on the second disc is a strange interview with Vic Mignogna that seems like it’s supposed to be funny, but comes off as far too scripted to really hit any truly humorous notes. However, there are also some nice moments of insight from the veteran voice actor on playing the prince and the entire production process.
As per usual, the second disc also includes the clean opening and clean ending, as well as Funimation’s trailer for the show and other Funimation releases.
Although it fails to be consistently funny, Level E does succeed at being consistently entertaining. Whether or not it will entertain everyone depends on the viewer’s willingness to be taken for a ride and occasionally mislead, but for those who can tolerate Baka (and Togashi’s) inventive minds, Level E will be a fun ride.
This review was initially published on The Otaku Review. The original article can be read here.