Reviewby Theron Martin,
BD+DVD - Complete Series
High school freshman Yukitaka has moved north to attend school after being recruited for baseball in a fervently baseball-devoted region. On arrival at his apartment he discovers that he has a cute neighbor in the form of a fellow freshman, but his own apartment contains a much bigger problem: a beautiful blond man who claims to be an amnesiac alien who recently crash-landed an escape pod in the vicinity. As Yukitaka eventually learns, that young man that he comes to know as Prince Baka is far from the only alien present on Earth; in fact, there are already innumerable aliens present who come and go as they please but follow an unwritten rule that they disguise themselves to blend in with the populace. And of those aliens, Prince Baka is potentially one of the most troublesome.
This winter 2011 series has a curious pedigree, as it adapts a three-volume manga series but not a recent one; its run in Weekly Shonen Jump dates back to the mid-'90s. The anime version likely came into production primarily because of the success of its original manga-ka's other major works (Yū Yū Hakusho and Hunter X Hunter), although this work does not even remotely resemble either of them. It became a bit notorious in its original streaming run because it features a major twist in its third episode which doesn't exactly change what type of series it is (it remains primarily a sci fi comedy throughout) but does reveal that the approach taken in the first two episodes is misleading. Because certain matters about this series cannot be discussed without bringing up that twist, it will get revealed in this review.
Why does that twist matter so much? The first couple of episodes portrays the blond alien as a mysterious figure, suggesting that this may be an amnesiac discovery tale, and implies that the two humans met in those two episodes will be regulars. Instead we learn that “Prince Baka” actually knows exactly what he's doing and is just getting his jollies screwing with people, including his own subordinates, and that the humans at the beginning will only prominently appear again in a couple of late episodes. As we learn over the course of the next few episodes, the series is really just a collection of short vignettes instead of the story with a unified plot that it initially presents itself as being.
Not that there's necessarily anything inherently wrong with that once viewers get beyond feeling like they have been played. Whether before or after that major episode 3 revelation, Level E is an exercise in parody and absurdity, with a tone and flavor very similar to the Men in Black movies; for that matter, the Dargosian flunkies going around trying to run damage control with other aliens feels very much like the actions of Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and crew in the aforementioned movies. The only time this is absent is when the story focuses on the kids who become the Primary Color Rangers or the alien horror story in episode 4, but in the former case the target for having fun poked at shifts to sentai teams and the latter case aims more at cheesy, alien-themed horror stories. Watching Prince Baka be an innocent-faced complete dick is consistently amusing and occasionally outright funny, as is watching the frustrations of his heavily put-upon subordinate Captain Craft, who would just as soon be rid of his immensely intelligent but troublesome boss. Less consistent is the entertainment value of other characters, who primarily exist just to play off of the prince and serve as fodder for his machinations; this is especially true of the kids, who do have their own distinct personalities but spend most of their time just reacting to the situations that the prince puts them in.
And at least occasionally the series does take itself somewhat seriously. While the way the mermaid episode plays out is rather predictable, it is still a sweet story which also involves a group of friends having to come to terms with one of their number moving away. Another two episode arc involves a transgendered character, including a look at how difficult a time that character has had fitting in. Such weightiness is definitely not the norm, however.
A quality artistic effort, courtesy of a team-up between David Production (The Book of Bantorra) and Pierrot, is the norm, and that begins with the character designs. With his flowing blond locks, model-caliber physique, and comely features, Prince Baka is a nearly unparalleled beauty of a man, one that has a more classically Western look rather than the typical anime pretty boy. Other characters have more ordinary levels of attractiveness (or lack thereof), with an emphasis on realism when not fiddling around with alien designs. One peculiar side effect of this is that teenage characters tend to look much older here compared to equivalent-aged characters in most anime series. Nice background art and well-used CG design on spaceships complement the designs, all of which is supported by smooth, well-used animation. The series is prone to using alternative artistic styles in some episodes, which is not a problem, but it also can be a bit erratic in its quality control.
The playful musical score uses a variety of themes influenced by classical sci fi sounds to bolster its lightly creepy feel, including use of a theremin at some points. It and other instrumentation proves very effective at producing the low levels of tension which suit much of the series' content while also supporting the more comical moments. Opener “Cold Finger Girl” has a hip sound paired with some off-style visuals, while rock closer "Yume ~Mugen no Kanata~" pairs with some UFO-themed visuals; the “Are you ready?” by Prince Baka, which leads into it in most episodes, sounds like it was dubbed for this release, although the closer content otherwise remains in original language form.
Funimation's English dub for the series ranks among its best recent efforts. Vic Mignogna brings a somewhat different vocal quality to the role of Prince Baka, as he portrays him with a more playful than droll edge, but he is nonetheless a perfect fit for the role, and Bruce Carey shines in giving a folksy feel to the narration. Most other casting choices and performances are excellent as well and the script gives everything a smooth, natural flow, especially in the horror-themed episode 4.
This release comes as one of Funimation's Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs, with the disks for each version in their own case and an artbox to contain both cases. The Blu-Ray version looks very sharp but is not a major upgrade from the also-sharp-looking DVD version, while the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English audio track on the Blu-Ray is a more significant step up in producing one of the better-sounding Blu-Rays to date. (The Japanese 2.0 audio track is also great but loses just a little at the low end by comparison.) Annoyingly, though, the Blu-Ray version is hard-subbed (much like the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Blu-Rays were), so playing the English track with the subs on is impossible, as is changing languages without going through the menu screen. The Extras are the same on both versions: clean opener and closer; a pointless audio commentary for episode 7 featuring the English voice actors for the Primary Color Rangers; a somewhat more insightful audio commentary for episode 13 feature Vic and Micah Solusod, aka Yukitaka (Vic's most interesting observation is comparing Prince Baka to Mork from the American TV sitcom Mork and Mindy – and yeah, you're dating yourself if you actually appreciate that one); and “Level E: Interview With A Prince,” a roughly 12 minute segment in which Vic essentially interviews himself and in the process partly pokes fun at his reputation (and in more ways than may have been intended).
Save possibly for the transgender business, Level E is generally a light, breezy affair, one which does not require viewers to think much and which delights in being off-kilter rather than just purely wacky. The ending does seem a bit rushed, and the format certainly allows for more weirdness, but all of the original source material has been animated, so in this case what you see is all you'll ever get.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Often funny in an absurd way, attractive character designs , excellent English dub.
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