Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 11th 2011
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Having had the good luck to play on a championship middle-school team, Yukitaka Tsutsui accepts a baseball scholarship to a rural high school. He does it as much to get away from home as anything. Unfortunately his dreams of living on his own are not to be. He arrives at his new digs to find a man with flowing blonde locks casually making himself at home in the bedroom. The man claims to be an amnesiac alien, a claim Yukitaka accepts after being irrevocably embroiled in his alien life. Faster than you can say "exploding UFO" Yukitaka is hip-deep in men in black and pissed-off extraterrestrial warmongers. Or is he? Later Yukitaka's alien not-friend, now going by the name Prince, tries to sell a suspect screenplay and ropes five hapless grade-schoolers into becoming a sentai unit called the Color Rangers.
There are many different kinds of aliens living on our planet, claims Level E's opening narration. Warlike ones, peaceful ones; good ones, bad ones. One could make a convincing argument that the worst of them is Prince. Brilliant and completely self-involved, his main pastime is manipulating the lives and feelings of others for his own amusement. Throughout Level E his games put everyone through all kinds of hell. Yukitaka learns the hard way that Prince doesn't have friends, only playthings. The grade-schoolers come within an inch of being offed by an intergalactic assassin for his entertainment. Even his own subordinates want very badly to kill him. And unfortunately, after six episodes of watching him run rampant, we're right on board.
At first it isn't so bad; in fact, so long as he has amnesia, Prince is fairly sympathetic. Oh, he's an ass, make no mistake—the effrontery of his intrusion into Yukitaka's life proves that. But he's a tragic (and funny) one, and not without a certain bumbling charm. Yukitaka helps too; his violent retorts to Prince's needling and harassment ensure that the royal stripling never gets away with his shenanigans completely unscathed. The importance of this mitigation becomes clear at the end of episode three, when an arc-ending twist puts a definitive end to it. That the twist cheapens everything that came before is what first rankles—without going into too much detail, the twist reveals that the series has been manipulating us much the way Prince manipulates his victims—but eventually that is overpowered by a longer-term and more lethal problem: No longer are Prince's actions the product of an enormous ego that simply doesn't know better; they're the intentionally abrasive acts of an unrepentant bastard. And there's no hope of comeuppance.
After that his hijinks stop being fun. That doesn't factor too much into the fourth episode, which is an unrelated but initially interesting side-story that ultimately cheapens itself much the way the opening arc did. The impact is really felt in the Color Rangers arc however. Any amusement it elicits is thanks solely to the Rangers. The kids' unflappability when faced with alien technology and reptilian femme fatales is consistently funny, and their ruthlessly mercenary turn when the full facts are revealed is considerably more than that. At least one of them (their leader) could be thrown into the same black hole that Prince deserves to be tossed in and not be missed, but on a whole they're a fun bunch. Prince, on the other hand, spends the arc tormenting the kids while singing bad folk songs dressed in a futuristic unitard. That might be funny were it not for the near certainty that he won't be taken to task for it. And for the bad aftertaste left by his personality. Never has Yukitaka, the first arc's human core and iron fist of justice (actually a razor tongue of justice, but who's quibbling), been so necessary. And so completely, infuriatingly absent.
For such an ultimately empty exercise in po-faced humor, an awful lot of talent and care was brought to bear. Kunihiko Ryo, whose music has evoked everything from medieval China to Victorian England, was conscripted into composing the score, which evokes very little—in part because it's infrequently used, in part because it understandably isn't his finest work, and in part because much of what it does evoke later proves to be lies. Similarly, Studio Pierrot and David Animation fill the series with realistically attractive characters, moody background art, impressive CG work, and scenes of great beauty—an early scene in which Prince's regenerative powers create an out-of-season blaze of cherry blossoms is particularly memorable—all of which are conspicuously wasted on stories that are never as important as their beautiful execution makes them out to be. Admittedly, the tension between the series' essentially goofy nature and the dead-serious superiority of its animation can be funny, sometimes very much so, but that doesn't stop it from also being frustrating.
Like Prince himself, Level E is undeniably clever, even audacious. That first twist was a bold move, no matter how you feel about it or what it ultimately does to the series. There's a quixotic dignity in its use of entire story-arcs to set up single gags and a laudable courage in its willingness to experiment (check out the aged atmosphere created by episode four's thick lines and faded colors). That doesn't make it fun to watch, however. In fact, each successive episode leaves one feeling emptier and less charitable towards Prince than the last. Whether the series can reverse that trend depends heavily on whether it gives Prince what's coming to him and gives us someone to identify with. Which is to say, it depends on whether it brings Yukitaka back or not. The pair's tsukkomi-boke rapport was the opening arc's saving grace, and could be once again. Until then, we'll be praying for that black hole.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Strong visuals, undeniably clever script, good initial chemistry between its male leads.
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