This Week in Anime
Netflix's Levius Sends in the Clowns

by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,

Netflix dropped its final punch-fest for 2019, this time with bonus steampunk flavor. What separates Levius from Baki and Kengan Ashura? Steve and Nick dig into the show's unique brand of humor—and one villain that's all about clowning around.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

You know Steve, I'm really getting tired of Netflix snapping up sequel seasons to shows they never originally licensed. It was a big enough pain with Saiki , and last season it meant no Takagi-san, and now those bastards have gone and hijacked Megalobox Season 2. I just can't stand it anymore!
Well as we all know by now, there are only two kinds of Netflix-original anime: sci-fi police procedurals with ill-advised plot beats, and guys punching dudes. I don't think we have to guess which one steampunk Megalobox is.
Yeah Netflix sure does like to fund and/or license a lot of shows about dudes just whaling on each other. Though compared to Baki and Kengan Ashura, Levius is a much tamer show. Which is weird to say considering this show is about dudes using magic blood steam to power robot boxing but here we are.
Oh we'll most certainly get into all that, but yeah, beneath its surface, Levius is a familiar story about a restless underdog boxing competitor working his way up through the ranks while also trying to find purpose and meaning through the art of pugilism. It's a very classic narrative, and you don't have to do a whole lot to mold it into something reasonably satisfying, and that's more or less what Levius' approach is.
It's really hard to keep a classic boxing narrative from being at least a little bit compelling. Outside of its steampunk setting and some uh, gaudier characters we'll get to later, Levius is mostly focused on delivering good old fashioned slugfests and not much else. And while I say it lands more hits than it whiffs, unfortunately the weakest part about the show is the animation meant to deliver said hits. I'm sure someone out there really loves Polygon Pictures' dedication to washed out gray but boy am I sick of their shows looking like wet concrete.
To Polygon's credit, their desaturated and bloom-heavy aesthetic meshed really well with Tsutomu Nihei's brand of stark weirdness in Knights of Sidonia. But elsewhere, I generally like to see things like color and definition.
To be fair the setting here does help explain it away a little bit - the constant steam and smog of its steampunk city means there's at least an excuse for the hazy light that makes it look like the camera was smeared in Vaseline, but still guys. Come on.
Also, in all fairness, I have been to London and that's pretty accurate.
Ah right, this does take place in Basically London. The subtitles never let me forget it.
It's hilarious because the dub doesn't acknowledge it in the slightest but the subs do their bloody darnedest to make up for it.
Like most Netflix releases the overall subtitle script has its issues, but I appreciate the localization team putting in the extra effort. Even if it ends up making everyone sound like a Pokémon SwSh character.
It's still inexcusable that Netflix won't provide a separate sub track for its dub scripts, but this is the one case where the dissonance between the two is excusable solely by virtue of unintentional comedy. Otherwise, though, the aesthetic isn't so much British as it is very, very steampunk.
But not just ANY steampunk. This steam is harder, faster, louder. This is...HYPER steam!
They LITERALLY call it that, and I howled with delight.

Like, that is a perfect line of exposition right there. Simply exquisite.
So the actual worldbuilding of Levius is sparse, to say the least, because it's entirely zeroed in on the titular character's boxing travails. But what little we do get is absolutely bonkers. Apparently sometime in the early 1800s somebody found super rare mineral water that, when combined with human blood, instantly turns into steam that can be psychically controlled by the owner of said blood. And apparently the only purpose anyone could think of for the magic blood steam was to use it to power robot punch arms.
But of course. And I like that sparseness too! It's just enough to give the world some flavor, but never so overbearing as to derail the narrative. Levius correctly surmises that it's a lot more interesting to watch boxers use steam to punch each other than to get stuffed full of details about the punch steam.
But that's a lot to just dump on the audience and then totally abandon. This is a resource so valuable nations have gone to war over it, but also we only ever see it used by Punch Out! characters to have sporting events.
Oh and don't forget there are punch steam Newtypes, which, uh, doesn't really end up mattering.
I mean, it does, but in the dumbest way possible. But we'll get to that later. For now all that matters is that we've got a traumatized young man with a lot of angst to work through, and the only way he or anyone else knows to cope with it is to beat the ever-loving shit out of each other for fame and profit.
Even if you know nothing about the show, I can guarantee that Levius is pretty much the exact character you're picturing right now. He's young. He doesn't follow his coach's orders. He has a comatose mom he feels guilty about. He's searching for something, and he doesn't know what it is, but the show is sure to continually remind us of that fact.

He's not really an exciting or novel protagonist, but I'd say he's an acceptable one.
He's...fine. Probably the least memorable character in the show, but he does his job. Which is to look pretty while getting his light knocked out every episode or so.
Every one of Levius' opponents could've opened their fight with the line "I want that twink obliterated." And to that point, the secondary characters are where all the personality comes from. Levius' uncle/coach Zack, for instance, is wonderfully animated. Alternately goofy and grim, he's the immediately likable backbone of the show.
Zack is the biggest swerve as far as characterization, and in a good way! You'd think from his design that he's a grizzled old fighter who clashes with his nephew, but he's actually an awkward and doting uncle who gets Levius into boxing as a way for the two to bond. It's a surprising bit of sweetness for a show that could have been a lot more nihilistic with its premise.
This is a guy whose solution to breaking through his depressed nephew's barrier was to climb a ladder up to his window. There's a desperation to his actions that feels very believably human.
Boxing stories can be pretty hypermasc affairs, and while that's not bad in and of itself, I appreciate Levius taking the time to inject some kindness from our protagonist's mentor and primary father figure. It's cute!
At multiple points throughout the show, he has real internal conflicts between his desire to help Levius advance in the boxing world (and in his own personal journey), and his desire as guardian to protect him from harm. You can tell he's just always trying to do what's best for his family, even when it's never easy to figure that out. He's a super good guy. 10/10 uncle energy.
Though if his only foil was Levius he'd probably end up coming off a bit too goofy. Thankfully the show takes care to introduce a perfect comedic partner for him in King Arthur's Rebellious Teenage Son.
I'm not saying Natalia is Mordred, but Natalia is Mordred. Come on.

And I hope it comes as no surprise that I love the fiery tomboy who picks fights with literally every other character on the show besides the grandma.
Sadly Natalia doesn't ever get to surf on a giant sword, but she's fun enough on her own. Plus it's cool to see that Metal Boxing is apparently entirely gender integrated. We never really get to see her in action, but it's cool that she's treated as just as legit a competitor as any other fighter in the show.
Yeah, I wish the show could've done more with her and her story, because a poor orphan girl who rises up the ranks of state-sanctioned steampunk cyborg boxing is pretty interesting fodder for a story! Arguably, more interesting than another angsty boxing boy's issues! But at least she gets good reaction faces.

Natalia is one of many elements in Levius that all but begs for more focus, but at the very least I like how she ends up bonding with the rest of the main cast. And I dig that they didn't go the easy route of having her fall in love with Levius. Instead she comes to see him and the others as the family she didn't get growing up.
That was so sweet! I was very happy with that too. Levius' major opponents are pretty neat characters in their own right. Malcolm, for instance, is the exact caricature that pops into your head when I utter the words "steampunk boxing."

Seriously, I am still in utter awe of this character design.
I'm of two minds on Malcolm. On the one, he turns out to be a pretty neat study of the kind of toxic machismo that can drive professional fighters towards self-destruction.

On the other hand, it's established that before his fight with Levius he killed 5 other fighters with dirty and illegal moves and that just kind of...never gets addressed. He gets his moment of catharsis fighting the hero, loses, and then nobody really brings up how he's technically gotten away with murder.
I thought it was very funny that it gets hand-waved away in a newspaper article title that mentions he opens a charity for families of his victims. Like that's, better than nothing? But still, lol. Definitely good nuggets of character development in there, but not thought all the way through.
It's just weird and sours what is otherwise a really stellar fight. Because the brawl itself is super engaging as Levius has to figure out his tricks and even turns some of them on him to win.

Malcolm even does that wonderfully classic thing where a former enemy appears in the third act to help the hero defeat an even more powerful adversary. That's awesome! But he's still a murderer. At least Hugo is just a very large and very loud asshole.
Ah yes, after beating Mr. Mustache, Lil Mac Levius is set up to go up against GI Joe. Because along with being gender integrated I guess Metal Boxing also doesn't care about weight classes.
Steam-powered arms must be the great equalizer.
I guess? It's weird to put this 5'8" teenager in the ring with Brock Lesnar.
I really like what the show does with Hugo, because he's a total heel, and you immediately look forward to seeing Levius put him in his flat-topped place. Instead, Hugo enters an entirely different match first, and the narrative twists in such a way that makes you start rooting for him. He turns into John Henry racing that steam-powered drilling machine.
Yep, turns out he really is a Heel. But it's all a persona he's taken on from his own late mentor to carry on his swagger and showmanship. It's a credit to the writing that in just a few lines I went from being bored with this dude to caring about his fight to preserve his ideals as an athlete and performer.

Yeah! You totally think you know this guy's whole deal when he first shows up, but the narrative peels back just enough layers to make you feel for him and his own struggles. Genuinely the strongest bit of writing in the show, I'd say.
Sadly for him, he ends up falling victim to the machinations of the actual villain of this show and...hoh boy. I guess we gotta talk about this guy.
I can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to this.
Go ahead. Tell us his name.
You get through six episodes of this fairly straightforward souped-up boxing show. You think you have a pretty firm grasp of where things are going, re: Levius' development. Then the show drops this tactical nuclear strike of a name.

His name is Dr. Clown. He's interested in things. He's not a real Doctor but he is a real Clown. He is an actual, total, complete god damn clown.
My dude Dr. Rudolph Clown is named after two distinct things whose defining physical characteristic is a red nose. I am ascending.
He's also where I think people are gonna be split on Levius as a series. The rest of the show, world building jank aside, feels like it fits into the gritty sci-fi boxing series it is. But then this Texhnolyze reject shows up and spends every second of his screen time throwing out bad poetry and doing the dumbest super-villain shit imaginable for reasons I still don't understand.

I experienced multiple full belly laughs thanks to the presence of Dr. Clown. He's not good for the show AT ALL, but he is a rare left-field delight. He possesses more camp than a Cabela's. He's awful and I love him.
So let's just break down what Dr. Clown's plan is, because like every Char Aznable-looking motherfucker he has a secret evil plan.
Step 1: Start a war over the magic punch water with your company's robot soldiers that you apparently just have.
Step 2: Kidnap an orphan and brainwash her so her special blood can make even better punch water so she can become the greatest robot boxer ever.
Step 3: Through sheer coincidence encounter a 2nd special blood orphan who's ALSO become a robot boxer and also learns of this whole plan and wants to save the first blood orphan.
Step 4:
I'm glad you were willing to take one for the team and explain that because it is truly too dumb for words.
Now readers at home might be asking: Why would he do that? And the answer, as far as I can tell, is for kicks.

Also, half of his dialogue is spoken via mixed music metaphors, which also double as brainwashing commands for his kidnapped protégé AJ. It's exquisite.
It's just so out of nowhere. Imagine if half-way through Megalobox, Hisoka from Hunter x Hunter just showed up and was there for the rest of the show being an uncomfortable anime pedophile and nobody acknowledged how weird it is.
Yes. Yes it is all a crime.
Getting to the aforementioned kidnapped blood orphan, AJ herself is a rather mixed bag. On the one hand, her arrival brings out some much needed personality from Levius as he finally has a concrete goal for his fighting. On the other, she's basically every Cyber Newtype girl in Gundam, ever.
She's a very flat character who's pretty much there just so Levius can reckon with the guilt he felt when he failed to protect both her and his mother during the war. It would've been nice for the show to interrogate Levius' masculine messiah complex even in the slightest, but sadly it's all played very straight. That's probably the show's biggest failing (outside of Clown Town).
It's pretty cliche, and not terribly compelling, but it at least sets up some high stakes for the final bought. It's established that AJ's been experimented on so much she's nearly immune to pain, so the only way Levius can save her is to risk killing her - or dying himself trying. And that makes their fight a lot more complex than if he just had to get a knockout.
Oh yeah, the boxing itself is consistently good! Each fight has its own gimmick, and they're animated and directed fairly well. I can't tell you how much a delight it was to watch this after our last Netflix outing to Magmell.
It's hard to screw up a boxing story. But Levius works well with its own tools and makes for consistently compelling television. There are times when getting through whole Netflix dumps are an absolute slog, but this one went down smooth. Even the PolyPic aesthetic has its moments in Levius and AJ's showdown.
Can't go wrong with flood lights and fog.
Granted, it's still a little spoiled because after the final climactic punch out, we get one last twist from Professor Mime and FUCK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU~
I PAUSED THE VIDEO BECAUSE I COULDN'T BREATHE. Last minute robot reveal on top of everything else? Levius you shouldn't have.
Dr. Robot Rudolph Clown. All because we needed a sequel hook. I am both impressed by the audacity of it and personally insulted.
It's so perfectly embarrassing. And aside from that, Levius actually tells a neat little self-contained story, which I appreciated. Obviously, as we've already mentioned, there are characters and components that ended up slighter than I'd have liked, but it all comes together to a reasonably satisfying conclusion.
Just ignore the robot clown, and we're fine.
It's a solid, if not terribly memorable, show. It stays compelling and entertaining the whole way through and I'd be down for seeing a 2nd season if Netflix sees fit to order one. Just...please stay out of the clown car if you do guys.

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