Like most animated series (Japanese or otherwise), Level E (2011) began on the printed page. Originally appearing in the popular Shōnen Jump magazine in 1995, Level E sporadically continued during the next two years with a total of 16 chapters. This oddball story of a high school student, his extraterrestrial roommate, a Power Rangers knockoff, alien mermaids, a royal wedding and more didn't just aim for total absurdity, it swung for the fences...and for better or worse, every bit of that chaos has burrowed into the animated version. So while it's not without a few glaring faults (which become slightly less tolerable as it progresses), this 13 episode series should please viewers who like to expect the unexpected.
The closest thing to a "straight man" during Level E's first few episodes is Yukitaka Tsutsui, a high school baseball player who's recently moved to a rural area on scholarship. Upon arrival he meets Prince Baka, a blonde-haired young man who basically invites himself in and refuses to leave. Baka also claims to be from outer space and also an amnesiac, and it's not long before handful of events back up his story. Whatever his claims, though, one thing's for sure: Prince Baka is an unapologetic jackass, an impish being who pretty much toys with people for amusement. Even so, he's kind of sympathetic despite his cruel nature, at least for the first several episodes. But it's not long before Level E violently switches gears, and it's here where most audiences will be able to decide whether they'll stick around for the ride.
Level E has an odd but admirable habit of building complex narratives only to wipe the slate clean at a moment's notice. Some will balk at this behavior---it's a mirror image of Prince Baka, after all---and nitpick at "what could have been" or find the regular twists and turns off-putting. I was reminded of comics like Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon on more than one occasion, where familiar characters and story arcs were pulverized with almost every new two-page spread. If you were a kid who built sandcastles only to stomp them like Godzilla, you're probably twisted enough to enjoy most or all of Level E. Those who don't like to be led around by the nose should definitely proceed with caution. Pacing issues are notable during certain episodes (especially near the middle of the series), as some of these previously mentioned "slate wipes" can't help but feel rushed. Still, the show's sick and defiant sense of humor is potent in small doses, at least enough to recommend Level E as a rental to like-minded anime fans.
Episodes: "An Alien on the Planet" • "Run After the Man" • "Risky Game" • "From the Darkness"
"Here Come the Color Rangers" • "Dancing in the Trap" • "Game Over?" • "You're My Darling"
"Love Me Tender" • "Boy Meets Girl" • "Field of Dreams" • "Half Moon" • "Full Moon"
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Level E: The Complete Series looks excellent from start to finish. The show's distinct visual style has translated quite well to high definition, especially the varying color palettes and detailed line work. Black levels are consistent and the series' sporadic CGI effects also look great. The included DVDs look well above average for standard definition, and both formats show no obvious signs of digital manipulation, compression artifacts, pixellation or other glaring digital eyesores. In short, this is an extremely strong presentation that fans should appreciate.
DISCLAIMER: These promotional images are strictly decorative and do not represent these Blu-Rays' 1080p resolution.
As expected, we're given two different sonic options in DTS-HD Master Audio: a full 5.1 English dub and the original 2.0 Japanese track. Either choice is more than acceptable, but purists will obviously want to stick with the original. The English dub is a fine alternative and benefits from a wider soundstage, crisp channel separation, strong amounts of LFE and plenty of clever little details along the way. Overall, it's a fine effort that fans will enjoy. Optional English subtitles are included for translation purposes only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The basic animated menus feature smooth navigation and the content is organized nicely. This four-disc set (two Blu-Rays and two DVDs, above) is housed in a pair of Blu-Ray sized cases inside an attractive, sturdy outer box. No inserts are included but each disc's content has been printed on the packaging.
Leading off is a pair of Audio Commentaries
featuring voice actors from the English dubs of Episodes 7 and 13. The former is extremely unorganized and confusing, but there's some interesting stories found on both tracks that fans should find helpful. Just pop a few aspirin beforehand and maybe bring a notepad. We also get the obligatory Clean Opening & Closing Songs
(3:00 total), an in-character Interview
with Prince Baka (13:00 - voiced by Vic Mignogna, who's featured on the Episode 13 commentary) and a brief U.S. Trailer
for the series (1:00). All applicable extras are presented in 1080p and look excellent.
Level E has a defiant, surreal brand of humor that should appeal to those who don't mind excessive twists and occasional "slate wipes". It's a standout effort that will nonetheless annoy some viewers for that very reason, so it's probably not suitable blind buy material at the current price point. FUNimation's Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack serves up a fantastic A/V presentation and a few minor extras, so seasoned fans of Level E should judge accordingly. All others should dip their toes in the water first. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.