First Impressions – Level E

"How dare you look prettier than me!"

I had no idea what to expect from Level E. To be honest, the only reason I checked it out was because of how bizarre the promo art looked. A naked, androgynous man floating in space with galaxies covering his private parts? Okay, you’ve got my attention.  So I was completely unaware that it was originally a manga created in the late 90s by the same guy who did YuYu Hakusho. And I also didn’t know it was about an alien prince getting stranded on Earth and moving in with a high school freshman.

Which, of course, means I also didn’t know it would be hilarious.

Not only did Level E‘s content catch me off guard, but it also surprised me by being much more enjoyable than I dared hope.  Click the jump if you want to know why, exactly, you owe it to yourself to watch this show.

I love genre-savvy protagonists.

What I Liked

The Characters: As you may have gathered from my reviews of Infinite Stratos and Wolverine, I’m pretty picky about a show’s characters being believable and interesting. The easiest way to turn me off to a show is to screw up the protagonists. Thankfully, Level E does the exact opposite. Yukitaka manages to fill the traditional role of relatable-average-guy without falling into the trap of being bland. He has a distinct and fiery personality that sets him apart from someone generic (like Ichika from Infinite Stratos). Plus, it contrasts very well with Prince Baka, whose calm and playful demeanor is instantly endearing. Even Miho, who didn’t get that much screen time, is written quite well as the real-world pretty (not anime pretty) girl-next-door. Her conversations with Yukitaka feel like real conversations instead of the typical overly dramatic blush-fests that modern romance anime tends to favor.

The Premise: I’m a huge fan of Men In Black, so the whole bit at the beginning about aliens secretly staying on Earth instantly hooked me. Besides that, though, I really like the idea of a normal high-school student being forced to live with an alien. It sets up really good jokes and has the potential to provide very interesting character arcs for both protagonists (Yukitaka growing to be a better human by learning from the alien, for example). Plus, I love that they made Prince Baka’s true from genuinely alien. It’s very easy to feel sympathetic for aliens that look like…oh…beautiful blue cat people. But when they look like weird bug-things? That’s the true test of friendship.

The Art and Pacing: The art style isn’t anything mind-blowing, but it’s clean, vibrant and animated quite well. In other words, it’s just nice to look at. Plus, the way the scenes are shot and edited is just about perfect. I never had problems figuring out what was going on, who was standing where, or how one scene led to another. Even better, the show never lingered too long on one camera angle or one joke. It new exactly when to cut to keep the show moving at a brisk pace. As a man who’s suffered through the mind-numbingly slow .hack//Roots, I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate that.

On his world, all puppets are androgynous.

What I Hated

The Use of CG: This is more of a nitpick than something I feel strongly about, but the CG hand puppets Prince Baka used were really off-putting. I mean, the joke was still kind of funny, but why use CG for that? It’s just needlessly distracting. Then they used CG again for showing off the prince’s true form. While this makes a little more sense than using it for puppets, I still have to wonder why they’d bother. Their normal art style works perfectly fine for everything else. Just use that for the puppets and alien, guys!

Overall Impressions

After Squid Girl ended, I was a little worried I’d be bereft of a decent comedy show this season. Thankfully, Level E proved me wrong and blew my expectations away with its solid characters, writing and art. If it can maintain this level of quality (and not backslide like Occult Academy did), it could be one of the best shows of the season. If you have any interest in sci-fi, you need to watch this episode.