Earlier this year I made the sojourn to local anime gathering Aoi Uma Con, who in its first year attracted heavy hitters of the dub industry such as Tiffany Grant and Vic Mignogna. Alongside my buddy, a rabid Full Metal Alchemist enthusiast, I attended Vic's Q&A panel, during which the suave voice actor fielded numerous marriage proposals, insipid "do that one line" requests, and one or two relevant questions: "What are you working on right now, Vic?"
Level E (DVD)
Studio: Studio Pierrot
Director: Toshiyuki Katou
Licensed by: FUNimation
Release Date: December 11, 2012
Between shooting the convention staff dirty looks as they couldn't figure out how to raise the volume on his demo reel and whispering Tamaki-isms into the ears of teenage girls, Mignogna revealed he was beyond excited for an upcoming project he'd snagged. He encouraged all of us in attendance to follow him on Twitter, as he'd unveil the project later in the week. That series turned out to be the out-and-out bizarre Level E, which I had viewed briefly via Crunchyroll, but hadn't committed to just yet. Now that the FUNimation dub has been released, I've had a chance to drink in the hilarity and have to say it's one of the funniest series I've seen since Ninja Nonsense or Panty and Stocking -- and considering the scripting and pacing of most anime comedies, that's a great honor.
Level E follows one Prince Baka (yes, Prince Idiot), a prankster of an alien prince who has no qualms with heckling poor members of the human race, subjecting them to his "brilliant" schemes and numerous grandiose plots that usually result in shock, horror, humiliation, or just sheer annoyance. Seriously, he goes that far. He delights in blackmailing his human "victims" and practically squeals with delight when a plan comes to fruition. It's a riot watching them come together, too. Especially when they backfire.
In fact, much like the plot of Men in Black, alien species have made homes for themselves all over Earth, except there's no authority in place to ensure they're kept pacified and within their boundaries. Prince Baka is amongst the throng of alien citizens who should be taken into custody to be kept from terrorizing humans and making their lives a little more difficult. But just as it's painful to imagine ourselves in the predicaments the cast of Level E find themselves in, it's also hilarious.
Baka's unwitting roommate Tsutsui (a baseball player who doesn't have the time or patience for Baka's tricks) is where most of the hilarity stems from, as his reactions are powerful and priceless. Playing the straight man for all intents and purposes to Baka's nearly scarily unaffected sociopathic tendencies is excellent for Tsutsui, and fits in well with the tone of the series as a whole. A whole host of other colorful character, such as Tsutsui's girlfriend (possibly the only sane one of the bunch), a group of children forced to masquerade as Power Rangers, and some pretty charming assassins make up the rest of the cast.
The series moves at a breakneck pace despite its episodic format, and the jokes are quickfire, one after the other. It turns out it's as much of a character study as a slapstick comedy, and that ends up being part of its charm. It's entertaining to watch these trainwrecks of characters fumble about their daily lives -- especially Tsutsui and Baka and the various situations they find themselves tangled up in.
Thankfully, the few fillers thrown in to pad the episode count are tolerable -- they suffer not from the normal issues that typically plague anime comedies or harem classics such as the obligatory hot springs or beach episode. These instead deal with alien reproduction and other bizarre story arcs. Even when the madcap antics slow to a crawl (and sometimes they will) there's still plenty of alien weirdness to revel in, and that's what makes Level E such a refreshing watch.
Vig Mignogna's promotion of the role was understandable as well, being well worth the wait if you're a fan of his previous roles, Tamaki Suoh of Ouran High School Host Club, especially. The direction he takes Baka in is fantastic, and it was a delight to see where he'd steer the character next. While the remainder of the cast performed solidly, accolades must be given to Vic for this portrayal, quickly rising through the ranks of prior roles as one of my favorites of all time, barring Edward Elric. Similarly, backing tracks for the series itself, as well as the OP and ED themes work quite well with both sets of voice actors, no matter which audio you choose to listen to.
This is a great-looking, fantastically-voiced, quirky trip of an anime comedy, and it's a great weekend watch if you're looking for something a little less stale. Even its animation should give you a nice escape from the loads of moe and cutesy series out there these days. And a little creepy CG never hurt anyone.
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