Dispatches From Winter 2011: PART 5 (Level E)

Self-cleaning alien, emits only fresh scent of pineHe should probably just keep that helmet on all the time

Level E is the kind of show that is surprisingly difficult to explain to people who haven’t seen it. Due to the way things are, a one-paragraph summary would give most people exactly the wrong idea. The flipside is that looking at stills from the show would give you a completely different, but still utterly wrong idea for what the show is all about.

At its most basic, the show is about a normal high school kid who ends up living with a distinctly non-human roommate (who is kind of a dip), and how the two of them cope. There are a lot of directions that this could go in, and that same summary could be applied verbatim to anything from Elfen Lied to FLCL, or even Hare nochi Guu. This show isn’t quite any of those things, though, it’s something else.

The show has a restrained, semi-realistic visual style that would be well suited to a seinen sports drama or a mature romance series. Which is odd, really, given that most of the events that take place are basically just as random and goofy as any other show this season. It’s almost as if the production team were planning to have a straightforward story about a baseball-playing high school student who moves to a new town, and then were genuinely shocked when an alien shows up five minutes into the first episode.

The style is refreshing at first, since it stands in sharp contrast to most other currently-running shows, but I honestly don’t find it all that interesting or appealing on its own merits. Still, the show gets a few points just for being distinctive.

Why does Tsutsui's apartment have two landlines?Somewhere off-screen, there's an Otomo manga happening

The whole thing is based on a mid-90s manga from Yoshihiro Togashi (of Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter × Hunter fame) which, along with the unusual look of the show, lends a certain amount of weight to what would otherwise be a bog-standard premise. It’s a pretty impressive pedigree, but I’m left wondering how a Togashi-style story will play out in only 13 episodes. Of course, the manga itself only ran for three volumes, so on the other hand we can at least be grateful it won’t wear out its welcome. The first episode also makes me wonder if Togashi has some interesting story from his youth involving a cat and a car…

If I had to judge purely off of one episode (and I do) then I’d say that the show is setting itself up to be a fun little sitcom. There’s a story of sinister forces at work and a slowly unraveling mystery, but a large portion of the running time is pure slice of life. For the most part, our alien is neither truly benevolent nor malicious; he just likes fucking with the protagonist for the fun of it. It’s like a throwback to a 20th century “weird girl” comedy, a la Video Girl Ai, or Chobits. The twist here, though, is that the weird girl is actually a boy, and the relationship with the main character is entirely platonic.

The dangers of non-gamers given a controllerHonestly, even I'm not sure why I picked this screen

I can’t say that I have really high hopes for the series overall, but more than any other show this season, I would recommend you take a look at Level E. Even if you drop it after the first 10 minutes, seeing the show with your own eyes is really the only way to know whether or not it’s something you’d enjoy.


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