I was persuaded to try the first episode of Level E after watching miscanime’s preliminary review of the 2011 Winter season. As it’s pretty much the only show this season for which he showed a positive response, I went into the episode with high expectations. While it doesn’t oust my forerunner favorite, Fractale, it definitely does not disappoint.
On the surface, this anime looks pretty ordinary: high school students, potential romance, new guy in school, and baseball (I’m also currently watching Cross Game, which I am thoroughly enjoying despite my disinterest in the actual sport). The art is nicely drawn, with smooth animation. So far, so ordinary Joe. Tsutsui Yukitaka transfers into Kisaragi High School on a baseball scholarship. His pleasant good looks and easy going manner are again, nothing new. Our first hint of the strange (with the exception of the opening credits) occurs at at the stop light, when two deadpan-faced boys stare into the taxi where Yukitaka sits. I end up feeling just as uncomfortable and weirded out as our protagonist, which is a good step towards liking and sympathizing with the character.
Upon entering his new home, Yukitaka discovers that a stranger has intruded upon both his property and his personal belongings. The stranger claims that he is an alien who crash landed his pod nearby, and that he suffers from memory loss. Can you blame Yukitaka for not believing him? After several mishaps leave Yukitaka no choice but to believe in the stranger’s otherness, Yukitaka allows the “alien” to stay in his apartment for the remainder of the first episode.
A large part of what makes this show so fresh is its use of manzai: traditional Japanese comedy featuring two actors, the funny man (“boke”) and the straight man (“tsukkomi”). While manzai has been around for quite a while and is used frequently in comedic anime, its presence in Level E works well due to the pacing and execution of the humor. Yukitaka plays the straight man, who’s constantly exasperated by the stranger’s funny man acts. The much used harisen (large paper fan used to smack the boke) may be absent, but the silliness of the jokes hits well.
What I’m most curious about is how Level E will remark on the inevitable xenophobia towards the alien. He may look human on the outside, but his otherworldly abilities of strength and regeneration and the revealed nature of his being are sure to spark scientific fascination and public revulsion. I’m interested to see how Yukitaka will handle the knowledge of the alien’s true form and whether or not he will be able to keep himself from exhibiting the disgust that was on his face as the first episode closed.