I don’t know precisely what it is that Yoshihiro Togashi does to endear me so to his work. Indeed, I have harbored such an intense emotional bond with Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter that they stand firmly among my most treasured manga/anime of all time. Those familiar with Togashi know that he has a reputation for being unable to meet deadlines and taking extended leaves of absence from his duties as mangaka. Yet these constant bouts with exhaustion find him taking often shocking narrative turns in his work that keeps the experience fresh for himself and his readers. This is perhaps best exemplified by the shift in Hunter x Hunter to a card game-based narrative after two or three major arcs (depending how you split it up). In large part, I think the endearing quality of Togashi’s work arises largely out of a combination of his unpredictable narratives and characters who constantly and rapidly evolve, even as they consistently exhibit the same outward mannerisms.
At a mere 13 episodes (derived from a meager, 3-volume manga Togashi published between 1995 and 1997), characters are given little time to truly evolve in Level E as they do in his other, more expansive pieces. But what the series lacks in character depth, it makes up for in sheer comedic randomness. Broadly, the series explores various interactions between humans and aliens with specific focus on the chaos caused on Earth by the mischievous genius, Prince Baka of the Planet Dogra. (Baka is voiced in FUNimation’s English dub by the incredibly-talented Vic Mignogna, who is here at his very best). Yet, even within this framework, the series’ overall narrative deviates significantly to relate stories that have, on occasion, virtually nothing to do with the Dogran Prince. Tonally, too, the series shifts throughout. Some of the greatest laughs I’ve had in ages are the result of Level E‘s maniacal sense of humor, and yet some characters herein experience immense pain and sadness as they grapple with great evils both alien and domestic. Thus, Level E keeps you perpetually on your toes.
But as wonderful as all the storylines are in Level E, my favorite of these relates the Prince’s attempt to create warriors of justice from a group of five elementary school kids. In doing so, he provides them with super powers and battle armor that they can call upon in times of crisis to form… the Color Rangers! This Sentai-inspired storyline offers a wonderful twist on the formula that anyone familiar with Power Rangers know all too well. Instead of embracing their newfound roles as defenders of justice, the Color Rangers decide to use their powers to hunt down Prince Baka for imposing this unwanted responsibility upon them. The narrative turmoil doesn’t stop there, either, as the initial three-part Color Rangers saga spins wildly out of control.
The only problem with Level E: it’s too damn short! If you plow through the series in a couple sittings as I did, you’ll surely have a blast, but it will no doubt leave you wanting more, and more you’ll never get at that. That said, the series does wrap up very nicely, so at least you aren’t left feeling gypped.
FUNimation now offers a beuatiful, DVD/Blu-ray combo set of Level E, which comes packaged in two, dual-disc Blu-ray cases housed in a hardboard slipcase not unlike many of Funimation’s other recent releases. Special features on the set include commentaries on episodes 7 and 13, textless openings and closings, trailers, and “Level E: Interview with a Prince,” a 12-minute interview with Vic Mignogna about the series conducted by… Vic Mignogna.