Level E: Turning Tricks

In a lackluster season, I’ve finally found at least one show I can look forward to every week: Level E.

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I think the anime is genuinely funny, but more importantly, Level E isn’t following a formula that seems to be dominating many comedies nowadays. Lately, it seems that humor has to be done in two ways: 1) generic harem comedies where the same stale jokes are trotted out endlessly or 2) non-sequiturs and random monkeycheese. In regards to the latter, I’ve enjoyed shows like Arakawa Under the Bridge for what they are, but when the plot becomes an afterthought, the humor too loses something. What I definitely appreciate in Level E are stronger narratives that keep the show interesting even when the jokes fall flat.

But enough about that. Time for some loosely related thoughts and ideas.

Great Prankster Baka-oji?

In 1999, Studio Pierrot began adapting a popular manga, Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO for short), about a young instructor willing to turn education on its head to help his troubled students. More than a decade later, echoes of Pierrot’s previous work permeates Level E. The most striking visual similarities occur in the OPs for both shows.

GTO:

Level E:

In GTO, the handle flushes a toilet and Onizuka emerges through a doorway. In Level E, the handle directly opens the door in which the Prince would emerge into the outside world. There are slight differences between the two, but the function of both scenes are the same. Naturally, the composition and monochromatic-ness are similar in both.

GTO:

Level E:

Onizuka rides a motorcycle while the Prince looks to be driving some convertible. Regardless of their vehicles of choice, we get a close-up of each guy as they ride through the night.

GTO:

Level E:

For some reason or another, nighttime is featured heavily in the OPs for both anime. Why is that the case when neither shows take place predominantly at night?

GTO:

Level E:

Here, we see both men leaning up against a wall.

GTO:

Level E:

Are there similarities here? I thought it was worth including.

It’s not quite as simple as saying that Studio Pierrot is paying homage to itself. Level E‘s manga ran from 1995 to 1997; GTO‘s manga started in 1997. We now have an interesting duality: a Pierrot production echoes another Pierrot production from more than ten years ago, but Level E definitely preceded GTO. The GTO anime definitely influenced the Level E anime, even if unintentional. Without going beyond the episodes before us, can we make the additional claim that Level E influenced GTO? For this, we’ll jump straight to the point: the pranksters at the center of both anime.

Is the Prince a Jungian trickster?

Onizuka may seem like a dim-witted, lecherous fool who seems more pre-occupied with having fun than dispensing wisdom, but his results betray our first impressions of the man. Although his methods are unconventional, he — as the saying goes — gets the job done. His games and pranks bring him and his students together. He breaks through many social boundaries, especially in a society as stratified as Japan. In this sense, Onizuka very much resembles the Jungian trickster archetype:

It is not hard to account for their appeal—they are fun, for one important thing, in their anarchic assault on the status quo, although their trickery also strikes a deeper human chord.

Here’s another apt description:

Jung’s archetype of the Trickster is not simply a clown. The Trickster archetype is a rebel who refuses to conform to societal expectations. But he is not a rebel without a cause; the Trickster’s resistance to conformity is based on challenging authority….

In Level E, we also have protagonist who very much resembles the Jungian trickster:

…do tricksters belong to the world of men or gods, or neither, or both? In some respects they seem decidedly earth-bound—a strong scatalogical vein runs through many trickster tales, for instance—but at the same time they seem to have god-like transformative powers….

The Prince claims to be an alien but Tsutsui initially remains skeptical. The Prince has powers no Earthling seems to possess, but they are never on display unless to aid the Prince in one of his many pranks.

Another aspect of the trickster relates to the Prince’s appearance: “A very sexual archetype, it has the ability to change genders….”

When Baka-oji isn’t gender-bending, his appearance is in direct contrast to Tsutsui who is very much in the mold of how a traditional man should look.

Although Onizuka never expresses much interest in academics strictly defined, he once aced an exam while bleeding from a gunshot wound. Like Onizuka, the Prince is smarter than he seems. In fact, we learn from the Prince’s servants that the he possesses an intellect that far surpasses others.

But rather than being a scholar or anything of the sort the Prince dons a child-like countenance and spends much of his time playing tricks on his hapless servants, particularly Kraft. He loves to goof off as much as Onizuka, but while Onizuka’s benevolent influence on the world around him is readily apparent, the Prince’s role is not quite as clearly defined.

The Jungian trickster is no fool: its actions challenge societal norms. While tricksters are generally amoral, their actions may nevertheless bring about a discussion on morality. Is Onizuka a teacher? The results point in one direction, but his intentions, at times, points otherwise. Even so, by being different, he forces one to define what a teacher could and should be. It’s a question that every character in GTO tries to answer. In this sense, Onizuka is the Jungian trickster. As we can see, Level E‘s Prince is not quite the same.

The Japanese kitsune are pranksters just like the two men I’ve been discussing. The kitsune can play two roles in Japanese mythology:

Stories tell of kitsune playing tricks on overly proud samurai, greedy merchants, and boastful commoners, while the crueler ones abuse poor tradesmen and farmers or devout Buddhist monks.

Onizuka’s actions have the unintended consequences of undressing his self-serving peers in the teaching profession. As such, he resembles the former. For the Prince, as harmless as his pranks may seem, they only seem to aggravate his victims. Is he, then, a cruel god?

Genre Deconstruction

Perhaps Baka-oji isn’t about granting his victims epiphanies. Perhaps he fulfills his trickster role instead on a more meta level: genre deconstruction. The first arc is more concerned with establishing the Prince’s deceptive behavior than anything else. It does, however, successfully combine suspense and humor while riffing on familiar narrative cues from Twilight Zone-ish stories. Mysterious men in black, UFOs, leering villagers, shady conversations with village elders — these are all conventions of a certain type of story. The premise is something many of us have seen before: a quaint village away from the bustling city life has its share of ominous secrets. Level E does enough with these elements to keep things off-kilter until the comedic conclusion.

The second arc is more interesting. In these episodes, the Prince leads five elementary schoolchildren on a wild ride that takes them through the conventions of a role-playing game but, of course, with certain twists.

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Here, a woman plays the typical town greeter in every video game.

Above, we see a humorous shot of the king’s chamber littered with treasure chests.

The addictive, Pavlovian nature of these games are espoused several times.

The dastardly Demon Lord goes through an existential crisis when it learns of right and wrong.

Level E isn’t revolutionary thus far; nothing it’s saying about video games is anything most gamers wouldn’t have heard before if they were remotely inquisitive. Nevertheless, the Prince seems to be playing a certain role in both the first and second arc. It remains to be seen if he does the same in the third.

Speaking of which, the next story might be eschewing some humor for seriousness by posing the following question:

How can there be love at first sight when appearances are so deceiving? Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait to see how this plays out.

Your moment of zen:

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Bonus video:

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9 Replies to “Level E: Turning Tricks”

  1. Speak no evil of Sawako lest ye be cursed!

    And okay, I’m sold, I’ll go & pick up at where I left off from Level E, after Ep, 4 –

  2. It takes a good comedy anime to make me genuinely laugh. I mean when the comedy is on the side of another genre, usually it’s either funny because it’s so out of context or just not that funny at all, but this manages to get the laughter and yet still, (like you said) keep a narrative going that’s intriguing enough to garner interest. Usually comedy tacks onto a boring genre like the “harem,” but I definitely like it in this genre…whatever you’d call it. Supernatural, I suppose.

    1. It just has great timing and setup IMO. The cut to the dude in the trashcan after a long sob story from the Prince is my favorite moment in the anime so far.

      1. Even in anime, it’s all about the delivery. The laws of comedy are universal and skillfully executed here. I kinda wish it were longer than however long it’s going to be, but if it pulls off a clean finish, I won’t mind it ending.

        1. I don’t mind a short anime. Drawn out series can lose their charm (see: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei). I just wish it was nevertheless more popular.

  3. The comparison with GTO was interesting. Especially the Jung’s trickster part. You’ve successfully made me want to watch Level E now.

  4. Level E has me laughing my ass off in every episode. This is how to do comedy, and like you said, a lot of harem series should take cues from it. Or even better, purge themselves from ever existing.

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