Soul Eater - Anime Series Review
In 2003, mangaka Atsushi Ōkubo began writing and illustrating Soul Eater, a work that has been so well-received by the anime community across the globe, that it's easy to forget that it was only Ōkubo's second project as a writer and illustrator. The anime adaption of Soul Eater has been just as well-received due to its uniquely attractive style, its endearing characters, and its distinctive blending of comedy and action elements. Its fame is perhaps also due in no small part to its featuring of soul reapers -- a mainstay element of the anime canon for most of the last few decades.
Plot and Setting
Soul Eater follows six main characters: three teams consisting of one Weapon, and one Meister. These Weapons are characters who are capable of changing their physical form into -- shockingly enough -- a weapon. A Meister is a character capable of achieving a soul resonance with a Weapon. Both Meisters and Weapons attend classes at the Death Weapon Meister Academy, where they are trained for a purpose: to hunt down 99 evil human souls, and 1 witch soul, so that the Weapon might ascend to the ranks of being Death Scythes, capable of being wielded by Shinigami (or as he is known in the English dub, Lord Death.)
This may sound rather like a loaded description, but Soul Eater proffers bits and pieces of its background mythos at an easily-digestible pace. This is both a blessing and a curse, because the story takes a backseat to most of the show's other elements. The show seems first and foremost a character-driven anime, and secondly an artistic foray into a unique style that I wouldn't mind seeing used again. Humor and action both outrank its story in terms of importance as well. In fact, though the story is refocused several times throughout the series, it never actually appears to be headed in a particular direction. So while you won't be left confused by much of what Soul Eater does, it will likely leave you wishing it had delved just a bit deeper into its own constructs.
The first team of Soul Eater, and the one most frequently centered in the spotlight, is made up of Maka Albarn and her Weapon, Soul Eater Evans, who is a literal scythe. Not to deluge more than is necessary of the show's plot points, but the character arcs of Maka and Soul focus on Soul's resistance of his descent into madness, as he and Maka both attempt to protect one another. They quarrel like elementary school students who have a crush on one another, but the bond they share is touching, and is one of the better characters arcs of the show.
The second team is made up of Death the Kid, son of Shinigami, and his dual-pistols, Patti and Liz. Death the Kid has an intense dislike of anything asymmetrical -- a dislike that actually leaves him incapacitated and incapable of fighting. The team is largely used for comedic relief, though Death is in fact one of the stronger warriors at the academy.
The third and final team is made up of Black Star, and his weapon, Tsubaki, who is capable of taking several forms, such as a ninjato and a kusari-gama. The angle played by these two, is that Black Star -- in typical shounen fashion -- wishes to become the strongest fighter in the world. Tsubaki puts up with him, acting as a supportive role, until her own past is touched upon later in the series. While Tsubaki is a lovely and charming character, Black Star quickly outstays his welcome. His voice is grating in both English and Japanese, and his personality may only be described as obnoxious. He is the weak link in a chain of otherwise great characters.
In addition to the main teams of Soul Eater, many supporting characters, and even villains, also wind up being quite memorable. Virtually all of them are unique in both appearance and personality. Medusa is a personal favorite anime villain of mine, while characters such as Professor Franken Stein and the catgirl Blair, are quite popular in many anime circles. With the notable exception of one or two blunders, the characters of Soul Eater are wonderful.
Art and Sound
The characters of Soul Eater are what makes viewers stay. The art is what makes them come in the first place. Calling it "distinctive" would be an understatement, and calling it "unique" would be an insult. The art style of Soul Eater is a complete grand slam, in that it eschews genre norms at every turn, without ever entering the leprous corner of being labeled "experimental." Soul Eater is a show that makes lots of bold decisions in terms of its art style, and almost every one of them pays off. You've undoubtedly seen imagery of its iconic ghastly, grinning Sun, or its insane, bleeding Moon. You've probably also seen its warped buildings and free-standing structures. And maybe you've seen how characters' limbs deform in such a way that never looks weird -- even though it really, really should. If you have, then you've also seen the show's strong use of color, and its mastery of depicting facial expressions in ways never before seen. Most importantly, you know that it's really just all very beautiful.
If you've been waiting for the down side, there isn't one. Soul Eater sounds nearly as good as it looks. Sound editing is typically very consistent, and the show has two absolutely catchy openings in Resonance by T.M.Revolution and Papermoon by Tommy heavenly. Worth noting also, is that the production values of the video accompanying the opening themes will completely blow you away.The ending songs and videos are admittedly less-than-stellar, but voice acting of the show is phenomenal. Soul Eater can be watched and enjoyed both as intended, with its Japanese language track, and with its official English dub; and I assure you, I don't make statements like this often. I generally abhor dubbing, and find it offensive on principle.
Black Star's voice is an exception to the high quality of the show's soundtrack -- it's horrid in both languages. Then again, it perhaps fitting for his character.
The action of Soul Eater is a mixed bag. On one hand, it occasionally shows that it is capable of pulling out all of the stops and delivering truly exciting battle scenes. The high quality of the show's animation, and the uniqueness of the various characters combine naturally to make for some solid balls-to-the-wall fight sequences. When it all comes together, these scenes are great, and you'll be in for a good time. Unfortunately, as has already been mentioned, Soul Eater is a show that places great emphasis on its comedic qualities. This in itself is not a problem, but on more than one occasion a fight scene that should be an entertaining display of combativeness is reduced to a failed attempt at humor. The promising scene gets immediately tossed into the dumpster. Although it wouldn't be fair to say that this happens frequently, it does happen often enough that you'll take notice.
Watch Soul Eater for its characters and art. Enjoy the quality action when it gives it to you, because it will be really, really good. But be aware that at times, the carrot's going to be dangled in front of you, and you're not actually going to taste it.
Is this a show that you should watch? Absolutely. Is this a show that actually warrants its growing popularity? Perhaps. What it does right, it does very right. Personally, it didn't push the envelope towards becoming one of my all time favorite shows, even amongst shows in its genre. I was certainly entertained though. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out. A few final words of advice though: give it a real shot before dropping it. The first few episodes serve as character introductions, and since one of the featured characters is Black Star, it is possible that a sour taste will begin forming in your mouth. The show does pick up quickly though, and it is, in this writer's opinion, worth the wait.
Final Rating: 8.0 out of 10.0
Also, thanks goes out to The Anime Gallery, for screen captures used in this review.