Review for Soul Eater Complete Series Collection
Once you start double dipping on Blu-rays, you can’t stop. Where initially I thought that I’d just buy those rare favourites again in HD, I’m now subject to the same upgrade frenzy that I went through when I went from VHS to DVD. I come up with all manner of reasons to justify this behaviour. Take Soul Eater for instance, released in the UK by Manga Entertainment on DVD only. Parts 1-3 were NTSC-PAL standards converted efforts, and who would want a soft image, prone to ghosting when an HD version was available? Part 4 was released as native PAL on DVD, and who would want that, with its PAL sped up audio? It’s easy to justify anything, but the fact of the matter is that Soul Eater, the medium length shonen action show animated by Studio Bones just prior to Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, was a visual tour de force, individual, stylish, impactful and memorable, and those visuals deserve the best possible presentation.
Soul Eater is set in a world that was once terrorised to submission by the darkest of souls. Evil people's souls gradually turn from bright and shiny, into warped red Kishin Eggs, and it's the Kishin that go ahead and cause trouble. It was the shinigami that saved the world by reaping these Kishin, and by reaping the evildoers before their tainted souls could hatch. Chief among them was Death himself, but the ultimate personification of mortality can't handle all this by himself, which is why he's now the headmaster of the Death Weapon Meister Academy. Weapon Meisters are those people who have the skills and talent to reap souls. They do this by using human weapons, partners who literally transform into weapons to reap souls. To graduate and become a shinigami, a Meister and his weapon need to reap 99 evil souls, and one witch, after which the weapon will become a fully-fledged Death Scythe. Soul Eater introduces and follows three unconventional partnerships, Maka and Soul Eater, who aspire to ultimate coolness, Black * Star and Tsubaki, who are hampered by Black * Star's ego, and the son of the Grim Reaper himself, Death the Kid, for whom symmetry is the ultimate goal, and his twin weapons, Patty and Liz.
I’ve dissected and analysed this series in the individual DVD releases, so I’ll just point you to the reviews of...
Soul Eater: Part 1
Soul Eater: Part 2
Soul Eater: Part 3
Soul Eater: Part 4
...if you want to know more about the show. This review will concentrate more on the quality of the Blu-ray release. 51 episodes of Soul Eater are presented across 6 dual layer Blu-rays thus.
1. Resonance Of The Soul - Will Soul Eater Become A Death Scythe?
2. I Am The Star! - The Big Man Is Showing Up Here?
3. The Perfect Boy - Death The Kid's Magnificent Mission?
4. Engage The Witch Hunter! - A Remedial Lesson In The Graveyard?
5. Shape Of The Soul - Enter The Ultimate Meister Stein?
6. The New Student: Kid's First Day At The Academy - Will It Be An Entrance To Remember?
7. Black-Blooded Terror - There's A Weapon Inside Crona?
8. Medusa The Witch - The One Who Possesses A Great Evil Soul?
9. Legend Of The Holy Sword - Kid And Black Star's Great Adventure?
10. The Enchanted Sword Masamune - Break The Soul Procession: A Heart Sings In The Rain?
11. Tsubaki The Camellia Blossom - What Lies Beyond The Grief?
12. Courage That Beats Out Fear - Maka Albarn's Great Resolution?
13. The Man With The Magic Eye - Soul And Maka's Diverging Soul Wavelength?
14. The Super Written Exam - Heart-Pounding, Reeling, and Restless. You're Kidding!?
15. The Soul Eating Black Dragon - Scaredy-Cat Liz and Her Merry Friends?
16. Fierce Battle Aboard the Ghost Ship - The Hell Inside My Head?
17. Legend of the Holy Sword 2 - Wanna Go Drinking, Gambling, and Playing?
18. The Eve Party Nightmare - And So The Curtain Rises
19. The Underground Battle Commences - Break Through Medusa's Vector Arrow
20. The Black Blood Resonance Battle! - A Small Soul's Grand Struggle Against Fear?
21. May My Soul Reach You - A Dry Heart Inside Unbearable Isolation?
22. The Seal Shrine - The Immortal Man's Tricks?
23. Dead or Alive - In the Rift Between Revival and Bedazzlement?
24. The Battle of the Gods - Death City on the Verge of Collapse?
25. The Death Scythes Convene - Stop Dad's Staff Reassignment!?
26. The Exciting and Embarrassing Trial Enrolment! - The DWMA New Lifestyle Support Fair is Open?
27. 800 Years of Bloodlust - Advent of the Heretic Witch?
28. The Sword God Rises - Does It Have a Sweet or Salty Taste?
29. Medusa's Revival! A Spider and Snake's Fateful Reunion?
30. The Red Hot Runaway Express - A Magic Tool Left Behind By The Great Wizard?
31. Drying Happiness! - Whose Tears Sparkle in the Moonlight?
32. Legend of the Holy Sword 3 - The Academy Gang Leader's Tale?
33. Resonance Link - Play the Melody of the Souls?
34. The Battle for Brew! - Clash: The DWMA vs. Arachnophobia
35. Mosquito's Storm! - Ten Minutes to Fight in the World of the Past?
36. Unleash the Seven's Resonance Link - A Recital of destruction and Creation?
37. The Detective's First Case - Kid Exposes the DWMA's Secret?
38. Asura's Temptation - The Big Man's Uncontrollable Irritation?
39. Crona's Escape - Show Me Your Smile Please?
40. The Cards are Cut - Medusa Surrenders to the DWMA?
41. Twirl 'Round and 'Round - A New World in Which the Doc Dances?
42. Charge Baba Yaga's Castle! Things are Kind of Gloomy?
43. The Last Magic Tool - Mission Impossible for Unarmed Kid?
44. Weakling Crona's Determination - For You, for Always Being by My Side?
45. Anti-Magic Wavelength - Fierce Attack, the Anger Filled Genie Hunter?
46. Warrior or Slaughterer? Showdown: Mifune vs. Black*Star?
47. The Miraculous Coffee Table Flip - Fly. Our Death City Robot?
48. Lord Death Wields a Death Scythe - Just One Step From Utter Darkness?
49. Asura Wakes - To the End of the World?
50. Sink or Swim?! The Men who Transcend the Gods?
51. The Word is Bravery!
Soul Eater was animated by Studio Bones just before they did Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and it was the Brotherhood Blu-rays that convinced me that getting an HD version of Soul Eater would be a good idea. Just like FMA:B, Soul Eater is apparently animated at 540 lines of resolution and scaled up to 1080 (which in Japan and the US with their 480i SD resolution, counts as HD). It was the difference between the DVDs and the Blu-rays of FMA:B that really blew me away, even with the native PAL 576i resolution of DVD better than 540 lines, and I expected good things of the Soul Eater Blu-rays.
Good things were exactly what I got. Soul Eater is presented at 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p and it looks fantastic. You will notice the telltales of an upscale if you get to within a few feet of the screen, but at a normal viewing distance, you get a clear, sharp, colourful image, with few apparent flaws. One of those flaws might be a telltale shimmer on fine detail, the DWMA steps in one scene are an example. The other thing will be the digital banding, which you just can’t get away from, even on Blu-ray, although having nine episodes per disc doesn’t help. It’s pretty good though, only noticeable in darker scenes, and mostly in episodes 15 and 16, where there is a whole lot of mist. The important thing is that you don’t have to worry about NTSC-PAL standards conversions, you don’t have to put up with PAL speed-up, you have proper, progressive playback resulting in smooth animation, and other than the banding, there is absolutely no visible compression, the bane of the DVDs during the more frenetic action scenes. You also have wonderfully rich and vibrant colours, something key to Soul Eater’s astounding visuals.
It's a good thing too, as with studio Bones behind the animation, the transfer really does the effervescent, fluid and energetic animation justice. Also, Shinji Aramaki of Bubblegum Crisis fame is behind the show's concept designs, and Soul Eater is a quirky, memorable visual explosion of an anime, stylish and possessing a punk sensibility, which puts me in mind of FLCL, although nowhere near as intense. It's still the kind of visual aesthetic that you have to strap yourself in for.
The sound comes in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English and Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Japanese options, with optional translated English subtitles or a signs only track. The volume level is egregiously low; I had my home cinema past the halfway mark to get the show at a listenable level. The surround is quite nice given all the action, but the minute you hear the evil looking CG sun in the sky, evil-laughing his head off, you realise that you're in for something of an audio treat. Soul Eater is definitely a little left field in its sound design. The music comes from Taku Iwasaki, of R.O.D. and Witch Hunter Robin fame, and it suits the show well. He also appears to have taken some inspiration from British pop music.
One key theme that certainly owes a little something to The Chemical Brothers is Psychedelic Souljam. Look it up on Youtube as there’s bound to be a copy somewhere in the endless game of whackamole that the studios play with Youtube, and you’ll hear what I mean. The English dub is more than acceptable, courtesy of Funimation, but I have taken a liking to the Japanese track more than usual this time, as I find that Maka's voice actress is particularly quirky, and suits the pugnacious heroine down to a T. This is one of the earlier Funimation Blu-rays, and it has that small white font with a thin black outline they used on their first HD releases, and there are times where the text can get lost against a busy background.
The Soul Eater Blu-ray Collection came on six dual layer discs, gathering the originally separately released Meister and Weapon Collections, packaged in a Blu-ray Amaray case of normal thickness, one disc on each face, and four discs held either side of two central hinged panels. Note my use of the past tense. It’s a surprisingly fragile affair, and when it was delivered, I removed the cellophane to have the case pop open, and when picked up, deposit a rain of plastic bits and discs onto my lap. That’s despite it being shipped from Australia in a card box large enough to hold ten such cases, padded generously with protective packaging material. RIP Amaray case. Thankfully this story has a happy ending, as Madman Entertainment were kind enough to send a replacement case halfway around the world.
You might also recall that the original release of Soul Eater on Blu-ray in Australia ran into a problem when Part 2 was mistakenly released as Region A only, as opposed to Part 1’s Region AB, prompting a quick fix from Madman. I had a little scare when I looked at the discs and found that the Weapon Collection disc labels indicated Region A only. Fortunately it’s just the labelling, and they do indeed work in a Region B player. The discs gather and re-arrange the extra content that was on the DVD releases. All the discs present their content with animated menu screens.
Disc 1 kicks off with a trailer for Evangelion 2.22, but the sole extra is an audio commentary to accompany episode 7, featuring the ADR director Zach Bolton, voice of Maka, Laura Bailey, and voice of Soul, Micah Solusod. It's your typical Funimation gossip track, but it's mellow and gentle about it, so it's easy to listen to.
Disc 2 merely autoplays with a trailer for Eden of the East: The King of Eden. There are no extras on the disc.
Disc 3 starts with a trailer for Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood: Part 4. You’ll also find further HD trailers for Rideback, Hero Tales, Dragon Ball Z Kai, Darker Than Black, D-Gray Man, and Soul Eater – Weapons Collection, as well as SD trailers for Black Butler and El Cazador de la Bruja on the disc.
You'll also find the Soul Eater Late Show here. These are normally those 90-second skits that you find tacked onto the end of an episode. Here twenty-five of the twenty-six from the first half of the series are collected into one 43:26 HD Play-All chunk, although you can select them individually. Episode 22 was also missing on the DVDs. Each bit comprises fan service, comedy skit, preview and art gallery, and some of them are quite entertaining.
The commentary accompanies episode 23. In it, Vic Mignogna (Death Scythe), Chuck Huber (Stein), and Luci Christian (Medusa) get together to indulge in the traditional Funimation giggle-fest that passes for an audio commentary.
Finally on this disc, you get the textless opening, “Resonance”, the first textless ending, “I Wanna Be”, and two versions of the second textless ending, “Style”.
Disc 4 a.k.a. Disc 1 of the Weapons Collection starts with a trailer for Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood: Part 5.
The only extra on this disc is the commentary and it accompanies episode 30. This time Cherami Leigh (Patty), Todd Haberkorn (Death the Kid) and Jamie Marchi (Liz) get together to talk about the episode. It is the usual Funimation gigglefest, but it's surprisingly easy and enjoyable to listen to this time.
Disc 5 launches with a trailer for Baka & Test: Summon the Beasts Season 1, while the only extra is the commentary that accompanies episode 44. Colleen Clinkenbeard (Marie), Monica Rial (Tsubaki), and Maxey Whitehead (Crona), get together and have twenty minutes worth of giggles. "This is one of the most aimless commentaries in the entire world", notes Colleen Clinkenbeard during the session. I am forced to agree.
Disc 6 concludes the collection, and kicks off with a trailer for the Yu Yu Hakusho Season 2 Blu-ray. You’ll also find in the extras, HD trailers for Eden of the East: Paradise Lost, FLCL, Spice and Wolf, and Rideback, and SD trailers for Noir, Peacemaker, and One Piece Collection 1.
You get the two textless openings for the show, and the final two textless endings.
The biggest bonus here are the concluding episodes of the Soul Eater Late Show, this time from episodes 28-51, with none missing, all playable separately or in a 38:50 HD chunk.
Soul Eater on Blu-ray! I can still do a happy dance even though the packaging disintegrated on route. The discs still play, and I finally got to see this amazing shonen anime show in high definition. And despite it being the air-quotes high definition of a scaled up format, it still looks fantastic. It’s exactly the same deal that Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood got, 540 lines of resolution doubled up to 1080p, clear, sharp, smooth animation, rich and bold colours, and no visible signs of compression, which given some of the frantic action sequences in the show is very welcome. Only once or twice might you see the tell-tale stair stepping of an up-scale, but it’s a rare event, and then only when you’re close to the screen. In normal playback, this collection blows the DVDs away, especially when 75% of those are NTSC-PAL standards converted affairs. And of course you have the lossless audio formats, which do wonders with this show’s fantastic soundtrack. This is one Blu-ray double dip I definitely do not regret in the slightest.
I won’t bother going into the details of the series again; the DVD reviews on this site still match my opinion today. But I will once again reiterate that for 40-odd episodes, this show is the best shonen anime series I have seen by far, blowing shows like Naruto and One Piece out of the water. It’s the twisted perspective it has on its characters and its world that is so fascinating. The way that it develops its story, plays out the various character beats is an indication of the writers and creators always choosing the unexpected road rather than the well-travelled one, always subverting conventions and avoiding clichés.
It’s the last ten-odd episodes that drag Soul Eater back down to Earth. It’s no surprise that this is where the creators ran out of manga to adapt, and had to fashion their own ending. Unfortunately lightning doesn’t strike twice, and Studio Bones couldn’t do what they did with their first go at Fullmetal Alchemist and transcend the source. Soul Eater in the final arc becomes just like every other clichéd long running shonen anime, relying on levelling up and succeeding through superior willpower, and losing that twisted sense of humour that made the first 40 episodes so unique. It is still well-written, brilliantly animated, and fulfilling action entertainment. It’s just that it’s lost the Soul Eater flavour. The conclusion of Soul Eater unravels in a wholly predictable way, although thankfully they do save a little of that left-field originality for the climactic moment.