Review for Soul Eater NOT!
Yes indeed, I’m reviewing it again, a scant few months after watching the Manga Entertainment DVD release. The head scratcher is why a modern anime show created in HD was released on an SD format only? Pretty much everything should be available on Blu-ray now, cries the anime fan. Of course realities involving business and money get in the way, and in some respects you might think Manga Entertainment opted for an appearance of consistency. After all, they originally released the Soul Eater series here as DVD only (practically everyone did at first), so a DVD release of Soul Eater NOT would match on the shelf. But I want consistency too. A year or so after Soul Eater’s release, Funimation went back and re-released that show on Blu-ray, and Australia’s Madman Entertainment followed suit. I love Soul Eater, so I was quick to import the Region B compatible Australian release. Naturally I want matching spines on my shelf, and this time I went and imported the US release of Soul Eater NOT from Funimation, as this time it wasn’t locked to Region A. Expect a whole lot of cut and paste from my original review.
In true shonen action style, Soul Eater was all about the heroes defending the world from an all powerful evil. But the Death Weapon Meister Academy is a school for more than just ass-kicking champions of justice. It accepts students of lesser ability and promise as well. Take Tsugumi Harudori for instance. She was just a normal, Japanese school girl living a happy but non-descript life, when one day, tripping over the dog, her leg turned into a blade. Magical manipulation of genes by witches, hundreds of years ago created the human weapons, and that gene has proliferated, becoming active in some people during adolescence.
So it is that Tsugumi Harudori leaves her home in Japan to travel to Death Valley, where at the DWMA she can learn how to at least control her ability, and maybe see if she has the promise to be a champion of justice. She’s certainly not ready for the EAT class, the Especially Advantaged Talent, and she’ll have to start as a weapon in the Normally Overcome Target class, NOT. Fortunately she makes a couple of friends early on, Anya Hepburn, who is a princess slumming it with commoners, and the air-headed Meme Tatane. They’re both trainee Meisters, and both have the potential to partner with Tsugumi, if only she could make up her mind who to partner with. She’d better choose fast, as there’s an insidious plot afoot, a witch abroad in Death City and no one is safe, not even the NOT class.
12 Episodes of Soul Eater NOT are presented across 2 Blu-rays from Funimation. This being a combo release, you get the show on 2 DVDs as well, identical to the discs released here by Manga.
1. Enrolling at DWMA!
2. Girls’ Dorms à la Carte!
3. The Witch of the Girls’ Dorm!
4. Waver, Run!
5. Invitation Fighting!
6. This is a Real Fight!
7. Nice Day for a Death Bazaar!
8. Tsugumi Spiral!
9. Pumpkin Growing!
10. The Beginning of the Nightmare!
11. Their Various Resolves!
12. Soul Resonance!
Soul Eater NOT gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and on Blu-ray the show looks fantastic, just as you would expect, a palpable upgrade from the DVDs with crystal clear imagery. Compared to the original Soul Eater, which was an upscale from 540 lines of animation, this spin-off was animated at something approaching full HD and the difference is obvious. The encode isn’t perfect though, digital banding is apparent at times, and there’s a weird striping effect on Miss Misery’s hair at 31:43 into disc 1. The image is clear and sharp throughout with strong consistent colours and smooth, fluid animation. Soul Eater was a bizarre, borderline surreal animation with an off kilter world design, and edgy character designs (it’s why I often described Maka Albarn as pugnacious). Soul Eater NOT is a more mainstream anime, and it has the effect of normalising the characters designs, making them cuter and a little more generic. That works for the new characters, particularly the trio of protagonists, Tsugumi, Anya and Meme, but when there’s a cameo or a prolonged appearance from a Soul Eater regular, the slight shift in character design can be disconcerting at first.
The images in this review don’t necessarily represent the retail release.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese, along with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. Both English and Japanese offer cast continuity when it comes to the Soul Eater universe, and the dub is pretty fair to listen to. My preference as always is for the Japanese audio with subtitles and the actor performances are very agreeable, even if there are a few stereotypical character voices (why are the small grey-haired girls always emotionless?). The stereo does a decent job of conveying the action, and a little prologic does wonders in making the track feel immersive. It seems that the problem of the audio drop on the DVD is shared by the Blu-ray, and once again Disc 1 briefly goes silent 1:16:51 in, which cuts off the start of a sentence. This problem is in the Japanese track only, the English is fine. The subtitles are timed accurately and free of typographical error. There is the odd production note explaining a Japanese pun, and you might feel the need to press pause to catch it.
You get 4 discs in a Blu-ray Amaray case, held either side of two centrally hinged panels. There is an o-card repeating the case art, and some nice artwork on the inner sleeve.
The discs present their contents with animated menus.
On disc 1 you’ll find the audio commentaries, the first on episode 5 with ADR director Zach Bolton and voice actors Caitlin Glass (Kim Diehl) and Jad Saxton (Jacqueline O’Lantern Dupree).
The second is on episode 9 with ADR director Chris George, and voice actors Bryn Apprill (Tsugumi), Alexis Tipton (Anya), and Lindsay Seidel (Meme).
On disc 2 you get the other extra features, including the Soul Eater Whoops! which is a blooper reel running to 8:24.
There’s a Commercial Collection for the show, 2:04 long, there are the ubiquitous textless credits, and there is the US Trailer for the show. There are also further Funimation trailers for Is This a Zombie? Of the Dead, Ping Pong, mihcuP[at]s, Space Dandy, Inari Kon Kon, One Piece and Noragami.
As this is a combo release, the show is also presented on DVD, and those discs are identical to the Manga Entertainment discs, save for the Funimation trailers.
I have a lot of time for Soul Eater NOT; it’s an entertaining and very well put together series. A fair number of Soul Eater fans were disappointed with it though, with the common complaint that it wasn’t Soul Eater. The clue is in the title though. Soul Eater NOT manages through good writing and a subtle shift in animation style to make a very effective genre switch, from shonen action to cute girls doing cute things in a slice of life style. Just like the similar shows that have been produced during the last ten years or so, it’s a celebration of friendship, the joy that people can find in each other’s company.
It follows the set path of such tales, in this case three girls getting to know each other, when they become roommates at the DWMA, there’s a lengthy period of friendship, the delight in each others’ presence, and at the climax of the show, that friendship faces a challenge, in this case both from without and within. Adversity overcome, we leave the story with their friendship, their platonic love reaffirmed. There’s pretty much a standard set formula to these things, and Soul Eater NOT conforms to the template with ease.
The show unfolds through the eyes of Tsugumi Harudori, a happy go-lucky girl with no particular talent, but with a get-up-and-go attitude, and a nonsense word catchphrase ‘Gagantous’. Think Yui from K-On! and she’s fits the archetype. She’s the last person you’d expect to be battling witches and the supernatural, but when she manifests as a weapon, she needs to attend the DWMA to learn how to control her ability. On her first day she meets Meme Tatane, a likeable airhead, who has some fighting skills, but has the memory span of a goldfish. She also meets Anya Hepburn, the prim and proper little princess type, and the three become friends and roommates. With Meme and Anya training as Meisters, they both need a weapon to wield, and Tsugumi is the likeliest candidate, and a constant thread running through the story is the necessity for Tsugumi to choose between Meme and Anya.
While choosing is hard, their friendship certainly isn’t, with the tactile Meme quick to glomp onto Tsugumi, while Anya, having had a more reserved upbringing, takes longer to open up, has a tsundere personality as a result, and also offers cute sulky face when she feels left out of Tsugumi and Meme’s antics. And when it comes to realising the strength of their friendship, the story relies on Soul Eater’s particular motif of Soul Resonance, which grounds the story in its universe.
That’s not the only reason why Soul Eater fans should give this show a chance, and it isn’t just the character cameos that we see. For Soul Eater NOT really is grounded in the Soul Eater universe, and unlike the usual slice-of-life show, there is a story unfolding here, one that starts off in the background, but becomes more and more important as the show progresses, so much so that it is the external adversity that challenges the girls’ friendship towards the end of the show. Soul Eater NOT is a prequel/sidequel to the Soul Eater series, and you can learn in these episodes how Jacqueline and Kim Diehl became partners, how Liz and Patty teamed up with Death the Kid, and how Sid actually died.
The latter is tied to the series villain, and it also becomes clear that the main characters are tied in as well. Anya’s princess like attitude comes from the fact that she actually is a princess; she’s fascinated by commoners like Tsugumi and Meme, while her grasp of the everyday world is somewhat weak. She has a couple of minders surreptitiously assigned to her by the DWMA, Clay and Akane, a couple of students in their class, while they also serve as investigators. More importantly, Meme’s airheaded-ness, and her short term amnesia aren’t just a character trope, they’re an important plot point in the show.
The plot concerns the witch Shaula Gorgon, who is busy scheming through the early episodes, testing the waters with her mind controlled agitators, who the DWMA at first think are merely part of the TRAITOR group, a handful of punks that just like to cause trouble. But it quickly becomes clear that these troublemakers are more than just the usual criminals, that they don’t react to pain, and they don’t stop fighting. It eventually transpires that there is something more afoot, and the investigation turns to witches potentially behind the scheme. The turning point in the series is just past the halfway mark, when Gorgon’s experiments turn to the students at the DWMA, and one of the girls’ friends from their dorm. From this point, with the exception of a Pumpkin Growing episode, the Gorgon storyline takes more precedence, and eventually becomes tied up with Tsugumi, Meme, and Anya’s story as well.
It is a story worthy of the main Soul Eater series, although other than a few quite dark moments, it never loses the soft edges of its genre. Stein’s appearance is typical Soul Eater black comedy though. Soul Eater NOT is one of the better shows of its genre, although much of that is down to putting the ‘cute girls doing cute things’ flesh on a strong story skeleton. Soul Eater fans who dismissed it for its cuteness ought to reconsider though, as it’s actually a very useful complement, and indeed background to the main Soul Eater series.
This is one upgrade that I am perfectly happy shelling out for. These Blu-rays are totally Gagantous! And with there just having been three months between watching the Manga DVDs and these Funimation Blu-rays, Soul Eater NOT turns out to be a rare show for me that has great re-watch value. Normally I need a few years between returning to a title, lest it gets stale. In terms of content, these discs are identical, indeed the DVDs in the combo pack are essentially the Manga DVDs without the logo, but the audio visual upgrade is well worth it. It’s just a shame that the audio dropout is common across Blu-ray and DVD. Thankfully there was an end of year sale, and I didn’t have to wait for the pound’s mythical resurrection. If you should see a similar bargain, I’d snap the Soul Eater NOT Blu-ray right up.