Review for Soul Eater: Part 2
Soul Eater was quite the surprise when it made its UK debut last month. On paper it seems like just another typical shonen action show, full of earnest characters, levelling up, and doing their best to defeat evil in what usually plays out like a knockout tournament. Except Soul Eater was anything but, managing not only to subvert the genre, but do so with a visual style, a kinetic energy, and a surreal imagination that made it stand out as something quite unique. Manga Entertainment have decided to release the first two parts of the series just a month apart, and even at that accelerated rate, I've been feeling its absence. Parts 3 and 4 will be released more sedately, and already I'm dreading the lengthy gaps between instalments.
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 can 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.
Manga Entertainment presents the next 13 episodes of Soul Eater across two discs, and you can read the episode synopses on the next page. If you want to avoid those spoilers, you can go straight to page 3 for the verdict, where there no doubt will be more spoilers anyway.
Soul Eater gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, which as usual for television anime is an NTSC-PAL standards conversion. Having said that, this is the best such conversion I have yet seen, with only a slight judder and interlacing artefacts evident, which you can never get away from with such conversions. What Soul Eater does offer is a brilliantly sharp and clear transfer, of such clarity that it must be taken from an HD source. I have yet to see a television anime as sharp, detailed and well defined as this one. It's a good thing too, as with studio Bones behind the animation, the transfer really does the vibrant, 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 DD 5.1 English and DD 2.0 Japanese options, with translated English subtitles or a signs only track. 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 definitely suits the show well. He also appears to have taken some inspiration from British pop music, as I'm sure I heard hints of Mis-teeq and The Chemical Brothers in some of the music. 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.
14. The Super Written Exam - Heart-Pounding, Reeling, and Restless. You're Kidding!?
It's not all battling the ultimate evil and notching up souls at the Death Weapon Meister Academy. There's education to be accomplished as well, and so it is that the bane of every student approaches, the exams. There's a jinx, which states that whoever comes top of this particular exam, will succeed as a weapon meister and Death Scythe. Suffice it to say that Maka wants to pass very badly. She's revising like crazy. That much revision makes Soul's brain bleed, as does Blair wanting to 'play'. So he decides to take the cheat sheet route. Black * Star on the other hand decides to use his assassin infiltration skills and steal the exam. Death the Kid already knows this stuff inside and out, he's not too bothered, but he decides to help Liz and Patty in their revision… by making sure Liz's eyebrows are symmetrical. Chaos ensues.
15. The Soul Eating Black Dragon - Scaredy-Cat Liz and Her Merry Friends?
There's panic at a coastal village when a mist rolls in, and a black dragon attacks, leaving a massive chunk bitten out of the coast. It's down to Death the Kid, with Patty and Liz to investigate. Soon they are rowing onto the Baltic Sea searching for The Black Dragon, which is the name of a legendary ghost ship. Only Liz is afraid of ghosts. The ship and its ghostly Captain are harvesting souls for someone, and having a shinigami aboard to toy with is a pleasant diversion. But Kid is in trouble when the ship swallows Liz up. He can't fight without two guns. There's no symmetry in just using one gun.
16. Fierce Battle Aboard the Ghost Ship - The Hell Inside My Head?
Great! Now Crona and Ragnarok, the Demon Sword are aboard the ship to collect all those souls that the Black Dragon has harvested. If the ghostly Captain and his lively ship were causing Kid trouble, that's nothing compared to the new arrivals, who appear to be immune to all of Kid's best moves. Back at the Academy, Maka goes to ask Medusa the Nurse for help and advice, following her recent resonance mismatch with Soul. But Stein has realised the Medusa the Nurse is also Medusa the Witch, and all he needs is evidence.
17. Legend of the Holy Sword 2 - Wanna Go Drinking, Gambling, and Playing?
Excalibur is back! Or rather another sucker… I mean supplicant has been enticed into Excalibur's lair, with the promise of teaming up with the ultimate weapon. This time it's Maka's archrival in academic study, Ox Ford. Only Ox has absolutely no idea what he has let himself in for, idiot!
18. The Eve Party Nightmare - And So The Curtain Rises
Medusa's in trouble, her identity discovered, but she has bought enough time for her plan to be put into motion, perfectly timed for when the Academy celebrates the anniversary of its founding. It's a high-class bash, with everyone in their finery, good food, a band and everything. Maka and Soul are as cool as ever, while even in a tuxedo, Black * Star is a slob, much to Tsubaki's chagrin. As for Death the Kid, he's oddly out of sorts, coming to terms with what he has just learnt about the Academy, and just why his father can't leave the premises. But with everyone in one place, it's easy for Medusa to erect a magical seal, allowing her free reign of the Academy, to find that special something that lies beneath the school. Except that before the seal goes up, Stein, Maka & Soul, Black * Star and Tsubaki, Kid, Patty and Liz manage to escape into the catacombs.
19. The Underground Battle Commences - Break Through Medusa's Vector Arrow
Finally Death comes clean about just what lies beneath the DWMA, just why he can't leave the Academy, and a story about a man named Asura. It's all a little too late for those left trapped in the sealed space, and it's down to the others to prevent the worst from happening. As Stein faces Medusa, the rest of the Meisters and Weapons have to stop Medusa's plan from unfolding. Stein's plan has to be followed to the letter if they have a chance of succeeding. Black * Star is the only one who has a chance against Crona and Ragnarok, so he'll fight them, while Death the Kid and Maka go after the others. Except the first thing that happens is that Maka deviates from the plan. Following their previous encounter, she wants vengeance against the Demon Sword.
20. The Black Blood Resonance Battle! - A Small Soul's Grand Struggle Against Fear?
Temptation! Medusa's tempting Stein with the promise of power, and as for Soul and Maka… In their previous battle, Ragnarok cut Soul and infected him with Black Blood. And since that time, a little demonic voice continues to tempt Soul with ultimate power, and to his credit he's been resisting. But now that Soul and Maka have their resonance working again, what Soul hears, Maka hears too. Crona and Ragnarok can't be cut, their very blood is a weapon, and it's a weapon that Maka and Soul have no defence against. What Soul resists, Maka embraces, as she instinctively knows it's the only way to defeat the Demon Sword. She'll become just like them. But that is exactly what Medusa is counting on.
21. May My Soul Reach You - A Dry Heart Inside Unbearable Isolation?
Maka has gone nuts, cuckoo, bananas, but it's enough to face Crona down, even if it means her chewing on Crona's head. Literally. But the real battle isn't outside; it's inside. First Soul has to fight to hold onto Maka's sanity, and then Maka has to use her abilities to sense souls and somehow find Crona's. And with Crona downtrodden and mistreated since childhood, turned into a bloodthirsty sociopath weapon, that soul is going to be hard to find.
22. The Seal Shrine - The Immortal Man's Tricks?
While Stein and Death Scythe continue to confront Medusa, everyone else is chasing after Eruka Frog, and the immortal werewolf Free to stop them getting to the Seal Shrine under the Academy. Kid catches up to them first, but is stalled by Free, who is immune to the effects of Kid's guns. More of a distraction is the location of the confrontation, full of ruins, scattered, shattered masonry, none of which is symmetrical in the slightest. This is the worst time for Kid's neurosis to rear up. But it's too late. The door to the shrine has been opened, and a vision of hell unleashed.
23. Dead or Alive - In the Rift Between Revival and Bedazzlement?
The Mexican standoff between Stein and Medusa continues, as the trainee Meisters and their weapons catch up to Free and Eruka just as they are about to reawaken the evil that lies beneath the DWMA. It's a race against time to halt the resurrection, but Black * Star picks a hell of a time to have his first hallucination. As disaster unfolds, Stein finally realises what he's been doing wrong. He's been approaching the battle like a schoolteacher. He'll have to reach deep and find his inner psycho if he is to prevail.
24. The Battle of the Gods - Death City on the Verge of Collapse?
The first Kishin, Asura has been reborn, and the students of the DWMA are totally outclassed. Fortunately, the sealing spell that Free cast on Death and the other students has worn off prematurely, and Death can face this dread foe. Unfortunately, the battle quickly spirals out of control, and starts wrecking the city. Even more unfortunately, Death is still bound to Death City, while Asura is free to escape whenever he wishes.
25. The Death Scythes Convene - Stop Dad's Staff Reassignment!?
There are eight Death Scythes in the world, eight weapons capable of dealing with Asura, and Death summons them all to the Academy. Only half turn up, and with Maka's father Spirit already there, it's just the businesslike Azusa, the scatty Marie, and the preacher Justin who arrive. Following his failure, Maka's father is worried about being reassigned away from his daughter, but Maka is more worried about spending quality time with her father. She's somehow been roped into a basketball game in which a day with her father is the forfeit if her team loses. And she doesn't even know the rules of basketball.
26. The Exciting and Embarrassing Trial Enrolment! - The DWMA New Lifestyle Support Fair is Open?
After careful consideration, Death has decided that rather than punishment, Crona, the Demon Sword is best enrolled into the DWMA as a student, after all, partnering Ragnarok could potentially prove to be a considerable Meister and Weapon partnership. Except Crona isn't quite ready for school yet, and even therapeutic poetry doesn't help. All that has to be put aside when Maka and Crona are assigned to the Czech Republic to investigate reports of a rogue golem. Golems just don't go berserk, but this one has, and also unlike any other golem, this one has a soul.
Both discs get simple and effective presentation, static menus and jacket pictures.
All the extras are on Disc 2, including the textless credits. Both versions of the second ending are here.
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.
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 all thirteen are collected into one 21-minute Play-All chunk, although you can select them individually. Each bit usually comprises fan service, comedy skit, preview and art gallery, and some of them are quite entertaining.
I did it again! I blew all my critical fervour and copious praise on the first instalment of Soul Eater, and now that the second part rolls around, I'm left with little more than 'ditto' to describe my reactions. Soul Eater is still a quintessential shonen story, an action series aimed at a young teen male audience, yet it still has Studio Bones incredibly energetic and quirky animation to elevate it beyond the norm. It also has perfectly paced storytelling, with none of the filler that lesser shows resort to when anime schedules and manga schedules fail to overlap. It also has engaging characterisations, with several interesting character journeys taking place. Finally it also takes the time out to subvert the genre, applying its own unique twist to what has become a cliché laden, trope dependent type of anime, often surprising with wry bits of commentary, or surreal departures from the norm. If Carlsberg did stereotypes…
In terms of the episodes, they continue in much the same vein as before, a combination of the overarching storyline, mini story arcs, and comedy interludes, all overlapping and touching on each other. It turns out that I lied when I said that Soul Eater has no filler. It has the Excalibur episodes, perhaps the most annoying anthropomorphised weapon in the series. So far he's had two episodes to strut his stuff, and in a thirteen-episode run, a single episode turns out to be more breather than filler in this show's breakneck paced storytelling. Once again, someone at the Academy goes in search of the ultimate weapon, and instead finds the ultimate ego, and the episode finishes with the same predictable, but cathartic punchline.
Otherwise we begin with the comic diversion of the exams before getting back to the main storyline. Of course Death the Kid's investigation of the ghost ship doesn't appear to be anything more than an isolated incident at first, allowing for an episode of his usual symmetry OCD, with satisfying comedy accompaniment from his weapons Liz and Patty. It's when Crona and Ragnarok interrupt the sea faring soul reaping that the main storyline returns with a vengeance, and it becomes clear that the souls that the Black Dragon has collected will be put to Medusa's own sinister use as her plans unfold.
That plan becomes clear in this volume, the big revelation being that the First Kishin, Asura is actually confined under the DWMA, and it's Medusa's plan to resurrect and free the demon. There follows a multi-episode arc as Medusa enacts her plan, and Maka and her friends try to stop her. In something like Naruto, such a diversion would have been stretched to three times the length, with plenty of pauses for flashbacks, ruminations, and explanations of the various ninja moves employed. In Bleach it would have taken up two whole seasons to accomplish the same thing. Here it takes five episodes, and it's either action, or character development as occurs during Stein and Medusa's standoff. Also the animation for Asura's resurrection has to be seen to be believed. It is perhaps the creepiest animated sequence I have seen in a mainstream anime; it certainly shivered the skin.
Also, to this point Death has been a rather comic figure, with a kindly mask, high-pitched voice and friendly attitude, except in flashback that is. When Asura is reborn, we get to see the real Death as it were, the proper Grim Reaper, and we learn that his laid-back attitude is just a façade he uses not to terrify the students of the Academy. It's a good thing too, as not long after Crona, somewhat rehabilitated, is accepted into the Academy as a student, but is ridden with fear and lacks self-confidence. With this new side of Crona, we enter a new phase of Soul Eater, as the initial arc of Asura's resurrection reaches a crescendo and comes to a close, similar to Voldemort's return in Harry Potter. What follows is a little anticlimactic, as Asura flees to regroup, and the folks at the Academy also have to regroup and figure out what to do next. Recruiting Crona in the hope that his abilities can be moulded into a proper Meister is one thing. Summoning the other Death Scythes is another, and the cast of the show grows with an interesting trio of weapons, Justin, Marie and Azusa. The young students come to terms with the preceding events in their own fashion, but interesting is the effect that the confrontation with Medusa, and the release of Asura has had on Stein. Asura's particular talent as a Kishin is to invoke madness in others, and he's jogged a core of obsessive mania in Stein, who is now being haunted by Medusa.
Add to that Maka touching the 'dark side' during her battle with Crona, it brings forth an ambiguity in the characters that make what may happen in subsequent episodes deliciously unpredictable. Unfortunately, this second instalment of Soul Eater episodes offers one niggling annoyance. The final episode, which sees the Academy's curriculum resumed, and Maka and Crona going out on a field assignment, ends on a pesky cliffhanger. We'll have to wait until September for the next collection of Soul Eater episodes to find out what happens next. Soul Eater is a shonen show, which means it ought to be slow, drawn out, predictable, and cheap and cheerful. It's none of these things. Instead its wild animation style, fast pace, twisted humour and likeable and original characterisations make it the antithesis of the traditional shonen anime. You'd be daft to miss out on something as special as Soul Eater.