Review for Soul Eater: Part 3
If you had told me at the start of the year that I would at this point be looking forward to the next instalment of a shonen show, a mass appeal anime aimed at the young teen male demographic, with the eagerness that I usually devote to more cutting edge, avant garde stuff, I would have called you crazy, and laughed scornfully in your general direction. But here I am, approaching the third collection of Soul Eater episodes with the sort of lustful avarice and Fagin-esque rubbing of hands that I usually only devote to shows like FLCL or Haibane Renmei. Soul Eater is high art for the common fan…
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.
27. 800 Years of Bloodlust - Advent of the Heretic Witch?
At the end of the previous volume, Maka, Soul, Ragnarok and Crona had been assigned to the Czech Republic to deal with a berserk golem that was terrorising the area. But they weren't afforded a pleasant welcome when they got there. A crazed weapon, and a golem with a soul… Maka and Crona have their hands full just trying to contain the chaos, but they have no idea just whose soul resides within the golem. Back at the academy, Stein is researching as fast as he can, but it may be too late. For the madness of the first Kishin reawakened has set forth the resurrection of Arachne, an 800-year-old witch who was the first to create magic weapons. Fortunately Death has anticipated trouble, and has sent help. But he may already be too late for Maka.
28. The Sword God Rises - Does It Have a Sweet or Salty Taste?
Maka is in the infirmary, paralysed, embarrassed, waiting for Arachne's magic to wear off. But Arachne has far more in mind than dealing with our heroine. She's hired the Sword God to help her create a secret weapon, a magic tool with Eibon technology that can only be bad news. Their undead teacher Sid has been ordered to find the weapon and destroy it, but Black * Star overhears, and decides to get in on the action and get some payback for Maka. It becomes even more personal for him when he learns the identity of the Sword God.
29. Medusa's Revival! A Spider and Snake's Fateful Reunion?
After Sid's retrieval of the Book of Eibon, you'd think that disposal would be the first order of business, but oddly enough, Death wants the dangerous item stored in the vault. Meanwhile, Maka has been unparalysed, and she's back in class. Stein is teaching a special lesson on how to resonate souls as a team, particularly significant given the return of Arachne and her Arachnophobia organisation, but Maka, and Soul, Ox Ford and his weapon, and Black * Star just don't get the point of this teamwork thing. They ought to hurry up, because Medusa is back from the dead in the most chilling way possible, and now that her sister Arachne is up and around, she wants a family reunion.
30. The Red Hot Runaway Express - A Magic Tool Left Behind By The Great Wizard?
Death the Kid, Liz and Patty have been sent to the Sahara Desert to track down a mysterious runaway train, rampaging through the sands. It's obvious that some arcane magical tool fuels it, and they will have to hurry if they are to prevent Arachne laying her hands on it. But one of her agents, The Fisher King is already there, while Medusa's ally Mizune is also trying to get in on the act. As the train races across the desert, and Death the Kid tries to keep up, there's more to this magical tool than meets the eye. It's obviously a tool from the great wizard Eibon, but he wasn't the only one to help create it.
31. Drying Happiness! - Whose Tears Sparkle in the Moonlight?
Crona is having a hard time accepting friendship, confused as to why everyone is so nice. But Death the Kid has the right advice, to just take things at their own pace. It doesn't hurt that he throws Crona a party, and a good time is had by all. Except on the way home, Crona runs into Medusa, who's ecstatic to learn that she has a spy in the DWMA already, and she starts leaning on Crona to do her bidding. Crona can't turn down Medusa, but then again losing his new friends isn't the ideal option either. Crona is going to lose a lot of sleep.
32. Legend of the Holy Sword 3 - The Academy Gang Leader's Tale?
It's going to happen again isn't it? A plucky student is going to learn of the mighty Excalibur, make his or her way up the mountain, only to learn what an annoyance the ultimate weapon is, and give up the idea and return to more constructive pursuits. Except that Hero isn't your average plucky student. In any normal school, he would have been the top dog, but the DWMA only takes top dogs, so the handsome, likeable Hero is at the bottom of the pile, a pushover. He wants Excalibur so that he can rule the roost, and what's more, he actually has the temperament to bear the obnoxious sword's constant prattle, and follow his 1000 rules to the letter. The DWMA will never be the same again…
33. Resonance Link - Play the Melody of the Souls?
The madness unleashed by the resurrection of the first Kishin has been playing havoc with Stein, who's so close to unhinged at the best of times that he's having a hard time coping with the insanity. It's been made worse since Crona's little betrayal previously, and now the madness is accelerating. With the advent of the Arachnophobia group, and the realisation that they will target the Eibon Tool known as The Brew next, something akin to all out war between Arachne's forces and the DWMA is imminent. Stein hasn't got long to train the students up, and of all the students, Maka, Black * Star and Death the Kid are finding it hardest to get their Soul Resonance working. As Maka says, it's all Black * Star's fault.
34. The Battle for Brew! - Clash: The DWMA vs. Arachnophobia
Lost Island near Alaska was once the location for a magical experiment that went disastrously wrong. The resulting explosion laid waste to the island, and set forth a magnetic maelstrom that kills anyone who enters it within 20 minutes. Yet it is within that maelstrom that the ultimate Eibon tool The Brew is hidden. The cold snowy wastes harbour further dangers too, as it isn't just the DWMA who are there, the Arachnophobia group is there as well. While Sid leads the forces in battle, Stein takes the top students with him and Marie to penetrate the maelstrom. As he and Marie try and retrieve The Brew, Maka and the others wait and guard outside, but as time runs out, Maka's team has a choice between following orders, or entering the maelstrom.
35. Mosquito's Storm! - Ten Minutes to Fight in the World of the Past?
Inside the storm, the island appears as it did just before the explosion, the past is projected as some kind of diorama, and in it somewhere is the Eibon tool. But stay too long, and the viewers risk becoming part of the projection themselves. The madness has come upon Stein at the worst possible moment, and it will be up to Maka, Black * Star, and Death the Kid to retrieve the secret weapon. But as the past unfolds, some previously un-revealed truths threaten to distract them, while Arachne has sent her own agent in to find the tool.
36. Unleash the Seven's Resonance Link - A Recital of destruction and Creation?
As Maka's team battle Mosquito's hundred year old form, they find that they are outclassed. They will have to use the soul resonance link to synchronise their attacks, and more than that, Soul will have to use his abilities to enhance that link and take it to the next level. But by doing so, he'll be risking the black blood again. And while they may be able to win the battle, that doesn't mean that they can win the war.
37. The Detective's First Case - Kid Exposes the DWMA's Secret?
The DWMA didn't succeed in getting The Brew, but Maka did discover a new ability, the Genie Hunter. Arachne thinks that she retrieved The Brew, but that it was damaged beyond repair. She still thinks that she can bluff the DWMA. But there was a last minute switch during the battle. Who has The Brew? The folks at the DWMA are trying to come to terms with their recent failure. Well, Maka is trying to replicate the Genie Hunter move, but lacking the heat of battle, she and Soul are unsuccessful. Meanwhile Death the Kid's suspicions keep being raised, and he wants to know just why his father is so obsessed with the Eibon tools, and just who Eibon was to him. He's not getting a lot of answers, so he tries cornering Stein instead; only Stein has his own problems to deal with.
38. Asura's Temptation - The Big Man's Uncontrollable Irritation?
Joe Buttataki, the handyman cum coffee aficionado has arrived at the DWMA, ostensibly to take a look at the academy's plumbing. He's actually the Oceania Branch Technology Development Advisor, here to help Death with a special project, but the secrecy is driving the already suspicious Kid to distraction. That's not good when Black * Star has a crisis of confidence and demands a rematch. Meanwhile Medusa sees the end of the road for Crona's usefulness to her.
39. Crona's Escape - Show Me Your Smile Please?
Crona's stuck between a rock and a hard place. Staying at the DWMA seems to be an impossible outcome following the betrayal of Stein, but going back to Medusa doesn't seem too attractive an idea either. When Eruka shows up to order Crona back to Medusa, the stress gets too much, and Crona runs off, to no destination in particular. But having friends is a new experience, and Crona should have realised that others would notice that he is out of sorts. It isn't long before Maka is after him. But big events unfold elsewhere, as Arachne has a proposition to make to the first Kishin, while the last person you would expect, comes knocking at the DWMA door.
Both discs get simple and effective presentation, static menus and jacket pictures.
The commentary this time is on Disc 1 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.
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 20-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.
You get the first textless opening again, but the textless ending is the more up to date third one.
Soul Eater has turned out to be the coolest show of its ilk that I have yet seen. The teen male demographic is an oversubscribed one in anime, and turn over a random rock and you'll find half a dozen shonen shows scrambling for cover. Soul Eater is sharp, entertaining, witty, and best of all, filler free. It leaves those mega-epic shows like Naruto and Bleach struggling, and equally short-lived fare like D. Gray-Man and Buso Renkin have nowhere near the same intensity. The only comparable show in terms of quality is Full Metal Alchemist, and that so transcends its genre, it practically defines its own place in the anime pantheon. Expecting Soul Eater to compare to that would be ridiculous, and expecting Soul Eater to improve on its already astounding credentials would be ambitious. But this third volume of Soul Eater does indeed exceed its own limits, by making the story richer and more complex, by further developing the characters, and by throwing in a couple of twists that by the end of this collection had my jaw hanging.
The first thing that this set of Soul Eater episodes does is add another layer to the story, with the resurrection of Arachne. Arachne is Medusa's older sister, like her a witch, but even more powerful and dangerous. She was the one that created magical weapons such as the ones that the Meisters partner with, but for some reason she fell foul of the DWMA, and has waited the past 800 years to be resurrected. The revival of the first Kishin spreading madness through the world has accomplished just that, and now Arachne is another figure vying for power. With her comes a whole host of other characters, including Giriko, the chainsaw leg wielding magical weapon who was behind the golem incident that cliff-hangered over into this collection. He's brash, blustering, and annoying, traits that are at odds with Arachne's servant Mosquito, a diminutive butler type with a pointed nose, but with some unexpected abilities. To her banner soon flocks the samurai Mifune and his diminutive witch charge, and with an army of faceless flunkies, Arachne is soon trying to recover the Eibon tools.
The Eibon tools are another new string to Soul Eater's bow, magical tools of ancient origin with devastating abilities, which the DWMA must stop from falling into the wrong hands. Arachne wants them to enhance the madness now permeating the world, and it becomes a race against time to possess them. But as the natures and the history of these tools become apparent, it turns out that there's more to this than just good and evil. As the story unfolds, the involvement of Death in the creation of these tools is first hinted at, and then made more explicit, and it leaves plenty of questions as to their history. Answers aren't forthcoming at this stage, but the questions certainly motivate a major character arc on this disc. And Medusa is back too, in perhaps the most chilling way possible. It's certainly a risk to take with a mainstream anime show, but the corruption of innocence is always a compelling character trait, and Medusa's resurrection leaves no doubts as to just how evil she is. So in this arc of episodes, we have the DWMA having to deal with finding the Eibon tools, Arachne and her Arachnophobia group, the currently quiescent Kishin, there's Medusa's group being all sneaky and playing all sides off each other, and there is the day to day educating of the DWMA students as well. It's amazing that there is room for the requisite Excalibur diversion.
There are also character arcs aplenty in these episodes. Maka's focused on getting stronger, and being a friend to Crona, while Soul is once again tested by the black blood and his own personal demon. Death the Kid's is the strongest arc, with the Eibon tools hinting at his father's involvement, and with him winding up investigating the DWMA and his father, suspicious at all the secrecy and evasiveness. Black "The Muhammad Ali of anime" Star is probably the most annoying self-aggrandizing presence in animation, certainly he rubs many anime fans the wrong way, but here he actually gets knocked back, defeated once too often, and finds that he is unable to handle the loss of confidence. We get to see Black * Star's slightly less loud side (I don't think he has a quiet side). There is of course Stein's descent into madness, hastened by Crona's betrayal. Crona's arc is the most involving too, torn as he is between his new friends and loyalties, and Medusa, whose return puts extra stress on him.
It goes without saying that there isn't a dud episode in this batch, as there just isn't room. Soul Eater finds the perfect balance between action, story and character, while the animation quality from Studio Bones never wavers. This collection finished on the strongest episode of Soul Eater yet, and surprisingly, it's a character piece. It's about Crona being unable to deal with his betrayal, and Maka having to redeem him once more. I didn't expect Soul Eater to bring a lump to the throat, but this episode's emotional strength was undeniable. It's also topped off with an amazing twist in the tale, one that will make the wait for the final volume of the show agonising.