Review for Soul Eater NOT! - Complete Series Collection
I love Soul Eater. It is the top notch long running shonen series. It’s got great characters, and an absolutely fascinating story-world, and when it came to animating it, Studio Bones gave it the Grade A treatment, giving it the budget and time shorter high profile shows would get. It’s notable that its broadcast slot was the same as Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, and it preceded it in production. And just like the first Full Metal Alchemist series, it got to around 52 episodes, and the animators had to fashion their own conclusion as the manga was still ongoing, although in this case the conclusion was typically unsatisfying. But as I said, I loved the characters, and its surreal worldview. Manga Entertainment originally released the series here on DVD, but I wound up importing the Blu-rays.
You can bet that when a spin-off for Soul Eater was announced, I was all agog, and lined up front and centre when Soul Eater NOT started streaming. Only this wasn’t the Soul Eater that I remembered. All of a sudden, Soul Eater had become about cute girls doing cute things. This was Soul Eater K-On! style. I was horrified, aghast, disappointed, wrong-footed, intrigued, and entertained. It took a while, but once I put my preconceptions aside, I found Soul Eater NOT to be quite a decent show on its own merits. Now that Manga are bringing it out in the UK on DVD (now there’s a question), I’m giving it a second look, this time without any prior expectations to be dashed.
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 DVDs from Manga Entertainment.
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 anamorphic widescreen transfer, progressively encoded NTSC on these discs. 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.
You have the choice between DD 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. One problem is that Disc 1 has an audio drop 1:16:45 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.
The disc presents its contents with static menus and jacket pictures. A little more thought in the menu design might have helped as this is one where the selected option tends to blend into the background.
The sole extra on disc 1 is the audio commentary with ADR director Zach Bolton and voice actors Caitlin Glass (Kim Diehl) and Jad Saxton (Jacqueline O’Lantern Dupree).
On disc 2 you get another audio commentary, this time on episode 9 with ADR director Chris George, and voice actors Bryn Apprill (Tsugumi), Alexis Tipton (Anya), and Lindsay Seidel (Meme).
You also get Soul Eater Whoops! which is a blooper reel running to 8:23.
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.
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. As for these DVDs from Manga Entertainment, they are fine to watch, other than that audio drop on disc 1, as they are merely the Funimation discs repurposed for the UK. But DVD only in this day and age? I’m sorry Manga, but I’m waiting for the pound to climb out of the gutter and then importing the Region B friendly Blu-rays.