Soul Eater volume 6
Author: Atsushi Ohkubo
Spoiler warning: Review contains spoilers for the Soul Eater manga so far. Read with caution!
Death the Kid and Black*Star race after Free and Eruka, ready to do whatever it takes to stop the Black Blood before it is used to revive the slumbering First Kishin. Meanwhile, Maka has allowed herself to slip into madness in an effort to reach Chrona’s troubled soul. In addition to being horribly embarrassing, her actions carry a great risk. If Maka can’t find Chrona fast, she too will be consumed by madness!
And so ends the First Kishin revival story arc, as short as it was. Surprising for a shonen manga these days to pretty much wrap up a major story arc in less than five volumes, but there ya go; then again, Ohkubo has always been good at subverting the tropes of the genre, especially the annoying genre of really superfluously long battles. And it is not a bad conclusion but it does feel rushed, even by Ohkubo's standards. Still, it is a pretty solid character-driven volume that has its moments of genuine drama, and the ending foretells an even greater story arc over the horizon.
In this volume, several events meet their natural dramatic conclusions: Maka and Crona's fight, Death and Black*Star's tussle with Eruka and Free, Medusa and Stein's psychotic free-for-all, and the awakening of the First Kishin itself. Sorry, guys, they do revive the First Kishin after all - which is pretty good, considering there hasn't really been a visible villain-type figure beyond Medusa up to this point, so his arrival gives the series a needed focal point for all of its energy beyond the standard underlying plot of "eat ALL the souls and become awesome!".
Personally, my favorite part of this volume was the psychological battle between Maka and Chrona, which ended up exploring Crona's character as well as create a new relationship between the female weapon and the genderqueer outcast (who is totally going to become a regular member of the cast - right? Right). Note: the English translation, due to a lack of definite gender pronouns in the original Japanese, labels Chrona as a guy; the anime dub goes the way of labeling them a girl. I call bull on both and consider Chrona GQ, since I don't see any canon reason not to and it would fit in with their other dysphoria-related issues. Anyway, Chrona and Maka are unbelievably adorable together, especially in the desert as children.
The other fights are pretty well done, especially the one between Medusa and Stein: two scientists whose morals are very questionable at best duke it out with the techniques and skills that make them who they are. The fact that at the near end of the fight, they are both at their limits and unable to move another step, that's how utterly locked into a stand-off they are, is pretty amazing to see. Some manga-ka hype up their fighter characters to ridiculous points, but it only makes sense that Stein, the best meister in the Academy's history, would be so strong against Medusa. The fact that he doesn't just take her out in one blow is pretty telling of Medusa's strength as well - and I'm sure we'll be seeing more of her and her vector snakes in the future.
And then the final battle of the volume: the First Kishin versus the one who sealed him away in the first place, Shinigami-sama. And it is . . . disappointingly rushed. These two great powers clash for, what, half a chapter? Maybe? And then the First Kishin flies off, which promises his return in future volumes; a deep evil cackle would not have been out of place at that point, it's so close to being a classic villain exit a la Team Rocket. It is rushed but Shinigami is undeniably badass as he smacks the hell out of the Kishin. And that is really the lone black mark on another quality volume of Soul Eater; I can only hope that the next time Shinigami-sama enters the fray, he gets enough page time to truly show his big handed stuff.