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Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Story So Far: Soul Eater

Set in the Shinigami technical school for weapon meisters, the series revolves around 3 groups of each a weapon meister and a human weapon. Trying to make the latter a "Death Scythe" which is the highest title for a weapon and thus fit for use by the Shinigami, they must collect the souls of 99 evil humans and 1 witch. (Source: MAL)
Spoiler Warning: Review discusses up to episode 30 of Soul Eater, per the Toonami broadcast of the series.
Apparently, I have been harboring this illusion that I had been blogging about my Soul Eater anime experience for the past year or so. Manga, yes (although thanks to Yen Press' advanced releases, I'm hideously behind on that). Anime? Big no. Which is silly, because I've been watching the Toonami broadcast since the beginning and have been enjoying what has been, so far, one of the best shonen anime in the past decade. 
And no, it's not just because Soul Eater actually has an ending, clocking out with a modest 51 episodes (well, modest for a show of its genre). It's because Soul Eater is a legitimately enjoyable program that deserves every bit of praise it gets.

The core story of Soul Eater is very simple. The series is centered around a school that trains meisters and weapons; the meisters wield their weapons, who are human beings which can take the form of such items as guns, swords, scythes, whatever. The highest goal is to become Death Scythe, which will make them usable by the top Shinigami. Our main protagonist is Maka and her weapon, Soul, whose weapon form is a scythe. 
Maka is a hard working, studious meister in training while Soul is a cocky, self-assured weapon who juggles his duties to Maka with his recent acquisition of some nasty blood, courtesy of one of the series' big baddies.
Maka and Soul's gang of friends include Black Star, his weapon Tsubaki, Death the Kid (who just so happens to be the son of Lord Death himself), the Thompson sisters who are his weapons, the mad scientist Stein, and the zombie teacher Sid. There is also Maka's delinquent but-with-good-intentions father Death Scythe, the black blood experiment Crona, and the witch Blair who enjoys popping up at random moments and shoving her bosoms in young men's faces.
But Soul Eater isn't just some series centered around Maka And Company getting the requisite souls to become the best scythes ever. That would be so dull. You might as well turn the entire Chuunin Exam arc of Naruto into its own series if you want that. No, in Soul Eater, dark things lurk beneath the seemingly quiet surface of the DWMA school; secrets lie literally beneath the floors of DWMA, secrets that threaten to destroy their world. And Maka and Soul and the rest get caught up in the middle of everything.

We have our main antagonist, the First Kishin, who busts through his cage and wrecks everything before shunting off to bide his time until he can kill everyone properly. Below him is Medusa, the snake woman with the amazing vector arrow ability - like, seriously, I love her vector arrow fights, they are so well animated and usually pretty amazing to watch. It is because of her love of ethically questionable scientific experiments that we have Crona and Ragnarok. Most recently, we also have the revived Arachne, whose spider abilities are nothing to sneeze at; she even has a posse of lackeys at her beck and call the second she comes back to life.
There are other, lesser villain types but Kishin, Medusa, and Arachne are the ones to watch the most. Their very presence in the DWMA 'verse raises questions about what the hell is going on - like why would Lord Death be keeping the first Kishin tied up under his academy? Why did he hire Medusa, unless he had no idea she was a less than nice person? What kind of powers do Arachne have that would put DWMA into such a frenzy? Lord Death knows more than he's letting on, only letting information out in piecemeal and to select parties only. Dude, don't go all Order of the Phoenix/Half Blood Prince Dumbledore on us now.
Soul Eater is a series with a lot of mysteries and overlapping plot lines. It's also very colorful and versatile, able to toggle between horror and comedy at a moment's notice with ease. The cast is a lot of screwball atypical characters with their own idiosyncrasies: Death Scythe's womanizing; Maka's dry humor; Death the Kid's need for a symmetrical universe; Sid's constant pointing out that he's very much dead. Their relationships and interactions are what keep me coming back week after week. They've turned into this big, goofy family that fights kishin together and I love it.
But it's still a shonen series, which means fights, fights, and more fights. Luckily, Soul Eater's fights are tightly choreographed fluidly animated nuggets of gold. Every character has their own unique flow and fighting style, and there's a distinct difference between how a meister fights and how a meister fights with their weapon in hand, which is great. Actions just glide across the screen as characters whoop the ass of their opponent, and I gotta give major props to the animation studio behind Soul Eater for making everything seem so flawless - you go, Studio Bones!
Now, I've heard tales that the ending of Soul Eater goes off the rails a bit. And I can't say I'm surprised, since the manga was ongoing at the time and apparently the studios behind Soul Eater's anime didn't want it to run endlessly like other such series. Then again, I've had friends tell me they've enjoyed the original anime ending - so most likely, it's a question of taste. As someone who enjoyed such series as Recorder and Randsell and NakaImo, I'm sure my reaction to Soul Eater's ending will fly in the face of fandom's majority opinion.
But that, my friends, is 21 episodes away. Which means I have so much more time left with Maka and her faithful weapon that I'm not even going to sweat it. And I plan to enjoy every remaining episode! I will declare the second half of Soul Eater a success if Excalibur returns - bonus points if he does his signature song and dance. Don't let me down, show.

You can watched dubbed episodes of Soul Eater at the Toonami website as well as Hulu (no expiration dates!). Funimation also has the series on its YouTube page, although it is subbed (which means you miss Todd Haberkorn's delightful turn as Death The Kid and Micah Soludson as Soul, which alone are both worth the price of admission).