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Monday, December 16, 2013

Manga Versus Anime: Soul Eater

In which Stein's madness grows, Crona's will shrinks, and Black Star is, well, Black Star.
Having just finished the Brew/Mosquito/Eibon mini-arc and dived into the "traitor in our midst" mini-arc featuring BJ and Crona, it's nice to take a step back and see who does it best, the manga or the anime. Naturally, I'm going to say manga - but it's a slim margin between the two. Why? Because Soul Eater's anime takes the best parts of the manga and makes it colorful and musical and fast-paced, and Soul Eater's manga highlights the more character-driven, slower-moving scenes and pushes a lot of suspense and emotion into scenes in ways the anime simply can't.
I'll readily admit this: I enjoy reading about older characters in manga. No, not in the 'hot oyaji-san' kind of way . . . okay, yes, I love me some sexy oyaji but I'm not talking about them in this instance (tho Doctor Stein easily qualifies as such). I enjoy reading about the 30-and-older characters who are often left by the wayside in most stories, the parents and teachers and mentors and civil servants who fill up the pages but usually don't get into the action like their younger counterparts. Soul Eater's manga easily bucks this tradition.

A good half of Soul Eater's main cast is older and outside the typical teenage age group. We have grown men like Stein and Sid and grown women like Azusa and Marie. And, of course, Death, who is older than everyone in the cast combined, aside from Eibon and the First Kishin. They get into the action and move plot just as well as Maka and company. And it is here that the manga makes great strides over its anime counterpart.
The anime post-Brew is primarily concerned with Maka and Black Star and their issues re: soul resonance and their abilities. Doctor Stein is highlighted mainly because of his madness wavelength and his proximity to Azusa sending his madness skyrocketing. The introduction of BJ is welcome, although his initial arrival at the DWMA is vastly different and much more comical in the anime than the manga. In the anime, it's a hijinks-filled meet-up with Death and Spirit and BJ is intensely displeased with his coffee. In the manga, it's a tense, hushed conversation between BJ and Spirit and any discussion over coffee is much more subdued.
It seems like in the anime, adults exist to either serve as punchlines or go crazy and be tools of the enemies (the First Kishin, Medusa, et cetera). In the manga, they get actual storylines, just like Maka and Black Star and Death the Kid do. They don't seem as simplified as they do on the anime. There are complex characters in the anime, but they're all learning meisters and weapons and Doctor Stein and Crona. And Stein is just getting crazier and crazier by the page, going beyond 'annoying antics and loud cackling' to 'authentic and very real threat to himself and his associates'.
Speaking of Crona, both anime and manga do great jobs of portraying their slipping back into Medusa's grasp. The anime illustrates Crona and Medusa's slippery, downright abusive relationship as well as how Medusa controls Crona by proxy via her various servants. The manga, on the other hand, portrays Crona's inner turmoil and grief over their various betrayals against DWMA much more openly, taking a more personal look at the young weapon's troubles.
Naturally, it's obvious that only two things at this point can save Crona: Maka's friendship with Crona and Crona themselves. I'm interested in seeing how the manga tackles this issue as so far, the Toonami broadcast of the anime has already shown how Maka takes on Crona's mother-related problems.
Black Star is another character who gets good development in both the anime and manga, but the anime really pads out his duel with Death The Kid into an entire episode, which is so unnecessary. The manga version is very dialogue heavy and involves a lot of people pontificating from the sidelines. At least their pontification are interesting insights upon Black Star's character; even Black Star can't help but join in during his fight.
What both versions retain, however, is the core reason behind the fight: Black Star has to fight to figure out where he is and what he is becoming. Can he actually surpass the gods? Death the Kid is all too ready to knock Black Star off his ill-earned pedestal and make the kid face facts: he is not a god, but a little kid reaching for great power. Black Star has to realize that he can't push himself to the brink of death in the name of unseen heights. And if anyone can teach him that lesson, it's the son of Death himself.
What the Soul Eater manga really does well is the artwork. In the anime, it's very colorful and simplified and vivid in various ways, but doesn't retain the sketchy madness of Atsushi Ohkubo's original art. This is very clear in the scenes when Soul and Maka fight Mosquito, and Soul uses the sound of the piano to create a stronger soul resonance between all three teams. The manga distorts Soul's image the deeper he goes into his inner black blood, and this runs across the shared soul resonance.
Having said that, the anime still beats the manga out for fight scenes. They tend to be longer and better choreographed in animation, and it's one of those things that just look better in motion and with a soundtrack. Having said that, I think I prefer the manga version, even if it lacks Maka using Genie Hunter for the first time, which was awesome. What can I say? The manga had more Sid and Mira!

In some ways, the Soul Eater manga is better than the anime. In other ways, the Soul Eater anime is far superior. The question is: why do you read Soul Eater? What main areas of enjoyment do you get from Soul Eater's story? And most importantly, do you wish Excalibur would come back, too? With all this doom and gloom and betrayal, it wouldn't hurt to have the legendary sword hopping around DWMA again, annoying all those unfortunate souls who cross his path.