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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Can You Make A Pair With Three People?": Reading Soul Eater Not! GN 1

Soul Eater Not! volume 1: Ding-dong! DEAD-dong! Class is about to begin, and you don’t want to be late on your first day of school! Join Tsugumi Harudori in the NOT class at Death Weapon Meister Academy, a school dedicated to training transforming Weapons like Tsugumi and the Meisters who will wield them.
During the serialization of the original Soul Eater series, manga-ka Atsushi Ohkubo had an idea: a spin-off of sorts, focusing on the NOT (Normally Overcome Target) students of the DWMA. Maka and Soul and the sorts are not the stars here. The series puts its entire weight upon the personalities of Tsugumi and her friends Anya and Meme, her two possible Meisters. In Not!, we are shown how the other half of DWMA lives. Except that the other half of DWMA aren't exactly superheroes and world savers.
Let me tell you a story: once upon a time, the TV show LOST almost shot itself in the foot with two new characters that pissed everyone off. Now, at this point in the popular ABC series, the story and main cast had been established. There was a proven chemistry between people. And then, in an attempt to show the lives of the 'other' Oceanic plane survivors, Nikki and Paulo were introduced. And everything quickly went to hell.

Why? Because by season three, viewers had been thoroughly invested in the lives of the Oceanic 815 group. They had learned their stories, cried over their losses, cheered over their wins, and became concerned with their problems. No one honestly cared what the others were doing. They weren't interesting. And Nikki and Paulo? Neither were they. Shows who try to show us the other side of things don't work if they can't get us invested in their efforts.
So here we have Soul Eater Not!, the opposite side of the coin from Soul Eater, both coming from the same manga-ka. It's a series injecting itself into the canon of a series that is well established. If Soul Eater is about the top students and their heroics to save the world, Soul Eater Not! is—well—not. It's about 'average' students learning how to harness their abilities but none of them powerful or skilled enough to go out on missions.
But when Soul Eater Not! premiered via Yen Press and Shonen Gangan, it was at a time where readers were already heavily invested in Maka and the rest of her group. Tsugumi was an entirely new face in a world readers were already well acquainted with. And she was different. And that is a dangerous combination for a new series attempting to ride on the popularity of another series.
And yes, there's a big of cognitive dissonance when you compare Soul Eater to Soul Eater Not!, but there is no need to read them side-by-side. I mean, reading Soul Eater adds more understanding to the world of Tsugumi, but in a way, it's like Tsubasa and XXXHOLiC; the two series compliment each other, but function independently of each other. Although Soul Eater Not! does have extended cameos from Maka and the DWMA staff among others. Interestingly, it also references Medusa as the current nurse and has Maka in her old uniform, which puts the series as a prequel rather than a concurrent title.
Soul Eater Not! isn't as dramatic or heart-pounding as Soul Eater, at least not at first blush. It's the story of new DWMA student Tsugumi, a high-spirited and klutzy girl "in love with love" who has come to learn how to be a weapon and control her abilities. In her first class, she finds that two girls are vying to be her meister—the busty genki girl Meme and the pouty rich girl Anya. A weapon with two meisters—can it even be possible?
What Soul Eater Not! does, it does well. The friendship between the three girls is adorable and entertaining; I'm a big fan of Anya's pout whenever it pops up, usually taking up an entire panel with her face. Tsugumi starts off the series trying to emulate Maka Albarn's strength, but I think she'll soon realize her own power and personality is enough to make her a good weapon.
I was also pleased by the maid cafe subplot, which usually seems pandering, but here was very tolerable. The uniforms aren't overly sexual and there aren't any 'accidental' panty shots. And it makes sense that students away from home will blow all their allowance and have to take up part time jobs to cover expenses. Even DWMA students have mundane issues!
But there's also action, and the action is another opportunity for Tsugumi to shine as a weapon. She is not confident in her abilities as a weapon, but with Anya and Meme at her side, she is gaining the motivation to become stronger. Which is good, cause it looks like the bright shiny world of Soul Eater Not! is about to be invaded by "traitors" with weird eyeballs who lurk in the shadows.

Soul Eater Not! has a strange premise—a weapon with possibly two Meisters, which seems impossible. Will Tsugumi choose Anya or Meme? Or someone else? I don't know if this title will rise to the same level story wise as Soul Eater proper but it's incredibly entertaining and populated by quirky cute girls who support and admire each other—and there's nothing wrong with that. And one thing is for certain: Tsugumi and the girls are no Nikki and Paulo. These girls would be very welcome as additions to the main Soul Eater canon.