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Monday, July 28, 2014

Manga Review: Soul Eater Not! GN 2

Soul Eater Not! volume 2
Author: Atsushi Ohkubo
Yen Press
192 pages
Tsugumi knows firsthand how difficult it can be to find your perfect partner at Death Weapon Meister Academy. So when fellow dorm-dweller Jacqueline admits her desire to be partnered with Kim—the notorious “Witch of the Girls’ Dorm”—Tsugumi is eager to help her friend. But Kim’s prickly personality makes it seemingly impossible for anyone to get close to her, let alone a prospective partner. Why is Kim so intent on keeping everyone away?
The second volume of Ohkubo's Soul Eater spin-off series is very busy, but it's nothing this book cannot handle. Between Tsugumi's struggle to pick a partner, Jacqueline's relationship with Kim, the 'traitor' attacks on DWMA and the arrival of new employees at the local cafe, Soul Eater Not! is enjoying a surge in subplots that makes the book a quick moving read. And it is definitely an enjoyable companion to the main Soul Eater series so far.

But let's be real: there is a definite shift in tone with this volume. It's still a lot of fun hijinks and girl dominated silly scenes but Ohkubo is slowly changing how the NOT 'verse feels with the rise of a witch who is waging war on the students and staff of DWMA. This witch has been in the shadows for the most part, but her actions are clearly effecting the academy and as the second volume ends, she herself is coming out of hiding long enough to throw Tsugumi's world into violent disarray. It's getting darker, and our star weapon may bend and break under the pressure.
Don't stress! Most of the volume isn't witches behaving badly. A good majority of the volume is about the female-based relationships that dominate this series, whether it's between Jacqueline and the tsundere Kim, or Tsugumi and her two meisters in training, Anya and Meme. It seems clear that Tsugumi's strength comes from her friendships and her ability to emphasize and help others. Hopefully, it will aid her in ultimately picking a meister. Then again, why not have two meisters to a weapon? Death the Kid has two weapons. A triumvirate partnership isn't that rare in DWMA; Tsugumi could make it work.
My new favorite relationship is between Kim and Jacqueline, which seemed unlikely at first but by volume's end is something genuine and worth nurturing. Jacqueline hides behind her hardass snobby exterior, but really wishes to form connections with others. Kim is arrogant and off-putting, but like any good tsundere has a heart of gold and a weakness for a pretty face. If they formed a meister/weapon relationship, I would die of happiness (figuratively, not literally, don't get all "Word Crimes" on me).
There were a lot of great Soul Eater cameos this volume besides the usual DWMA staff roll call. Death the Kid showed up and made Tsugumi more aesthetically pleasing to his symmetrical palette. The Thompson twins got their own story arc as they joined the cafe as waitresses and proceeded to act as you would expect of them in a service setting. A few more surprising cameos laid in wait for Tsugumi and company when they wandered the DWMA basement—which, considering what happens in the main series, puts a chill in me. You jerkass priest, you!
Not only is the story on point this volume, the art is too. Ohkubo's artwork is striking as usual, and he knows when to cross between the bloodier moments (such as the murder of one of the "traitor" suspects) and the cute fluffy moments (i.e. most of the Tsugumi/Meme/Anya scenes). I love how the manga-ka designs the witch's hair with a special design. It reminds me a lot of the American cartoon Chowder, which has an extensive use of wallpaper-esque palettes for character designs. The sprawling, detailed two-page spread to introduce the Death Bazaar is wallpaper material; if it were colored and hi-res, I'd have it on my laptop background right now.
After the Death Bazaar incident, I'm very interested in what direction this series will go. There's no way for Tsugumi to ignore the troubles currently hitting DWMA where it hurts. Whether they are EAT or NOT, the students of the academy will all be on high alert, wondering when the next attack will come. I hope that, even in these dark times, Tsugumi – and this series – never loses its heart.