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Friday, October 17, 2014

Manga Review: Soul Eater GN 22

Soul Eater volume 22
Author: Atsushi Ohkubo
Yen Press
202 pages
The remaining Death Weapons, along with Kid, gather to stage their assault on the moon. As they approach the Kishin’s hideout, Stein and Justin clash in a violent, madness-fueled battle. Stein struggles to maintain his grip on sanity while Justin draws power from the Kishin’s inexhaustible aura of madness. Everyone knows there will be casualties on the road to restoring “order”-but will Stein become the first?
We're still in that uneasy break between the start of the end and getting there, and even though this volume is filled with a lot of action scenes and amazing fights, it doesn't advance the main plot as much as it would have you think. Between the confrontation between Maka and Crona and the introduction of several plot points that haven't paid off yet, it's middling on progress but rich in character development.
As the 22nd volume opens, Maka has latched onto Crona's wavelength and is openly questioning the order to execute them via the Spartoi unit. Meanwhile, Stein gets into an all-out fight with Justin while Death the Kid fights the Kishin's soldiers while unlocking further levels of his own powers. While DWMA is distracted, Noah and his faithful second-hand servant Gopher try to sneak into the Kishin's base but are caught by meister/weapon duo Clay and Akane, who should both look familiar to Soul Eater NOT!'s readers.

A lot of the action is split between Stein's tussle with Justin and Death versus the never-ending army of Kishin's soldiers. One is about madness, the other is about control. For Stein, he is embracing his own madness in order to fight Justin, and in the process losing his humanity. For Death the Kid, he is gaining control of his powers and slowly releasing his Sanzu lines, although he has yet to release all three and reach the status of Lord Death.
Of the two, the Stein/Justin battle is definitely the more interesting of them. It's an all out madness fest and it gives manga-ka Ohkubo room to really show off his more abstractly supernatural art style. In both men, madness changes their fighting style, their attitude, their own physical forms. When they clash, they lose all vestiges of their humanity. It's a surprise that there's anything left of Stein when the book ends. He is still human, still the offbeat doctor they all know and care about, but what part of him is untainted by the madness?
Perhaps sensing that the Doctor is trying to out-crazy them, we also spend some time confronting Crona in a church. The youth has recently murdered their abusive mother and in the process cut their last tether to being emotionally sound (although considering Medusa's history of abusing Crona, have they ever been sound?). The one last friend Crona has—Maka—has come to rescue Crona from themselves, but she may be too late.
Even more than in the Stein scenes, Crona's black blood madness is literally rolling off their body, manifesting in physical form. They even turn into a convenient and spooky set of wings that look like they'd belong in an animated Tim Burton film. We learn Crona's plans and see how determined Maka is to bring her friend back, but unfortunately the true confrontation we've been waiting for doesn't take place. It looks like that will happen somewhere else—the Moon, most likely.
The end of the book's last chapter, which juxtaposes the adult death weapons facing off against Kishin's army and the young EAT-level DWMA students getting ready to break the rules and find Crona, is pretty striking. It is unfortunately followed by an extraneous promo for Soul Eater NOT!, which makes the volume seem longer than it already is and takes away from the impact. If the volume has actually ended with Maka and the others heading toward the moon, it would have been so much more effective. Actually, the image of Maka pumping everyone up by pointing to the sky and going “WHERE'S THE MOON? THERE'S THE MOON!!” is both hilarious and adorable, if not a little cringe-inducing.
There is a lot of well choreographed and lushly drawn fight scenes but they don't make up for the fact that by volume's end, we are still hunting the Kishin, still searching for Crona, still wondering how this war will end. We see Noah and some DWMA cronies sneak into the action, but nothing advances on that front. There is an interesting new plot introduced with the witches but it happens late enough in the volume that the only person truly inconvenienced by it is Death, who was on his way out of the action anyway.
Overall, it's a decent volume of Soul Eater, and it has a lot of gorgeous and dark artwork from Ohkubo, but at this point I expect the plot to be moving at a faster pace than this. I'm glad that Ohkubo is concerned enough about the mechanics of how the Kishin's magic work to include witches into the mix, but between all these extraneous elements and the elongated fight scenes, it gets to be too much at times. Hopefully, the next volume regains some of the earlier books' sense of focus.