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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Manga Review: Soul Eater GN 25

Soul Eater volume 25
Author: Atsushi Ohkubo
Yen Press
248 pages

Kid’s sense of order stands in sharp contrast to the unpredictable madness of the Kishin. But order and madness are two sides of the same coin. When Asura challenges the “tyrannical” Shinigami and his laws that serve to control humans’ lives, Kid can feel the tendrils of madness within himself seeking purchase. The bonds of his friendships and his faith in order are tested to their limits as Asura makes his final stand against the forces of DWMA. When the moondust settles, who will emerge as lord of this world–Shinigami or Kishin? (Source: Yen Press)

Spoiler note: Post contains some spoilers for the Soul Eater final volume (although not explicitly).

I don't think that Atsushi Ohkubo knows how to end a series, and that is okay by me. I don't demand much of a series ending but I do ask that they resolve at least the biggest plot lines and create a satisfying end based on the story and the character development up to that point. It doesn't have to be happy go lucky, it doesn't have to be one I necessarily agree with (i.e. "ugh why didn't [x] happen!"). Ohkubo, in the Soul Eater manga finale, tries to wrap up the DWMA vs First Kishin battle royale but he has clearly written himself into a corner so ends things the best way he can.

The twenty-fifth and final volume of Soul Eater succeeds at tackling a lot of issues that have been bubbling away over the past handful of books. This includes the matter of Death the Kid succeeding his father in both power and position, the black blood inside Kid's body, and the mental health issues of Chrona. All of these things collide and explode in the fight between Kishin and Death the Kid/Maka/Soul/etc. Even Chrona, who so far has been the wild card participant but hasn't really directly had a hand in the Kishin bout, becomes a deciding factor for the future of DWMA.

One thing you can not call the Soul Eater finale is boring. The sheer amount of action that flows from page to page makes an oversized volume into a breeze of a read, compelling one to flip through like never before. When the action revs up, the art follows suit, the panels either growing or dominating entire pages. When the Kishin terrorizes Maka and company and the comic shifts point of view to look into the face of the Kishin, his warped visage takes up an entire page, making the fear of our DWMA heroes that palpable.

A good majority of this book is in darkness, one way or another. Blood seeps through every chapter. The blood madness of Chrona and Soul and the Kishin visibly rises until they reach a defining crescendo as Soul fully embraces the black blood part of him and it becomes part of his wavelength. Like the black blood in Soul, however, these elements do not engulf the book to the point of becoming lost in black ink. Individual characters manage to shine through all the chaos. If you particularly like Black Star/Tsubaki and Death the Kid, you will see their respective character arcs come to proper fruition. You might even feel proud of what they have become in the span of over twenty books.

There is also a beautiful, visual theme of music, as Soul's piano playing ties into the syncing of his team's soul wavelengths one last time. The scene in which they literally follow the notes of Soul's music is one of my favorite of the entire book. It also gives me hope that they will be able to save a certain character from their own heroic self-sacrifice. After all, if the presence of witches in DWMA is an indication that this new generation of weapons and warriors can accept everyone into the fold, then there is still hope for my favorite pink-haired wonder child.

This is a brilliant looking book but whether or not a long-time Soul Eater fan enjoys the final chapter depends on what they expected to be tied up by it. One could argue that Ohkubo doesn't give Soul Eater a defining end. And yes, he does leave a good few things open for a possible sequel series. Given, however, that Soul Eater stopped publication two years ago in Japan, let's treat this volume as a definite but open ending, just not for additional material from the powers that be. In that case, I would have asked for a few more things, like the addressing of the permanent change of an obvious celestial body, but it ends on a note of hope, and I can't be disappointed in a new world of DWMA students that is based on hope.

Yes, Soul Eater can't help but end on a cheap visual gag about boobs. But it also ends with a promise of a DWMA that is more accepting and more ready to be an integral part of the world around it. If we must leave the world of Soul Eater in the hands of people like Maka, Soul, Death, Tsubaki, the twins, and Black Star, then that is perfectly all right with me.

PS: It is still way better than the anime finale. In the anime, Maka punched the Kishin out with the power of friendship in one of the most cliched shonen scenes ever. In the manga, the literal bonds of friendship stopped the Kishin from succeeding, but the way it played out on the page seemed much more meaningful and organic than anything the anime could have come up with.

Soul Eater and its spin-off/prequel series, Soul Eater Not!, is published in English by Yen Press.