Reviewby Jacob Chapman, Feb 9th 2010
Soul Eater DVD
“A sound soul dwells within a sound mind and a sound body.” So goes the mantra of the Death Weapon Meister Academy, where young meisters train with their human-weapon hybrid partners in the art of reaping kishin eggs, corrupt souls who have lost their way and become demonkind. Should the kishin, a monstrous demon god, be revived, all humanity would be consumed in a cacophony of screams echoing across fields of bones. Top students at the academy aspire to make their weapon partners into Death Scythes and become true reapers to combat this evil. Prodigious meister Maka fights with standard scythe weapon Soul, desperate to prove themselves the coolest fighters in the academy. Black Star, meister of the shapeshifting weapon Tsubaki, just wants to bolster his ego while his partner begs him to use an ounce of common sense. Death the Kid, son of headmaster Lord Death, tries to hone his skills with twin pistols Liz and Patty despite his crippling OCD. Looming above them all is the ambitious witch Medusa who grooms her young servant Crona to become the vessel for the demon god, sending werewolves, monsters, and all manner of madmen after the students for the test of their lives.
Pull yourself away from the Shippuden filler arcs if you can bear it, the fighting spirit of Naruto is alive and well somewhere else…as reimagined by Tim Burton and reanimated through the slick, round and colorful stylings of BONES' best. Well, no, Tim Burton was not consulted on the creation of Soul Eater, but after an opening that calls up imagery of a Hot Topic erupting in colonial Williamsburg, it certainly appears that way.
Soul Eater is old-school shonen, at its simplest and brashest level. Spunky and capricious youngsters, their slightly loopy but powerful mentors, and a staggering number of goals to surmount before facing a cackling baddy with dubious ties to the war-weary past generations of fighters. Along the way, our heroes must confront their adolescent feelings and resist temptation to cross over to the dark side for power. In the end, the day will be won, episode by episode, through the power of their bonds of friendship. If any of these refrains repulses the reader, they should run far far away from this gothic adventure, for it is oozing with all of them. Everyone else should definitely stay because this title's use of classic formula has a delicious sharp edge on it that slices in and hooks deep from the start.
Set in the fictional “Death City,” Nevada, Soul Eater's universe is a fully realized fantasy with architecture that skews and curves high overhead beneath a grinning moon with bleeding gums. Perspective warps grandiosely around bright, appealing locations in ways very similar to Ouran High School Host Club, although rather than bending the camera around purple-hued mansions, Soul Eater features dens of torture and expansive graveyards …no less pleasantly purple. Leaping around this stunning world are smoothly animated, immensely expressive characters with strong tastes in hip-hop fashions all, whether that take the form of chain jewelry or windbreakers and sweatbands. (Even zombies can wear jersey shorts sometimes!) All told, it's a morbid milieu, but it's unlike anything previously seen in how shamelessly abstract every element is, while never being tres gauche. It's an already eyepopping backdrop for some excellently choreographed action scenes. The concept of talking, metamorphosing weapons opens up a lot of opportunity for mayhem, and the only complaint to be had about each soul hunt is that they're over too soon. Each one is a creative, eclectic mix of wild designs and furious beat-em-ups.
The soundtrack is a blend of orchestrated compositions, hard rock ballads, hip-hop remixes, and combinations of all three elements riding nicely under each bold, high-octane scene. (It's no exaggeration to say each new sequence in Soul Eater is boisterous. Not a gentle moment to be found…yet.) The Japanese cast is a rambunctious lot, and are spot-on in performance. Particularly fun to listen to are Rikiya Koyama's drawling Lord Death and Yumiko Kobayashi's Black Star. Recall her Excel or Poemy and turn the spastic down…just a little. The dub puts in a solid effort as well, although it is admittedly far more normal-sounding or at least less caffeinated than the Japanese version. Laura Bailey makes for a very likable Maka despite the character's priggish tendencies, and relative newcomer Micah Solusod does a fine job keeping Soul cool and disenchanted in contrast. The only real concern may be Brittney Karbowski's Black Star, simply because she has trouble sounding like a boy as muscleheaded as Black Star…it's easy to tell that this is a woman, and the character just sounds more feminine than he used to. These are minor gripes, however, and preferences will split where they always do on both of these well-done tracks.
Added to the visual and aural panache is the series' slight self-awareness. It's hard to say if it's truly mocking itself or just having too much fun in general, but the result is offbeat and hysterical. Between making its perfectionist valedictorian a Monk-esque tyke who collapses in a heap during battle mortified that his pictureframe at home is slightly off center to the introduction of a “villain,” Dr. Franken Stein, who slides in ominously on a rolling chair only to hit the doorsill, collapse painfully and grunt “I'm going to try that again.” (He does. Guess how that turns out.) In terms of narrative, there may be nothing profoundly different about Soul Eater from every other shonen out there but that doesn't seem to matter. It's the always incisive wit of the moment that has the viewer's full attention. The arrogant loudmouthed ninja character, Black Star, is rightfully given his comeuppance here. Ninjas aren't supposed to be noisy and this leaves him falling flat on his face with gunfire all around him. The ultimate weapon, flamboyant legend Excalibur, is discovered by the bunch within these first thirteen episodes but never wielded…for reasons that will draw a lot of blank stares and uncomfortable guffaws. These clever twists on old ideas range from tongue-in-cheek to just plain sick satire, but they are welcome all the same. This is rich, roasted gallows humor for the school-age set.
This may be the only problem with Soul Eater's wild sense of humor: it is skewed a little young. The same tired shonen jokes keep coming back to induce groans and eyerolls. Despite the cleverness of many other aspects of the series, surprise facefuls of cleavage and boys calling girls stupid before getting slapped and screamed at are the main order of the day more often than not. It's just conventional shonen humor, but that doesn't mean it was ever very funny past age 15. Still, since that's really the target audience, you could do far worse.
Extras include the usual themes and trailers, along with an English voice actor commentary by ADR director Zach Bolton and the Maka-Soul pair Laura Bailey and Micah Solusod. Accompanying each episode is a short, goofy clips segment called the Soul Eater Late Show, presumably run after the evening Japanese broadcast. (The series aired uncut at night and in a more kid-friendly format during the day.) This pads the extras a little thicker than the norm for these season sets.
Everything about Soul Eater is a little thicker and darker than the norm, but its roots are still strongly planted in the Shonen Jump conventions. Fans of that adrenaline-fueled tradition won't be disappointed and newcomers may very well be surprised. Forgive the obvious pun, but it truly is to die for.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Dark but lively, visually imaginative, explosive great fun
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