Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Tests and remedial lessons plague the meisters and human weapons of the DWMA, but the real trails only begin when Medusa, school nurse and closet evildoer extraordinaire, moves to free the Kishin that Lord Death imprisoned beneath the academy. Only Maka, Kid Death, Black Star, Dr. Franken Stein and their respective weapon partners escape Medusa's trap in time to run interference with her and her minions. As Stein faces Medusa, Maka and Soul agree to a rematch with Crona and Ragnarok while Black Star and Kid rush to stop Free and his new froggy witch partner from filling the imprisoned Kishin with indestructible black blood. If they don't make it in time the unleashed Kishin will spread madness across the globe. Which would be bad. Probably.
Soul Eater is one of those shows that shouldn't be as much fun as it is. It consists almost entirely of characters, premises and plot devices that are older than most mummies and that by all rights should be just as desiccated. Instead it's juicy entertainment, fully fortified with all the laughs, gasps and style necessary for a full-course shonen fightin' meal. And without the after-meal bloating often associated with such eating.
Soul Eater cuts away the usual shonen fat, turning out polished action-adventure that is trim, sprightly and too swiftly dealt to ever wear out its welcome. It has a loose, off-balance energy, an ability to shift main characters off-hand or toss out a new villain or a totally frivolous joke episode without seeming random or disorganized. Combined with its casually geeky sense of humor (jokes don't get much geekier than Pink Floyd references) and One Piece-meets-Dr. Caligari style, you get a series that is unaffectedly cool and effortlessly entertaining even as it recycles, reuses and just generally refuses to think for itself. Even the advent of the inevitable Big Fight, in which our stalwart team of good guys pair off tournament-style with a stalwart team of bad guys, fails to derail the series. Instead it merely amps up the action—the Medusa vs. Stein and Maka vs. Crona fights are both exemplars of economical fantasy action—while showcasing the series' increasingly disturbing streak of cartoon horror (most memorably during the first fight with the unformed, epidermis-wielding Kishin).
Not every decision the show makes is beneficial. Some of the more hyperactive jokes grate rather than amuse, and any episode built around humanoid irritations like Black Star or Kid's sex-kitten guns is a waste of time and resources. It can also be silly and insubstantial. But weirdly, rather than detract, such lapses in judgment actually add to its charm, lending a human fallibility that fends off the robotic perfection that afflicts otherwise fine series like Fullmetal Alchemist, with which Soul Eater shares a goodly portion of its crew. Of course fully articulated animation and slick CG from the fan-faves at BONES (for whom this was a tenth-anniversary blowout), a rocking soundtrack from the insanely talented Taku Iwasaki, complete with pulsing electric-metal theme by T.M. Revolution, and cute, cool and seriously mobile characters don't hurt things any.
For a series whose selling point is its wackfest energy, Funimation takes a surprisingly conservative approach to its dubbing. The script is a staid affair, blunted further by the cast's lack of enthusiasm for it. Only when the oft unwieldy dialogue isn't involved—screams, laughs, other wordless vocalization—does the wealth of acting talent brought to bear on the series show. Stein's mad chuckle is so perfect it's hard to understand how it is that Chuck Huber can make the rest of his dialogue sound so...blah. The same goes for most of the cast—though in the case of Black Star the loss of energy is actually beneficial. Truthfully, any change in him would be. Every squished joke and missed opportunity for crazed fun is made all the more disappointing by the fact that ADR director Zach Bolton has swung at this kind of thing before and hit it out of the park. Desert Punk kicked rear—or more accurately ostentatiously dry-humped it—and really, Soul Eater could have used some of that dirty verve.
Extra stuff that you can enjoy: twenty minutes of pure insanity culled from the extra animation featured in Soul Eater's late-night showing, and a commentary for episode 23 by Vic Mignogna (Maka's papa), Chuck Huber, and Luci Christian (Medusa) all of whom have more fun commenting on the episode than they apparently had while recording, and certainly more fun than we had listening. One of them calls the series "smartly drawn." Curse them for getting to that adjective before me.
Soul Eater is full of nifty little touches. Fights rendered in James Whale-ian shadow (Dr. Stein's of course), Maka turned to a twisted imp by her surrender to madness, the strange sexual tension between Dr. Stein and Medusa. It's a series with a wealth of personality and no narrative chub, and thus the details stick well after the cliché-weave that passes for plotting has faded into the mists. As they should. If only all shonen adventures were thus.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Shonen adventure that maintains its personality and contagious sense of fun even as its plot gets darker and more involved; slicker than a lawyer in a vat of Vaseline.
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