The Spring 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Soul Eater Not!
Review: You can't accuse Soul Eater Not of lying. It's definitely not Soul Eater. BONES’ spin-off of their 2008 action extravaganza is a “what if” proposition: What if Death Weapon Meister Academy was in our world, instead of whatever whacked-out Universal Horror phantasmagoria it was in in Soul Eater? What if Soul Eater was a (more) standard school comedy/drama? The answer? It'd be more standard. In Japan, Tsugumi Harudori gets in a collision with her dog and spontaneously sprouts a blade. A hop and a skip later, she's on her way to America to join the DWMA. Tsugumi, it turns out, is a weapon, and she needs to learn how to control herself. Thus the Academy. At orientation she bonds with two meisters-in-training—inhumanly spacey Meme and uber-princessy Anya—but which one will be her partner?
At its best, Not is a kind of alternate angle on Soul Eater. We get to see familiar faces and familiar places from an unfamiliar vantage, revealing new facets of both. The problem is they looked better from the old vantage. Not has none of the verve or attitude of the original; none of the kooky invention or unpredictable bravado. It feels… ordinary. That's appropriate in its way—Tsugumi's story is meant to be more everyday than Maka's—but still, you miss the bravado. The girls are sweet but unsurprising, the path of the episode entertaining but pedestrian. Atsushi Ohkubo's demented sense of humor does crop up in Anya's fight—her opponent's “sword” defies easy description—but it's one nutso lapse in an otherwise levelheaded series. That said, none of this is necessarily lethal. Director Masakazu Hashimoto, the steady hand behind the lovely Tari Tari, has skills that Eater’s Takuya Igarashi does not, and there's no reason he won't bring them to bear on Not. If he does, expect depth of feeling over wacky fun. As I said, not lethal.
Soul Eater Not! is available streaming at Funimation.
Review: If I got to go to the DWMA and I arrived to see the academy in the style of Soul Eater Not! instead of the original show, I would be really disappointed. Samey character designs, flat dimensionless color, boring spread-eye moe faces where it seems like the proportions are off...what did I do wrong to end up here? "Oh yeah, Soul Eater's back! NOT!" I guess we all should have known.
Everyone has different tastes in these sorts of things, but Soul Eater Not!'s new character designs look so bland and even borderline malformed to me. This is only accentuated by a number of scenes where one of the characters' already squashed eyes is crunched down or thinned out in a failed attempt to give the illusion that their head is angled away from the camera. Ugh. It just doesn't look very good, and it doesn't help that you're constantly comparing this version of the world and characters to an excellent-looking original series.
I would say "comparing the spinoff to the original isn't fair," but it seems fair in the case of Soul Eater Not! because it's a spinoff that mostly gets by on references to the original. The prequel-version cameos are near-constant and only about half-relevant, making this a full length episode that seems to accomplish about 12 minutes of story and character by slice-of-life standards. They're fun cameos, and it's nice to see those characters again, but fanservice is only worth waffling around in for so long, certainly not for an entire series. There are new characters here, sure. We have three new main girls who will no doubt learn about teamwork and become best friends as the series goes on, but they're pretty bland, one-note gals (wallflower, noblewoman, airhead) whose interactions have been at least 50% composed of comparing breast sizes. The tone here is explicitly K-ON School and Club Life lite, just in a Soul Eater setting, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's just what some anime fans were secretly wanting all along, but it's definitely not my bag.
However, if the idea of putting K-ON into Soul Eater appeals to you, this isn't a bad execution of the idea. The art design shift is a serious downturn, but the animation is still nice, and it's still Soul Eater alright, just with all its danger, madness, and storyline removed. For some fans (myself included) that merits a pass, but for what it's trying to do, Soul Eater Not! is fine. It's just another slice-of-life schoolgirl show, except it's filled with cameos from a pretty great shonen anime.
Soul Eater Not! is available streaming at Funimation.com.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Taking place within the same world as Soul Eater, Soul Eater Not follows three new students at DWMA, which, apparently, is in the U.S., something I missed in the first anime. Tsugumi discovers one morning while tripping over the family dog that she has the ability to turn into a weapon, and before she can quite process it, she's moving to the States to become a DWMA student. There she meets two other new girls, spacey Meme and snooty Anya. Both Meme and Anya are meisters in training, and before she knows it, Tsugumi is in the middle of a friendship triangle as both girls vie to be her meister.
If you've already seen or read Soul Eater, there are plenty of fun Easter eggs for your delectation. Not takes place before the main action of its predecessor, so Sid, a zombie in the first series, is very much alive and Medusa is the school nurse. Maka and Soul make a couple of appearances, and we get cameos from a few other players in the first series, which is a treat for those who know. In some ways, Not is an opportunity for the story to give us more detail about Death City and the franchise's world, with Tsugumi as its entry point. That said, I'm still not sure that I would suggest watching this without any prior knowledge of the original story, as there are some nuances that could be lost.
At this point, Tsugumi is the most interesting character, mostly because she's unsure of her new weapon status. She's putting on a brave face, but it's clear that she's not sure she wants to be at DWMA, and some of her more aggressive classmates aren't helping. Her near-instant hero worship of Maka seems believable in that context – here's a confident, competent girl around her own age who has gone out of her way to be kind. Such motives at this point help to set her apart from Meme and Anya, who right now are just the latest incarnations of a couple of well-worn character types. Luckily the show looks very nice, particularly the weapon transformation scenes and when both Tsugumi and Soul are wielded.
This isn't the most thrilling first episode, but it does a decent job of introducing us to the story and the characters. Right now this feels like Soul Eater Lite, with some funny moments and the potential to really build on the world created in the first series. Given what's in the source material, this deserves a couple of episodes to see how quickly it will move and whether it will emphasize cute over story.
Soul Eater Not is available streaming at Funimation.
Rating: 4 or 1.5 (of 5); see below
Review: Soul Eater Not! can be looked at one of two different ways: either as a stand-alone series which features cameos from Soul Eater or as Soul Eater: The Side Story. Though the latter is probably the more accurate way to look at it, as Not! is apparently set before the events of the original and focuses on student who are not training at the top combat level, which way one looks at the series makes a huge difference in evaluating the first episode, as the Not! part should be taken to heart: this is as utter a stylistic contrast, in both tone and visuals, as it could possibly be to the original.
And that's the huge problem if one takes The Side Story look at it: yes, Maka and Soul Eater, Black Star and Tsubaki, and Death the Kid and others make cameos, but this is simply not Soul Eater. The original had one of the most visually distinctive artistic styles of any shonen action series, while this one is just. . . normal, albeit a high-quality normal. (Seeing some of the original characters done in a regular artistic style is just weird, though, especially in the case of the laughing sun.) The original was heavily grounded in the spunk and attitude peculiar to shonen action series, while this one is cutesy and clearly moe-influenced. (Some character designs have shades of K-ON!, for instance.) The first series was about characters who knew what they wanted to be and had their basic Weapon/Meister relationships already set, while this one focuses on a girl who doesn't have anything sorted out at first, including her own feelings about being a weapon, and will clearly be at least partly about working that out. This isn't just an apples and oranges contrast; this is apples and beans, and as someone who was never a big fan of the original, I have to think that many fans are going to be thrown by the dramatic stylistic shift.
Evaluating it as a stand-alone, though, and it fares quite better. Yes, the whole thing is cutesy, almost ridiculously so at points; really, one girl is so absent-minded that she has to struggle to remember her own name? But it's a good kind of cutesy, an enticing kind which presents apparent central heroine Tsugumi Harudori as an adorable middle school girl who really does not have a good handle on the fact that she has recently and incontrovertibly discovered that she a weapon (something which, interestingly, her former classmates seemed to think was really cool) and is now going to be studying at Death Weapon Meister Academy, or DWMA for short, in America. After some random encounters with familiar faces while getting to and finding her way about DWMA, she meets two female Meisters whom she might potentially pair up with: the friendly, hopelessly absent-minded Meme and the haughty Anya, who looks down on “commoners” but is also clearly fascinated by them since they are outside of her personal experience. (She even creates her own slang term for commoner-sized breasts, which Funimation translates as “comaries.”) Although Tsugumi likes Meme more as a potential friend, she syncs remarkably well with Anya when she turns into a halberd to be used by Anya to fend off some boorish fellow newcomers – and my, does Anya know how to take advantage of what Tsugumi offers! Hence Tsugumi finds herself caught in the kind of “love triangle” she dreamed of, but of a nature that she never expected.
So yeah, this has all of the makings of a fun, cute little series; it even finds room for some sputter-worthy humor. (One of the other Weapons hasn't entirely mastered transforming, with terribly amusing results, for instance.) Just remember to emphasize the Not! in the title rather than the Soul Eater part.
Soul Eater Not! is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
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