Reviewby Theron Martin,
Soul Eater Not!
BD+DVD - [Limited Edition]
Tsugumi Harudori is a 14 year old girl who is, as she puts it, “in love with love.” Her world gets upended one day when she discovers that she is a Weapon; in other words, she can transform part or all of her body into an actual physical weapon (in her case she defaults to a halberd). That means a transfer to Death Weapon Meister Academy (hereafter DWMA) in the States, where she will be trained to manage her abilities as a Weapon, even if only for her own safety and that of those around her. Upon arriving she soon makes the acquaintance of two girls her own age who are both Meisters (i.e., people training to use Weapons) and thus potential partners: the busty, tremendously scatterbrained Meme and the haughty Anya, who purports to look down on “commoners” even though she is clearly fascinated by them. While Tsugumi struggles to figure out which one she should partner with and even her identity as a Weapon, the three become roommates and, very quickly, good friends, too. However, just because they are in the lower-level NOT class, rather than the combat-oriented EAT class, doesn't mean that their lives are free of danger. Their dorm mother is a psycho, after all, and a witch who specializes in mind control is intent on stirring up chaos in Death City – and the trio unwittingly gets squarely in her path.
This 12-episode 2014 series is both a spin-off and veritable prequel for the shonen action series Soul Eater, and indeed, numerous characters who have prominent roles in that series have either cameos or recurring appearances here. While some of these appearances are innocuous – Maka pops up several times but never in a way that carries over into the main series, for instance – others are more involved backstory accounts, such as showing how Kim Diehl came to pair up with Jackie, elaborating on what the Thompson sisters were doing before they became Death the Kid's Weapons, and showing Sid Barrett as he was before he became a zombie, including how he ended up dead. These are all more sidelights than the main story, however, for Not! focuses on entirely new characters and a new villain. Hence being familiar with the main series is not at all necessary for understanding and appreciating this one. That being said, the more familiar you already are with the franchise going in, the more little bonuses you will pick up on along the way.
Not! also stands alone on a stylistic front, both visually and in terms of storytelling. Gone is the distinctive, shonen action-influenced visual aesthetic of the original, which emphasized stylish backgrounds and character designs; replacing it is a softer, more conventional, and decidedly more moe-influenced look which grounds itself more in realism, detail, and cute factor, such as a tissue box in the girls' dorm room which is shaped like a bunny or the elaborate Halloween decorations in later episodes. (Interestingly, the elements that are not realistic – like the laughing sun and moon or the exterior of DWMA – are specifically done in CG.) The central trio of girls are all adorable in their own way, with each representing a distinctly different build and style of dress: Tsugumi is the petite dark-haired girl who typically wears a dark-colored school uniform, Anya is the medium-build blond who always looks elegant in her full dress (and looks mind-bogglingly cute when she pouts), and Meme is the busty, somewhat more solidly-built sweater-wearing one. In contrast, new witch Shaula (who is a younger sister to Medusa and Arachne, although the anime never makes this point clear) has a practically permanent wicked grin plastered on her face and a long ponytail with weird purplish patterning to it.
The story of Not! focuses mostly on Tsugumi, Anya, and Meme as they muddle through befriending each other and trying to get Tsugumi to choose a permanent partner from between Anya and Meme. A subtheme is Tsugumi's struggle to come to terms with being a Weapon, and the lack of doing so means that she cannot manifest a proper blade even though she can otherwise fully turn into halberd form. Most of the first three-quarters of the series involves this and their occasional other encounters with main series regulars, which means that a lot of the series is merely cutesy slice-of-life (relatively speaking) fluff, often with some funny components added in, such as the girl who makes up her own Tarot cards, the way Meme seems to be a fantastically more capable fighter while asleep, the way Franken Stein keeps messing with the girls, or the way supposed NOT class members Clay and Akane keep trying to disguise what they're really doing. Every so often a darker and more serious moment pops through, typically involving the Traitors Shaula is manipulating to attack people, but in most cases the series move back to normal mode by the next episode. Only in the last quarter do things turn serious and stay that way, fueled by Shaula's plans coming to fruition. Those episodes also most heavily involve an action component, which is otherwise also only sparsely-used, but those scenes make it clear that action is not the series' forte despite some attempts at fluid perspectives.
Perhaps because the series is aiming for a more moe vibe, the graphic content is relatively limited. It does have some violence that can get intense and even a little bloody, but it invariably pulls its punches on actually showing anything too harsh. Fan service is present but is not pervasive enough or focused on enough to be either an attracting factor (if you normally like it) or a deterrent (if you normally don't); in fact, beyond some near-nudity in one bathing and a couple of late “naked soul” scenes, its presence is infrequent.
In keeping with the overall tone of the series, the musical score mostly stays on the lighter and perkier side, with occasional ominous tunes or darker pieces for more serious or moody scenes. Late action sequences take on a more techno flavor, which is not to the series' benefit. Opener “monochrome” is an upbeat but also bland number, while pleasant but also equally ordinary “Yugure Happy Go,” sung by the three lead seiyuu, closes out each episode.
Funimation's English dub carries over everyone who had even a bit part in the original series. The actresses chosen for the three central roles are all pretty good fits voice-wise and nail the attitudes of their respective characters, especially Lindsay Seidel as Meme; Bryn Apprill, as Tsugumi, also shows that she can sing competently in one episode. Elizabeth Maxwell, who is the new voice of Motoko Kusanagi, fits exactly right as Shaula, too. None of the other roles offer a weak spot, though, making this a pretty strong dub as long as one is not concerned about how accurate the script is to the original. For some, that is where the problem may lie.
Funimation's English scripts have always taken some liberties in coming up with alternate ways to say things, but this one goes farther than most. That results in complete rewrites in places, usually in order to dodge some cultural issues that do not translate well into English. The most drastic changes are in a couple of scenes in episode 2: one involves a conversation about sleeping on a bed after having always slept in a futon being totally dodged, while another changes a conversation where Tsugumi asks Anya and Meme not to use an honorific when addressing her into an awkward-seeming conversation about giving her a nickname. (The subtitles try to hedge their bets here by reading that Tsugumi is asking them not to use “Miss” with her name, which is also a very imperfect way of handling it.) The script also drops Anya's reference to “comaries” (i.e., the breasts of commoners) at one point and only sometimes retains Tsugumi's trademark “Gagantous” exclamations. Other changes can probably be found throughout if looked for. None of these changes go far enough as to alter anything crucial about the story, but in some cases they are more than just liberal interpretation.
Of course, the English script is not the only place where the series engages in some inconsistencies. For a setting supposedly located in Nevada, Death City is actually exclusively a blend of European architecture and design (including roads meant for walking only) and Japanese sensibilities about details, such as ramune or a tanuki statue being sold in an open-air market. Even smaller details, such as the type of pay and allowance envelopes used or how one character thinks a handful of coins is enough to pay for a meal, are Japanese-specific, and nowhere in the U.S. would you find metric measurements commonly-used on profile sheets. The cafeteria food selections are a little more tolerable, since the characters do state that it seems to be aiming for an international flavor, but basically the show's producers (and perhaps the source manga creator as well?) made no effort whatsoever to make the series feel like it is actually set in the States. Why bother putting the story there, then?
Funimation includes a mostly standard set of Extras with this release, which contains separately-cased DVD and Blu-Ray versions (each with its own bonus interior art) in a sturdy pink artbox. Present on-disk are English audio commentaries for episodes 5 and 9, which feature the voice actresses for Kim and Jackie in the former case and the lead trio in the latter case; neither offers much of particular interest, though. Also present are clean opener and closer, a commercial collection, and the English dub blooper reel “Soul Eater Whoops!” Most of its content is just general flubs, but every so often a funny mistake or alternate dialog comes out.
Overall, Soul Eater Not! looks pretty good and can be quite pleasingly entertaining, provided that you do not go into it from Soul Eater expecting “more of the same.” It sells its cute and fun factors well enough to stand on its own while also still throwing plenty of bones to fans of the original series.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Adorable central trio, lots of juicy cameos from the original series.
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