Reviewby Jacob Chapman,
With the Kishin revived and on the loose, madness wavelengths race rampant across Death City, strengthening dormant evil forces like Medusa's elder witch sister Arachne and disrupting the sanity of meisters most susceptible to their seductive pull, like Dr. Stein, who becomes more hallucinatory and corrupt by the day. Now the DWMA must prevent a new crop of witches, monsters, and defected weapons from obtaining the Magic Tools, a series of evil devices created by the wizard Eibon. Combined with the Kishin's powers, they could be devastating to Lord Death…and Arachne isn't far from finding the runaway baggy-skinned demon. The meisters will have to find a way to resonate souls not only with their weapons, but one another, to face this mounting evil, a task that only becomes more daunting as doubt, failure and betrayal haunt all the young reapers through their own veins of madness.
Fresh off of its halftime show in Part 2 of the series, and was it ever a show, Soul Eater finds itself in the uniquely awkward position of having released the ultimate evil into its world twenty episodes too early for the final battle to take place. Assumedly, the writers have taken their cues from a few JRPGs and used this time before the end to pad with sidequests. The obvious downside to this is that while these episodes do well in preparing the characters for their serious battles down the road, comparatively, they're a snooze. Still, Soul Eater's idea of snoozer material is fathoms more colorful and nightmarish than the average shonen series. Can this set be a slog? Absolutely, but only for about two minutes at a time, interspersed with five minute bursts of slapstick, monsters and incredibly bizarre fights.
Soul Eater doesn't make any bones about having a plot as thin as a shroud and deep as a pauper's grave, and never will. It's just as shallow and conventional as it has been from episode one. All the same, if sheer visual ingenuity can compensate for these limitations, Soul Eater has more by far than any other shonen series in recent memory: period. The first episode of the set features a fight between a human chainsaw and a human guillotine who interchange battling with martial arts and the morphing, flashing blades that whip out of different parts of their bodies every other second…although in the case of the guillotine, he has more luck dueling with his pillories as surprise weapons. Around the time we see a deformed Fisher King firing harpoons from aboard a flying, flaming locomotive at Death the Kid while he Kelly Slaters the dunes of the Sahara around them, it's a little hard to care that the episode has almost no bearing on the main plot.
The scuffles between meister and witch aren't the only attention-getters here, however. Stein and Crona's internal battles with Medusa, who appears when least expected to flaunt her lingering control over their souls, are even more compelling and make for some chilling windows of delirium. Crona continues to waffle between the unmerited kindness of his new friends and the support of his unloving mother, aware of which one he wants but afraid of which one he deserves. (It probably doesn't help that his own blood is a living creature that gives terrible, wicked advice.) Stein, meanwhile, is reaping the consequences of living free of scruples as the Kishin's madness finds him the easiest target. If Medusa and Stein's bewitching interactions haven't inspired heaps of slash (or slasher) fanfiction yet, this release should fix that problem as she thwarts his attempts to discipline his mind with several gross yet engrossing nightmare sequences.
Really, the darker Soul Eater can plunge in execution, the better, because the lighthearted, syrupy lessons the young meisters learn throughout these stretches of near-filler are jarring and gag-worthy. Such lulls from all the adrenaline remind us that while there is zero chance of this being marketed to kids in the west thanks to most of its content, this is still a children's show in Japan. It won't be going anywhere for a little while yet, and even then will never have anything new to say. The humor is juvenile and repetitive in contrast with the rich, glossy imagery and with the help of moralizing speeches and flashbacks, some long stretches of episodes where “Oh no, Black Star's losing confidence!” or “Maka's not being a team player!” make the spoonfeeding less palatable.
The visuals of the series remain bright and tasty at least, demonstrated well through a switch of OP and ED, both nice changes of pace, spirited and hard to skip. “Paper Moon” is a darker pop-rock ballad that seems to foreshadow the murky drama and gorier nature of the second half without becoming too gothic. Gone is the hip-hop dancing from the 1st OP, but lest it be missed, the bounce, break and rap is simply shifted over to the upbeat closer “Bakesou Yume Uta.” Vocally, the series is pleasant in both languages but notably different. The Japanese performances continue to be broader and brasher while the English dub is lower in key and volume, but each serves disparate types of scenes better than the other. Hey, it may even be advisable to flip between the tracks every episode to make the more pointless installments go faster. Scripting is close between the two versions with the exception of the rare translated humor sensibilities…and the strange ones. (Did he really just say “Once you go Black Star you never go back?”) Extras include the new clean themes, trailers, and a commentary by the english VAs for Death the Kid, Liz and Patty.
Funny that this series of episodes features the introduction of a new villain and the return of another, but in neither case does it result in much forward motion because the animators were having too much fun indulging in a battle between Giriko the immortal chainsaw-man and an 800-year old mosquito demon in a tux. To be fair, so will we, even though said skirmish is entirely pointless. Arachne and Medusa continue to plot in the shadows, but by the time the Kishin finally drools a greeting at the very end of the set, it hits the viewer across the face that we've been fooled. The real big baddie has been missing all this time and everything up to his rediscovery, (save perhaps for Stein's mounting dementia,) is padding, padding, padding. Of course it's no big loss. Sure we've been tricked, but the ride was a real treat.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Still endlessly inventive, twisted, and entertaining, solid artwork, frightening but fun
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