Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 8th 2010
DVD Part 4
The DWMA is in it deep. Medusa has stolen the sanity of their best meister, Arachne has joined forces with the Kishin and between them all, madness is a hair's breadth away from consuming the entire human race. Lord Death splits his forces, part to the madness amplifiers Arachne has spread across the world, part to Arachne's stronghold, and disgraced Crona and de-frocked Death Scythe Marie to Medusa. Spread that thin, even the formidable forces of the DWMA are in acute danger of annihilation. And when Maka abandons her mission to lend a hand to Crona, the situation doesn't improve. Death himself takes a hand, but even he underestimates the terrible power of the Kishin, leaving the fate of humanity in the gloved hands of a certain fragile slip of a girl.
Through the soul-gathering device of its beginning, the disquieting horror-action of the Kishin's escape, and a mid-term slump that saw the series double-dipping in the item-gathering pot-o-episodic plots, Soul Eater's core approach has remained the same: wild style, high entertainment, and to hell with anything—logic and sensible plotting, for instance—that gets in the way. So is it really any surprise that this gargantuan twelve-episode climax is preposterous, predictable, and so freaking cool that none of that matters in the least?
In its own way, Soul Eater's finite time frame is as important as its stylistic adventurousness. Unlike shonen series with hundreds of episodes to play out their private and public dramas, Soul Eater has had to plan, execute, and resolve them in a relatively efficient manner. Which is why this, the final volume, consists of one enormous three-pronged battle during which every conflict, rivalry and humanity-destroying demon is confronted and resolved (or destroyed). In these twelve episodes Crona faces her mother's evil and redeems herself, Death the Kid discovers Lord Death's true designs and consequently reconciles with him, Black Star does battle with his fear of defeat and settles his score with Mifune, Death and the Kishin hash out their past, Arachne learns the true terror of the Kishin, and Maka and Soul engage the evil in his blood before teaching Kishin Man that fear and madness aren't the only human universals with the power to destroy. And those are just the highlights. If something interests you, chances are it's dealt with here, and probably via an earth-shaking ass-kicking.
Sacrifices were made, however, to make it possible. Getting to and from all of those showdowns requires characters to traverse forest, desert and marsh in ridiculously abbreviated time-frames (Maka is the space-warp master, traveling through all three and back again in less time than it takes the DWMA to breach Arachne's fortress), and not every plotline is juggled with equal skill. Death the Kid's search for his dad's magical tools badly disrupts the series' flow, and Black Star's duel with Mifune is so poorly integrated that it feels entirely superfluous. The big sacrifice, though, is the humor—particularly the self-aware portion of it. The show doesn't take itself entirely seriously—there's some business with a giant mechanized flyswatter that makes that pretty explicit—but neither is this the flip, self-referential lark it once was. The battles with Medusa, Arachnophobia, and the Kishin in particular are deadly serious, and being serious, find it quite imperative that foes partake in tedious standoffs during which intellectual smack is talked about each other's ideals. The Soul Eater of old would not have suffered that without a barb or comic interruption of some sort. Soul Eater The Final Chapter suffers it without so much as a wink.
But you can't stay angry for long at a series that works man-eating mechanical clowns into its throwaway item-hunting episode, or that glories so shamelessly in the half-kitsch creepiness of its twisted cartoon world. They say that the story is in the telling, and Soul Eater's telling is so wildly, visually imaginative that it hardly matters when it doesn't make complete sense, trips on its ambitious dialogue, or flubs the weaving of its multiple story lines. Skewed cameras, unique designs and whacked settings (forests of vector-trees, for instance) supply the imagination the plot lacks, and slick animation and outlandish coolness (check out the translucent tie-die scythe moves) elevate the action above its essential predictability. The eerie inner landscapes—stone staircases slowly consumed by black ooze, crystal lakes occupied by water-walking demon deer—communicate internal battles in uniquely cinematic ways, while hellish lighting and ambiguous morphology make the Kishin terrifying, even when his philosophizing is doing its best to make him a gasbag.
Taku Iwasaki's score takes the series' darker turn in stride, serving up Gregorian-ish chants and subliminal vocals along with the requisite bleak strings and action thunder. Even Tommy Heavenly6's new opening reflects the more downbeat aesthetic, as does Abingdon Boys School's standard-issue rock closing. Neither of which, by the way, is fit to spit-shine the boots of its predecessors.
Funimation's English version takes liberties, yes. And those liberties sometimes cause mismatches between the visuals and dialogue. But they're hardly the real issue. That would be the dub's overall lack of color. For a series that subsists on warped style and pumped-up panache, its dub is awfully low-key. None of the actors—except John Swasey and his accurately wacky Death—venture far from established voice-acting comfort zones, and the result is solid and safe, and no match for the lively Japanese. Some spirited rewrites help, but hardly enough. Oh, and Black Star detractors: Don't switch dubs in search of a more tolerable rendition; the little ninja turd is a blight in either language. Just stick with your preferences.
Extras: A reasonably amusing commentary for episode 44 with Colleen Clinkenbeard, Monica Rial and Maxey Whitehead and the usual complement of textless songs and Soul Eater Late Show omake, most of which qualify more as plain weird than genuinely funny.
It may throw reason to the winds and ignore space and time when it suits it, but Soul Eater isn't a stupid show. It knows exactly what it wants to be and how to go about it. It knows its characters should be sympathetic and attractive but not too deep. It knows when to weave plots and stack complications and when to bring them crashing to conclusion. It knows how to stage a fight and when to kick Black Star in the balls (a highlight, I might add). And most of all it knows when to cut through the posturing and philosophical smack-talk with a limb-lopping smackdown. After all, when you're done parsing positive and negative qualities and bellyaching about plot holes and recycled plot elements, all that really matters is that it looks good and kicks ass. And it knows that too.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Trés cool, as always; ties itself up quite neatly.
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