Welcome to my 50th anime series review! And it’s a special one: Soul Eater.
The DWMA (Death Weapon Meister Academy) operates in Death city and works to train Weapons (people who can transform into weapons) and Meisters (those who can wield weapons) in order to fight against evil souls, witches and whatever else get’s thrown at them. Maka is a hardworking Meister who is trying to succeed at turning Soul (her Weapon partner) into a Death Scythe by defeating and eating 99 evil souls and the soul of a witch. Joining them as they face the various villains of the piece are Black Star and his partner Tsubaki and Death the Kid with his partners Liz and Patty Thompson. There’s a whole bunch of other things that happen but you’ll probably enjoy it more if you just watch.
Since I chose it for my 50th post, it’s kind of obvious I am a fan of Soul Eater. I’ve been wanting to review it for ages but kept putting it off (as I have a few other series that I want to use to mark other milestones). That said, I am not so attached to this series that I won’t identify some of its flaws. By the way, there are spoilers a plenty below if you haven’t watched the series so be warned.
The first three episodes of Soul Eater are each kind of stand alone stories. They do connect and lead into the main plot, but essentially their job is to introduce us to the three main pairs that we’ll be traipsing around after for the next 51 episodes. Maka and Soul are definitely my favourite pair and the opening fight sequence with Maka is truly amazing. I actually saw this fight on someone’s YouTube channel as one of the best anime fights ever and that’s what lead me to track Soul Eater down (and yes, this was quite awhile ago). Less thrilling is the episode focussing on Black Star but I’ll admit that is my own personal dislike for Black Star coming through. Seriously, the thought of a ninja who can’t stop himself shouting yahoo and landing in the middle of a table to make an entrance doesn’t do much for me. It’s just good that Tsubaki is such an amazing partner. Lastly we meet Death the Kid, who isn’t yet a student at the academy because he’s apparently Lord Death’s son. He is hilarious and while his obsession with symmetry might seem a little too much to take at times it is definitely a well used repetitive joke within the series.
Once we’ve met our characters the story get’s moving and this is where I am going to be a little bit critical. These guys are in school and in training and yet world ruining danger crops up time and again and they said students to deal with it. Occasionally accompanied by a teacher. Where are the rest of the graduates of this academy and what are they doing? Seriously? Also, we lunge from the peril of Medusa, to the Kishin, and then to Arachne before back to the Kishin throughout the story. While it makes sense that during the long run time we would defeat some of the bad guys, it really feels like it lacks cohesion. More importantly, it doesn’t really feel like Arachne was needed at all in the story even though she probably succeeded in inflicting more damage than either of the other two villains.
Also, we are going to have training episodes, side character focussed episodes, and just plain filler episodes. While none of this is actually bad it continues to dilute what is actually a fairly thin ‘get stronger and defeat the bad guy’ plot line. Don’t get me wrong, I love the story and find it highly entertaining, but casting a critical eye over it there is certainly room for trimming it some. More to the point, I just keep thinking Maka and co deserve better. They are such dynamic and interesting characters and being flung around the world to fight bad guys before returning to train before fighting some more just feels like the show was hoping the humour, art style and characters would stop us from asking what are these characters doing.
Maka wants to be as good as her mother, who was also a Meister. She studies and trains all the time and strives to be the top of her class. despite this, she never falls into the trap of being the stereotypical geek character. It isn’t just that she’s a cool fighter, it is that she does know how to laugh and her interactions with Soul as he tries to derail her focus is at times hilarious. But what do all of these fights she gets sent to deal with have to do with her goal? Some of them are clearly linked to the idea of helping Soul become a Death Scythe. But the others? She has no personal stake in it so she’s really fighting because she wants to be the best? She wants to live up to her mother? She’s worried about her friends? All of the above? It is never made particularly clear and the momentum and tone of the series suffers because of it.
I’d also repeat the above argument for Black Star and Death the Kid. While both have personal goals, they regularly get sidelined and the characters get caught up in larger events that they have no personal stake in. What is worse, is that their own goals don’t even get addressed for large blocks of episodes at a time.
Last criticism before I get onto why this show is super amazing and you should absolutely watch it: what on Earth were they thinking with that ending? This anime needs a reboot and a new final episode because while the Maka focus in the final battle was great (given she’s my favourite character), this was one of the lamest ways to end a battle ever seen and coming from an anime that delivered epic fights on a regular basis that was not cool.
So, why watch Soul Eater?
The characters do sell the show. Not just the core group but Stein, Lord Death, Spirit (Maka’s father), the other students, Crona, the witches, the returning Death Scythes, they are all just interesting and dynamic characters. Okay, a few of them are the carriers of one joke but given the range of characters not all of them can be given a full back story.
Crona and Maka’s conflict and then friendship is one of my favourite to watch in anime. Seeing how Crona develops after being offered that friendship is really delightful. It’s also a pleasant insertion of a very human and real drama into what is sometimes a very over the top and fantastical series.
Also, Spirit is getting my vote for best anime father. Not because he is a good father in any actual sense of the word, but because he is totally devoted to Maka even if he is useless at showing it. Plus his flip from comedic relief as an over protective but estranged father to serious weapon at the side of Lord Death is very well handled.
I have to mention Stein. Stein is amazing as the crazy professor and his relationship with Medusa is intriguing. The two characters both deal in the grey areas between sanity and madness as well as the moral right and wrong and it’s fun watching them both stand as close to the edge as they can go on opposite sides of the line. Also, the fights between these two are pretty amazing.
And of course on the subject of madness we have Maka and Soul. Early in the series, Soul gets cut and infected with black blood while trying to defend Maka after Maka actually stuffs up a fight (something that weighs heavily on her for way too long but is realistic for an overachiever). As the two resonate (connect their souls) that blood starts to infect Maka. The two of them play a dangerous game of Russian Roulette trying to gain more power from the black blood while at the same time holding onto their sanity and a number of times one or both of them are nearly consumed. A lot of this plays out as a visual metaphor inside Soul in a room with a piano where there is an imp of sorts and some jazz that keeps skipping a beat. If I am honest, this particular plot line was my favourite out of all the storylines that ran throughout Soul Eater. And Maka when under the influence of the black blood is amazing to watch given her usual controlled nature.
Visually Soul Eater is either a love or hate affair but for me I found it beautiful. The characters are stylised but each one looks exactly the way they need to in order to convey who they are and to distinguish them from the very large cast, the design of the academy and Death City is striking and my favourite part is the anthropomorphized versions of the sun and moon. I get that some people aren’t fans of the look of Soul Eater but to me it does exactly what it needs to and fits the tone of the show perfectly. And the opening themes are absolutely amazing to listen to.
For a fantasy with a lot of action this story delivers. We have witches, zombies, mummies, gangsters, ninjas, a samurai, demons, and on the list goes. Maka fights with a scythe, Death the Kid duel wields guns, and Black Star uses an array of ninja styled gear and each fighting style feels really unique to the character. The same goes for the other students in the class who could have just become background but in their few fight sequences get to show off who they are.
This show is fun, energetic, not afraid to deal with the darkness facing each character, or the darkness they harbour inside, and it delivers consistently entertaining storylines for our characters to move through as they try to figure out who they are as individuals and as Meisters and Weapons. This is very solidly one of my favourite anime of all time (even while I’ll acknowledge it isn’t perfect).
Oh, and I’m not even going to touch on Excaliber.
So what did you love or hate about Soul Eater? Feel free to comment below.