Based on the manga by Atsushi
Ookubo, the supernatural comedy-adventure Soul
Eater (2008) was part of a group of broadcast series that pushed anime
designs in unusual directions. Soul Eater
takes place at the Death Weapon Meister Academy, a school run by the Grim
Reaper to create pairs of fighters against evil, one of whom transforms into a
weapon wielded by a partner called a “Meister.” Soul, who works
harder at looking cool than he does in any of his classes, turns into a crimson
and black scythe that hard-working Maka employs. Patient and versatile Tsubaki becomes
into a variety of weapons for motor-mouth braggart and assassin Black☆Star.
The designers give Soul and Black☆Star hair that’s a solid-looking mass
of jagged angles, much more extreme than anything standard anime heroes sport.
Dissection-mad Professor Franken Stein, who constantly adjusts a huge screw in
his skull, looks like he was carelessly sewn together from spare parts. The
artists employ the same look for all his accessories, including his bento lunch box. The Grim Reaper himself
is a tall black assemblage of sharp angles that suggests a spikey Rorschach blot.
The designers soften his look with a silly, simplified skull mask and an
outsized pair of hands.
The Academy building is also
spikey, with enormous candles protruding from its façade, like a birthday cake
a Brobdingnagian cook dropped. A lumpy-looking sun and moon leer woozily
overhead, as if they just lurched back into the sky after a prolonged binge.
The adventures center on Soul,
Maka, Tsubaki and Black☆Star.
They’re joined by various friends, including the Grim Reaper’s extremely powerful
but addle-pated son Death the Kid and his twin pistols, the Thompson Sisters.
The Kid has a neurotic fixation on the principle of symmetry; when Soul slices
off part of his hair during an argument, the Kid faints: his coif is lopsided!
Their many comic foibles notwithstanding,
all of these characters command impressive powers. They’re being trained to capture
and destroy the souls of evil beings who could foster the creation of a the
terrible demon known as the Kishin. Their duties lead them to battle witches,
golems and other evil creatures.
Director Takuya Igarashi and his crew
don’t always seem to know what to do with their likeable and engagingly nutty
cast. At times, the story gets too silly, then suddenly shifts to an
unnecessarily violent encounter. The witch Medusa’s constant abuse of her
neurotic son Crona must not seem as unsettling to Japanese viewers as it does
to their American counterparts. However, Medusa’s menace is undercut by her servant
Eruka, a dim-witted frog-witch.
Eater is an entertaining and visually striking series, but the viewer is
left with the suspicion that more imaginative writing could have made it that
much more enjoyable.
Six years later, a completely
different crew returned to the Death Weapon Meister Academy for Soul Eater Not! (2014), a short follow-up about new group of beginning students (Soul,
Maka, and a few other characters make cameo appearances). Alas, the boldly
original designs of the first series have given way to familiar looks.
When she stumbles in her home,
Tsugumi discovers she can transform into a weapon (a halberd). But she doesn’t understand
her newly-discovered power, and feels uncomfortable trying to use an ability
she can’t really control. She goes to the Academy to develop her talent and makes
friends with her two roommates.
Aristocratic, elegant Anya is a
standard-issue anime rich girl/princess, down to the long blonde locks. Although she begins aloof, she warms as she gets
to know Tsugumi and her other classmates. Meme may set a new standard for the air-headed
“cute” friend: She can’t even remember where she is or what she’s doing. A rivalry
develops between Anya and Meme over who will become the Meister who wields Tsugumi
in her blade form. Various characters make familiar jokes about Tsugumi’s
relatively flat chest vs. Meme’s pneumatic construction. (The related fan
service shots should keep the male viewers happy.)
Eater Not! offers some funny
moments, particularly when the three girls get jobs as waitresses at
Deathbuck’s coffee shop to supplement their allowances. But too much of it
feels like a business-as-usual series about 14-year-old magical girls at a
boarding school. The original Soul Eater
is more fun.
Funimation: $59.98 (8 discs DVD or 6 discs Blu-ray)
Funimation: $64.98 (4 discs