Sunday, 30 January 2011

Anime REVIEW: Soul Eater


Originally released in 2008-09, the 51 episode series revolves around Shibusen, a school run by the Grim Reaper in order to train teams of weapons (humans that have the ability to turn into weapons) and meisters (wielders). The three main teams consist of Maka Albarn and her partner Soul (who can turn into a scythe), Black Star and Tsubaki (who can transform into a variety of ninja weapons) and the Grim Reaper's son Death the Kid and his twin partners Liz and Patty (pistols). With the help of their teachers and under the guidance of a rather eccentric Grim Reaper, they battle witches, golems and finally, a face off with the madness spreading 'demon-god' Asura.

Soul Eater gets off to a very promising start - rather than throw the viewer right in at the deep end, we're treated to three prologue episodes, each starring one of the three main groups of characters. This is a great introduction to world of Soul Eater, and only after these three episodes to the characters start appearing together properly and sharing adventures. Add in a strong and diverse group of side characters and it has the makings of a very strong show. The first arc is very strong in terms of content (and feels like it's leading on to something bigger, but ultimately doesn't). It's also one of the few anime shows out there were the few filler episodes are as equally entertaining as the main plot - the moomin-esque Excalibur is actually one of the series' comedy highlights, and he has some pretty stiff competition in the forms of the Grim Reaper himself and Kid's rather simple partner Patty.

The art and music are top notch - particularly the first opening track 'Resonance' and its accompanying opening. My only regret is that the series is completely animated in the deep shadowy style of its opening city scape, which for me remains the animation highlight. The series itself is equally fluid, if a bit brighter. The uses of CGI don't detract (Shibusen looks fantastic in all its birthday cake glory) and it has a strong selection of background music.

As fun as Soul Eater is as a series, its also littered with problems. Being based on a manga that's still ongoing, it's only natural that there would be several dropped plot points, but Soul Eater seems to take it to ridiculous levels. Soul's determination to become a deathscythe? Never happens. Villain Mosquito's powerful 400-year old form? Never shown. And anyone expecting second arc big-bad Arachne to do anything apart from sit on a spider's web and order people about will be sorely disappointed, as this is all she does as her whole scheme is orchestrated by her henchmen. There's not even an indication of exactly how powerful Arachne is. Her apparent rivalry with sister and first arc big-bad Medusa is rendered null, as Medusa proves to be a far more interesting a threatening villain throughout.

The second problem is the series insistence on giving almost every character some sort of catchphrase or quirk - Soul always talks about how something is cool/uncool, Black Star will surpass God, Kid is obsessed with symmetry, Crona can't deal with things etc. And that's not all of them either. While a lot of these a dropped as the series progresses (and some are interesting character traits/genuinely funny), to begin with they're drilled into the viewer non-stop. Finally, the series ends on an incredibly abrupt note with plot points coming out of nowhere without even being vaguely hinted at, leaving a rather unsatisfying taste.

Another problem is Black Star, who is horribly one dimensional. His arrogance has no bounds, and there's no other side to it either. All he does is shout his way through the series claiming he's going to get stronger, and he does. While it does add a bit of variety to the cast, he's so arrogant it becomes nigh impossible to like him as a character and difficult to watch him on screen - and as a main character, that's quite a lot of screen time. It's a wonder how the hell Tsubaki puts up with him.

Soul Eater is by no stretch a bad series, in fact it's a very good watch full of likeable characters and (for the most part) an engaging plot. It was certainly better than the Naruto-lite-with-demons-instead-of-ninjas I was first expecting it to be. But in comparison to some of Bones' other works (which include both Fullmetal Alchemist series', Eureka Seven, Ouran High School Host Club and more recently, Star Driver) it doesn't quite live up to the standards the studio usually produces. Catchphrases, annoying main characters and a horrifically rushed ending get Soul Eater a high 3 out of 5 rating, but just make it miss out on receiving a 4.

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