Saturday, 5 July 2014

Anime REVIEW: Soul Eater Not!

Soul Eater Not!

Given that Soul Eater seems to still have a fair bit of popularity in it for a show that aired six years ago, it was only a matter of time before its spin-off manga series also received the same treatment. Once again with studio Bones at the helm, Soul Eater Not! is a prequel/spin-off series that features a (mostly) new cast and a fluffier demeanour. With the action still taking place at Death City, there's still plenty of action, supernatural beings and people turning into weapons though. At only 12 episodes long, it's also significantly shorter than the 51 episode main show.

Tsugumi Harudori thought she was just a normal girl, but when she inadvertently transforms herself into a weapon she's transferred to the Death Weapon Meister Academy (DWMA) in Death City, USA in order to learn how to control these new found powers. Rather than be placed in the more advanced EAT (Especially Advantaged Talent) class, Tsugumi enrols in NOT (Normally Overcome Target) - where the students learn to control themselves so that they aren't a threat to others. Tsugumi quickly befriends two meisters - the forgetful but loving Meme Tatane and the prudish Anya Hepburn. There's only one problem though - Tsugumi needs to pick a meister partner and she can only pick one of them!

Meme, Tsugumi and Anya
Threesome?

As the three friends enjoy life in Death City, little do they know that there is a dark plot taking place behind the scenes. The evil scorpion witch Shaula is planning her attack on Death City, and soon the three NOT! students find themselves not only testing their abilities in proper combat, but also their loyalties and soul resonance with each other.

Anyone looking for an action-packed show like the original Soul Eater is going to be sorely disappointed watching Not!, because just like the title suggests they are by no means the same sort of show. The setting is certainly the same, but Not! deals with a much smaller cast of characters on a (mostly) smaller scale, swapping up the action and adventure for a supernatural slice-of-life comedy. Tsugumi and her friends' abilities actually play very little part in the story, as the show pays more attention to their relationships with each other and the hijinks they get up to living in Death City. It's cute, fluffy and sprinkles in plenty of yuri moments. As anyone who's watched this sort of show before will know, it isn't the kind where you should expect huge plot progression - it's the kind where episodes are mostly standalone and offer a more light hearted look at things.

Shaula, sister of Medusa and Arachne from the original series
Wouldn't be Soul Eater without a witch

And this would be fine, if Not! didn't have such a soul crushingly boring way of going about it. The characters are all incredibly cliche and predictable, the episodes slow and meandering and the endgame a complete reversal of the tone most of the show was trying to achieve. The arrival of Shaula and a proper Soul Eater style action plot just up the ante and make the show more exciting, but it comes and goes so fast that it fails to leave any sort of lasting impression. It also doesn't cover anywhere near enough clarification on the NOT classes, with them coming across as more of a remedial version of EAT rather than a separate thing with (apparently) very different intentions.

Naturally Maka and Soul are present
The expected cameos

Of course being a prequel/spin-off, one of the biggest draws of the show for fans is going to be the cameos made by the original Soul Eater cast. This is one of the aspects the series handles best, making the presence of characters such as Maka and Soul well known but at the same time keeping them away from dominating the main plot. Their interactions are important, but kept more on an inspirational level than anything else. Seeing Maka, Black Star and Death the Kid walking around also helps preserve the world building Soul Eater achieved, and their involvement in the show's climax is just enough to stop you wondering where the hell all these characters are when the major stuff is going down.

But Not!'s real strength in the returning cast isn't in the amount of cameos it can throw in, it's how it fills in some of the blanks and gives a voice to the more forgettable characters of the original show. Soul Eater Not! lets you REALLY see what Liz and Patty were like before they met Death the Kid (although it's disappointing that we don't see Patty's personality change from hardened Brooklyn thug to hyperactive child first-hand). It lets you see what Sid was like BEFORE he became a zombie and was obsessed with the man he once was. But most importantly it fleshes out characters like Kim and Jacqueline, who goes from sitting around in the background to becoming a fully-fledged supporting characters. Even if the story and tone of Soul Eater Not! prove not to be your cup of tea, its attempts at expanding the world of Soul Eater in a mere 12 episodes simply can't be faulted.

Time for Jacqueline and Kim to become actual characters!
And the not-so expected ones

Soul Eater was a show that started off brilliantly and quickly spiralled down, but Soul Eater Not! is more of a show that's all over the place. After a strong opening, it quickly progresses into a slow midsection before culmination in a thrilling but short-lived finale. Lacking the charm and intrigue of the original is perhaps both a blessing and curse, because while it makes the show far more forgettable it also doesn't ever set itself up for the same level of disappointed the original show had. Oh well, if the success of Not! ever leads to a Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood style remake of Soul Eater then maybe this will have all been worth it.

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