Sunday, January 23, 2011

Anime Review: Soul Eater

 Another anime?  [Groan] Okay, let’s do this.  Soul Eater is based on the manga of the same name by Atsushi Okubo.  Studio Bones adapted it into a 51 episode anime starting in 2008.  Bones is famous for such anime as Eureka 7, Wolf’s Rain, Darker Than Back (Which I’m currently watching) and the mega popular Fullmetal Alchemist (Both the original and the new one “Brotherhood”).  So yeah, these guys have a pretty good track record of popular cartoons.  Those guys at FUNimation Entertainment brought it to the US just last year (2010), though their trailer for the show is god awful and they should feel bad about how misleading it is.   Anyway Soul Eater is basically what happens when you mix Naruto and Harry Potter, set it in Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas, remove any excess logic you might find in the ingredients and then set the blender to “Action Comedy”.   Now that may sound really good to you and if it does God bless you.  For the rest of us this will likely sound like a train wreck of overdone ideas waiting to happen.
By the way if I’m reading this correctly it looks like it took me over three months to finish watching this show.  I had to start and stop a few times sometimes going weeks without watching it.  Part of this is because I was distracted by other shows (Samurai 7 especially).   Most of this was because it was such a goddamn long show.  It’s about twice as many episodes as the longest show I previously reviwed on this blog.  Do you have any idea how depressing it is to try to power through thirteen episodes of anime only to realize you’re only about a quarter of the way through it?
Ahem.  Moving on.
Nom nom nom
Years ago Shimigami/Lord Death (Depending on if which language you’re watching this in) created an academy for weapon meisters and their demon weapon partners (Humans who can take the form of weapons.  Why or how?  Hell if I know) hone their skills in order to battle the forces of evil that populate the world.  Enter: Maka Albarn, a smart, cheerful, but surprisingly intense and determined meister student whose goal is to turn her partner Soul Eater into one of Lord Death’s personal death scythe weapons.  To do this Soul must absorb 99 evil human souls and one soul of a witch, who are the main enemies of their school.
Despite the fact that the show itself looks like a giant bag a of thrown together B.S. meant to cash in on several different franchises Soul Eater is actually one of the best anime I’ve seen since I started this experiment last April.  In fact for almost the entire first half of this show I was pretty sure that, short of any unforeseen disasters, I would be awarding it my second Perfect Panda Score for an anime.  Well….unforeseen disasters did indeed strike.  The show fell for below the expectations I had for it in the beginning and fails to be on the same level as Gurren Lagann.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Six seconds before Maka takes your soul
All things considered this is a really fun anime.  The world presented is wacky but action packed and is extremely bright and colorful.   It follows a similar formula that Gurren Lagann did, mixing slapstick comedy and action while throwing out logic in favor of BECAUSE IT’S COOL.  I really dug the fight scenes for the most part, although I noticed some minor stock footage issues here and there.  Plus the main charcter, despite her partner being the title character, is clearly Maka, a young girl.  How awesome is it that a female is the protagonist of what is basically a shonen anime (Though I will likely get into this subject later, for those of you who don’t know “shonen” is a style of manga and anime that refers to its demographic, “young boys”, rather than subject matter.  I’m not sure why but many of these show send up targeting much older viewers in America than originally intended).   Sure she may be a little insecure for my usual taste and her skirt may be alarming short for such a young girl but at the end of the day she is a strong and determined female lead character and does not play second fiddle to her male co-stars.  That’s really important.  Also one of the main villains, Medusa, may be one of my favorite anime villains ever (I’m still deciding).  She’s just so sickeningly evil. She’s basally the magical version of a mad scientist and she seems convinced that the whole world is part of her experiment.  Her many acts of sadism over the course of show are all completely unforgivable and she herself is an unrepentant and irredeemable monster.  I can’t think of many villains that I wanted to be horribly murdered for her crimes as much as her.
I also liked the character designs.  Though not everyone is a winner the main cast and the villains all have (Mostly) unique looks that are visually striking and sometimes hilarious.  Though the soundtrack kind of escapes my memory I really liked the various opening and ending themes to varying degrees (Except the second ending.  Yuck) but I’m especially fond of the first ending “I Wanna Be” by Stance Punks.  Unfortunately I was unable to watch the subtitled Japanese version of the show and could only watch the English dub…but what a dub it was!  It’s one of the best one I’ve ever heard and it’s one of those great examples of how much better licensers have become about recording really good performances.  All in all there’s just a lot to like about this show.
There’s also a lot to dislike about this series.
First of all artwork itself is not good.  It’s not as bad as Gurren Lagann was (The reason I keep bringing that show up is because Soul Eater reminds me a lot of it) but it still pretty noticeably subpar.  This is especially terrible on episodes where then animation budget wasn’t in full effect and man did it hurt my eyes.  In addition it suffers from a similar problem as Dojin Work in that background characters are either just colorless forms or sometimes grey blobs.  If you aren’t a named character you don’t even warrant a color scheme; that’s pretty sad.  The result is that the world doesn’t seem very populated.  The weird thing is that this doesn’t happen all the time, usually just at the academy.  I’d think if the creators were going to have actual background models in any point in the series it would be the most recurring location, but really what do I know?  Also some of the weird artistic choices don’t work well. The main example is that the damn moon and the sun are anthropomorphic monsters with horrifying quasi-human faces.  This is never addressed in the show.  And they freak me the hell out.
Characters are a problem too, at least partly.  On the one hand I like most of the main cast on the surface.  In addition to Maka and Soul there are two other teams that make up the main cast; BlackStar, a character who is so similar to Uzumaki Naruto that I can only assume he’s supposed to be an over the top parody, and his partner Tsubaki, a young woman who has multiple weapon forms, as well as Death the Kid, Lord Death’s son who suffers from an extreme OCPD problem when it comes to symmetry, and his dual pistols Liz and Patty (The Thompson Sisters), former hooligans whom Kid wields upside down for some stupid ass reason.   They each have their own distinct, memorable and sometimes outrageous personalities which makes much of the series extremely fun to watch (Such as BlackStar’s constant declaration of being a “Big Man” and “Surpassing God”).  On the surface they mostly fine.  Unfortunately we seem to barely go beneath the surface with most of them.  Even Maka doesn’t seem to have much reasoning behind her goals in the anime aside from her daddy issues.  With a few exceptions the main characters are one joke archetypes greatly expanded upon, which isn’t the same as being fully fleshed out characters.   Now BlackStar surprisingly got a lot of time devoted to explaining who he is and what happened in his past to make him such a loud mouthed idiot but others like Kid and Soul don’t get the same treatment.  Hell in researching for this review I found out that Soul actually has a pretty interesting back story that NEVER gets mentioned in the anime.  Nor do we even find out the details in how Maka and Soul became partners in the first place.  All other side characters and antagonist (Aside from the “Final Boss”, Crona and Medusa, kind of) don’t matter and aren’t very interesting due to lack of development.
Guns aren't held that way, you meat head
In fact the real problem is that the show was made before the manga was finished (Which it still isn’t as of January 2011) and thus when the anime caught up with its source material around episode 30 or so the writers started making up their own story that turned out to be different from the comic.  Many, many anime have this sort of thing happen to them though Fullmetal Alchemist is the closet example I can think of (Being around the same episode count and being done by the same studio), and a lot of people seem to believe that that show was pretty good so maybe it’s not universally a bad thing.  In this case it means that characters, especially secondary characters, are very shallow and what would seem like key story points aren’t explored very deeply.  For example why the world is populated by humans who turn into weapons is not explained very well and I had to look it up on the internet to find a (Slightly) more satisfying explanation.  I have also learned that a bunch of characters in the original manga had tons of character defining traits and actions that just don’t make an appearance in the show.  I feel like I’m watching the "Diet Coke version" of Soul Eater.
What’s worse is that the ending of this show sucks.  I don’t want to give too bad a spoiler but long story short the final boss of the show is defeated by a combination of being “attacked” by a strong emotional outburst and being sternly talked to.  What the hell is this?  Sailor Moon?  Action based shows need action based climaxes!
Hey, a black dude!  I bet he's really important to the story!
(No.  No he is not)
To put it another way I really, really liked this show up until about episode 30 which coincidentally is where the new material starts to begin.  In the end I liked he first half because it was lighthearted yet ridiculous with its comedy-action style but things slow down later and also get a bit more angst fueled and serious.  Now maybe the manga did as well; I don’t know, I haven’t read it.  But I do know that, as its own piece of work, it was a tremendous disappointment that a show stated out so strong was unable to keep that pace up.  Had it done so it would have likely been one of my favorite anime of all time.  As it is it’s simply a good anime.  And make no mistake, this is good stuff.  Themes about friendship, likeable characters (Even Death the Kid who somehow manages NOT to be the spoiled kid archetype), fun fight scenes and lots of laughs; all ingredients for Beta Bait.  I have probably been a little hard on this show but that’s mainly because it’s not as good as I’d like it to be.  That’ doesn’t mean it’s not a very worthy series to add to your collection.  At the end of the day this is one of the better anime I’ve looked at this past year and I’m eagerly anticipating the next time I get around to watching it again.  I wrote a lot about this show but I feel like I barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer.  I highly recommend checking it out for yourself.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Excalibur.  Well I’m running out of time so perhaps this video will explain things in lieu of me having to type even more.
Pictured: The Holy Sword
Not Pictured: His ability to shut the hell up

I give Soul Eater 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5.

-Strong Female Lead and fun main characters
-Unique character designs
-Great English Dub
-Good Action
-Animation has several problems
-Characters are actually a bit flat, especially supporting ones
-Possesses a rate unsatisfying conclusion
-The whole show doesn’t feel very in-depth

Unless I’m wrong this makes the ninth new (Well, new to me) anime I’ve watched and reviewed in under a year.  Am I an otaku yet?   In any event expect the next anime review, unless my plans change which they easily could do, to be a much larger entry as I review not one but two shows about baseball.  This is going to suck.

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