Soul Eater at a glance reminds me largely of Bleach meets Naruto despite the fact I’ve never watched any of Naruto, so I can’t make a fair comparison. However, between the music, visual style, and characters, there was something here that drew me towards the series and kept me with it up until the last few episodes.
Soul Eater tells the story of Weapon Meisters, humans who wield weapons which can transform from human to weapon form on command and allow the wielder to use them in combat. Part of a academy called “Shinigami Buki Shokunin Senmon Gakkō” or “Shibusen” for short (in the Funimation dub, it’s referred to as “Death Meister Weapon Academy” or “DMWA” for short) run by Shinigami (Eng: Death) himself, surrounded by the town also called “Death City”, these students train weapons by hunting and consuming the souls of monsters, many of whom were formally human and corrupted themselves by seeking the forbidden powers offered by consuming human souls. If you consumed enough of them, you would morph into a demon known as a “kishin”. In order to prevent this, each Meister and Weapon pair aim to consume 99 Near-Kishin souls and 1 Witch soul, which will turn the weapon into a Deathscythe, a weapon powerful enough to be used by Shinigami himself.
Maka and Soul Eater are the story’s main protagonists, and in the first episode, have tracked down and obtained the 99th soul needed, with all that remains is the soul of a Witch. Unfortunately, the witch they found and beat, Blair the Cat, was not a witch after all, and Academy rules state that if you mess up the capture of a witch soul, you’re 99 souls are forfeit and you have to start all over again. The next few episodes introduce the other main characters to the series, Black Star, an egotistical fast-paced ninja and his level-headed but naive weapon Tsubaki, Death the Kid, Shingami’s son who is strong, but is neurotic and self-conscious, along with his dual-weapons Liz and Patty. Alongside we also meet Spirit, Maka’s father and one of the first Deathscythe’s made, his former meister and eccentric teacher Franken Stein, Medusa the Witch, and her child, Chrona, who is fused with a demon weapon and forced to carry out experiments for Medusa.
The first quarter of the series focuses mostly on character introduction and dynamics, but doesn’t spare you some action and strife as internal and external battles are wrought. From the beginning you notice that each meister and weapon team have their own differences with each other, as well as with fellow team members. Black Star thinks he is the best at everything and it pisses Maka off to no end, where Maka is the most intelligent of the group and that makes the others jealous as well. Death the Kid is probably the strongest of them, but succumbs to his own internal OCD over how symmetrical things have to be. Later on, when Medusa and Chrona step on stage, the shit hits the fan as you realize why Death City was created and what Shinigami’s role has been all along. This major conflict serves to bring all of the meisters together to work towards beating Medusa and saving the city, only to learn that they will need a lot more power and skill to win against tough opponents.
I think one of the best aspects of this series is how they melded that traditional shounen-style story with non-traditional characters. Typically stories like this involve males, and like Dragonball Z or Bleach, it always follows a predictable pattern of MC obtains power, MC beats mid-boss, MC loses to big-boss, MC reflects and goes again, MC POWERS THE FUCK UP and beats big-boss, MC learns that new and bigger boss looms around the corner, and the cycle repeats. Soul Eater does use this formula somewhat, but it modifies it in ways that make it still interesting to watch. The fact that Maka and Soul were already close to their goal in the first episode only to slip and fall, shows they weren’t God Mode Perfect from the beginning, and were capable of losing. Their personal differences were highlighted throughout the series, and resolved close to the end. Black Star, the character you come to either love or hate, becomes the character you respect by the end for his decisions, and Death the Kid is comic relief at times, but proves to be the deal-breaker throughout much of the series.
Even the sub-main and minor characters contribute to the story. Stein is one of the best and badass secondaries in the series, even Spirit redeems himself on two occasions. Other students that get expanded roles like Ox and Kilik contribute to the feel of the story, and the other Deathscythes that return for the final battle also play critical roles.
But it’s not as if the series is flawless. There were things that bothered me, mostly the departure from the manga in the last quarter of the series. I’ve yet to read it, but many developments, including some involving Justin Law’s character and the final battle with the Kishin, unfolded rather messy in the series. COURAGE PUNCH is the joke used often with the end of Soul Eater, and without spoiling the ending for anyone, it seems like a Fullmetal Alchemist way of ending the series, cheaply, without putting a better fight. Some people argue that it works well given the buildup to the final moment, and I can somewhat agree, but during its initial airing, when I saw it, I felt like there should have been more to the fight, something that truly highlighted Maka and Soul’s characters and abilities. In the manga I heard Soul gets turned into a Deathscythe in the end, no such for the anime. Elsewhere, the filler episodes involving Excalibur were pretty lame, and I felt they were doing them to build him up for a purpose in the end, but nothing of the sort happened. Also, Chrona was badly underutilized throughout much of the series, especially after the first half. I realize he/she was a weak character with emotional problems, but even his/her redeeming scenes in the last half couldn’t make up for the fact that more could have been done. Also, honestly, pick a damn gender for Chrona too. Most of us thought Chrono was a female in the initial airing and Funimation stuck with male for the English dub. Even the series itself can’t figure out what gender Chrona is. Check under the hood then, seriously.
As for the Funimation dub, when it comes to dubs, I honestly think they are unnecessary. The thing about film and television is you have the ability to preserve the original audio and simply subtitle below. Sure it means you have to read, but a lot is lost in translation, even good translation, and the voices are just not the same. Despite that, I gave the Funimation dub a good watch on Netflix for the first 20 episodes and found that while some of the voices matched or were tolerable, such as Maka, Soul, and Stein, others were completely off the mark or terrible, especially Black Star, Tsubaki, and Death the Kid. Black Star is a guy, yes he is a “little” kid and acts like “a little kid” but he still comes across as largely a guy in the Japanese, even though we know Japanese female VA’s voice boys voices often. Honestly, I know the American anime market is tough these days, folks like me certainly don’t help, but if you are going to continue this silly practice of dubbing your incoming licenses (I’d think you’d save money by subtitling and going to Netflix or some shit honestly) then cast some VA’s that fit the characters. Put some effort into it. We have a pretty lackluster VA market I know, but somehow I think one of the main reasons anime can’t get into more common channels like broadcast television is because no attempt is made to really put titles out there that people want to watch, that are well done. There are a lot of different genres and sorts of anime, even stuffy types who scoff at anime might find something like Outlaw Star entertaining if they enjoy traditional science-fiction. Plus since Harry Potter, more people are getting into Supernatural, Horror, and Fantasy genres, a lot of good titles there. Get something, get a good cast that largely matches the characters, and market it towards these audiences. Stop marketing only for weeaboos, they don’t know what’s good anyway. It worked for Star Trek, and that was considered untouchable by normalfags for years.
Overall, it’s an excellent series and worth your watch however you slice it. As I said in the beginning, it has a unique art style that keeps it interesting, the music is excellent, especially “So Scandalous” and “Soul Crazy” along with the first OP by TM Revolution and second OP by Tomoko Kawase (credited Tommy heavenly) who also did an OP for Gundam 00 with The Brilliant Green. It’s main genre throughout is Supernatural and Action/Adventure, but it also branches out into Comedy, Slice-of-Life and School Life, Drama, and even a little Romance.
If you like the visual style, I’d also recommend King of Bandit Jing, it reminded me largely of that series, especially the Sun and Moon.
Title: Soul Eater
Sub Group I Watched: Don’t remember the groups that did during the initial release, but for my second run, some of the Funimation dub via Netflix, and the rest by SG Batch after the dub made my ears bleed.
Rating (1-10): 8
Favorite Meister: Maka or Stein
Favorite Weapon: Tsubaki
Least Favorite Meister: Black Star
Least Favorite Weapon: Excalibur
Favorite Meister/Weapon Team: Tie, Maka/Soul and Stein/Spirit
Obligatory Troll: Excalibur
Favorite Tagline: “I don’t know how to deal with [x]” -Chrona