Let's talk for a moment about pacing. Pacing is the rate at which a story progresses; the speed at which the plot develops can make or break any narrative effort, but appears to me to be an acute issue in anime. The deft, non-linear approach of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni keeps its viewers on the edge of their seats. Conversely, the plodding half-formed yarn of Aoi Hana withers when almost nothing happens (even by the statue-speed standards of yuri romance, that anime fails). Of all anime, shounen shows tend to embody the worst practices of uneven storytelling: Dragon Ball Z is so ponderous that the remastered Dragon Ball Kai manages with 1/3 the original's air time; Naruto, an otherwise fun and action-packed romp, stuffs its final EIGHTY episodes with filler. EIGHTY--and don't even mention Bleach. Then, comes Soul Eater. The series' tight, energetic approach stands out despite the show's heavily derivative feel. Fifty-two half-hour segments rarely yields as satisfying experience overall. Especially in this genre.
That said, Soul Eater offers little original to anime as far as its story goes. A special school devoted to training warriors? Naruto. A virtuous organization of supernatural fighters trying to prevent humans from turning into demons? D.Gray Man. And the writers stuffed the cast with tropes borrowed from well-known horror works. Mad Doctor? Check. Zombie? Check. Werewolf? Check. Witches? Double-check. In the end, the series' execution sets it apart from its copycat foundations. After a brief set of explicit introductions, the story gets on the rails to placing the its child protagonists outside their comfort zones. The powerful cast gets more in over its head with each passing episode, which helps maintain tension in the anime and adds to the believability of the villains' repeated escapes.
If the viewer stops to think about the story, things start to unravel a touch. The twists and turns of the series' second half are hardly surprising, and the simple fact that the faculty leaves the fate of the world to a group of students seems implausible at best. BUT Soul Eater's plot lacks adequate breathing room for these doubts to ruin the experience. As each entry snaps seamlessly into the one that came before, even the over-the-top climax makes perfect sense when it arrives in context. However, the breakneck pacing paints the show into a bit of a corner, and the final episode comes to an end in a manner so disappointing and abrupt that it borders on impressive. In retrospect, however, the sting of the dismal finale fades--the juddering mess only comes as a terrible shock because everything that precedes it fits so tightly together.
Soul Eater sports a stylish look ripped right out of a Tim Burton movie. The dark background palette, unnatural angles, and stark scenery set the mood perfectly for the horror themed show. But moreso than the overal art direction, the details bring the effect home. Whether it be the creepy, anthropomorphic sun and moon, the graveyard feel of Shinigami's room, or the subtly concave perspective in Soul's mind, the animators spare no opportunity to add character to every environment. Consequently, every location feels like an organic part of the anime's world. In addition, the three primary leads maintain the series' feel by embodying the three pillars of goth style: Maka in her plaid skirt, dark greatcoat and tie; Black Star decked out in zippers and steel-toed kicks; and Kid in a plain black suit. Just like in the backgrounds, little touches like the stars on Black Star's shoes, or Kid's skull bolo-tie and rings give the characters a concrete feel that seems to say "personal style choices" instead of "designed by an artist"; these considerations extend into the villains' wardrobes as well, from Free's canine facial features to Arachne's preponderance of spider symbolism to Eruka's spotted cheeks and amphibian eyes (am I strange for finding her cute?).
In the end, however, the quality of a shounen anime's visuals depends on its action sequences, and here Soul Eater delivers with mixed results. When the series wants to, it offers up kinetic action that feels fluid and engaging. However, the overly-dramatic angles cause more than a few issues with characters deforming and also results in more than a few instances of still-frame posing in each conflict. The little details again help the effort along, whether it be the lithe motion of Medusa's Vector Arrow or Black Star's Shadow Star, or the variable forms of Crona's Black Blood.
Gusto. That describes the Soul Eater audio in one word. Each episode starts with one of the two solid opening themes, and ends with one of the fantastic endings. While in this reviewer's humble opinion, Diggy Mo's "Bakusou Yume Uta" stands out as the best, the fourth song, "STRENGTH" fits the mood of the series best--its mournful strains form the ideal compliment to the darker content at the series' end. In between the OP and EDs of each episode, the hard rock soundtrack matches the gothic visuals to a "T", making use of guitars to communicate emotion in places normally reserved for pianos and strings.
Strangely enough, no one voice actor stands out above the crowd, because everyone turns in a solid performance--unusual for a shounen show. While the series' protagonists bring nothing remarkable to the table, the rouges gallery and side characters provide ample opportunities for interesting voice work. Koyasu Takehito (Excalibur), Uchida Yuuya (Franken Stein), and Koyama Rikiya (Shinigami) all bring texture and humor to the otherwise straightforward proceedings.
Since a good deal of its material appears derivative, Soul Eater goes to great lengths to set apart its characters from their source material. For every "been there, done that" entry like Mifune (samurai bodyguard--how novel!), the writers supply a quirky member like Joe Buttataki. The construction of the cast demonstrates an acute sense of self-awareness that helps to carry the whole effort. At its best, the show sinks deeply into self-parody in pursuit of originality with the horribly OCD yet undeniably cool Death the Kid, the painfully peculiar Excalibur, and the font of fan-service, Blair.
Too add some extra oomph to the series' less original characters, Soul Eater peppers its cast with interesting interactions and relationships which help add dimension to each person. From Black Star's friendly rivalry with Soul to the creepy sexual tension between Stein and Medusa, the show bristles with tiny moments of interplay that either brighten plot-related pauses in the action or ice the delicious combat cake with moments of development. Much like the stylistic enhancements in the visuals, these interpersonal moments help the actors in the anime feel like whole people and less like typical shounen protagonists.
With a good ending, Soul Eater would have jumped from "good" into "great" territory. While the show borrows heavily from other works, its execution and verve carry it off as a memorable shounen series. Unlike its brethren that tend to cut costs and pump up the episode count to maximize revenue, this anime maintains a focused agenda for two action-packed seasons, and that helps its cause. Anime like this one raise the bar for "average" by demonstrating how even a derivative effort can engage and entertain. If you're interested in seeing how fun action story with a real end and sense of urgency comes together, check this one out; You won't be disappointed.
In a bizarre fantasy world, students known as meisters are trained at the illustrious Shinigami Weapon Meister University; but the tools they wield are no ordinary weapons! Each meister is paired with a human-like being who can transform into a weapon at will; and after defeating a pre-kishin - a human whose soul has darkened - the weapon eats the soul within it. A meister's ultimate goal is to collect ninety-nine pre-kishin souls and one of a witch so that his or her partner will become an all-powerful Death Scythe. Maka and her partner Soul Eater; Assassin Black Star and his partner Demon Blade Tsubaki; and Shinigami's son Death the Kid and his partners the Demon Twin Pistol Thompson Sisters each vie for their ultimate goal, but plenty of challenges and adventures lie in their way!
These days I load up on comedy, slice-of-life, and horror shows, but I'll watch almost anything that sports a good voice cast, an interesting story, or looks particularly pretty. I tend to relate anime I review to other shows I've seen, because that's just how my mind works. Whether my warped view on a particular show totally misses the mark or you believe I've hit the nail on the head, I'd love to hear from you and welcome feedback and intelligent discussion of just how wrong I might be.