If you mix Naruto with a fair dose of Harry Potter, the result would be Soul Eater. Soul Eater got many elements typical to a shounen, while at the same time being more of an ensemble-type of show focusing on the school life of the main characters. At its best Soul Eater is a highly entertaining and ultimately stylish show, while at its worst it feels like carbon-copy shounen without much depth or anything new to offer.
One of the most uneven aspects of Soul Eater is its story. It consists of two main arcs separated into two seasons telling the story of Maka and her friends training to become weapon masters or meisters at the Shibusen academy for weapon masters. Both arcs end up focusing on the being called “Demon God”, and how to save the world from him.
While both arcs are quite enjoyable when the plot really start to pick up its pace, the ramp up time is horrible and additional filler episodes tossed in for comedic value do not help to raise this score. I feel that if Soul Eater’s storyline had been cut down quite significantly and been more focused from the start, it would easily been one of the better shounen series I’ve seen in quite some time. This is not the case, however, and at times I felt so bored I had to skip episodes to get a feeling of “moving on”.
Another issue I had with Soul Eater’s story is that the storytelling itself had an issue deciding its tone. For being a shounen, the tone was at times remarkably dark, something I actually quite enjoyed. I after all got tricked into watching Soul Eater because I saw the AMV featuring the “This is Halloween” cover by Marilyn Manson showing off Soul Eater’s darker side and thus I was left wanting more, but was instead given the much more childish tone expected for a younger audience. Especially after having marathon-watched the Hellsing OVA recently, I couldn’t help but to think that Soul Eater could have been so much better if it had been done with an older and more mature audience in mind. Some scenes are verging to the level of mindfuck you’d think they are taken straight out of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and I personally do not think this is a bad thing. On the contrary.
Another issue with the story is that the end somehow became… quite ludicrous. This is again related to Soul Eater’s inability to stick to one tone, but when fighting the ultimate enemy and at the border of defeat, I definitely do not think changing from ultra-serious to over-the-top almost comedy does not work out. I do not want to spoil it more than that, but I will merely say that you know what I mean when you see it. Nevermind the fact that characters also are completely incinvible most of the time even when they are supposed to be badly hurt... It becomes quite annoying how a certain someone can keep shrugging off fatal damage and then move on a couple of scenes later as if he never fought and almost lost.
On the positive side, Soul Eater does pay a lot of homage to both Western and Eastern pop culture. It is indeed true that one scene is taken from Evangelion although for comedic value. Even the infamous cross explosions can be seen in a few instances! So for those who are into that kind of thing, there will be a lot of appreciative nodding towards the popular culture references to be found in Soul Eater.
Not much else to expect from Bones here, it is after all one of my favorite studios. Animation is most of the time top-notch. The blending of CGI is done well and is rarely noticeable. Another reason why I watched Soul Eater is because of its cartoonish and charming art style, and for those who like to pay attention there are some eye-candies to be found, like a certain someone’s mask appearing on explosion clouds. My only minor complaint is that characters may occasionally be drawn a bit inconsistently from certain angles. Also, the whole one-eye-glowing thing can get to you at some point when it’s overused for dramatic effect. There are also a few scenes that are reused a bit too much to my liking, like when Maka and Soul do their Soul Resonance move. I could live without seeing it that many times. I think for those who aren’t as inclined to marathon watch as I am though, this would be far less of an issue.
Not much to write here I think. I quite like the first OP, the second one not so much. I never liked any of the EDs that much. The background music does its thing most of the time but I barely notice it being there. I would say most of the part this is a bad thing as I think good background music should be heard. On the other hand, the background music used in Soul Eater doesn't do much to me either, so I guess I prefer not hearing it at all if I can. Also, I don't like how the background music is used to help create tone shifts as explained earlier in this review.
I have no real complaints with the voice acting. Most of them did a good job, for example the voice actor for the Grim Reaper who occasionally had to change both his talking style and tone. The changes were never that drastic but they were well done. Also, the one voicing Krona is sounding so similar to Shinji from NGE it’s almost a bit creepy. The fact the characters are very similar doesn’t help, and I believe the voice acting may even be inspired to be similar to Shinji’s. Yes, there are a lot of NGE references in Soul Reaper.
My only real complaint on the voice acting is that Maka screams a bit too much for my taste along with Black Star.
This brings me to the next section of this review, namely the characters. This is also Soul Eater’s weakest aspect, unfortunately. I think a big part of the problem here is that Soul Eater is built to be an ensemble-story rather than focusing on one main character. This gives off an unfocused impression, especially as Soul Eater keeps introducing protagonists but cannot get rid of them. The cast therefore keeps growing over time, but there aren’t enough episodes to properly develop them. Quite a few characters of the cast also feel redundant, for instance Excalibur or even Sid. We hear a lot about what kind of man Sid used to be, but what about the man he is now?
And let’s not get into the whole deal of Black Star’s character. While he matures a bit towards the end, he still remains the same. Whereas his character is probably found to be funny to a younger audience, I personally found him highly annoying and I wish he wouldn’t have been in Soul Eater at all. He was simply too much of a shounen stereotype. While this was of course partly played upon for comedic effect, it doesn’t make his character less annoying.
On the other end of the stick we however got characters that I enjoyed quite a bit, especially Soul and Stein, as they went through obvious problems that affected the people around them more than sulking in the corner for five seconds to realize how it wasn’t such a big deal after all. Indeed, if Soul Eater had just been a bit more mature. I wish I could solve my personal problems as quickly and easily as most of the characters did in Soul Eater, too.
My personal opinion here is that I think if Soul Eater had focused on Soul being the main character similar to how Vincent somehow became the main character of Ergo Proxy despite the fact that he wasn’t properly introduced until several episodes in, Soul Eater had been so much more interesting in my eyes. Of course I am expressing some bias here as it is obvious to me that Soul is very similar to how I am in terms of character. That alone made him very enjoyable to watch, because hey, we INTPs love other INTPs as we revel in our own idea of uniqueness, after all.
Ramblings aside, fewer characters and less flat characters had definitely received “thumbs up” from me, along with a story that focused on one or two characters rather than going down the ensemble road.
Ultimately I believe my biggest problem with Soul Eater was my hope for it to be a show it really isn’t. Not that it is not possible to not enjoy the way it is either, but it had definitely been a lot better to me if it had not been a shounen at its heart, but a much more darker and mature story. If I add the uneven pacing of the storyline on top of that where I was either bored to death (no pun intended!) or could barely wait to see what happened in the next episode, it really doesn’t help. Then, as the final cream on top of the cake there are the characters that were either highly interesting but not developed enough to tap into their true potential or as flat as your flatscreen and felt completely redundant, it is hard for me to give Soul Eater a final score above 6. It is a very strong 6, but 6 nonetheless.