This is the second most undermined series I know of, right after Brigadoon Marin to Melan. Practically everybody I know of consider it ugly and weird to the point they hate it. Well, I personally liked it a lot.
Soul Taker is in effect a very dark and mysterious approach to superheroes, blending a futuristic dystopia with mystery, religion, aliens and conspiracies, all in just a half season show. It is also a somewhat tribute to Devilman and Gatchaman because of the hero’s outfit but it takes the premise far further by not making it easy to follow. It overdoes it unfortunately as the first episode is made to be as confusing as possible, with very trippy colors and animation and with the plot making no sense. It is all supposed to reflect the mentality of the protagonis, as he wakes up after being seemingly murdered by his mother and has no idea of what is happening to the world. He suddenly has superpowers, his sister is missing, and everybody is out to kill him, while the world is on the brink of destruction by a virus as well as the first alien encounter. Bizarre? Wait, it becomes more later on.
From the second episode and onwards, the animation becomes a bit more easy to understand, although it still looks weird, as the colors remain too antithetic or pitch black, and the backgrounds are static pictures with religious motives to the most part, scrolling through the screen. Many claim that this is cheap, and yet most of the same people worship it when SHAFT is doing the exact same thing. Why? Because SHAFT has moe girls that make you think it’s better than it really is. Hypocrites! And I mention that studio in specific, because it so happens that the director of this series is none other than Shimbo Akiyuki, the man who practically made SHAFT the colossus it is today. This is one of his works before he moves there.
Anyways, even Soul Taker has some of that; a cute little nurse witch named Komugi. She feels totally out of place with her cheery personality and bright colored outfits, yet at the same time she is part of the story. You could see her as the mascot of the series or even as pedo-bait; whatever, I liked her seemingly useless role for most of the show and then how she was actually important in some way. I also liked the very unorthodox visuals; which although they do seem cheap and crude, they also give the show a very uncommon style that makes it stand out from the bulk of anime.
Speaking of useless, the first half of the show will indeed feel like that, as the hero is roaming around the world looking for his sister and fighting random mutants and other freaks of nature. It is very easy for the average viewer to be bored or confused enough with it because the battles aren’t made to be cool and the bits of the mystery provided are still confusing as hell. It is only during the second half, where revelations come one after the other and you are constantly going WTF with what is going on. I must say that I was amazed how they made it look so complicating without feeling like it has significant plot holes. They also threw in allusions to religion, science, philosophy, and made the whole thing look far more interesting.
Speaking of interesting, the main music theme is simply amazing. I must have heard it in repeat at least two hundred times so far; it is one of the most powerful metal pieces I have ever encountered in anime. As for the rest of the sounds, the sound effects are average and the characters sound cryptic and rather monotonic, fitting the mood of the story. And as expected, Komugi has a naive high pitched voice but it is one of the few cases I didn’t find that irritating. She is clearly much smarter than she looks; she just plays it dumb.
All the characters besides Komugi will probably feel like stock material for most viewers. In reality they are given more immersion and development than in most series but the weird presentation of the series will probably not allow their charisma to shine. The atmosphere of the setting and the mystery behind the story end up being more imposing than the characters interacting in them; a thing not so good when you are supposed to care about the characters.
If you look the series as a whole it looks much better than when you try to see it as separate elements. The first half is indeed rather uneventful and a slow build up towards a confusing second half, where the action doesn’t really help you keep looking. The characters do look great in the end, and so does the story, which indeed seems to be twice as long as it needed to be but still excused somewhat as means to help you familiarize with the world. It takes effort but it can be rewarding.
So far all I can say is, "what the hell?"? Is this perhaps, David Lynch's drug induced attempt at anime and that is why it makes absolutely no sense? The anime/art style is pretty poor and only adds to the intense confusion. I vaguely get that the main character was stabbed but even that is not exactly perfectly clear, at least not at first, and I had to replay it a few times to get that he was actually stabbed. From the get go, nothing makes sense nor is anything explained in a way a story is supposed to do so. If I had to guess, I would say he is dead and this is some after life like world or he is dreaming but that is extremely uncertain. He quickly encounters a strange girl he seems to somehow know and later a strange doctor that tries to kill him for some unknown reason. During that fight, suddenly some strange random character intervenes out of nowhere. The whole set up of it sucks so bad it redefines the term to a totally new low. There is no forshadowing whatsoever so far and no background or set up for the story so right away any viewer watching this mess will be totally lost and never find their footing given how unforgiving the anime is so far in laying any proper groundwork, character building, or forshadowing of anything to follow. Even my wackiest dreams have more story principles laying foundation than this random halluncinatory trip.
I am not a fan.
I was told I would love this anime. I was told this would be a great anime for me as I like my anime to be more realisitc and real. I hate the chibi and fan service stuff so I was told this would be up my alley.
Boy they were mistaken. I would suggest any one who suffers from seizure's - don't consider watching this. The whole anime was all colored and spinny. I got extremely dizzy just watching it. The plot was hard to follow because every three seconds you got a new scene with new random colors blaring at you. You were more pulled into the art (which isn't that good to start) and all the characters are solid shades of random colors.
The animation is what threw me on this. I watched it to watch it becuase I hate leaving things unfinished. But I will never watch this again. If the artists didn't mess with the background and the color scheme as much and allowed the viewer to be interested in the story and characters this could have been a really good anime. But it is hard to follow the plot and get the like and know the characters because of the distracting scenary. If flashing colors and disorganized scenes don't bother you, then you might enjoy this anime.
SoulTaker is the story of a boring piece of cardboard in the shape of a teenage boy that gains superpowers which he uses to protect a group of plot devices and find his sister. The anime tries to sell itself as a dark hero story, but the truth is it's a shounen battle anime that uses every cliche the genre has to offer. SoulTaker tries to hide how stale its story is by using it's highly stylized art style and pointless symbolism to make itself look deeper and more interesting, but this doesn't make up for the fact that the story is full of holes or that the art style can make the anime hard to follow at times. SoulTaker is an absolute mess of an anime and one that wastes its potential.
The anime can be roughly divided into three parts; the initial episodes which present the mysteries of the anime, the middle section which are mostly filler episodes that add nothing to the story and then the last part is the resolution of the anime where the mysteries are solved. The first part of the anime isn't so bad, it's nothing special but it does a good job of making the viewer want to find out what is going on. It's the second and third acts where the wheels fly off this anime. The third act is so bad that it almost makes the viewer wish they'd never wanted to know the answers because they just lead to plot holes and highlight all the inconsistencies of the story while making all the character look like selfish assholes.
SoulTaker starts out interesting with the main character Kyousuke being stabbed by his mother, the scene is very disorienting and does a good job of translating Kyousuke's fear and confusion about what's happening to him. The first few episodes do have an air of intrigue to them as they lay out a mystery that Kyousuke must solve in order to save his sister. However, these episodes are plagued by random occurences, Characters constantly drop in with little or no introduction and then drop out just as fast after having served their purpose which often leaves one scratching their head and wondering "who the fuck was that?" Other times character will end up in unlikely places and there will be no explanation for how they got there. One time Kyousuke ends up on a space station, even though the anime had made no mention of space stations or space travel and never explaining how Kyousuke got up there. These random characters and events can make the anime quite confusing at times especially when there's a lot of action going on.
The second act of the anime is pretty much a waste of time, almost everything from episodes 6-10 don't reveal anything about the main plot and are more monster of the week style episodes. Kyousuke has to fight various enemies to protect different girls that function as plot devices to help him along the way to finding his sister and the truth. These episodes wouldn't be so bad except the action in this anime is really dull and uninspired. This might be partially due to the stylized art, but the fights lack energy and excitement. Instead, the characters posture for far too long and have boring dialogues that have very little substance or meaning. The fights here are mostly pointless with characters sacrificing themselves for no good reason, or insisting that they can teach Kyousuke something but only through a fight to the death. It's stale, it's cliche and most of all it's boring.
The third act of the anime is where the wheels really fly off. Kyousuke finally starts to get answers to the mysteries behind the origin of his superpowers as well as the whereabouts of his missing sister. This section of the anime should have been the best but it turns out to be the worst because the twists just create giant plot holes and the drama is cheesy to the point of being unbelievable. The anime never develops its characters so it's impossible to care about drama no matter how much the characters scream and cry about these so called earth shattering revelations. It really feels like the story wasn't well thought out as the twists all seem very random, like someone got a clever idea for a twist but didn't consider how it would gel with the rest of the story. Instead the anime limps it's way to a weak climax that leaves the viewer feeling nothing for what's happening on the screen.
SoulTaker does try to use a lot of symbolism and imagery to give itself the appearance of depth, but instead most of it comes off as rather silly. Watching anime the viewer will see crosses everywhere as the anime tries desperately to make Kyousuke look like a tragic figure that must sacrifice himself for his sister's sake and the greater good as later in the anime the fate of the world is at stake, but this imagery never comes together to mean anything as Kyousuke just doesn't have the personality to come across as a tragic figure, instead he is just pushed around by the plot and characters around him. There is other symbolism that tries to reinforce this idea of Kyousuke being a Jesus figure with even Da Vinci's Last Supper making an appear in one episode, but it all feels like it was put there more for style rather than having any deeper meaning, and it doesn't seem particularly relevant to the actual events in the anime.
The biggest failing of this anime was the characters. If the characters had of been developed or had interesting personalities then it would have been easy to buy into the drama and maybe even ignore some of the holes in the plot. However, the characters in this anime are completely one dimensional and boring. They don't have any personality and their interactions lack any sort of chemistry. These characters don't have conversations, instead they spit exposition at each other. These characters often seem like they are talking to themselves rather than to each other shooting off exposition just for the sake of the audience.
Kyousuke is a completely typical shounen lead, but unlike other shounen leads that might at least get a personality trait or two to differentiate them from the rest of the pack, Kyousuke has only his obsessive desire to protect. There is absolutely nothing else to this character all his dialogue is about protecting this or saving his sister. Kyousuke's weak characterization really drags this anime down. Toward the end of the series Kyousuke does change a bit but it's not character development but rather a random shift that is dictated by the plot. He's a character that's had terrible things happen to him and yet he never seems phased by any of it, instead he just gets pushed around by the plot and characters around him.
The rest of the cast isn't much better. There's Shiro and Komugi that become Kyousuke's companions and they are both completely worthless to the plot. They just follow Kyousuke around commenting on his various battles while contributing nothing. Shiro does have his own subplot but it comes to nothing and might as well not have happened. Komugi on the other hand is in the anime for no other reason that fanservice. She is a completely worthless character that acts as Kyousuke's cheerleader and occasionally spouts pointless exposition explaining what's already been shown. Quite often Komugi ruins the darker mood this anime is going for with her antics.
The antagonists of this anime aren't much better. The doctor Richard Vincent gives some convenient plot information, but delivers it in such a matter of fact way that it lacks any kind of impact. Even worse is Kirihara Yui, the leader of the organization trying to stop Kyousuke, she remains a mystery for most of the anime, but is very disappointing once her motives are revealed.
Most of the rest the cast is mostly made up of various girls that Kyousuke has to protect. These girl's are called flickers and are supposed to be the key that will help Kyousuke find his sister. These girls mostly appear for a single episode and while some actually do get a bit of characterization, others aren't explored at all. Even when they do get characterization they're usually just easy to identify archetypes. They are more objects that Kyousuke is supposed to protect rather than proper characters.
The other problem with the characters is that they never act in a reasonable manner. They always seem to be doing what the plot dictates rather than what seems natural for even their minimal personalities. It gives the anime a random feeling as characters do things or go places for little or no reason. When the characters actual do something in accord with their personality it usually makes them look selfish and unlikeable. The cast of this anime are all fixated on the past, not able to let it go, but the anime never explores this angle which could have lead to some good development for the characters.
Soultaker does have a nice memorable opening and the OST in general is decent even if it doesn't always fit with the darker tone of the anime. The animation isn't great, but it's serviceable and works with the art style. As for the art style itself, this is an early Akiyuki Shinbo anime and it has a lot of hallmarks of the style he'd bring to SHAFT. I don't really love or hate the art of this anime, I think it's just okay even if I felt some of the more stylized bits could have been toned down to make some of the action more coherent. Still, the anime does have a unique look to it even if everything else is bland and generic.
Overall this anime was a big disappointment to me. I went in looking for a horror anime or at least a real dark story, but what I got instead was a straight up shounen anime that did nothing to hide its tired cliches and couldn't even be bothered to make the characters interesting or believable. The characters have no chemistry and never feel like a group. This isn't the worst anime I watched, but it got steadily more unpleasant as it progressed so unless you want to see what Shinbo was doing in his early days I recommend avoiding this one all together.