Anime Review: Soul Eater (Part 1)

Set in the world of the “Death Weapon Meister Academy,” Soul Eater tells the story of students who partner with weapons in order to battle demons and monsters. The weapons are normally human, but they transform into swords, pistols, and various other inanimate objects in order to do battle. Their goal is to collect the souls of 99 evil humans and the soul of a witch in order to create the ultimate weapon for their head master, the Grim Reaper himself, Death.

The series centers around three pairs of student “meisters” and their humanoid weapons. Our main heroine is the spunky Maka Albarn with her cool-as-a-cucumber scythe, Soul Eater. They are joined by their classmate, the self-centered and egotistical Black Star, and his chain scythe weapon, the sweet and motherly Tsubaki. And finally, the Grim Reaper’s own son, the comically OCD Death the Kid, eventually joins the team with his twin pistols, Liz and Patty.

There has been a lot of hype about this anime series from the anime community since it debuted two years ago. I have seen a huge number of Soul Eater cosplay at anime conventions, so I feel like I was already familiar with a lot of the characters even without ever watching a single episode. And at last year’s New York Anime Festival, both FUNimation and Yen Press teamed up to make a major push for the series to become the main event of the convention that weekend.

But like all very popular mainstream anime series, I was very skeptical as to just how amazing this series could possibly be. So I popped in these first 13 episodes preparing myself to be very disappointed.

So did I find Soul Eater to live up to all the hype?

Oh, hell yeah, I did!

In fact, I loved every minute of this kick ass anime series.

The first thing you will notice about this series is its very unconventional and extravagant style and attitude. To call it “gothic” would be misleading, it is more like a cartoony vision of all things Halloween. The setting appears to be in a stoney London back alley inhabited by monsters, witches, and the occasional black cat. There is either an ominous grinning sun snickering in the sky during the day, or an equally disturbing crescent moon in the night with blood dripping from his mouth. All of these spooky images are rendered with vibrant colors and many contrasting angles to provide plenty of interesting eye candy for the viewer.

Along with that art style, you also have a story that seems to draw inspiration from the most random and obscure reaches of Western civilization. One of the first villains the kids encounter is a cartoony caricature of mobster Al Capone. There is the stitched up professor Dr. Franken Stein who sports a huge screw going through his brain. And of course, there is the twin pistol packing gothic cowboy who goes by the name of Death the Kid. Figuring out all the literary and historical references really adds to the fun of this story.

Another area where Soul Eater excels at is in its action sequences. While most shonen series tend to skimp out on the battles with many close up shots and still frames, Soul Eater wonderfully renders each fight with vivid details on every swing, punch, and strike that occurs. The choreography of the meisters utilizing their weapons further adds to the excitement, almost guaranteeing to keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time.

It is really hard to figure out where the series needs some improvement, but if I had to nitpick at it, I would have to say that Soul Eater is kind of lacking in the lulz. Now that is not to say that it doesn’t try to be funny, in fact, it frequently tries to be funny. It is just that all of the jokes tend to completely fall flat on their face. The fast-flying bits rely way too much on the tsukkomi-boké formula between all of the characters, which very rarely translates well into American humor. Though there is one hilarious episode involving the legendary sword Excalibur that won me over because of the pure ridiculousness of it all, but sadly, that humor did not continue past that one episode.

But where the series lacks in humor, it surprisingly makes up for in fan service. All of the female characters sport a cute and sexy look about them that is enhanced by their unique costumes. Maka pulls off the pigtailed Catholic schoolgirl, Tsubaki exposes a lot of cleavage in her female ninja outfit, and the twins do sexy cowgirl with tight blue jeans and bare midriff tank tops. And of course, there are plenty of moments of semi-nudity with these female characters, rendered with the same level of high quality art and detail that I talked about earlier in this review.

And then there’s the amazing voice acting. Switching back and forth between both audio tracks, you notice just how much the English dub captures the essence of the original Japanese audio. When I first heard Micah Solusod’s English voice for Soul, I thought, “there’s no way that this short lead character sounds that masculine in the Japanese version.”

But sure enough, when I flipped to the Japanese track, he did sound that masculine! In fact, all the English characters match their Japanese counterparts perfectly, yet the dub still manages to feel totally natural and fluid. FUNimation pulled out all the stops with this series, and it would be hard for even the most hardcore sub fan to justify hating on this dub.

When it comes down to it, I really believe that you can place Soul Eater on the list of “Great Gateway Anime Series” alongside such staples as Sailor Moon, Pokémon, and Dragon Ball Z. You know, the kind of series you remember watching on TV when you were first introduced to the wonderful world of anime. Soul Eater is the kind of cartoony comfort that calls for a big bowl of cereal on a Saturday morning.

* * * * *

The Good: Wickedly awesome style and attitude, finely animated action sequences with exciting choreography, exceptional voice acting from both Japanese and English cast, and some damn sexy fan service.

The Bad: Practically all of the humor falls flat.

Final Verdict: Soul Eater is the embodiment of all the kick ass action series you remember from the time when you first got into anime. It doesn’t get more fun than this. Watch it!

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment.

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