Beginner's Guide: Soul Eater

Shonen isn’t normally my cup of tea. I have nothing against the genre, one of my favourite shows is Shonen, but collectively I find it to be the same old dance: hundreds of episodes that could easily be condensed into 50 or so if it weren’t for pointless filler arcs and episodes where nothing happens. It’s irritating, but it’s commonplace because a lot of those shows begin TV syndication before their manga is finished. But that’s something I’ve covered more extensively in a past article.

Anyway, every now and then an exception comes up that grabs me. Fullmetal Alchemist is definitely one of them, but there’s another one, 2008’s Soul Eater, that doesn’t get as much coverage despite being good on its own merits. It’s not quite the aforementioned, (let’s face it, that was never going to happen,) but it’s worth noting as an entry-level Shonen show for newbies.

The story of Soul Eater can be split into two components: overarching narrative, and half-point narrative. The overarching narrative is about a Halloween-themed, Hogwarts-esque school, or “Death’s Meisters and Weapons Academy” (DWMA for short,) and the adventures of 7 of its demon-fighting students: Maka Albarn, Soul Evans, Black Star, Tsubaki Nakatsukasa, Death the Kid and the Thompson sisters Liz and Patty. The half-point narratives, on the other hand, are different depending on which half of the show you’re watching. The first is about stopping an evil witch named Medusa Gorgon from taking over the world, while the second is about trying to stop a monster that Medusa unleashed from taking over the world. Either way, it’s simple enough to make the 51-episodes worth the watch.

Getting this out of the way, the soundtrack, unfortunately, is hit-or-miss. It’s not terrible, but even with the constant use of jazz and heavy metal there’s little that stands out. The two openings and four endings, however, are the exact opposite. Depending on what your preferences are, you’ll be left satisfied. Still, it’s disappointing that not much in the way of music resonates.

Fortunately, the dub fares better. It’s FUNimation Entertainment, after all, meaning it’s top-notch, with Laura Bailey and Micah Solusod standing out as Maka and Soul. Unfortunately, the dub’s not the right fit. FUNimation is notorious for “normalized” voices, and while there’s good acting all-around, Soul Eater’s a show that’d have worked best with a more cartoony dub. I wish this would’ve been done in a Californian studio like Bang Zoom! or the now-defunct Geneon Entertainment, as they do that quite well, not FUNimation. In other words, Eureka Seven should’ve gone to FUNimation and this show to whomever dubbed the aforementioned, not the reverse.

The best way of explaining Soul Eater is “Harry Potter-meets-Tim Burton”. So much of the show, right down its premise, makes sense if you think of its that way. Even its art-style, which is heavily cartoony, follows that hybrid, being so weird and artsy that only someone as quirky as Burton after reading JK Rowling’s books could’ve come up with it. That, or Atsushi Ōkubo.

This is seen through the way it characterizes its world and inhabitants. You have the “Hermione Granger” (Maka,) “Ron Weasley” (Black Star) and “Harry Potter” (Death the Kid) characters as your leads, but then you have their companions to banter with in ways that’d make sense in a “Burton-ized” world; for example, Maka’s perfectionism and high grades are offset by Soul’s detachment and hipster nature. The two bicker so frequently you’d almost think they were dating, a fact made better by them living together. Meanwhile, Black Star and Tsubaki is throwing opposite extremes into the same room, while Death the Kid and Patty and Liz make for some of the weirdest humour in Shonen. There are other parallels with side characters, but these three combinations provide some of the best drama and humour in the show.

That’s another feature that makes Soul Eater stand out: it’s not afraid to be goofy. There are so many dumb, over-the-top moments, either visually or dialogue-wise, that you’d almost classify it as a comedy if it weren’t for the heavy dramatic moments. Whether it’s the sex innuendos (more of that in a bit,) the one-liners or the frequent Manga Iconography (which, surprisingly, fits,) there’s a lot that offsets the darker parts. It’s a tough balance, but the show does it. Also, given the norms of Shonen, it’s bounds better than your standard fare.

Speaking of which, those sexual innuendos. Boy, are there a lot of them! Between Blair’s physique, Medusa’s bare feet, Maka’s horny father and the “boob-off” (I’m not kidding) near the end of the first-half, it’s clear that either Ōkubo, Studio BONES’s animators, or both, are perverts. It’s never outright pornographic, although fan-art on Google would argue contrary, but it’s enough to be disconcerting to younger viewers. Then again, this show isn’t meant for kids.

The big downer for many people is the show’s final stretch. It doesn’t bother me too much, but the complaint is that Soul Eater’s final episodes are where quality writing goes awry in favour of nonsense. Between the loose plot threads, poor attempts at character development and an anti-climactic finale, it’s obvious something went wrong even if it doesn’t bother me personally. Then again, there are three, extremely-pointless Excalibur episodes in the show that are far worse. If you can sit through that, you can probably sit through the finale.

What makes Soul Eater worth watching, even outside of Halloween? Save for the goofiness and Harry Potter-esque comparisons, I think it boils down to one element: it’s a complete package. Where as most Shonen shows drag on for hundreds of episodes, Soul Eater makes do with 51. This allows for a lot of excess fat to be trimmed, giving you a much meatier package. For anyone up to that, even with the wonky finale, I’d recommend giving it a go.

Also, it’s the source of one of the greatest lines in Shonen history.

Sorry for the subtitles, I couldn’t find this in English. (Courtesy of YouTube user XDead Account!X.)

So yeah, this is definitely worthwhile for beginners. Happy Halloween to all of you, and try to not to scare too many people! (Or is that the point?)


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