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DVD Review

DVD cover

Soul Eater
Part One


Starring (voice): Chiaki Omigawa, Kouki Uchiyama, Akeno Watanabe and Chieko Honda
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 15
Available 28 June 2010

Feisty teenager Maka Albarn is a Weapon Meister and Soul is her human weapon, capable of transforming into a razor sharp scythe. As students at the Death Weapon Meister Academy their study habits couldn’t be any more different. But in the battle against the supernatural forces of evil they’re a lethal team...

Soul Eater was adapted by Studio Bones (RahXephon, Eureka Seven, Ouran High School Host Club, Fullmetal Alchemist) from the Square Enix manga by Atsushi Okubo and released in the UK by Manga Entertainment. This first DVD release contains episodes 1-14 of 51.

Long running series adapted from successful comics are always a gamble. Mangaka (authors of manga) can be notorious for their long term narrative strategies, which is part of the appeal of the medium and the inevitable secondary gain of a title’s financial success. Adapting an ongoing comic into a finite television series therefore runs the risk of squandering its potential with filler stories (when the adaptation catches up to its source material), censored content (series often get more violent and disturbing the further they get, which jars with the adaptation’s timeslot) or diverging plots (whereby the story’s conclusion is entrusted to writers who may not even understand it). What’s more it can be difficult to research these potential pitfalls without exposing yourself to spoilers.

Soul Eater falls into this category. A cursory Google search reveals that its plot diverges from the manga at around episode thirty-five. So while stories never come with a guaranteed pay-off, this one’s place in a dubious canon of botched adaptations places it on shaky ground from the outset. The question you should be asking: “Is it worth it?” The answer, based on the first fourteen episodes, is a cautious “Yes.”

The set-up is exactly the same as you would expect for any shonen (boys) serial: a mix of high school comedy and fantasy with plenty of action sequences and colourful characters with unique abilities. The students all form partnerships; one member can transform into a weapon, the other acts as the wielder. This is an interesting device that suggests that each relationship is compensatory in some manner. Their objective is to consume the souls of 99 evil humans and one witch in order to transform their human weapons into Death Scythes, capable of being wielded by Lord Death himself (referred to as Shinigami in some translations).

The exact number of souls for collection - irrespective of their power - seems to be a nod towards the inevitable video game adaptation (you can easily imagine hunting down your prey over several levels of escalating difficulty). This is just one respect in which Soul Eater seems to owe its creation to the ticking of demographic boxes with a view to becoming a successful multi-platform franchise. It borrows from a grab bag of proven formulae. Much of its cosmology - references to shinigami, anthropomorphised weapons, the male protagonist being ‘infected’ with traces of the enemy, humans becoming twisted and consuming human souls - is reminiscent of Bleach. One of the main characters is a carbon copy of Naruto, fresh faced from the pages of Shonen Jump. One character’s psyche seems to share its interior designer with the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks. And to say that the design owes a debt to Jamie Hewlett would be an understatement equivalent to saying that Frank Quitely owes a debt to Otomo Katsuhiro. Atsushi Okubo has literally broken into Hewlett’s house, rifled the draws, urinated on the floor and made off with stacks of Tank Girl and Gorillaz sketches. Giving the main character the surname ‘Albarn’ just isn’t enough to reframe blatant theft as cheeky homage.

While this shameless pilfering is initially off-putting, Soul Eater soon develops its own charm. The animation is fluid and bursting with energy during the fight sequences. Each character’s physiology and fighting style is unique, a level of detail which is both impressive and confirmation of its status as a compilation of myriad other anime. It’s a high budget production that knows exactly how to conserve its resources for key moments.

The storytelling is functional, which isn’t uncommon for otherwise excellent series in their early chapters. There are encouraging hints of deeper intrigue to come; Lord Death doesn’t seem entirely trustworthy; the simplistic Witch vs Meister cosmology is already becoming blurred around the edges with characters that don’t quite fit the schema; some decent subtextual detail concerning the covert enemy within; and all the characters have ample room to develop.

All this might sound like damnation with faint praise, so let’s cut to the chase: Soul Eater is hilarious. Okubo has a well defined sense of the absurd and the Japanese cast perform with a manic, spittle flecked physicality and impeccable comic timing. The running gags are brilliantly silly; Spirit (Maka’s father) is desperate for his daughter’s approval but fumbles their relationship at every turn; the ludicrously named Black☆Star refers to any elevated position as his ‘stage’ and frequently disappears mid-scene so that he can give himself a dramatic entrance; junior Shinigami (and equally ludicrously named) Death the Kid is afflicted with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to the extent that he can barely function; and teacher Syd Barrett (no, really… that’s his name) turns being undead into a virtue, using his zombification as a year zero around which he can reinvent himself. The episodes featuring the insufferable sword Excalibur and the school written exam are laugh-out-loud funny and worth the price of admission alone.

A barely coherent mess of borrowed content, Soul Eater somehow manages to be both self-consciously kooky/spooky and unselfconsciously unhinged. It’s impossible to tell at this stage whether the narrative foreshadowing will receive a decent payoff, but for the laughs alone, I’ll give it a


Seth Cooke

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