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“Oh no!” we hear you cry, “not another anime fight saga involving otherworldly warriors, ensouled weapons and cursed human souls, like Bleach.” But manga creator Atsushi Okubo and the Bones anime studio (Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood) are wise to that complaint. Soul Eater may certainly encroach on similar territory to Ichigo and co, but it puts its own witty, stylish spin on the material – especially when it comes to the style.
Soul Eater’s terrific graphic design has been justly praised, especially the ominously leering sun and moon that dominate Soul Eater’s world, making it cartoony on a cosmic level. Interviewed on this blog, Masahiko Minami of Bones explained it was always a priority to translate Okubo’s art to anime. “The first thing we thought about was how we could transfer the charm of the original manga onto the screen. Led by the director Takuya Igarashi, all the main staff brought together the things they pictured from the comics and we built them up one by one. It was more time-consuming than difficult.” The anime’s conceptual design is credited to Shinji Aramaki; which is quite a contrast to his better-known director’s credits on the CGI mecha films, Appleseed and Appleseed Ex Machina.
From its early episodes, Soul Eater is an ensemble show. Unlike Bleach or a comparable series such as Blue Exorcist, there’s no central male hero. Instead, the early episodes introduce us to three warriors. There’s the inevitable feisty schoolgirl, Maka, voiced in Japanese by debuting actress Chiaki Omigawa (you may recognise her voice from the recent Bodacious Space Pirates, in which she voices the heroine’s friend Mami). There’s an amusingly mouthy boy, Black Star, a ninja who feels suspiciously like a send-up of a certain other boy ninja in the anime universe. And then there’s Death the Kid, son of, well, Death, who has awesome powers but an unfortunate case of OCD – in one early battle, he rushes off in order to straighten a painting.
The trio attend the Death Weapon Meister Academy. It’s a mad giant wedding-cake of a magic kingdom-cum-fortress, overseen by the deceptively goofy-seeming Death. All of which makes Soul Eater a plausible missing link between Bleach and the later Blue Exorcist, which is also set in a supernatural school with a flamboyantly supernatural Headmaster. Each warrior, naturally, has his own weapon-cum-soulmate; they can adopt human form and are important characters in their own right.
For male viewers, the most, ahem, intriguing weapons may be Liz and Patty Thompson, two attractive sisters who double as Death Kid’s pistols (a notion that would be taken to extremes in the 2012 series Upotte!!). Another weapon who turns up down the line is Excalibur – yes, that Excalibur. He turns up in humanoid form with a top hat and walking stick, looking like an especially oddball Moomin or Rupert the Bear character – one whom many of Soul Eater’s cast would dearly love to thump.
Like a lot of anime, the show begins in excessively comedic style, acclimatising you to the eccentricities of its world before its plotlines start unrolling and you realise you’ve been lured in. As when Bones made its first adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist, the anime “diverges” from the manga plot so it could wrap up in 51 episodes, all on Manga Entertainment’s Complete Series set. Okubo’s manga is still running, with 23 volumes to date and a spinoff strip, Soul Eater Not! starting in 2011.
Bones, of course, followed Fullmetal Alchemist with Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, mopping up the manga plot it missed the first time round. Surely it’s occurred to the studio that Soul Eater is ripe for the same treatment? We may not have seen the last of Death Weapon Meister Academy…
Soul Eater is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.