Witches, werewolves, zombies, and demons – these are all monsters that Meisters and Weapons battle on a daily basis. Students at the Grim Reaper’s Death Weapon Meister Academy learn the art of battle and maintaining their souls. Teenagers Maka and Soul are one of the most powerful teams at the DWMA. Maka studies hard and practices her techniques as a Meister, wielding her partner as a Weapon. Soul turns into a razor-sharp scythe, hungry for the souls of monsters and preoccupied with being cool. They hope to turn Soul into a Death Scythe, one of Lord Death’s Weapons, but first they have to consume the 99 corrupt souls and 1 witch’s soul.
This is the starting premise of Soul Eater. In the first three episodes we’re introduced to our main teams: Maka and Soul, Black Star and Tsubaki, and Death the Kid and the Thompson Sisters. Black Star seems like an almost blatant rip-off of Naruto (though he matures and develops beyond this) and his narcissism and catch phrases will wear on even the most patient viewers. Tsubaki, on the other hand, is gentle and patient, even when she transforms into a variety of wicked ninja weapons. Death the Kid is just that – the son of the Grim Reaper – and while he is a powerful Meister, his major downfall is his fascination with all things symmetrical. In order to maintain his personal symmetry, Kid sought out twin sisters, Liz and Patty, to serve as his Weapons, a pair of pistols.
The series expands beyond students pursuing monster souls – instead we witness a plot to awaken the kishin Asura, a demon imprisoned within its own skin. The kishin is the embodiment of madness, and the witch Medusa seeks to free him in the hopes of destroying the DWMA. This plan leads to an all-out war with witches, monsters, and the kishin united against the DWMA and its students.
Soul Eater is part Halloween dream, part coming-of-age story, and a heavy dose of battles requiring characters to shout out their attacks in unison – “Let’s go, Soul Resonance” or “Enchanted Sword mode!” The 51-episode series balances between comedy, drama, or a collection of epic fights. Fans of both shonen and shojo will find something to enjoy here.
The animation style is quirky – characters are a bit over-exaggerated, with skewed proportions and almost cartoonish faces (an odd criticism for an anime, I know). The world is filled with Tim Burton-stylized buildings and toothy suns and moons that drip blood as they chuckle menacingly. Even as the plot takes on a more serious tone, the art remains whimsical and will give viewers the feeling of walking through a cheerfully decorated haunted house. Slightly out of place is Soul’s music room, which he occupies while in scythe-form. It bears a strong resemblance to the Red Room in Twin Peaks. It’s here that Soul faces temptation in the form of a miniature demon in a double-breasted suit. Whether a homage or coincidence, it jars a bit against the style of the rest of the series.
A few notes to keep in mind with the animation style – viewers should expect a lot of fan service, especially earlier in the series. While there’s no blatant nudity, we see female characters bathing, with carefully placed bubbles, and over-sized breasts are regularly shoved in the male students’ faces. The magical cat Blair is guilty of often wearing nothing but a hat and flirting with Soul. Maka’s father is a well-known womanizer and we typically see him in the company of scantily-clad waitresses.
The series is rated TV-14. It features a lot of fights – think along the lines of Naruto, Bleach, or Fullmetal Alchemist. Fans of action will enjoy the quick-paced battles. Each team has their own unique fighting style and there’s an emphasis on learning to work together. My major complaint in regards to the battles is that no one ever seems to be hurt – we get all the visual and musical queues telling us that someone has just suffered a fatal blow, another characters weeps over them, and then at the end of the episode we’re told in an offhand way that so-and-so is recovering nicely. This happens repeatedly throughout the series. Characters bear few wounds, despite being stabbed, sliced, and shot. This makes the actual violence, which pops up unexpectedly, a little startling. For example, in the midst of the many battles leading up to the release of the kishin, we see students hurt but carrying on as if nothing happened. However, when the kishin is freed, it proceeds to start tearing off faces and writhing to fit in its own skin. It’s difficult to tell when the violence will have an impact on the characters and storyline.
Despite this, there’s a lot to enjoy in Soul Eater. There’s an underlying theme of self-acceptance. Viewers will enjoy the way characters grow and mature, learning to rely on their friends. The show is funny – particularly any scenes involving Lord Death or the legendary weapon Excalibur. Fans of series like D.Gray-man or Fullmetal Alchemist will appreciate the dark-but-playful art, the world-building and Halloween-ish side characters, as well as the development of the main cast.