The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 76 – Soul Eater

Soul Eater 1

Continuing from last week, we look at some more schools in anime that would never exist in real life. We are sticking with the supernatural, but this time around we are covering a creature from Japanese folklore, the shinigami or death god, which we have covered before in series like Death Note (No. 8).

Soul Eater began as a manga by Atsushi Okubo, running between 2004 and 2013. The anime version of it ran for 51 episodes between 2008 and 2009, with a spin-off series entitled Soul Eater Not! running as a manga since 2011. A 12-part anime of this spin-off was broadcast earlier this year.

The school setting is the Death Weapon Meister Academy (DWMA) in Death City, Nevada. The principle is the “Shinigami”, also known as “Death”, although his grim reaper like appearance is more comical than the depiction we normally have in the west. The school trains students who have ability to transform into weapons, and also trains those students who use them, known as “meisters”. The goal of the meisters is to train their weapons to kill 99 evil people and one witch. This will turn their weapons into “Death Scythes” that can be used by Death himself.

The main characters in series are the rather mature meister Maka Albarn and her laid-back partner, the titular Soul Eater Evans, who in battle turns into an actual scythe. Maka’s flirtatious and divorced father Spirit is also a weapon, and Maka is obsessed with making Soul stronger than him. Other students at DWMA include the incredibly arrogant Black Star, whose female weapon Tsubaki Nakatsukasa can take on many forms; and the son of principle, Death the Kid, who is so obsessed with symmetry (despite his non-symmetrical hair) that he carries two partners, the Thompson Twins (Liz and Patty) who take on the form of a pair of pistols. Because of this, he has to do twice the work in order to train them both.

The school is full of various supernatural beings, including Sid Barrett, a teacher who died and then came back as zombie, as a result of which he always refers to himself in the past tense; and Franken Stein, a mad scientist in the form of a Frankenstein monster whose body and clothes are covered in stiches, plus he has a gigantic bolt in his head and a habit of dissecting just about anything and anyone.

The central story sees one witch called Medusa forcing her own timid and androgynous child Crona into DWMA for the purposes of collecting the souls of good humans in order to revive an evil god. The story sees the students trying to defeat Medusa’s plan, as well as trying to get Crona to become friendlier with others.

While this is mainly an action series, for me the main appeal for Soul Eater is the humour. This ranges from simple slapstick to more character based humour. Some of the best characters in the show are ones that have been created purely for comedy rather than action. The main one of these is the legendary Excalibur. He is more powerful than any of the other weapons, and can be controlled by anyone. However he does have some problems. Firstly, when not in his guise as a sword, he looks like a sort of albino aardvark in a top hat and ruff. Secondly, Excalibur is extremely egotistical and obnoxious. He calls everyone a fool, sings songs that will get on your nerves, and whenever someone tries to control him he orders the user to obey 1,000 different rules, which include: “Never talk to me when I’m humming to myself”, “Always walk three steps behind me”, and “Celebrate Excalibur’s birthday in grand-style” – the problem with this last one being that Excalibur’s birthday is on every day.

The action is pretty decent. You have a wide range of characters with different weapons so there is a fair amount of variety to play with. Some fans however were critical about the way the series ended, primarily because near the end the plot of the anime differs considerably to that of the original manga. Whether the rest of the manga will be adapted is not yet known.

Soul Eater is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Manga Entertainment. Soul Eater Not! can be streamed on Animax.