Monday, 5 July 2010


Title: Soul Eater: Part One
Release date: 28th June 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 325 mins
Director: Takuya Igarashi
Starring: Chiaki Omigawa, Kouki Uchiyama, Akeno Watanabe, Emiri Katou, Houko Kuwashima
Genre: Animation
Studio: Manga
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

Based on the manga written and illustrated by Atsushi Okubo, Soul Eater was first released as three separate one-shots serialised in two Gangan Powered special editions and one Gangan Wing issue way back in 2003. The anime first appeared on TV Tokyo in 2008. Finally available on DVD, part one brings together the first 13 episodes, promising frenetic action, zombies, gangsters, necromancers, mad doctors and the hottest witch in town. What’s not to like?

At the Death Weapon Meister Academy (DWMA), Maka and her partner, human-weapon Soul, have collected the spirits of 99 evil mortals, needing just one from a witch to transform Soul into a death scythe, a weapon of great power that will retain order and balance to Death City. Failing, the gifted youngsters have to start all over again, but they’re not alone. The cocky but gifted Black Star and his weapon partner Tsubaki struggle to form a workable relationship whilst new student Death the Kid must overcome his aversion to asymmetry if he and his partners Liz and Patty are to succeed in bringing down the destructive enemies threatening to collect non-evil human souls to transform one of their own into a Kishin, an evil demon God that would plunge the world into madness…

Soul Eater, like its main antagonist Medusa, is a beautiful but flawed creature. Packed with salacious humour, lengthy action sequences and stylish imagery it demands attention. Its influences can be traced all the way to genres as disparate as British Hammer Horror (with its mad scientists and mummies) and Poliziotteschi films (episode seven takes place in a crime-riddled Italy), though neither can compete with the brashness of old-school Shounen Manga.

Its audaciousness irritates just as much as fascinates, especially in the opening episodes when we are introduced to the three main protagonists. Excluding Maka and her human-weapon Soul, the other two, Black Star especially, are just plain annoying. Whilst Death Kid’s struggle to cope with anything not evenly shaped brings levels of playground humour, Black Star’s cockiness brings nothing but maddening frustration; episode two is a real struggle until its ‘Shadow Star’ finale finally hits the right notes. In fairness, as the story progresses the two characters become less of a headache, but it’s very hard to root for something that rattles someone’s cage so much.

Bursting with invention and a slew of impressive weapons certain to delight all, Soul Eater’s pace is fast and furious with a delirious score of rock and hip-hop to keep things wild and rowdy right from the polished opening credits. Sadly, the interest in its lengthy opening sequence wanes after a few episodes, and the lure of the skip chapter function on the remote control is too difficult to resist. Even some of the episodes suffer from being more filler than killer; the main plot lost in the sheer effort to make even the most banal show ludicrously entertaining.

This isn’t a massive problem; the fight scenes ripped straight from the best beat-em-ups are for the most part a joy to behold; its humour, although aimed at teenage boys mostly, is often titillating and right on the money. Episode nine, introducing the legend that is Excalibur, is a complete riot thanks to its clever twisting of a classic tale. Director Takuya Igarashi is in no rush to reveal the main plot, which is just as well seeing as there are 51 episodes in total, but it’s his use of lingering shots and moments of complete silence that pack an unexpected emotional punch.

Soul Eater’s universe is a joy to behold; even the sun and the moon have personalities, inspired by Okubo’s favourite manga Dr. Slump. It’s this attention to detail that really satisfies (the concept of arrows pointing out the obvious, or simply to show us where we should be looking is innovative and amusing), the inclusion of madcap characters ripped from other genres setting it apart from the crowd. Takuya is well aware of his target audience’s expectations and he truly delivers the goods. But he’s also savvy enough to incorporate emotion and depth to his characters and the world that encompasses them, which could, if given the chance, appeal to more than just horny teenage boys (the female characters are clearly the strongest, the males stupid for the most part).

Not only is Soul Eater a feast for the eyes, sticking faithfully to Atsushi Okubo’s original work, it’s also packed with boisterous witticisms, be it verbal or visual, and brilliantly realised personas (even the most deranged antagonists are somehow endearing). In short, Soul Eater is a riot from start to finish. Whether it can sustain as much interest over another 38 episodes remains to be seen (it does seem like a ridiculously long ride) but for now, part two can’t come quick enough.

Regardless of its deficiencies, annoying protagonists and moments of banality, movie fans will find plenty in the inventive Soul Eater to keep them entertained. From mind-boggling action to bawdy humour, from astounding imagery to a pumping soundtrack, this first-rate anime has it all.

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