I really shouldn’t have complained about things being ridiculous.
Soul Eater is mental. More mental than Fullmetal Alchemist. More mental than Bleach. More mental than possibly anything I can think of. It took every mental thing that can happen in a swords and magic anime, doubled them, covered them in pumpkins and spikes then dropped them all in a vat of syrup. It’s crystalline ridiculousness; mostly followable, mostly self-aware, but most of all having a whale of a time doing whatever bonkers thing it’s trying to do next.
Let’s begin with the premise; Lord Death (the Grim Reaper) runs an academy for young children to become better warriors or whatever, forming partnerships with one another wherein one child will actually legitimately turn into a weapon and the other will use them in battle. The academy was founded to generically protect the world from an evil which becomes a bit more specific further down the line, but at least in the early stages the weapon and meister pairs spend their time hunting evil humans and witches and eating their souls.
It’s rather a lot to take in at once, and so Soul Eater is one of those cases where I honestly couldn’t care less about the explanation as long as they tell me what the thing in question is and what it does. This is a story where anything could be anything and normally is, so a character pointing at something and going ‘THIS IS A MAGIC AND IT DOES THIS AND IS BAD’ is much better than them explaining how it relates to other magic or is weak to whatever the fuck but can be overcome with the willpower of a medium sized gerbil or some other bollocks. When you start with the Grim Reaper as a main character who’s just kind of hanging out and notionally existing all over the place you can’t really try and legitimise anything, especially when the Reaper in question looks like a torn sock with a hockey mask and giant comedy foam hands.
While it feels like it’s poking fun at the genre with all the witches, zombies, immortals, werewolves, Excalibur, grim reapers, tiny devils in suits, Dr Frankenstein, Medusa, huge breasted cat ladies and a righteous judo priest running around everywhere, I can’t quite tell how in on the joke it is. Some of it is hilarious, like whenever a certain legendary sword makes an unwanted entrance or one random Megazord fight that appears out of nowhere, but the plot can get a bit heavy at times and begins to focus on morals and the message, whatever the blooming crikey the message might be. There’s lots of talk about madness, fear, morality, bravery and friendship, but the villains tend to be beaten in the least convincing or understandable ways possible, with the occasional nauseating whiff of the ‘power of love’. It’s akin to trying to fix your washing machine by throwing your cat at it rather than hiring a plumber, then the cat just hugs the mains wire and it’s suddenly fixed.
It’s clearly not taking itself anywhere near as seriously as Bleach hilariously tries to, but this means some characters tend to grate badly with wackiness and hijinks and that. Black Star is an incredibly obvious choice, being a self-centered but well meaning ninja with an ego the size of western Canada. He’s supposed to be the stupid one that gets through tough situations by never giving up or admitting defeat, but since every other line is either stupid, loud, obnoxious or a belly laugh he just comes across as an insufferable cockhole. It doesn’t help that the English dub gave him an excruciatingly annoying voice as well, but even in Japanese he’s basically a prick.
Luckily most of the other main characters are likeable and everyone has some form of personal development which isn’t solely based on becoming more powerful (apart from Black Star, the bellend). Maka is a heart of gold bookworm, Tsubaki is a caring sisterly type, Kid is neurotic but somehow also calm and collected and Soul is far too cool for this shit dawg. There are a hell of a lot of side characters as well, and while their personalities might not be as well defined their visual design is still stellar, sometimes more so since there’s less to remember them by with only a few lines of dialogue.
An awful lot of character development happens inside weird multi layered dreamscapes inside peoples souls, which combined with how abstract the actual physical world tends to be with it’s weird bleeding gums moon and guffawing sun makes everything feel slightly more surreal than it probably should. Some landscapes can be truly gorgeous like the inside of an enchanted sword, but others can feel like some of the weirder parts of Alice in Wonderland smothered in kerosene and taped to a barn door. Imagine the third act of Inception but instead of a van chase in the rain they went to a ketamine fueled Teletubbyland or the inside of a chess board that happened to be on fire and you wouldn’t be too far off.
The plot seems weirdly spread out, with the first few episodes doing almost literally nothing at all and an ending that doesn’t so much wrap things up as it does just run out of time. Given the vast amount of characters quite a few arcs don’t get finished properly, notably where a bunch of villains walk off at the end as if their contract has run out. The first five episodes or so are used just to introduce the main characters, which could have shortened significantly to free up time at the end to work out how to finish things properly, especially when someone discovers they have a power approximately ten minutes before the final credits and uses it a grand total of one time. Badly.
The art style is obviously a huge draw to the series; it’s twisted and weird while remaining relatively simple, especially compared to some of the ridiculously overdesigned characters in other shows. It’s very colourful as well which makes it a bit more lighthearted, as it could be overwhelmingly bleak if it wanted to be with all the insanity based plot going on.
The animation is extremely smooth and diverse as it usually is from this production team (the same one that worked on Fullmetal Alchemist), and the way some characters move can be genuinely creepy. Although I could take or leave the constant maniacally distorted grins a foot away from a fisheye lens camera, the scene where a character puts his own skin back on while being reborn is really unsettling and wouldn’t be out of place in a horror franchise.
That’s really the point of Soul Eater; it’s a massive Halloween party with a definite nod and wink to the audience around every corner. Everything that was put in is there because it’d be cool first and foremost and suits the story second, and the slapdash plot ends up being a really good time for the most part, before it gets all apocalyptic and serious towards the end. If you’re tired of things being far too serious or trying and failing to make sense, you could do an awful lot worse than Soul Eater. Something fun with flaws will always be more entertaining than a perfectly constructed bore. A party will always be much better if it doesn’t involve paste sampling arranged by OCD accountants.