I was cautious about Soul Eater at first. It looked somewhat childish and derivative, with very typical shounen designs and lots of elements hinting at brainless sexy fanservice. But there was something about it that was attractive; beside the typical designs were some that were very cute, some that looked like the stylised, bold and edgy designs of Jamie Hewlett, and some that were out-and-out insane. After a few episodes, you realise that the characters’ extreme and exaggerated personalities are soon tempered with real flaws and depth through relationships and a growing seriousness. The humour is some of the best of any recent shounen, and the somewhat simple art is partnered with some gorgeous animation and excellent plotting. The world is a very well-realised one and the fairly large ensemble of central characters is fully explored. Whether comedy characters like Shinigami-sama or Excalibur, bizarre but truly likeable characters like Crona, Stein or Eruka Frog, or the ostensibly superficial but eventually awesome Black Star and Death the Kid, after a little while it becomes very difficult not to sympathise with the students of Shibusen.
The main character eventually resolves itself as Maka, and it is a pleasure to have an action-packed shounen with a strong female protagonist who isn’t constantly finding herself to be a damsel in distress. (Gangan seems to do this much better than Jump.) She is an everyman character with a lot of potential, not always cute, not always nice, not even always sane, but very hard to dislike, and her bond with Crona becomes the highlight of the series. Indeed, alongside a rather more subtle delivery of its fanservice (actually rather minimal in the anime), this is the one place the anime actually outdoes its source – creating an arc for the retrieval of Crona, who quickly went from a character who annoyed me to one of my favourites of all time.
However, that doesn’t quite make up for the biggest flaw here, one shared with Kekkaishi, Claymore and so many others: the anime was only given two series, when really it ought to run and run. Thus, while the manga continued with an interesting new arc, the anime had to come to an end, and while the set-up was not a bad one, per se, the very last episode was so cheesy, underwhelming and unlikely that if not for the availability of the manga, I would have been very disappointed. As it is, I hope for a second season or movie, and continue cheerfully with the manga.
(originally written 6.10.09)
Soul Eater Not!: Link