The Tragic Case of Soul Eater

Soul Eater is one of my favorite series. Both its anime and manga have a special place in my heart, so for Halloween I was planning to review the manga. I wanted it to be my first-ever post with a whole 10 reasons. But as I re-read the manga, I soon realized… this is pretty mediocre.

A bad case of rose-tinted glasses? Nostalgia certainly plays a role here, I feel, but it isn’t the whole answer. Soul Eater was introduced to me in my teenage years by a friend who encouraged me to try more shounen anime. I first watched Studio Bones’ anime adaptation, then later began collecting the manga.

The trouble with the anime is that it befell a similar fate to Bones’ Fullmetal Alchemist. It was an adaptation of an ongoing manga series, which soon ran out of source material to adapt. Bones decided to improvise, leading to the last third of the series feeling… unsatisfying. Even without reading the manga, the anime leaves you feeling like a lot of potential is left untapped.

Spoiler alert! Click to unhide

This is most visible in the fate of the main characters, as none of them achieve their ambitions. Soul never becomes a Death Scythe, Kid never surpasses his father; only Black Star sort-of gets a pay off in his battle with Mifune. The supporting cast is similarly crippled because the anime constantly pulls its punches. Joe, Justin, and Kim have their respective storylines wiped out or altered beyond recognition. This makes these characters basically pointless. Death is also used very sparingly, whereas the lethal nature of the manga makes the conflict feel much more dynamic. It causes interesting shifts in the cast, creates emotional moments, and forces our characters to cope with loss.

The manga would keep running even after the end of the anime. It featured several more arcs, which ramped up tensions immensely and featured a lot more drama. The villains were many times more powerful and the story’s heroes would undergo far more growth. The final few books are an epic, apocalyptic showdown, unmatched by any other series’ finale that I can recall. The anime was ultimately fine, but its finale is far outclassed by its source material.

The only problem is that the manga looks like shit.

It released from 2003-2013 and was only Atsushi Okubo‘s second manga. It’s clear that the man’s artstyle was still developing around this time, but I severely misremembered how bad it was. In my recollection, it was pretty bad for the first few chapters, but improved rapidly soon after. Imagine my surprise when I was still feeling underwhelmed well into volume 10.

The anime, for all its flaws, looked absolutely amazing. The artstyle was cohesive and unique, which brought the series’ bizarre universe to life. The manga fails on all these accounts. Characters, backgrounds, and framing all waver in quality from page to page. Our heroes sometimes look barely recognizable and Soul Eater‘s universe gets little room to shine due to a frequent lack of backgrounds.

In general, the manga just lacks excitement. In trying to find cool panels to take pictures of for the review, I struggled to find ones where the action didn’t look stilted or cheap. I wanted to praise the design of the villains, but couldn’t find any half-way decent panel with Medusa in it. Even during battles she’s usually depicted featureless or so close-up that you only see her angry face. In the end, I got so fed up with trying to make pictures that I just gave up on the review entirely. If I can’t find good art to back up my arguments, it kind-off undermines my points.

The manga does improve a lot towards the end, but that’s a way off. It still looks jank well beyond the point where the anime deviates from the plot, so a hybrid solution will still run into these problems.

Where Fullmetal Alchemist would receive a remake when the manga finished, Soul Eater only received the NOT! spin-off. A side-story based on a shoujo manga, which itself received an incomplete anime adaptation. Atsushi Okubo has since moved on the wildly successful Fire Force series, so a remake of the manga also seems highly unlikely.

I still enjoyed Soul Eater and recommend it if you can stick around through its awkward adolescence. However, time has left the series behind. It had the opportunity to become a timeless classic, but I fear that the manga’s poor artstyle combined with the anime’s shaky story will, eventually, cause the series to fade away. Cherished still by a handful of fans, but otherwise neglected by the community as a whole.

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