Here we have Soul Eater, a shounen anime produced by Bones (Wolf's Rain, Full Metal Alchemist, Ouran High School Host Club) that came out in 2008. I've never read the manga, so this is based solely on the anime. Set in the fantastical Death City, Soul Eater focuses on the Shibusen Academy, where students both work together and compete in order to turn their partners - boys and girls that can turn into various different weapons - into world-class Death Scythes. My university pally and I blasted through all 51 episodes in about a week, if you don't count the days that we were too ... busy to watch any. Let me tell you, this does not make for hard watching.
The first few episodes start off as prequels for the main seven characters - three 'Meisters/Technicians' and their 'Weapons'. These episodes are ones that I found to be somewhat disjointed, and to be honest I probably would have given up on the anime after 4 episodes or so if it wasn't for aforementioned pally. Swiftly afterwards, once the main characters start to interact together, I was hooked. And shortly after that when the frankly ingenious support characters were introduced and fleshed out, I was manic about it to the point where I was screaming in outrage at the screen if any other character DARED to so much as harm a hair on their heads.
Plot - [7/10] I wouldn't describe the plot as being either typical or particularly inventive. I will say, however, that it does dangle a standard premise in front of you for a good few episodes (in order for a Technician to turn their Weapon into the ultimate Death Scythe, they must collect 99 evil souls and then one Witch's soul; cue epic quest) and then almost entirely removes it for something much better - a pleasant surprise that, as I understand it, doesn't quite happen in the manga. While some elements of the plot remain unclear and somewhat incomplete by the end of the series, I ultimately felt that it didn't detract too much from my enjoyment. Bar the very last scenes, unfortunately, in which I was left starving for a bit more of a tie-up, or better yet, a follow-up montage in the ending credits. Still, I suppose that's what the manga's for.
Characters - [9/10] The meat of Soul Eater, with some big-name voice actors who really give the characters life. Firstly, we have Miyano Mamoru-san (Yagami Light of Death Note, Kiba of Wolf's Rain) as the symmetry-obssessed Death the Kid (an awkward-sounding name, I have to say, that belies a truly slick character); the ever-prolific and utterly fabulous Koyasu Takehito-san (Sakarazuka Seishirou of Tokyo Babylon, Zechs Merquise/Milliardo Peacecraft of Gundam Wing) as the Weapon Excalibur, who will surprise you in several different ways with his presence throughout the series; and Kobayashi Yumiko-san (Sarah McDougal of Love Hina, Dan Taichi of Prince of Tennis) as the headstrong Black*Star, to whom a nod must go for the most subtle yet engaging main-character development; to name a few. On top of these, Soul Eater showcases a surprising amount of young, new talent - notably, the voices of Soul (the title character) and Maka Albarn, the female lead who I unfortunately found to be incredibly irritating.
Let me make my point hard on this. Maka is hard-working and academically very smart, with a down-to-earth attitude that helps her to deal with her absent mother and womanizing father, who recently divorced prior to the start of the series. But (and oh, it's a big But) it doesn't last. Rather than character growth, we seem to have a case of the exact opposite as the series progresses. Maka repeatedly ends up making absolutely ridiculous decisions that can in no way be logically justified. As much as I don't like to use Naruto as a comparison, I think I have to. Maka's choices aren't a Naruto-style situation wherein Naruto makes sometimes-stupid decisions because of his raw emotions, because that's Naruto's character and way of life; plus, Naruto has (for the most part) the strength to back up his convictions. Maka, on the other hand, does not. Not only that, but she apparently doesn't learn from her monumental mistakes. And /then/ she'll bitch to the series' headstrong character Black*Star about how he acts before he thinks. Though, come to think of it, at least Maka isn't exactly a hypocrite on that matter because it's shown that she does in fact think about her actions before she carries them out, comes to the conclusion that it's stupid... and then does the wrong thing /anyway/. If it wasn't for almost every other character providing sustained interest and sheer compelling brilliance whenever Maka's off-screen, I think Soul Eater would fall far short of greatness.
Art - [9/10] And of course, there can be no characters without the visual art. While the quality of the animation itself is fairly standard shounen-style fare, the rating for this section gets bumped up enormously for originality. The designs of virtually everything - from the fantastically surreal moon and sun to the laboratory of the anime's resident Mad Scientist (who would have an entire paragraph in the above section if it wouldn‘t turn into an essay on why he’s such a /darn good character/ on both an emotional and a story-telling level) to the eyes of the later villains - positively shines with mouth-watering creativity. I could wax lyrical about the brain-melting inventiveness of the character designs all day. It's honestly worth watching for the artistic genius alone.
Music - [8/10] With the exception of the very first ending theme (which was painful, if I'm honest), I thoroughly appreciated each different ending and opening. They were well-chosen and fitted the style and feel of the anime well. The music used throughout the episodes themselves suited the atmosphere wonderfully - the fighting music was driving, the sad-scenes music was sorrowful and the cheery music gave the anime a smile. While it wasn't as memorable as, say, the music to Gundam Wing or Gintama, it did its job in style. Also in this section, I'd like to add that the song sung by the Weapon Excalibur made me almost die of Sheer Heart-Rending Joy.
Overall - [9/10] Easy to watch and a great mix of creepy, surreal and fun. Objectively, I'd give this a high 8, and then I'm going to take the liberty of bumping it up to a 9 for the downright enjoyment I experienced with this show. I thoroughly recommend this to anyone who enjoys Full Metal Alchemist or Gintama - or, for that matter, any shounen manga/anime - as well as anyone who enjoyed the quirks of such series as Ouran High School Host Club.
Nov 9, 2009
Now, I actually started this yeeeaaaars ago, shortly after it first came out in, what... 2002, or something? I dropped it after about 5 episodes. I think this had a lot to do with the anime quality, which is typically nineties in animation style and somewhat inconsistent from episode to episode; most notably, the face of Sir Intergra Wingates Hellsing looked different for about a third of the series. That and the fact that I was roughly eleven or twelve at the time, and didn't have the attention span needed to bear with Seras Victoria as she progressed as a character. However, I just rewatched ... the entire thing from start to finish and I have to say that my opinion has improved, if not by a great deal. I have to say quickly that I've never read more than a few pages of the original manga, and so this is entirely based on what I've seen in the anime.
I'd like to address the music first. The opening theme suits the tone of the overall anime very well - it's certainly not your typical J-rock/pop opening. This definitely works in Hellsing's favour; after all, if you take away Hellsing's atmospheric, dark feel, then you're left with something that is simply bland and not very well made. The music throughout the anime works well with whatever's happening on screen at the time, but is entirely unmemorable afterwards (I'm normally pretty good at remembering and identifying music from a series years after I've seen it, but today, only a day after finishing Hellsing, I had to hunt down the anime to listen again to remind myself). This is not necessarily a bad thing; it's just not a good thing. Finally, the ending theme. It's a surprisingly happy, hopeful theme that's sung in English. It shouldn't work, to be honest, because it has little to do with the anime as a whole and doesn't contribute to the atmosphere. Despite this, something about it provides a nice counterpoint and I found myself enjoying the ending song quite a lot after every episode.
The characters of Hellsing are varied and each is interesting in their own way. The arguably 'main' character is Seras Victoria, a police officer who ended up biting off more than she could chew when her squadron went to investigate a homicidal priest who turned out to be a Vampire. Along comes Alucard, the other arguably 'main' character, who ends up shooting her through the (amusingly improbable) chest and then giving the dying Seras the dubious gift of immortality. Cue kind-hearted, moral Victoria's angst and growth as an Undead. Despite what you might think, Victoria actually manages to be angsty without being too woeful, and when she finally gives in to the call of her bloodlust it's suitably believable, if inevitable. She's a relatively well-rounded character, if not too special, and I can't think of any particular instance where I found her to be annoying (a rare thing for me regarding female leads). The best female character, however, is most certainly the head of the Hellsing Organisation; Integra Wingates Hellsing. She is calm, proud and dignified without falling into the common cliche of being unnecessarily standoffish, and I have to tip my hat to the creator for that. The backstory for her that was explored in the anime gave her an extra depth and made her seem somehow more relatable than Victoria, depite Integra having lived a much less relatable life. This is probably aided by the absence of ridiculous breastage, to be honest. When she's suffering, you can really feel her suffering, whether it's overt or subtle. Finally, Alucard - he's been talked about to death (no pun intended) by the rest of the internet, I'm sure, so I'll just say that he's one of the best examples out there that anti-heroes do work.
Plot-wise, I think I have to say that the whole thing could have taken half a leaf from popular shounen manga and made the Big Bad Bosses... well, Big and Bad. There was a lot of build-up to the last major enemy of the series in particular, but the fight itself was unsatisfyingly brief and easy when you consider that it essentially became a demon god in an already-superpowered Vampire's body. I think that this may have a lot to do with the fact that throughout the whole series, you're never given any proper indication of vulnerability from Alucard. He's all uber!bad-ass all the time, so when it comes to the point where you're obviously meant to think that he might have been defeated, it all feels a little stagnant. It's a shame, because Alucard could have been a lot cooler if they'd made him just a little less Cool.
Overall, the series has a great atmosphere but a frustrating lack of tension, the characters work well in and of themselves but are too separate to give any feeling of real character-interaction-interest (the only exception is the very last scene of the series between Integra and Alucard), and I quite enjoyed it while it lasted. I can't rate anything except the characters higher than a 7 and rewatch value is basically zero, but I'd honestly recommend the series to anyone who feels like Twilight is destroying everything that good old-fashioned evil Vampires stand for.
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