Writer/Artist: Atsushi Ohkubo
Letterer: Abigail Blackman
Translation: Amy Forsyth
Cover Design: Phil Balsman
Publisher: Square Enix Manga & Books
WHAT IS IT?
A supernatural shonen manga about teenage warriors training alongside their sentient weapon partners in an elite academy designed to forge the ultimate weapons for death itself.
Soul Eater at its core is Devil May Cry in a high school setting, blending stylish action with over-the-top humor and teenage hijinks.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Second-generation meister, Maka and her living scythe partner, Soul, want nothing more than to graduate from the Death Weapon Meister Academy and forge a weapon fitting for death itself to wield. To do so, they must hunt and consume the souls of 99 evil humans and the soul of 1 witch. While hunting human souls was simple enough, one disastrous witch hunt has set the pair into the DMWA's remedial learning program.
Joining Maka and Soul are Black Star, the boisterous assassin with his demon weapon, Tsubaki, and the obsessive Death the Kid, the son of death, with his twin pistols, Patty and Liz. Their assignment is to investigate a string of zombie attacks on students caused by a member of DMWA's faculty and hunt down the culprit responsible for his zombification or face expulsion. Will the young meisters put aside their differences long enough to pass their test? What could possibly be more twisted than a zombified professor?
Atsushi Ohkubo's writing is action-centric but still crafts a compelling supernatural world with fascinating concepts for his characters to live in that you can't help but wonder how elements of the world operate. And in a world where entertainment can be so easily binged and discarded, a story that invites this level of wonder is to be commended.
Atsushi Ohkubo's artwork is a force to be reckoned with, exhibiting stellar action sequences throughout that are effortlessly cool and endlessly entertaining. Maka, Death the Kid, and Black Star each have unique styles to their combat that prevent the action-heavy manga from ever feeling monotonous and the latter half of the story is especially exciting to see how the core cast conflict with and band together to fight their enemies.
Abigail Blackman's lettering is remarkably efficient, fitting so much text and sound effects onto the page while maintaining a clear rhythm between the balloons. This is especially impressive when factoring in that some of the panels in question are so small that it'd be so easy for the lettering to fall apart. Abigail is the glue that holds all of Soul Eater together.
There are a few pages that are illustrated in color with the opening of Maka and Soul vs. Rasputin in a cathedral being the standout with it blending the eerie horror atmosphere with jaw-dropping action. A full-color version of this series would be a must-own if it were ever possible.
Maka is a refreshing change of pace for shonen manga protagonists. For starters, this role is typically reserved for boys so having a girl in this role has the potential to add new dynamics to existing tropes. She's a perfectionist where she picks up on techniques faster than her peers but is tougher on herself as a result, combining that with her dysfunctional family dynamics and she is a protagonist with a strong foundation to develop in future volumes.
The first three chapters serve as effective prologues for Maka, Black Star, and Death the Kid, establishing their characterizations, and dynamics with their weapons in entertaining one-and-done adventures.
Soul Eater's interpretation of Death is so distinct from traditional depictions. Visually, he's akin to an amorphous shadow, lacking any defined shape apart from his skull face. But his personality plays even more against expectations with him being incredibly easygoing and playing a Dumbledore type of role for the story.
Black Star is a wonderful example of an intentionally annoying character done right. He's got a massive ego with no accomplishments to back it up, but when he actually takes things seriously he is a skilled warrior. That dichotomy within him makes for a seriously compelling character to read in a way that could easily fall apart in other media.
Ohkubo's take on historical figures such as Al Capone, Jack the Ripper, and Rasputin was endlessly entertaining. Their visual designs were so distinct for what amounted to brief cameos and Ohkubo doesn't even try to make sense of how they can all exist in the same time period. This is a case of the imagination running wild on the page and resulting in a better comic because of it.
Death the Kid is arguably Soul Eater's best comic relief. He's a no-nonsense, ultra-skilled reaper with the caveat that he is obsessive-compulsive to the point where if anything is out of symmetry by any small amount he will completely shut down until it's fixed.
Speaking of the book itself, the Perfect Edition of Soul Eater is an excellent way to try the series with the oversized format giving the artwork even more room to shine. This version is also advertised as collecting one and a half manga volumes per collection and features new translations and lettering for those looking to justify double-dipping on an oversized collection.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Content Warning: This story contains several depictions of nudity and sexualization with the female characters.
Note for American comic readers: Manga reads from right to left. Keep that in mind when picking this up.
The dialogue is at times overwritten in select panels. The artwork in those moments could have benefitted from fewer lines of dialogue.
Nearly all of Soul Eater's chapters have moments of over-the-top fan service with the female characters that are so out of left field that it can grind the narrative to a halt with the worst example being a cutaway from a tense fight scene to a catgirl bathing on the same page spread.
While the world of Soul Eater is so rich with imagination and having questions about a story's lore can be a good thing, there are some questions that would have been nice to have answers to with an introductory volume. Particularly, does someone choose to be a weapon, or is that decision made for them?
Tsubaki is a passive character, and intentionally so, but because of that choice, she becomes a noticeably bland character when placed into scenes with an otherwise compelling cast of characters.
Similar to its action scenes, the humor of Soul Eater is cranked up to 11 at all times, so your mileage may vary on its effectiveness. Where it's especially awkward is when the fan service is used as a punchline. Some moments can elicit a chuckle like Maka dropkicking Soul for being perverted because of how the art sells it, but that is the exception rather than the rule.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Soul Eater is a stylish action manga with a central concept that Atsushi Ohkubo expertly delivers to each action setpiece. Better yet, Soul Eater is packed with a compelling cast of characters with Maka, Black Star, and Death the Kid each given time for readers to invest in their journies. Ohkubo is a dynamo of imagination with how he blends horror, action, and historical figures together into this off-kilter world that you can't help but turn the page to see what happens next.
It's important to know going in, however, that there are instances of painfully awkward fan service with the female characters, some of which are done as attempts at humor and instead make reading the book in public a painfully awkward experience. As long as you're willing to overlook that issue, Soul Eater is a wickedly entertaining action-horror-infused manga with a strong narrative foundation to build upon with future volumes. If you're looking for an extra dose of escapism in your day then look no further.
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