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Come to take your soul
on 18 March 2010
Two words sum up "Soul Eater's" overall flavor -- Halloween kitsch. Fortunately Atsushi Ohkubo's horror/comedy manga has a bit more than its silly-spooky style going for it. While "Soul Eater, Volume 1" spends most of its length introducing the trio of main characters (and their talking weapons), it spins up some hilarious characters and plenty of bizarre supernatural confrontations.
Every scythe meister wants to have their shapeshifting weapon/partner turned into a weapon worthy of Shinigami-sama. To do this, the weapon/partners must devour ninety-nine rotten human souls, and one witch soul. In that order. If they screw up, they have to start again.
As the story begins, Maka and her brash partner Soul Eater have nabbed their ninety-ninth soul -- now they just need a witch, and he'll be a Death Scythe. But their battle with the Witch Blair becomes a very complicated one, since she's not only powerful but has some weird secrets of her own. In the meantime, the narcissistic ninja Black Star and his partner Tsubaki have nabbed the last of their souls... but to get a witch, he'll have to fight her bodyguard!
And while these two are struggling, Shinigami-sama's son Death the Kid is on a mission of his own with his twin pistol-partners -- they have to infiltrate a pyramid infested by mummies, and clean it out. Too bad Kid's OCD is slowing them down. And in the main story: Soul, Maka, Tsubaki and Black Star are all called in by Shinigami-sama, who is assigning them a mission. They have to eradicate a former teacher who has become a zombie and is attacking students -- and if the students don't succeed, they'll be booted out of Death's special academy!
Fanservicey witches in pointy hats, haunted forests, cemetaries, jack-o-lanterns, a leering moon and sun, big spooky castles, an angular skull-faced Death, zombies and monstrously freaky villains -- all set in a vaguely European night-world that is crawling with supernatural creatures. Reading "Soul Eater Volume 1" is a bit like having an adventure inside a Halloween haunted house, where the intent is more to entertain than to scare.
In fact, "Soul Eater" isn't very scary -- Ohkubo usually balances out supernaturally-charged action with plenty of comedy and fanservice (usually followed by somebody getting severely injured -- think a shuriken in the head). The first three parts are a bit limp storywise, since their main intention is to introduce the main characters and show them in action. But the last story is when the plot starts blossoming, with the introduction of zombies, superpowers, and a new Big Bad Guy.
All the meisters and their partners are pretty much standard opposites -- Maka is an uberserious girl with a violent streak, while Soul is rough around the edges and kind of rude; Tsubaki is sweet and mellow, while Black Star's ninja stealth is directly at odds with his tendency to grandstand. As for Death the Kid, he's utterly hilarious -- uptight and obsessed with symmetry, and even willing to vanish during battles just to be sure that a picture is perfectly straight.
"Soul Eater Volume 1" is a fun (if overly fanservicey) little manga, introducing us to Atsushi Ohkubo's eccentric characters and setting up the world they live in. Worth a read, if not the best the series has to offer.