In Soul Eater, Atsushi Ohkubo brings together Japanese and Western horror traditions, myths and legends with shonen manga staples such as a battle-oriented narrative structure and excessive fanservice.
In the Soul Eater universe, a pair of individuals work together to reap souls. One individual is the “weapon meister,” while the other is a “living scythe” that is wielded by the weapon meister. The first three chapters of the book are prologues, each introducing a different master and scythe pair who are still in training (we later find out they all attend the “Death Weapon Meister Academy”). The pair introduced in the first chapter appear to be the title’s main protagonists. Maka (Meister) and Soul Eater (Scythe) are on the verge of turning Soul into a powerful death scythe by completing his mission of “eating” 99 human souls and the soul of 1 witch.
The second and third prologue each introduce a pair of reapers who appear to function primarily as comic relief. The other two weapon meisters in these prologues are both boys — the first a would be assassin who doesn’t understand the concept of “stealth” (he sees himself as a “Star” and desires to be in the spotlight), and the second an OCD-son of Death…known as Death the Kid. The very idea of an OCD-soul reaper is hilarious and Death the Kid was probably my favorite character in the manga.
In each chapter, the pair of soul reapers work together to vanquish a renegade soul, leading to expansive and humorous battle scenes. However, returning to the first prologue, and Maka and Soul’s mission to reap the soul of a witch, sends the manga to fanservice-overdrive with the perv-meter turned up to 11. The witch is first introduced in the bath, with only a barest film of bubbles covering up…nothing. The bubbles really cover up nothing. Unfortunately, the excessive nudity and emphasis on the witch’s ridiculous figure took me right out of the story and this kind of distraction was not contained to that one character or chapter. Each chapter has a similar moment when I find myself annoyed and offended by the sheer inappropriateness of the level of nudity and sexualization of a female characters. (For example, Death the kid has a pair of very, urm, bouncy twins as his scythe and his OCD manifests when he freaks out because their breasts are different sizes).
This is a shame because the book is quite stylish and fun otherwise — except for these absurdly-voluptuous figures, Ohkubo draws in an angular, flat style, reminiscent of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, which is paired quite well with references to Anglo-American spooks and horror legends (such as Jack the Ripper and Frankenstein). Importantly, the end of the volume also kicks off an on-going plot development as the first official chapter finds Maka, Soul and another reaper pair, on a mission to reap the soul of their former teacher who has been turned into a zombie. The question of who turned him into a zombie becomes an interesting cliffhanger that certainly made me want to keep reading.
My frustration with the fanservice is that it keeps a work that would otherwise be appropriate for younger teens out of their hands. I also think the predominant art style — pattern oriented, with very little depth — clashes terribly with the fanservice presentation, which is very fleshy and round (which makes sense since the emphasis is literally flesh). I admit, I’m not ready to give up on Soul Eater just yet, but hold hope that the humor, plot and general stylishness of the entire project can make up for the overdone t&a that otherwise can overwhelm the fun for me.
Review Copy provided by Yen Press.