One criticism of shounen manga* is that it tends to follow certain tropes: Either in terms of plot, such as the harem manga, or the young hero manga; or in style, with many modern manga-kas owing influence to Akira Toriyama.
Then there’s Soul Eater. Even the most jaded of otaku would have to admit that Soul Eater, at the very least on a stylistic level, brings something new to the table. Meticulously drawn Japanese cityscapes are eschewed in favor of surrealistic scenes where even the moon has a threatening grimace and alleyways seem to encroach from all sides.
Such is the setting for Atsushi Okubo’s Monthly Shounen GanGan series. The backdrop is perfect for a story about Death; or in this case, Death’s tools.
Shinigami (Death gods, literally) aren’t exactly rare in the anime/manga world (Obata’s excellent Death Note, for one), but where Soul Eater sets itself apart is its focus — kids who are working on becoming the shinigami’s weapons. They work in pairs, with one kid that transforms into a weapon and a human that wields that weapon.
These reapers in training must collect 99 evil souls and one witch’s soul to turn the weapon half of the team into a death scythe. But if something goes wrong, the pair will have to start over from the beginning.
The dynamic between the pairs is where the real story lies. The focus of the story is on Maka and her weapon partner, Soul Eater (hence the title, I suppose). Other partners are Black Star and Tsubaki, and Death the Kid and his two partners, Liz and Patti, who turn into a pair of pistols. The dynamics between each vary — Soul is cocky and arrogant where Maka is stern and serious; Black Star is boisterous and a little perverted, where his partner is patient and sincere (until his perversions intrude into her privacy); and Death the Kid is OCD, something that amuses his fun-loving blonde female weapons to no end.
Adding to the wacky cast of characters is the humorous Death, Maka’s wacky/perverted father, the coquettish witch Blair and the powerful and accident-prone Stein.
All this sets the tone for a story that’s both engaging and well-paced. The stories are intriguing, with early chapters focused on standalone story arcs (originally one shots) segueing into a more serial format.
But where Soul Eater really stands out is its illustrations. The surreal imagery of Soul Eater renders the manga series a fantasical tone; I found myself flipping back to simply look at the pretty pictures and marvel at Okubo’s work.
With series being anthologized in Yen Press since 2008, the tankoban coming out on Oct. 31 and the anime series already an underground hit amongst otaku, is Soul Eater poised to be the next manga hit? Either way, its sure to give fans who read it a great manga experience.
*Shounen manga being comics aimed primarily at young boys, with furigana spellings of all the kanji; I know many Japanese people of all ages and both genders who enjoy this genre, however.