Crazy shounen action comedy with dazzling animation in Soul Eater (ソウルイーター), TV Tokyo’s new Monday show at 18:00 JST.
Starting with three short arcs in 2003 to preface the main storyline that went into weekly publication in 2004, Ookubo Atsushi’s shounen manga is currently at 11 volumes. Bones‘ animated production will be led by Igarashi Takuya, who’s already directed their popular Ouran High School Host Club. Slightly more worrisome is the inclusion of Yamatoya Akatsuki on screenplay duty, because we all loathe his abysmal To Love-ru, but he’s also fiddled with Konjiki no Gash Bell, so maybe it’ll be alright.
In order to battle evil Kishin (fierce gods), Shinigami-sama (aka Grim Reaper) has founded the Shinigami Buki Shokunin Senmon Gakkou (Grim Reaper Weapon and Artisan Vocational School) – Shibusen for short – in the middle of his hometown Death City in Nevada, USA. Er. Its purpose is to produce mighty Death Scythe weapons for Shinigama’s use, which is done through a process of feeding the weapon 99 evil souls plus one witch soul, which transforms it into something much more powerful. These Weapons, however, are a somewhat modified race of humanoids, who can morph into lethal shapes at will. To help them fight, they (mostly) need the help of an Artisan to wield them, and the show’s plot follows three such pairs. The first episode introduces us to the first couple, the Weapon Soul (Eater) and his Artisan ladyfriend Maka (Albahn), and they’re having a bit of trouble getting that final witch soul. Subsequent episodes seem to deal with the Nakatsukasa Tsubaki (Weapon) / Black Star (Artisan) pair, while the third and final couple isn’t so much a couple as a threesome, with sisters Liz and Patty Thompson (Weapons) and Death The Kid (Artisan).
I’m always wrong, but this really looks like HD to me, and the animation is so good I nearly swooned. Especially the OP, which is just awe-inspiring. The design is also so distinct that it will paint your entire room with its blazing style, simply bursting out of the TV. The music is similarly impressive, composed by master craftsman Iwasaki Taku, whom you already know from Gurren-Lagann. So far, so good! And this is where it all comes crumbling down: voice talent. For some baffling reason, they picked a complete debutant to play the main character Maka, someone named Omigawa Chiaki. I hate to say it, but her acting is just so poor that it makes me want to mute the TV; quite possibly the worst voicework I’ve ever heard. I’d link her profile, but both her blog and agency seem to have gone up in flames, so maybe I’m not the only one disappointed. Luckily, her co-star Uchiyama Kouki as Soul sounds decent, having dubbed several movies and played Roxas in Kingdom Hearts before moving on to make this his proper debut in anime. The rest of the cast is top-notch, with Koyama Rikiya (Takamura in Hajime no Ippo) making a very unusual performance as Shinigami-sama, and other characters are voiced by Nazuka Kaori (Hiromi in True Tears), Miyano Mamoru (Setsuna in Gundam 00), and Ookawa Tooru (Roy Mustang in Fullmetal Alchemist), to name a few.
I’m left with a split impression after watching this first episode of Soul Eater. Partly, I’m stunned by the fantastic visuals and music, but at the same time, I’m not entirely overwhelmed by the plot and setting. It could certainly turn out to be an entertaining ride, but I’ll need some more time with the characters to make my final decision. Then there’s that atrocious voice actress for Maka – if she figures extensively in later episodes, without showing noticeable improvement, I’d rather wait for an English dub, despite despising them so much.
In a strange move by the companies involved, Soul Eater will be broadcast twice every week, first this regular version on Monday evenings, and then a late show version on Thursday nights at 26:15 JST. There’s not too much information on what the difference will be, but I remember seeing something about additional content, which I presume means more blood/gore, and possibly less censorship in the form of floating soap dispensers covering breasts and buttocks.
Edit 2: It turns out the late show is exactly the same, with nothing interesting added at all. It just has a few repeated scenes (exactly the same as the Monday evening version), and a longer next episode preview after the ED sequence. Don’t bother.