Soul Eater Not!, Vol. 1

By Atsushi Ohkubo. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press.

It didn’t really dawn on me until I’d finished the first volume how accurate the title would prove to be. It sounds odd, given it’s a Soul Eater spinoff with many of the same characters, including cameos from the two heroes, and that it takes place at the same Academy. But this is an altogether different type of reading experience, and I felt that the author was smiling at me as I finished it and saying, like a little kid, “Enjoy Soul Eater – NOT!”

This is not to say that the manga is bad. The author has skills, and I was entertained throughout. The basic premise is that we follow the life of a new Japanese student, Tsugumi, who’s found out that she’s a weapon, and therefore transfers to the Academy (which is in Nevada, something I’d forgotten – you keep thinking Soul Eater is on a different planet with that sun and moon) in order to meet her partner and find her place (and not be thought of as a danger to others). There she meets two new friends, the bubbleheaded yet strong Meme and the tsundere princess Anya. They have cute classes, run into occasional cute danger, and in the end Tsumugi is even confessed to! … well, not quite, but a guy asks to be her partner.

This seems to begin shortly before the actual Soul Eater manga does. Sid, their teacher, isn’t dead here, and Medusa is still the school nurse (although apparently her younger sister will be the main antagonist). The first volume consists entirely of what I’ve come to think of as typical shoujo situations – the three girls have to deal with some classroom jerks; the three girls get part-time jobs as waitresses; etc. All of the heroines are drawn with very broad strokes – Tsumugi is polite yet worried and with low self-esteem; Anya is such a cliched tsundere that I wouldn’t be surprised if she were artificial. Even Meme’s ‘big-breasted airhead with secret skills’ has been seen before.

There’s also what I tend to call ‘fake yuri’, i.e. close female friendships with lots of hugging and lovey-dovey feelings without the actual relationship behind it. Meisters and weapons tend to be thought of as couples, and both Anya and Meme want to pair up with her. (This is in addition to Akane, the serious-looking young man who asks her to partner with him at the end. So yes, Tsumugi is also the star of a harem manga as well, something else that Soul Eater proper most decidedly isn’t.)

This is the big problem with the series to date. There’s nothing new or challenging here. And for those who enjoyed Soul Eater for its weird design or its occasional graphic horror, so far there’s none of that either. It reads as if Square Enix asked the creator to rewrite the series, only make it more like K-On!. There’s nothing bad about this – it’s a fun story well-told. But compared to its parent series, so far it feels like there’s nothing there.

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