By Atsushi Ohkubo. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press.
One of the most enjoyable things about Soul Eater is the way that the author balances out the seriousness and humor throughout the story. A lot of shonen fighting series tend to have long serious parts, then chapters that are pure goofy. Ohkubo, though, simply lets the humor come in anytime he feels like it, even if it’s in the middle of a pitched battle for everyone’s life. This is not to say that there aren’t pure comedy bits here (the middle chapter, which features Maka’s dad trying to be sympathetic and failing spectacularly – again) but the fact that you can find a goofy face or a silly moment anywhere actually helps add to the mood of the overall work. Soul Eater has always thrived on being one step off the edge, leaning slightly into madness.
The converse of this, of course, is that any silly moment can turn on a dime to become serious. Thus Black*Star’s self-aggrandizing has a serious point – the reason why he can push back Crona so easily is due to his own self-confidence and ego, while Crona is simply filled with hatred and loathing. Crona’s “I DON’T KNOW WHO MAKA IS!” is a cry of anguish that once again makes you realize that Crona’s entire life (the manga may choose to say he, but I prefer to be awkward – Crona is genderless on purpose) has been mental torture and abuse by Medusa. Speaking of Medusa, she’s back to being a mad scientist, and is perfectly content to justify her actions by noting she is a witch – not that all witches automatically stand against our heroes, but as Kim has shown us, they are generally assumed to be evil until proven otherwise.
As for Kid, once again we get the goofy stuff – his obsessive-compulsive disorder comes to the fore in a very funny way, as you realize that the one who’s really best at torturing Kid is Kid himself – followed by an unnerving scene where Kid meets another one of the Great Old Ones whose presence has made this world what it is – and is seemingly taken over by it, as the cliffhanger shows. Soul Eater does star Maka and Soul, but has been excellent at giving Black*Star and Kid enough character arcs and development that they also feel like co-stars.
And then there’s the gender-bending. Rule 63 has been around the Internet forever, but has appeared in actual canonical works less so. As such, it’s highly amusing to see the cast transformed into their opposite-gendered selves (though I do have a little niggle with the explanation why – it makes it sound like gays and lesbians don’t exist), particularly as Maka and Soul have to deal with the thing that most annoys them about the other – Maka’s male body is tempted by the succubus, and Soul bemoans the fact that it’s “just big boobs” that turn men on. Judging by the previous, this swap won’t take up too much time, but it’s fun to see.
In the end, this is why Soul Eater is one of the best shonen titles coming out here. It’s fun, but with a tinge of madness that never quite goes away. It skitters at the back of your brain.