Soul Eater, Vol. 19

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

The high point of this volume for me was the flashback to Liz and Patti’s past, and how they met Kid. This was spoiled a bit by Soul Eater Not – which came out in Japan after this volume, but well before it here – but seeing Liz as an angry, cynical girl willing to take on the world as long as she and her sister find happiness – is striking given her current personality. The sequence of wordless panels showing the two of them working with Kid, realizing what an eccentric dork he is, and laughing at his obsessions is beautifully done, and leads to Liz realizing that Patti has gone from being merely crazed to genuinely being happy and cheerful. This causes her to have an emotional breakdown, as she realizes she may never get to thank Kid for everything he did for them. Luckily, Patti and Tsubaki are there to give out hugs.


This also ties in with what’s going on with Kid, as Liz in her Brooklyn days wished for everyone else to stop existing as long as there was just her and Patti, and Kid opened up their worldview. (This is not helping my obsession with this OT3 at all, let me tell you.) Now it’s Kid who wishes for that, longing for the symmetry of nothingness. His fight with Black*Star, though it has a few cool moves, really ends up being more Black*Star talking him down, reminding him that total annihilation is the easy way out, and that trying to create balance from what’s already there, twisted though it may be, is the duty of a true shinigami. Black*Star is uncomplicated – he wants power so he can protect and help everyone, not for any ‘take over the world’ style goal.

As for Maka and Soul, the end of their arc shows what happens to those who can’t let go of their anger, as we see Giriko literally tear himself – or herself – apart with all the rage that’s been building up inside.Maka and Soul are better than that, and can accept things and move on – which is why they’re able to get out of the Sloth chapter, where moving on is the last thing it wants anyone to do. And so all our heroes unite so that Kid, stepping up and taking the leadership role he has inherited, can finally battle Noah, who has been busy punishing all the teachers who are trying to battle him in our heroes’ place. (Poor bear guy! I’ll miss you!)

Last time we had Maka unable to really get Soul because she didn’t really like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (she should try some of the first Quintet, such as Relaxin’). This time we have Justin’s madness work its way out by way of Radiohead songs. Ohkubo loves to bring Western music references into Soul Eater, and this one is particularly jarring – it likely just sounds like mad gibberish if you don’t know the song, but for a Radiohead fans, “Fitter, Happier” is one of the creepier songs off OK Computer, done with a ‘computer-style’ vocoder vocal. It’s a song meant to seem deeply wrong and also a bit sad, something that applies well to Justin here, who has gone into full minion mode here, determined to resurrect the evil god (even called a Great Old One here, in case the Lovecraft refs weren’t obvious enough).

Summing up: Soul Eater. Still one of the best shonen manga out there. Go get it. And it’s out digitally in 2 weeks too!

Soul Eater, Vol. 18

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

Soul Eater is an ensemble cast, but as with most ensemble casts, some characters are more lead than others, and so Soul Eater really stars Maka and Soul. Throughout the series we’ve seen the growing closeness between the two, and the confidence that they now have. Which is why the chapters on Envy and Sloth that they both go through are so traumatic. It’s such a shame that Maka, deep down, really has these issues with her. Of course, Maka is all of us, and you can never quite get rid of that core of self-loathing, no matter how much confidence you have. Luckily, Maka has Soul to snap her out of it.


As for everyone else, the Lust chapter actually plays out a lot faster than everyone thought, once the basic ‘what if they all changed sexes’ gag is done. Naturally, the more repressed a person is, the longer it takes to change back, which gives us an excuse to watch Tsubaki and Liz be humiliated. Gluttony, Wrath and Pride are excuses for character-based humor, as Black*Star and Patti pig out and we have to deal with the return of the most annoying sword in the world, which even Liz can’t wield in order to save Kid. (There’s some amusing 4th wall breaking here, as it’s noted that Black*Star screaming at Excalibur is buried in the gutter of the book.)

Speaking of 4th wall breaking, the art itself undergoes a change in the Sloth chapter, fitting in with what Maka and Soul are going through. This is probably the most disturbing part of the book, as Giriko shows up and threatens to rape Maka using extremely crude language, which (being in an existential crisis) she just sits there and takes. Luckily, Soul is there to come to her rescue, and she’s able to supposedly kill Giriko, though this may prove trickier than they expected. “People don’t explode when you kill them!” Is this meant to be another commentary on shonen tropes?

And then there’s Kid. We’ve had his obsessive-compulsive disorder used for humor for so long that it’s a bit jarring to see it be so serious now. And, truth be told, it’s a great way to get Kid to turn to the side of evil – point out that the best way everything can truly be symmetrical forever is to make everything become nothing, the empty symmetry of nonexistence. It’s chilling. Luckily, we have the one man whose ego is so big that facing off against something like this is nothing, and the cliffhanger sets us up for the big fight between Kid and Black*Star. The first time they fought, Kid wiped the floor with him, but I suspect things will go differently this time.

Soul Eater is slowly makes its way towards a big confrontation, but the journey is also fun, and this continues to be one of the best shonen titles out there.

Soul Eater, Vol. 17

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.