"Soul Eater" Parts 3 & 4: Well, This Bites!
How is it possible for a show to fall from “great” to “mediocre” so fast? Soul Eater Part Two ended in the middle of a fight scene, and the show’s collapse in quality begins mere minutes after the same scene is picked up in Part Three. According to Wikipedia, it is during these episodes that the anime’s plot begins to split off from the manga’s; this does not surprise me in the least, for the story follows a sad but recognizable path, becoming lousy with characters, concepts, and storylines before abruptly dropping most of them and stumbling to a clumsy ending.
The problems start right off with the introduction of a new villain, the witch Arachne (the older sister of another villain, Medusa), who quickly becomes the primary antagonist for most of the second story arc. I have no idea why this character exists. Even if she weren’t completely uninteresting, her relationship to the plot is tenuous at best and she does nothing but take a lot of attention away the Kishin Ashura and Medusa, the show’s real villains whom most of the story centers around. There are some attempts to shift focus back to Medusa, and then to tie Arachne in with Ashura, and then to shift focus back to Ashura, but these feel contrived and off-putting. The show is simply not big enough for three major bad guys.
But the problems don’t end at Arachne; the flood of new characters just doesn’t stop. First we meet Arachne’s two assistants, the elderly Mosquito and the hot-headed Giriko. Then a bunch of other DWMA students that have only previously appeared in the background, like the intellectual Ox Ford and the pink-haired Kim Diehl, are suddenly thrust into prominent positions. Then there’s Eibon, a former member of Lord Death’s Justice League, whose inventions play a huge part in the plot. Excalibur comes back. The samurai Mifune and his ward Angela come back. Little Demon comes back. By the time the coffee-loving mechanic Joe Buttataki showed up, I began to realize that something very wrong was happening here. A large cast inevitably means that some characters will be pushed to the side, especially when the show in question is a “mere” fifty-one episode adaptation of a much longer and larger comic book. When half of that cast is introduced halfway through the series, the problems are increased by a magnitude or two; characters don’t move to the sidelines so much as they virtually disappear, and those that are still around get juggled about schizophrenically.
The contagious sense of fun the show first carried can still be found, but only sandwiched between bits that play more like the first story arc’s climax. There, the series traded its “Harry Potter meets Tim Burton” atmosphere (as one poster on TZ’s forums aptly put it) for one that’s closer to “Harry Potter meets Stephen King”, and the series became a bit more solemn. These are fitting changes for a finale, but they grate when they are omnipresent; the show never exactly becomes outright pretentious, but there is a feeling that it is taking itself a bit more seriously than a series with such silly elements should. As a result, the more outrageous comedic bits feel out-of-place.
Then there’s the dub. I had my suspicions about Soul Eater‘s English dub when I first heard it—the English VAs seemed a bit more energetic then was strictly necessary—but I learned to like it, partly because the subtitles were so uber-literal that they made the show unwatchable, and partly because, for the most part, the cast improved greatly over the course of the series. (I’ve become a big fan of Laura Bailey’s Maka and Todd Haberkorn’s Death the Kid.) The VAs are in fine form in these new sets (in fact, they’re what kept me watching the English version); the script, not so much. It’s filled to an alarming degree with the kind of pointless and clumsy script changes that annoy me more then all the xenophobic 4Kids nonsense put together. In one particularly jarring example, dialogue pertaining to a visual gag about a musical instrument is completely removed, effectively changing it into a visual non-sequitur. This is the most obvious change, but there are countless other spots where the dub script is much clunkier then the subtitles.
Soul Eater continues to boast an energetic soundtrack, expressive character designs, and lavish fight sequences. There are also a few moments where it comes close to rekindling its earlier spirit, especially in the two Death the Kid solo episodes. Unfortunately, none of that is enough to distract from its flaws. I’m going to have to recommend pretending the show ended on a cliffhanger back at episode twenty-four.