Part one of Caitlin, Vrai, and Dee’s newbie-friendly rewatch of the only battle shounen with a Halloween theme and a lady lead, Soul Eater!
Date Recorded: November 29th, 2020
Hosts: Caitlin, Vrai, and Dee
0:01:16 Background info
0:02:52 Prologue episodes
0:09:04 Personal stories
0:18:10 The dub
0:20:37 Setting and designs
0:24:35 The weapon/meister system
0:30:32 A girl chasing her mom’s legacy
0:31:39 Soul and Maka
0:38:04 Sid and Okubo’s Black characters
0:40:46 Black Star and Tsubaki
0:43:15 Death the Kid
CAITLIN: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Caitlin and I’m one of the managing editors of Anime Feminist, as well as a reviewer for Anime News Network.
Today we’re starting our rewatchalong of the late aughts shounen hit Soul Eater. You may be thinking to yourself, “Soul Eater? That’s an odd choice for a feminist podcast.” Well, that’s why we’re kind of doing this at double speed, watching a full cour per episode instead of our usual half-cour. So this episode will be covering episodes 1 to 13 of Soul Eater.
I am once again joined by my fellow managing editors, Dee and Vrai.
VRAI: Hey, I’m Vrai Kaiser. I’m a managing editor at Anime Feminist. You can find my freelancing work on my Twitter @WriterVrai, and you can find the other podcast that I cohost @trashpod.
DEE: And I’m Dee, an editor at AniFem. You can find all my writings—well, most of my writings—on my blog The Josei Next Door, and you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor.
CAITLIN: All right, so let’s talk about Soul Eater.
DEE: [crosstalk] Let’s do it.
CAITLIN: Soul Eater originally premiered as a manga in 2004 by Atsushi Ohkubo, running in Monthly Shonen Gangan. It was adapted into an anime in 2008 by Studio Bones, part of their long string of hits that came early in the studio’s history and is not totally maintained to this day, but they definitely have a better hit rate than most studios.
It was directed by Takuya Igarashi, who also directed Ouran High School Host Club and Sailor Moon Stars, among others. It has remained a mainstay of anime fandom for over a decade, including a run on Adult Swim.
So, what is Soul Eater about, if you haven’t seen it before and for some reason you’re listening to this episode? No judgment. It is about a technical school for teens learning to become Shinigami in the desert of Nevada, run by Death himself. About half the students are humans who can turn into weapons, who are then wielded by the other half of the students, who are called meisters. The main characters are Soul and Maka, a weapon–meister combo. And… I just ran out of things to say.
DEE: I think that gets the premise across, though. I think you hit the main points.
CAITLIN: Yeah, just my bad habit of… my extremely podcast-friendly habit of trailing off.
VRAI: I mean, so much of this first cour until the last two or three episodes is just character introduction episodes, so I feel like you’re fine.
CAITLIN: Yeah, the first bit is very episodic and character-focused, and it’s kind of school shenanigans-ish.
DEE: Yeah. I mean, everything that happens builds into what happens next. But yeah, there’s definitely that sense of… we’re just sort of… It’s nice to watch a show that isn’t stuck at being 13 episodes and has to blaze through all that.
I think there are some pacing issues in the early, early going with this one. But it’s nice to be able to just hang out with some kids and go on some one- to two-part adventures and get to know everybody while the major plot gets built around the edges and you get a feel for where the story is going.
CAITLIN: Right. And I really enjoy getting to know these kids.
VRAI: I mean, by the same token, I know so many people who dropped this show in the first three episodes, and they are right to do so.
DEE: I think the three-episode prologue is probably the roughest in the entire series. —Oh, so did we mention that this is a rewatchalong and we’ve all seen it, but we’re gonna spoil anything?
DEE: Okay. Just making sure, yeah.
Yeah, the prologue episodes are rough because they’re based on the first three mini-chapters of the manga, where it was initially conceived as just a bunch of standalone stories loosely connected by this central premise. And then they ended up picking it up for a full serialized run because it was popular, and then it develops a throughline and a story after that and drops 95% of the fanservice, ecchi bullshit that it was doing in the early going.
But that ecchi bullshit is, well, bullshit, so it can make those first three episodes a struggle, especially because they’re so disconnected from one another, you’re not quite sure why they’re happening. So, yeah, I can see how the first three episodes could scare some folks away from this one, absolutely.
CAITLIN: I really enjoy the first three episodes. Yes, the ecchi bullshit is there and it’s bullshit, but also I really do enjoy these characters. The action is really just rock solid, and the whole design aesthetic is so distinctive that I still just really… They drew me in.
DEE: Yeah, the show looks great, absolutely.
CAITLIN: Oh my gosh, it’s really just an incredible-looking show.
VRAI: It’s just so counter to what the show ends up doing, because each of the three episodes is about somehow victimizing the women in each of these weapon–meister pairings. The first episode is about Maka being shit on for being flat-chested while her dad is the worst. We’ll come back to her dad being the worst.
VRAI: And then the second episode is about Tsubaki being peeped on, which the anime scrubbed up that as best it could. We have a good article about the differences.
DEE: About the first three episodes. Yeah, we’ll drop that in the show notes, for sure, because it’s a nice view.
VRAI: But it’s still a peeping plot. And then the third episode has the bandage bullshit. And it’s so not indicative of what the show wants to be. But you can see Igarashi struggling with the source material, trying to get away from it.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And I think Igarashi was a great, really inspired choice to direct this, because he is an incredibly skilled director. He uses great visual language. He’s awesome with really distinctive imagery. But before this, he did mainly direct shoujo anime. Ouran and Sailor Stars, and I think there’s a couple others sprinkled in there.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, he worked on the earlier Sailor Moon, too.
DEE: He worked on Ojamajo Doremi for quite a bit in there, and he is a secret collaborator on Utena, but he was working under a pen name because he was technically not supposed to be working on it because he was working on Sailor Moon at the same time. But yeah, no, he’d pretty much just done shoujo. He’d done solely shoujo up until Soul Eater, so yeah, it was an interesting choice.
But I think it was a really good one, especially for a show that ultimately is about these partnerships and these balanced pairings, and Maka really becomes the main character as the show progresses in a way that I like. I think the show does right by its female characters eventually. But these first three episodes do not let you know that that’s what’s going to happen.
CAITLIN: And Ohkubo did… he did conceive Maka as the main character. The Wikipedia says that that was one of the things he was using to set Soul Eater apart, was having a female protagonist.
DEE: Yeah, but he also put her in a miniskirt and spent the first three chapters just relentlessly flashing her panties.
CAITLIN: Yeah, listen, it’s not great. Anyway, like I said, Igarashi really did take some really pervy material and, with his very strong ability to direct female characters without perving on them, he made it so much more accessible to all sorts of people, because look what’s happening with Fire Force right now. The directorial team is not scrubbing out Ohkubo’s bullshit, and it is really just putting off so many people who otherwise were really enjoying the story. But anyway, so let’s put a pin in that, maybe come back to it.
Let’s talk about how we got into Soul Eater, because for me, I remember it very distinctly, because it was Anime Expo AMV contest. And the AMV was Soul Eater set to Marilyn Manson. Was it Marilyn Manson? Yes, Marilyn Manson’s cover of “This Is Halloween.” Now, I don’t like Marilyn Manson. Would not listen to that song on its own. But the AMV was incredible.
If you follow AMVs at all, because they were a much bigger deal back then, because the technology was less accessible, YouTube was really just starting to be a thing. But if you pay attention to AMVs at all, you’ve probably seen it, and if you haven’t, if you don’t care about AMVs, I still recommend you watch it because it’s a really cool AMV.
And it had all this distinctive imagery. And I’m not generally into horror anime, but it just looked really interesting, and so I came out of it like “I think I want to watch Soul Eater.”
DEE: [Chuckles] I mean, it’s got style coming out the ears, so I could totally see how an AMV would make you go, “Oh, hell yeah.” Especially Maka flipping around with a scythe kicking ass, it’s like, yeah, this seems like my jam.
VRAI: The original upload of that AMV is still on YouTube. It’s got 20 million views. I checked.
VRAI: I’ll drop it in the links.
DEE: That’s excellent. Vrai, how’d you get into Soul Eater?
VRAI: Well, the unreliability of human memory…
VRAI: Now I’m wondering, did I also…? Because I remember seeing that AMV back in the day, but I can’t remember if that was the reason I decided to check it out. I know that somehow Crona was involved, because I remembered really hating those first couple episodes and being on the verge of dropping it and like, “Okay, I’m going to skip forward a little bit and see when this character shows up.” And so now I recommend people that—if people aren’t feeling it, they give episode 7 a shot, and if that episode doesn’t work for you, then this is not the show for you.
DEE: Yeah, I think the two-parter when they introduce Crona is—maybe not as indicative of the show’s lighter moments, but is indicative of the action and the character focus and the development on that end. So, yeah, I can see why you would make that recommendation to folks to jump into it.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and Crona is kinda your type of character, Vrai.
VRAI: Crona’s my baby!
VRAI: I forgot how strong I had feels about Crona!
DEE: Yeah, we’ll definitely get into Crona more. I don’t know how much we’ll get to talk about Crona this time around, but definitely next time I feel like we’ll be able to dig more into that.
CAITLIN: Yeah, there’s definitely gonna be some digging into Crona.
DEE: And folks at home, I expect we will be using “they” pronouns on Crona because Crona is actually gender-ambiguous throughout the entire manga. Funimation went with he/him, so you’ll see that in the subs and in the dub. But we’ll be using they/them because I’m pretty sure somebody asked Ohkubo, “What is Crona’s gender?” and Ohkubo said, “I don’t know, and I don’t want to,” or something to that effect.
CAITLIN: That sounds correct.
VRAI: Yes, that is how I recall that conversation going down.
DEE: Yeah. So, the point being the character is… we’ll just say gender-ambiguous for now, and apparently intentionally so. So we’ll be using they/them pronouns on Crona. But yeah, I had a feeling that Crona was probably what pinged Soul Eater on your radar, Vrai.
VRAI: Gosh, I wonder why!
DEE: Sometimes you’re predictable and that’s okay. I think we all are in our own ways.
CAITLIN: Yeah, listen, we all are facing the terrifying ordeal of being known.
VRAI: But yeah, some confluence of those two things were what led me to pick it up, even though I think any longtime listener knows that I am not a shounen guy. I’m generally of the opinion that you sort of imprint on your generation of titles from when you were a teenager and then ideally you start to mostly watch other shit once you hit your 20s. So this was the last shounen I watched in full.
DEE: That’s wild to me, because I’m a little bit of a tougher sell on shounen than I am on some other genres, but I’ve still seen others in full since Soul Eater. So that’s impressive. Yeah, so…
VRAI: Battle shounen, I feel like I should specify.
DEE: Okay, okay, because I was gonna say you’ve definitely watched other shounen.
VRAI: Yeah, yeah, no, specifically JUMP-style battle shounen.
DEE: See, to me Soul Eater isn’t quite a JUMP style. It takes place at a school, but it doesn’t follow a lot of the same beats that JUMP style… To me it’s very Gangan style, which is like your Full Metal Alchemist, your Pandora Hearts.
VRAI: Yeah, that’s fair.
DEE: Yeah, Gangan has their own style, and I tend to be more drawn to that. And Soul Eater, despite some of Ohkubo’s early bullshit, is very much in that vein of the kind of supernatural action series I’m more into.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s a little less formulaic. The arcs are not structured how you would expect out of a Shonen Jump.
DEE: There’s no tournament arc, so it’s got that going for it.
CAITLIN: Yeah, there’s no tournament arc!
DEE: Which is usually when I stop watching shounen, so…
CAITLIN: Unless you want to count the time that Black Star and Soul heard there was a new kid starting and their immediate response was “We need to go kick his ass.”
DEE: Well, that was… yeah, Black Star, for sure, was his response. Yeah.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Yeah. So, Dee, how did you get into Soul Eater?
DEE: Soul Eater was very much a social college experience for me. I went to go visit some friends who lived a town over and they had been watching it fansubbed as it was coming out in Japan. (It was a different time, folks; we didn’t have streaming.) And they were like 20 episodes in.
They were like, “Dee, you need to watch this show. It’s really cool. We think you’ll really like it.” So, they jumped me in a few episodes in to get a feel for the story. They showed me the three prologue episodes so I’d learn the characters. And then they showed me the two Excalibur episodes that were out at that point because they were like [intensely] “You need to know about Excalibur!”
So, my intro to Soul Eater was kind of a bounce-around to start, and then I really didn’t have access to it and I was watching a bunch of other stuff, so I didn’t get around to finishing it right away. And then not very long later—like a year or two later—Funimation had licensed it and released the whole thing. And in the early, early days of Netflix having streaming services, Soul Eater was one of the first shows that Funimation threw up there.
So, my roommate at the time and I would have Anime Wednesdays, where we would go to the local pizza place that had a really good deal on Wednesdays, we’d get way too much food, we’d eat all of it—accidentally the whole pizza—in a few hours and watch a batch of six to whatever episodes of Soul Eater that night, and had a delightful time with the show. And to this day, I can’t watch Soul Eater without wanting pizza.
CAITLIN: You know, pizza seems like the perfect Soul Eater food.
DEE: It was excellent, yes.
CAITLIN: I feel like it’s really emblematic of the kind of show that Soul Eater is: not the most nutritious, but tasty and filling.
DEE: And, I think, best enjoyed with others. Soul Eater is one that I really enjoy watching with other people.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I’ve been watching some of the episodes with Jared, who I think also can relate to wanting pizza whenever he wants Soul Eater, but that’s just because he always wants pizza.
DEE: [Laughs] Excellent. But I never got around to rewatching it. I always liked it very fondly. It was [a] definitely top-tier shounen series that I look back on and I will recommend it to people, with some caveats, especially from those early episodes, as far as some fanservice and objectification stuff goes. But overall, very fond of it. Just, it’s longish and I just never had a chance to really go back and rewatch, so when you mentioned this, I was down for it.
VRAI: But it’s also a very reasonable length.
CAITLIN: 51 episodes is such a great length for this because it doesn’t go on forever but also doesn’t feel super abbreviated. It’s just perfect. I miss when anime could have the lengths that just felt right.
DEE: Yeah, where they go for half a year to a full year. Yeah, those were nice, for sure.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I feel like 13 episodes is too short a length for a lot of stories, and I don’t think the move to almost entirely single-cour series has been the best thing for the industry. But that’s another topic.
VRAI: Oh, I just wanted to, real quick, note that Soul Eater also has a really killer dub. It’s burdened by the fact that—
CAITLIN: I’m not huge on the dub, actually.
DEE: Oh, okay.
CAITLIN: I mean, I watched a couple episodes of it dubbed, but… I mean, Laura Bailey’s always delightful. But this was a fairly early role for Micah Solusod. I have no idea if saying his name, pronouncing…
VRAI: [crosstalk] It’s his first, I think.
CAITLIN: Yeah, so when I first heard it, I was like, “Hm. Johnny Yong Bosch is kind of playing Soul pretty flat.” [Chuckles] I was like, “Oh, it’s not Johnny Yong Bosch. It is another guy who sounds like a flatter Johnny Yong Bosch.”
VRAI: He takes a little while to get to it, but I really love Brittney Karbowski as Black Star, and I adore Maxey Whitehead as Crona. This was right after she got off of doing Czeslaw in Baccano, and she’s really good.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I mean, I’ve got more attachment to the Japanese track. I’m not saying it is correct or objectively the right way to do it. The dub just didn’t quite connect for me.
VRAI: No, fair.
DEE: I’m glad one of us is watching it in Japanese because I was lowkey worried we were all going to be watching this one dubbed, and it’s good to be able to compare the original language track and stuff.
VRAI: And I’ve been going back and forth because, also, the dub is saddled with… [sighs] with Vic.
DEE: Yeah, he’s playing a piece of shit, though, and it’s not like he’s getting any money from me watching it, so I don’t… He’s Maka’s dad, by the way, folks at home, and they sure do deserve each other.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Now, on the other hand—
DEE: I will say I do watch the Excalibur episode subtitled because…
CAITLIN: Okay, I was gonna say.
DEE: [Through laughter] No, you can’t watch Excalibur without Koyasu Takehito shouting “Baka!” at you.
DEE: That’s how you watch Excalibur episodes! So, yeah, I do have to switch over to the subtitle for the Excalibur episode.
CAITLIN: Okay, good.
DEE: It’s important.
CAITLIN: I was going to say, you’ve gotta have Koyasu Takehito for Excalibur. There’s no other way to do it. No one in English is going to be able to replicate that. He’s got his own voice, it’s the same in every dub, but it’s always wonderful to hear. But anyway…
VRAI: Anyway, designs.
CAITLIN: Anyway, let’s go back to the setting and design real quick. So, it is set in Nevada, which is a really interesting choice for an anime. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another anime set in Nevada and not Las Vegas. It is the Nevada desert, which is what a lot of Nevada is.
DEE: I mean, I assume it’s set there because it’s Death Valley, and I assume Ohkubo thought that was funny.
CAITLIN: Is it actually? Is it supposed to be Death Valley?
DEE: I mean Death Valley’s in Nevada, and it’s the desert, so I assume.
CAITLIN: It’s definitely in California. Is it in Nevada and California?
DEE: I just googled Death Valley in Nevada and it popped up, so I’m gonna go with yes.
CAITLIN: All right. Okay, cool. Yeah, it looks like it’s right along the border.
CAITLIN: But yeah, Nevada is mostly desert. Anyway, there’s also… it has a lot of places that have really doom-sounding names. It’s really interesting that way. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Nevada because that’s where my in-laws are, so…
I love that sun.
DEE: The sun and moon concept is really great. And I like how the anime took the base concepts that are in the manga but are a little bit more simplified and really fleshed them out and went full Halloween Town with the main city. And yeah, they did a really good job with it.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s really good use of early CG, that big sun bobbing up in the sky, looking kind of separate. And every time it laughs, I turn to Jared and I’m like, “Is that what the Nevada summer sun feels like, like it’s laughing at you?” and he’s like, “Yeah, pretty much.”
DEE: Yeah. And then the moon just bleeds out of its teeth any time Medusa’s on screen. There’s some very nice stylistic touches in this show.
CAITLIN: Yeah, just great imagery.
One thing I think that’s interesting and that I’ve never seen anyone write about or even make a YouTube video about is the amount of hip-hop influence in the design and in the music. I mean, it’s very clear from the music. You just listen to the music and there’s a lot of rap and very beat-focused music. I love the eyecatch little snippet. But I feel like it’s also there in the visuals, as well, in a way I cannot quite pin down, partially because I am extremely white and really I don’t know too much about that. But growing up in L.A., it’s something visual that I have seen a lot, so there’s definitely that sort of influence to it.
DEE: Yeah, and I think you can see it in some of the clothing choices, as well. There’s a little bit of an East–West meld with the clothes, I think.
CAITLIN: The kind of very distinctive art style, also. I get a sense of it there but not in a way that I can easily quantify or describe. Ohkubo says that his biggest stylistic influence was actually Tim Burton.
DEE: Oh, well, yeah. That’s extremely believable!
CAITLIN: Yeah, in designing the monsters and all that. I feel like Death the Kid kind of looks like a Tim Burton character. Maybe a little less rumpled.
DEE: He’s definitely got some Jack Skellington vibes off that suit. Yeah, I can feel that for sure.
I think the weapon-meister system is really cool.
DEE: I really like the way the show eventually starts to focus on that as an equal-balance partnership, and they really start talking about how the characters balance each other out and why they’re good pairings.
CAITLIN: And it mostly followed through on that. I feel like the characters actually do balance each other quite well and it’s not just lip service.
DEE: Yeah, for the most part I totally agree. I think if you wanted to get really nitpicky about this… And again, I’m going to give this show some leeway because it’s the mid-2000s, as well. This is 15 years ago. It falls a little bit into that pattern of the fastidious, hardworking, earnest girl and the more devil-may-care, free-spirited guy.
Thank God— Honestly, I really like Kid and the Thompson sisters because I think they help move you away from that, because Kid is the extremely neurotic, fastidious one and Patty especially is very happy-go-lucky and chill and having a good time no matter what’s happening. I think that helps with some of the gender essentialism that could be more thoroughly baked into the story.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Tsubaki and Black Star are, I think, easily the worst offenders.
DEE: Early on, yes. But during Tsubaki’s two-parter this stretch, I think you get a much better sense for why Black Star is a good partner for her, because he is really supportive of… She’s like, “I need to do this on my own.” And I think his egotism is very obnoxious in a “he’s a 14-year-old kid” kind of way. But his confidence in himself kind of extends to his confidence in others, and he’s kind of… what’s the word? It’s almost contagious.
Tsubaki catches it a little bit, and she kind of talks about, you know, “being with him has made me realize that I can be my own person and have my own identity, and I like taking care of other people, but I can know when to stop and take care of myself.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, Black Star’s a sweet kid.
DEE: He— Well… [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: He’ll get there someday. It’s fair.
DEE: I’m not worried that he’s not going to turn out okay, but he is an obnoxious 14-year-old through a decent chunk of this. But no, when he’s just quietly supporting her and letting her do her thing and doesn’t feel like… Because I think Soul kind of runs into this feeling of “I need to protect Maka and be her knight and her shield,” whereas I think Black Star doesn’t necessarily have that to his character.
So, as you go, I, anyway, got a better feel for why they made a good pairing and the fact that Tsubaki actually does kind of like taking care of other people, so the fact that Black Star needs a little bit more taking care of than another meister isn’t something that bothers her. And I think that makes their relationship work out a lot better by the end of this stretch of episodes, because in the first couple I’m like, “Why are you with this little shit?”
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Yeah. I do want to talk about it a little bit more generally also. I really appreciate that the weapon… It’s not gendered. It’s not like the boys are the weapons and the girls are the meisters or vice versa. And although our main pairings are mostly different genders, it’s also not always that it has to be a boy and a girl.
VRAI: I mean, it is a little bit heteronormative implicitly, because the only same-gender pairing we see in this stretch is Stein and Maka’s dad’s spirit, and that was a very bad union, and Stein has some—boy!—creepy queer-coding undertones to him.
DEE: [Hesitant] I don’t catch the queer-coding.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I didn’t catch that.
DEE: But I will give you that experimenting on somebody in their sleep is extremely messed up, and it’s like the one point of sympathy I have for Maka’s shitbag of a father.
VRAI: He’s the worst and I hate him.
DEE: He sucks. Yeah, all of the adults kind of suck in this show.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and the pairings aren’t necessarily romantic, but I can see how a lot of them…
DEE: I actually like the fact that, so far anyway, the show has a huge focus on partnerships. And like you said, it does tend to be boy–girl pairings, so there is that idea of genders balancing each other out. You see that in a lot of… I mean, this is not the first anime or manga to have done that. But it’s almost always tied to romance and sexual tension and love.
And I really, really like that Soul Eater… I think you can make an argument this early that maybe there’s a little bit of that between Soul and Maka, but for the most part, you don’t get romantic vibes from these partnerships at all. These are platonic friendships that are different, depending upon the grouping, but it’s not inherently tied to romance and I really like that about the partnerships here.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I mean, I do get a shippy vibe from Maka and Soul.
VRAI: But even if that’s the case, it is definitely about their emotional respect for each other first and foremost, and that’s great.
CAITLIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Their partnerships are built on respecting each other and working together, and I can see how some of them would turn romantic because ideally romances are partnerships as well; you know this other person really well.
Maka’s parents were a weapon–meister pairing. That didn’t work out great!
DEE: Well, no, because, once again, her dad is a shitbag who can’t stop cheating on his wife.
CAITLIN: Her dad is terrible.
DEE: One thing I really like about Soul Eater is that it follows a female protag who is kind of following in her mother’s footsteps, and we talk about how there’s just not that many female mentors in shounen. Even in a lot of shounen with female main characters, you won’t necessarily see them following their moms, so that was one thing that always stuck out about me about Soul Eater—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] But we don’t see the mom.
DEE: No, but this is so common in shounen, where there’s the boy chasing after the dad who’s never on screen, but he’s famous and he’s somewhere and he’s gonna come home and they’re gonna be besties once, you know, the kid lives up to the parents’ reputation or whatever. That’s so common in shounen, and so to see that flipped with the genders, where Maka’s mom is off somewhere being a big fancy reaper—Shinigami, however you want to say it—but we know that she’s a badass and that Maka really respects her and is chasing after her. Yeah, it’s that gender reversal that I really appreciate, that I wish we had more of.
VRAI: Yeah, a lot of people praised Made in Abyss for that element, and this is quite a bit earlier.
CAITLIN: And this doesn’t have a piss fetish.
VRAI: It doesn’t.
CAITLIN: So, yeah, let’s talk a bit more about the characters. Since this is a very episodic stretch, I felt like it made more sense to break it down character by character, partnership by partnership, rather than on the plot. Future episodes, we might be talking a little bit more about the plot.
So, yeah, we talked a bit about Soul and Maka. Soul’s kind of a butthead.
CAITLIN: Like you said, it does kind of rely on Maka a little bit to be the moderating influence. Soul should not just torment Maka about her flatchestedness, especially compared to Blair. But they do have a really sweet relationship overall, I think.
Maka’s worry, her survivor’s guilt when Soul gets hurt with her in the fight against Crona and Ragnarok, speaks really well towards the character development. I also really like how in the show the characters are not 100% tied to each other all the time. Sometimes Soul’s hanging out with Black Star.
DEE: Yeah, Maka and Tsubaki have a really nice relationship. Yeah, no, I do like that as well.
Soul and Maka, to me, I think their relationship is very realistic for their age, because they fight constantly. And I think that is pretty true to their ages and their personalities, and I like that you can still tell that they care about each other and trust each other. But I think the push and pull with them makes them the most interesting relationship in the story up to this point, because they both want to protect the other one.
That’s the big conflict towards the end of this arc: Maka wants to get stronger to protect Soul, and Soul wants to get stronger to protect Maka. And he can’t understand why Maka won’t just use him like a weapon, and she doesn’t want that to be their relationship; she wants it to be a more equal partnership where they’re both taking risks. And I really like that Soul has a little bit of a white knight syndrome, I think, and Maka really won’t let him. She pushes back on that a lot by being like, “No, I want to be able to stand on my own two feet as well.”
And I like the way the show uses them to talk about fear as being something important and something that you should not pretend doesn’t exist, but you should acknowledge it and use it to help you understand your limits, but then also know when you need to work through it. And that throughline of… Maka’s thing is her courage, because she is afraid, because she is facing these really powerful opponents and she’s worried about her friends and all this other stuff, and how she pushes through that and finds ways to work with it. I really like those throughlines in these early episodes here.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Do we know Soul’s backstory yet?
DEE: No. We haven’t really learned anything about him yet.
CAITLIN: I like… Somehow his parents decided it would be a good idea to name their child Soul Eater Evans.
DEE: Well, Eater… Soul Eater is his nickname, right? His name is Soul Evans.
DEE: Because Eater’s always in quotation marks. It’s always Soul, quotation marks “Eater,” Evans.
CAITLIN: Is it?
DEE: Yeah. That’s how I’ve seen it written, anyway. It’s not important.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Soul is still an interesting name.
DEE: Some of the character names are suspect. I mean, one of the character’s names is Black ☆ Star, and there’s an actual star in the middle of his name. You’re not spelling it right if you don’t include the star.
VRAI: The subtitles cannot parse.
CAITLIN: No. It makes the subtitles sad.
DEE: Sorry, Vrai, do you have any thoughts on Maka and Soul, or should we go on to the next…?
VRAI: No, I like them. I think they’re very sweet. It is probably worth noting that the show, as the 2000s go, has a little bit of that “The slapstick is funny if it’s a girl hitting a boy,” but…
DEE: Yeah, the Maka Chop. Most of the time Soul kind of deserves it, though, because he’s being an asshole.
VRAI: I can’t get too mad about it, but it is sort of that double-standard that’s there.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I could live without the “Oh no, Blair has suddenly shown up naked and now Maka is yelling at Soul even though he didn’t do anything!”
DEE: Yeah. Blair is just a fanservice character. She really has no other purpose at this point.
VRAI: I love when the show, towards the end of the cour, just starts making her a cute cat instead and you can feel Igarashi being like “Freedom!”
DEE: Well, okay, listen, to be fair, Igarashi cut a lot of the fanservicey bullshit out of the first, let’s say, two chapters. From there, I think the anime does a much better job of fleshing out some of the scenes and choosing how to cut things and stage them and what have you. It’s pretty much beat for beat the same thing.
Ohkubo also after the first few chapters drops like 90% of the fanservice as well; like suddenly Maka’s doing cool flips and she’s not flashing her panties all the time. So either an editor at Gangan told him to knock it out or he just decided that wasn’t what he wanted to focus on. I have no idea what went on behind the scenes, but yeah, Blair sitting on Maka’s head in that scene as a kitty is also in the manga.
VRAI: Okay, fair, fair, fair.
CAITLIN: I noticed in one episode Maka ends up upside-down and her skirt is doing the magical anti-gravity thing where it actually folds under, even though the more realistic thing would be to show her underwear.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, but who cares?
CAITLIN: But who needs realism? Anime doesn’t have to be realistic. I looked at that, and I’m like, if that happened in the manga, her skirt would be flipped all the way up, underwear…
DEE: If you’re talking about the last scene where she’s dangling from the bridge with Free, the manga is also very nice about that.
CAITLIN: It was when she was fighting Sid.
DEE: Oh yeah, no, the Sid fight is absolutely repulsive in the manga.
CAITLIN: [deadpan] Cool. Great.
DEE: I don’t even want to get into it. It’s terrible! There’s a full-on smash-cut superzoom on a teenager’s camel toe, and I didn’t like it.
CAITLIN: Oh no! Don’t like that.
DEE: [crosstalk] It’s really bad. No.
CAITLIN: I don’t care for that.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Can we take a moment to acknowledge Sid? Because I feel like that is also…
DEE: Yeah, we were talking about the hip-hop references and I thought about bringing it up, but there just never was a particularly good time. Yeah, Sid is their Black teacher, who they immediately kill and turn into a zombie. So, my memory of the show is that he continues to be a character and is actually a pretty decent guy. But, you know, maybe don’t immediately kill your Black character and turn him into a zombie.
CAITLIN: It is complicated because he does continue to be a character.
VRAI: And probably the most wholesome adult mentor they have. But also yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah, he was the best teacher at the academy before he died. He continues to probably be the best teacher.
DEE: That’s just the kind of man he was.
CAITLIN: He is also very visibly Black: he’s wearing a jersey, he’s got cornrows, he carries that sort of hip-hop aesthetic very strongly. Ohkubo also, for all of his strengths and flaws, he is better than 99.99% of manga writers at including Black characters.
VRAI: Yeah, Soul Eater actually introduces another…
DEE: Again… Yeah, not to spoil anything for the folks at home, but there’s a supporting character who I’m pretty sure is a fellow student at the school who is also a Black kid and is, to my memory, handled pretty well, but it’s been years, so who knows?
CAITLIN: Yeah. There are Black characters in Fire Force. It is something that he does include, and they’re not generally totally stereotypical.
DEE: Not that that’s our call to make, folks at home.
CAITLIN: Not that it’s our call to make.
DEE: Let us know your thoughts.
CAITLIN: Yeah. If you disagree, please feel free to let me know. But yeah, so Sid is…
CAITLIN: … complicated, and after he becomes a zombie, his skin color changes but he’s still visibly Black with his braids and everything. So, it’s not my call to make one way or the other, but it’s worth mentioning.
DEE: Well, especially if you’re going to take those hip-hop influences but then not really have a lot of characters from the culture where those influences came from. I think that’s a fair point of criticism for the show. Yeah, worth mentioning.
Can we…? So, unless you guys have something else you want to say about Black Star and Tsubaki, who I know I talked about for a little bit earlier…
VRAI: I would like to quickly note that… We don’t need to linger on it, but I do like that even though the show has pretty much set up Tsubaki as your sort of prototypical Yamato Nadeshiko character, I do like that her two-parter is basically a speedrun of Tohru’s arc from Fruits Basket. And that’s nice. And that’s all I have to say about that.
DEE: That is fair. That is fair. And I think Tsubaki is one of those characters who would work a lot less well if there were no other female characters or all the other female characters were exactly like her.
CAITLIN: Because she’s The Girl and she’s doing the feminine role.
DEE: Yeah. But I think having that sort of caretaker character in your cast with lots of other people, it doesn’t feel as stereotypical to me. It feels more like a decision they made with who Tsubaki as a person is.
And, God, I really, really like her two-parter with her brother, not just because it is beautifully staged, but I think the way it gives you insight into who Tsubaki is and this low self-esteem that she used to have and coming into her own—I think it’s a really nice, well-contained little coming-of-age tale for her.
CAITLIN: Yeah. This is a much less in-depth point: I think it’s a little odd that Tsubaki is in class with all of them. I guess the DWMA doesn’t divide by age but more by partnership because she’s significantly older than the other characters.
DEE: I thought she was supposed to be older, [not] really significantly.
CAITLIN: She’s like 17 or 18.
DEE: Oh, okay, that’s not significantly… Maka’s 15, I think.
CAITLIN: Well, not significant, but she is definitely…
DEE: She’s 17, yeah, and Maka is 15. Oh, Maka’s 14. My bad. Soul is 15. So, yeah, I knew she was supposed to be a little bit older, so she’s a little bit more mature and is kind of like the big sister of the group.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and I like that she and Black Star have a more sibling-ish relationship. All the meisters and weapon pairings have very strong but very different kinds of relationships.
VRAI: It’s good.
CAITLIN: A nice, loving big sister.
VRAI: [crosstalk] So, Kid’s a whole thing, huh?
DEE: I was gonna say, we need to spend some time on Death the Kid, who is probably… I have a very soft spot for Kid in my heart. But hoo boy, is he a big hot mess!
CAITLIN: He’s a good boy. I think his first episode was rough because one of the first things he does is grab one each of Liz and Patty’s boobs and is like “It’s not symmetrical!” and that’s just a very basic shounen junk, and they’re just like, “Oh, well, you know,” just casually letting Kid grab their tits. Yeah, that wasn’t great.
So, it was really interesting—and this was always going to be a big topic of discussion—when I was in college, one of my friends who liked Soul Eater, her parents were both psychologists, and so she felt that Death the Kid was a good representation of OCD. Exaggerated and caricaturized, but a fairly decent, basic understanding of how that illness functions.
VRAI: [Winding up] Um…
CAITLIN: But she didn’t actually have it.
CAITLIN: It was mostly her observation of her parents’ work.
DEE: Sorry, Vrai’s buildup is very good.
CAITLIN: She was not studying psychology. She was in school for biomedical engineering, so I no longer take her word for granted. Margo, if for some reason you’re listening, I apologize.
So, you guys, I don’t have immediate experience with the illness myself, so yeah, I’m curious to hear what you guys have to say.
VRAI: This is where I… I hate that I—
DEE: Vrai, go ahead.
VRAI: [Chuckles] I hate that I have to do a little spiel now. So, basically I was diagnosed with OCD as a teenager. I was re-diagnosed within a year ago with autism in lieu of OCD, but those two things are very tightly comorbid, and I have some mysophobia anyway, so yes and no.
But so, I think your friend isn’t wrong that Kid very much vibes with the intrusive thoughts parts of OCD where he has to leave because he can’t remember if he did the thing at home that he needs to do. So, yes, because it’s very rare to see OCD characters who focus on the intrusive thought element rather than mysophobia, which is a pretty consistent part of OCD but not universal. Not everybody has the germaphobia part. I tend to point to Clean Freak! Aoyama as, surprisingly, the best depiction, but it is almost exclusively about mysophobia.
But so it’s not necessarily that I think he’s not accurate as a comedic, self-deprecating portrayal of those thought patterns, so much as that I think that he exists in a series that doesn’t take him seriously, that he has this very debilitating thing, and that that would not be such a bad thing if there weren’t any depictions of that mental illness that didn’t treat it like these characters are just being a pain in the ass who are doing this thing that they should get over to stop making everybody’s life hard. I feel like that’s the sticking point for me. But I do still like Kid.
DEE: Yeah, Liz and Patty really don’t have a lot of sympathy for Kid’s obsession with symmetry and need to make sure that he did everything right at home and all that stuff. Yeah. I do agree with that. I think that would make it a lot more palatable, more enjoyable.
So, I can’t speak at this from an OCD perspective—and I would agree with you, Vrai, that I don’t think it’s necessarily quote-unquote “good” mental health rep. I do have to admit I do vibe with Kid from the perspective of the anxiety he feels about the pressures of his future, because he’ll often talk like… When they’re like, “Kid, the toilet paper’s not a big deal,” he’s like, “How can I expect to be the next Shinigami if I can’t even remember to fold the damn toilet paper right? I have to go home and fix this or I’m garbage!” I really vibe with those kind of teen anxieties that I think he exaggerates to comedic levels, and that low self-esteem, and when he goes on his little despair spirals.
And again, this is going to be very different for everybody, [but] I find something kind of relatable in the absurdity of those moments, where you watch it play out and you’re like, “Okay, yeah, probably it is a little absurd for me to be freaking out about this little thing and thinking it’s going to have this huge impact on my future. Probably I need to take a breath and kind of chuckle about the fact that I’m hyperfocusing on this thing.”
So, from that perspective, I think that’s why I’m very fond of Kid: because I do kind of vibe with some of his neuroses and anxieties from a teenage perspective. But I do agree with you that I think the show really wandered into actual mental illness, OCD territory and did not realize that’s what it was doing and did not know how to handle that.
CAITLIN: I would really love to know what Ohkubo’s intentions were with creating him, if he was deliberately drawing on OCD or not.
DEE: But that having been said, again, Vrai, I do agree with you and I think that the way that the other characters just treat him as kind of a pain in the ass, I think that’s my one pain point with Kid, but it’s also one of the reasons why I end up liking him more. I’m like, “Aw, Kid! Nobody’s giving you the support you need.”
VRAI: I do have a fondness for him. I do.
CAITLIN: Yeah. He’s pretty good.
DEE: He doesn’t get to do much in this stretch.
VRAI: Yeah, his character episodes are right at the start of the next cour, so…
DEE: Oh, cool. Okay.
CAITLIN: I do think the… And I keep coming back to it because it’s such a ridiculous episode. The episode where he is starting at the school and Soul and Black Star are like “We gotta kick this guy’s ass,” that was a pretty fun battle. Fun, low stakes. It was able to show off his abilities as not just a kid but as the actual child of the God of Death himself.
DEE: Yeah, he has way more raw power than the other characters, which I think is another reason why he kind of gets sidelined a little bit in this early arc, because he might have an easier time with some of these enemies.
I also think that’s one of the reasons why he’s written to be where his main… Like, Maka’s thing is more she needs to overcome her fear and figure out how to work forward, but a lot of it for her is becoming stronger and figuring out how to wield these powers and work together with Soul. And Kid already has the power down and the techniques down, and Kid’s big hurdle is on the mental/emotional side, these extreme anxiety and self-esteem issues that he has.
CAITLIN: Right, if he could put those aside, he would very easily be able to completely waste whatever kishin souls he comes across.
DEE: Yeah, but obviously this is not that simple, so he can’t just put it aside. Much like Maka’s fear or Black Star just being a 13-year-old goober, it is something that he is going to have to learn how to work with.
And again, I wish that the series would do more with Liz and Patty accommodating his needs instead of it being like “You just need to figure out how to deal with this.” But I honestly don’t remember what they do with Kid’s arc in this series, so I can’t speak too much to it.
CAITLIN: The details after this are so hazy.
VRAI: Yeah, I really want to find out more about their relationship and the whole thing, because I can’t remember how much it goes into that.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I do want to say I love Patty’s laugh. It’s terrible.
DEE: [Chuckles] Yeah.
CAITLIN: It’s not like—and this is something that I talk about with Jared—it’s not a cute laugh. It is incredibly obnoxious. And when she gets started she just doesn’t stop. She sits there and laughs. I don’t know what her laugh sounds like in the dub, but in the sub, it’s just… We’ve all known at least one person who had this really loud, penetrating laugh and they would just laugh at completely inappropriate times. I might even be that person and not even know it. Who knows?
DEE: I think the characterization of Liz and Patty is really nice because I think it could have been really easy to just make them the same person, like twin sisters who act the same way, kind of interchangeable. And they’re really not. Liz is both more temperamental but also more emotional. She’s more likely to cry about things. Patty’s extremely chill and, like you said, kind of tone deaf to situations from time to time.
CAITLIN: Doesn’t take anything seriously.
DEE: Yeah, is kind of just cool with whatever. So I do like the way they’re balanced out.
And something that I do think is worth mentioning early at this point is they touch on a class difference between them and Kid. They see Kid as this pampered little rich boy. So when he goes through these anxiety spirals, to them it’s just like, “Oh, look at this spoiled little kid throwing a temper tantrum.” They don’t really get where he’s coming from.
And I think some of that does come from their upbringing, and we know that they kind of grew up poor on the streets and were possibly involved in crime. It’s unclear. So there’s points of conflict there that I hope the series explores, but I honestly don’t remember. So we’ll see.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and listen, I always appreciate twin characters that are not identical or don’t act totally in sync.
DEE: I’m not sure they’re actually twins. I know they’re sisters, but I’m not sure that they’re technically twins.
CAITLIN: I’m pretty sure they’re twins.
VRAI: Liz called Patty her younger sister at one point, but that could mean younger twin.
CAITLIN: Well, yeah, but that’s just… Japanese doesn’t have a word for just “sister.” It’s always “older” or “younger.” You’ll see that with any anime. The older sister is still oneesan, and the younger sister is still imouto. That’s just how it is.
VRAI: We’re gonna have to talk about Crona and Medusa next time. [Chuckles]
DEE: I was gonna say, we’re coming up on the hour. I’m glad we got in the conversation about Crona’s gender and us using they/them pronouns and stuff. I’m glad we touched on that. But Crona was only really in a couple of episodes, and yeah, I think it’s probably best to save that conversation for next time anyway.
VRAI: I will say, I feel like Crona has been pretty… I’m always sort of uncomfortable with calling Crona gender-ambiguous. I like to think they’ve been thoroughly reclaimed as gender-neutral or genderqueer, just because my primary experience of them back in fandom days when I was watching the show the first time is that people would gender Crona based on who they shipped them with. And it’s an intensely uncomfortable memory.
DEE: Geez. Yeah.
CAITLIN: I mean, I definitely remember being like—and this was younger me just not getting it—being like, “Is Crona a boy or a girl? It’s gotta be one, right?”
VRAI: No, no.
CAITLIN: No, it doesn’t have to be one.
VRAI: Even the dubbing… There’s a note from the dubbing team—I think they put it in the DVD liner notes or something—where they’re like, “Well, we decided to use ‘he’ for Crona because we felt like calling them ‘it’ would be really disrespectful to the character.” And I’m like, “You know, there’s a whole ‘nother word. Has someone told you there’s a whole ‘nother word?”
DEE: Yeah. It was like 2004, 2005.
VRAI: [crosstalk] It was like 2010, but still, yes, correct.
CAITLIN: That’s still a whole decade ago.
DEE: I think we touched on a lot of the main things in this stretch, and the stuff we didn’t get to, we will have time to get to next time.
VRAI: Yeah, now that we’ve done a lot of the setup stuff, that’ll leave us a lot more time next time.
DEE: Yeah, for sure, for sure.
CAITLIN: Then I will play us out. All right, so that’s our episode. Thank you for listening. Next time we’re going to be talking about episodes 14 to 26.
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