Part two of Caitlin, Vrai, and Dee’s newbie-friendly rewatch; featuring much crying over Crona, talk about the show’s portrayals of adult women, and EX-CALI-BUR.
Date Recorded: December 19th, 2020
Hosts: Caitlin, Vrai, and Dee
0:01:44 A quick recap for folks at home
0:09:33 Engagement with mental health
0:12:51 Maka and Crona
0:20:54 Maka’s parent
0:25:35 Death the Kid
0:28:52 Stein and Medusa
0:39:04 Marie, Azusa, and GENDER
0:46:03 Character designs
0:49:10 Fanservice and body horror
0:55:58 The concert story
DEE: Okay. In the words of Excalibur, [imitates Excalibur’s voice] “Here we go!” [Returns to normal voice] Hello and wel—
DEE: Well, now I need to do it again to get a clean cut. Sorry, I’ll be less funny. I’ll be less funny next time I start.
[Intro theme music]
DEE: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. I’m Dee, one of the managing editors at AniFem. You can find all my writings on my blog, The Josei Next Door, and you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor. And I am joined today by my fellow AniFem staffers Vrai and Caitlin.
CAITLIN: Hi, I’m Caitlin. I am the managing technical editor at Anime Feminist. So I’m the one who’s out there correcting your grammar and stuff. And I am also a reviewer at Anime News Network and just so happy to be here today.
DEE: As am I, because today we are continuing our Soul Eater rewatchalong with part two, episodes 14 through 26. Just as a reminder for folks at home, the rewatchalongs are: everybody on the show has seen the show before but it’s been a little while, so maybe we’re fuzzy on plot points. And we’re not going to spoil anything. We won’t talk about anything that happens beyond this stretch of episodes. So, newbies are welcome. It’ll be spoiler free other than, again, episodes 14 through 26.
Just a quick recap for folks at home, depending upon when you last watched the show. During this stretch, there’s a few one-off episodes at the beginning that help establish the characters a little better. And then we really dig into an extended arc.
Medusa attacks the academy so that she can resurrect the Kishin. Our main kids, along with Stein and Maka’s shitty dad Spirit, are able to escape from the temporary prison that the witches and Free put them into and chase after the witches. They almost stop them, but not quite. The Kishin does get resurrected and is now out in the world, leaking Madness into reality.
And so the next arc will be about trying to track him down and figuring out how to stop him. So, most of this arc was taken up by that big battle underground, and then there’s some stuff before and after that sort of rounds out the cast.
There’s a lot to talk about there. But I want to start with something we didn’t get to talk about last time that Caitlin was very sad about.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] I was really sad.
DEE: It’s not even remotely feminist relevant. It’s just silly. We love Excalibur and we just needed to have a little bit of time to talk about Excalibur, especially because his episode this time through—episode 17—is kind of how I was introduced to the show, and my friends and I would sing the song and we would shout “Fool!” at each other. And Excalibur was a meme in the early days of anime memery, I feel.
So, Caitlin, you wanted to give some little Excalibur love here, as well?
CAITLIN: Oh, man. He makes me laugh every time. I love that he’s played by Koyasu Takehito, who’s good but generally has a fairly narrow range. But you can tell that he is having so much fun playing Excalibur and just having a great time.
When I first started rewatching the show—and I remember, honestly, very little about Soul Eater since I started the rewatch—I thought Excalibur was just annoying and went on. And when I watched his first episode that we didn’t get to talk about last one, I realized that it’s not just that he rambles on, but that he does not make any sense. He fails the tests of pragmatics, which is the linguistic study of conversation and relevance.
It’s not just that he’s annoying. It’s that when you’re talking about him, he contradicts himself, he changes the subject randomly, he yells at you if you try to respond to anything that he says. There’s nothing to hold on to. It’s not that he’s annoying to talk to. It’s that you can’t talk to him, because there’s no logical flow whatsoever in his thoughts and what he says. And it’s wonderful.
DEE: It is pure, unfiltered absurdity in a way that Igarashi clearly latched onto, because that episode 17, the second Excalibur episode, is anime-original. He does eventually show back up in the manga. And I think the order of events is, by the time he shows back up in the manga, this anime episode had already come out because Excalibur’s song is in the manga, and I think it’s that Ohkubo liked it so much, he threw it in the manga. I think that’s how the order of events went down there. But don’t 100% quote me on that.
But yeah, he is… I described his second episode as a fascinating life told incoherently, because you keep getting these snippets of like, “I feel like there’s a lot going on with you,” and the episode really leans into playing with story tropes. There’s a West Side Story reference, there’s some Arthurian legend little jokes in there.
I wanted to ask you guys, did this episode remind you of anything, take you back to any other anime moments that you’ve felt before, as far as comedic stylings and things go with it?
CAITLIN: Should it? [Chuckles]
DEE: Okay, so, watching it, it felt like that blend of silliness and absurdity that was in Sailor Moon and then that you see in the Nanami episodes of Utena… is what it reminded me of, the use of repetition to build to a joke, some of the uses of pauses and character reactions. Just the structure and flow of the comedy was very much what I consider the Ikuhara-Igarashi blend. I think when you put the two of them into a room, I think that’s the goofiness that comes out.
And I wasn’t wrong in that thought process because then I went to go check on the episode, and it is directed and storyboarded by Shingo Kaneko, who was the assistant director on Utena and is one of a few people who has worked with both Ikuhara and Igarashi on multiple projects since then. He pops in to storyboard or direct at least one episode of basically everything the two of them have done.
Most notably, he worked pretty extensively on Ouran, Penguindrum, and then, most recently, Sarazanmai. He’s actually credited with directing and storyboarding the Sarazanmai-like kappa dance sequence that they do. Yeah, so he is part of the team, and so it really does feel like Igarashi brought him in to be like, “Hey, I think this character is hilarious. Can you just have fun with him?”
VRAI: That tracks. I did appreciate these episodes a lot more as an adult, because I remember just straight-up skipping them when I watched this show as a teenager.
DEE: Oh no!
VRAI: They were very annoying.
VRAI: But in fact, they’re gloriously annoying.
DEE: Exactly! Exactly. Again, it’s that kind of absurdist humor that I really enjoy seeing it play out, and yeah, I think, again, it’s also very memeable, which is fun.
CAITLIN: It is. Excalibur Face? Always useful.
DEE: Excalibur Face is so good. I don’t know how much else we want to say about that, but I do know we wanted to spend a little bit of time appreciating Excalibur. And I thought the production history there was worth mentioning, just because watching the episode, that was all I could think. I was like, “This is like a Nanami episode, and I don’t know how to explain it beyond that. That’s just the vibe I get.”
CAITLIN: I’m curious. Who is his dub voice actor?
VRAI: Oh, I know this. He’s good.
CAITLIN: You usually watch Soul Eater dubbed except for the Excalibur episodes, [obscured by crosstalk].
DEE: [crosstalk] I always watch the Excalibur episodes in Japanese, yeah, because Koyasu is good. And I don’t know the English actor’s name. I didn’t look it up. I mean, he does a fine job. But Koyasu’s too good.
VRAI: Oh, it’s Troy Baker.
CAITLIN: Oh man!
VRAI: Yeah, he’s good. He’s a good Excalibur. I like him. I’ve been going back and forth this watch doing mostly Japanese but also some things rewatched in English because that was how I watched it the first time, and yeah, he’s a good Excalibur.
CAITLIN: I like Troy Baker. Honestly, I was thinking to myself, no one could be nearly as good, but maybe I’ll give a dubbed Excalibur episode a try.
DEE: [Chuckles] Okay. Okay, I think that is all the time we want to spend on Excalibur. We have a lot to discuss here going into this stretch. A lot happened, and the show starts to solidify a little bit around some broader feminist-minded themes.
I had really thought that this watchalong was going to be focused on gender roles and norms, because I remembered Maka and I remembered Crona and the meister–weapon dynamic. I thought that would be the majority of the conversation. And we are going to talk about that, a little bit, but…
VRAI: Yeah, this is just the episode where I cry about Crona, folks. Strap in.
DEE: [Chuckles] What really stood out to me this stretch was something that I think I just did not pick up on my first time through, is how much the series is engaging with mental health and mental illness, and sometimes on a somewhat grounded level and then other times on this very fantasy, magical, “the Madness” level, and that sort of conversation that keeps coming up. So, oh boy, it’s all over the map and I think it’s a good idea to dig into that a little bit.
So, do we want to just go ahead and start with Crona? Crona’s sort of the centerpiece of this stretch of episodes, I feel.
CAITLIN: Let’s start with Vrai crying.
VRAI: [Chuckles] I was gonna say, this stretch of episodes reminded me why I like this series so much and why it’s genuinely one of my favorite shounen. Because it reminds me of Yu-Gi-Oh, lowkey. This genre of anime is so my problematic fave, where on the one hand—the “minds connecting” journey to the interior self abstractly realized is so a thing I’m into—and on the one hand, it can lead to these really beautiful, surreal visuals and also this radical empathy of understanding people who cognate differently than you; and on the other hand, it can also swing—like you mentioned, Dee, these episodes are all over the map—it can also swing into Patrick Swayze in Donnie Darko, where he’s talking about how all emotions exist on a continuum between fear and love.
I think Crona is definitely the best case. I think that their arc is the best handled, but there are definitely characters in this stretch where “Just stop it” is essentially what it boils down to. “Stop feeling that way.”
DEE: Oh, the way other characters respond to them?
VRAI: I think that in some cases, there can be a boiling down of certain more complex issues when “fear” becomes the thematic root of everything, you know?
DEE: Yeah, the show is definitely engaging in this concept of fear of the unknown, of others, of what have you, and then how you respond to that. That is the throughline through everything.
Maka’s greatest strength is that she acknowledges her fear and then works with it instead of trying to push it away or deny it or succumbing to it, to paranoia the way the Kishin does, like Ashura does.
So there’s this conversation about: do you work with fear or do you try to defeat it by obtaining power, which basically means nobody can hurt you because you’ll hurt them first, basically. Right? That’s some of the ideas that the show is engaging with in broad strokes throughout this first half. Do you guys agree with that?
VRAI: Yeah. I really do love how… The battle between Maka and Crona is maybe my favorite stretch of episodes in the entire show.
DEE: Yeah. When this show is good, it’s really, really good. I think that when you’re engaging with mental illness or, again, this broad, more fantastical concept of Madness, which is… Basically, it is the eradication of fear, which also means the fear of harming others. Like when Maka dives into the Madness, she doesn’t really care about anything except just seeing what will happen next. Empathy is shattered. So it’s not really a one-to-one to any actual, real-world mental illness.
But there’s other things in the show that I think do link a little bit more closely to actual, grounded discussions about that. And so, finding the line between those two and trying to navigate the different ways the show is talking about this is extremely messy. But I think Crona’s is probably the best because we get their backstory, the terrible abuse and trauma that Medusa put them through.
CAITLIN: So, Dee, what you’re saying about Maka—her Madness is losing her fear and her empathy and everything that makes her who she is—I really like that description because I have, since I watched this stretch of episodes, been trying to put my finger on what exactly that Madness was for Maka, other than the stereotypical fictional quote-unquote “madness” that’s not really grounded in any kind of real mental illness, but rather is just like, “Oh, no! They’re acting wacky and unpredictable!” Which is still kind of what’s going on, but I think the way you put it is really a much more useful way of quantifying it.
VRAI: You know, what this show reminds me of is Higurashi, which also has this uncomfortable side-by-side thing of a plot thing that causes sense-breaking madness where characters act erratically and violently and then, also, alongside these often very grounded portrayals of trauma and the kind of messy way those two things interact.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, I think Higurashi does play with the same sort of general concepts there. And I think on one level it can be a way to grasp these things, especially when you’re younger, so being able to deal with broader-stroke ideas about empathy and rage and heightened emotions and things like that.
I think that sometimes that can be useful, but I think you have to be super-duper-duper careful that you don’t fall into these really harmful stereotypes about “Mentally ill people are dangerous” or incapable of love, which is… Oh boy, we’re going to talk about Stein!
VRAI: But things the show is, I think, on purpose coding, like with trauma and anxiety and stuff with Crona… But then, you could also very fairly argue that Crona has some schizophrenia coding that then kind of tones down once they become redeemed, and that’s not good. That’s not great.
DEE: Yeah. Again, any time you’re trying to tread that line between grounded, actual human emotions and this sense of fantastical… It’s the lack of humanity, right? That’s where Ashura ceases to be human, because his paranoia becomes so overwhelming that he starts devouring other human souls. That’s kind of the concept that the show is playing with, which, as we’ve discussed, can have some very troubling connotations.
But at the same time, I think the way it handles Crona’s fear and depression is really good in that we see what’s led up to this, we see the way that… I mean, I think one of Crona’s biggest things—I made a note of this—is that, as a child, I think Maka was taught how to acknowledge and accept feelings, especially fear, which is something that keeps coming up in the show.
Whereas Crona was never really taught how to cope with that and was just taught to fear something else more. Right? Like, Crona doesn’t want to kill the little baby dragon—which, by the way, is a baby bunny in the manga, which is so much worse!
CAITLIN: Oh God!
VRAI: [Moans sympathetically]
DEE: Yeah! It’s so much worse in the manga. They decided that that was a little too much for the anime, I guess. But Crona doesn’t necessarily learn how to work through the fear of dealing with the dragon. Crona just becomes so terrified of being trapped in that dark room and abandoned by their mom that that ends up becoming their driving force.
But I think the scene where Maka literally goes on Crona’s same wavelength and comes to understand them and just reaches out a hand and says, “It’s okay…”
VRAI: And then I cry!
DEE: Like that line about “Nobody ever took the time to deal with you. How about we be friends? Let’s try this.” Yeah, no, that scene makes me choke up. And then they drop the ending theme of the two of them walking along together, and I had forgotten they changed the ending theme for an episode.
CAITLIN: That was so sweet.
I think, for one thing, what happens with Ragnarok is kind of the result of mixing the real issues with shounen tropes, because “We defeated this guy and now they’re smaller and less threatening and a friend” is very much a shounen trope. You see it all the time in stuff like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which doesn’t work super well with how Ragnarok was the manifestation of Crona’s mental illness.
With a little bit more effort, I think they could have made it fit in more with “Well, Crona has friends now, so Crona is better able to cope because they have a support system,” but they don’t really seal the deal on that.
VRAI: Well, and also, my understanding of schizophrenia is that not all of the voices are aggressive or threatening. So you could even still work with that, except that Ragnarok is “if Venom sucked,” so he is mostly just there for comedy abuse, and then the dub throws in a “lol, what’s your gender?” joke, and I had forgotten about that and I don’t enjoy it.
CAITLIN: No, that’s no good. And so, I think what has always gotten me about Crona is when they’re like, “I don’t know how to interact with this thing,” which to me can be a very relatable feeling, because I have a bad habit where if I don’t know how to interact with something, I just kind of ignore it.
VRAI: “I don’t know how to deal with that” was right up there with Excalibur in terms of 2000s internet memes and is still relatable.
DEE: Yeah, it’s very much Crona’s mantra in the show.
CAITLIN: Yeah. But that comes as a function of Crona not being socialized properly; of being isolated and abused and not taught, really, any kind of healthy emotional reactions or social–emotional skills. And I think that makes a really interesting contrast with Maka, who… I don’t know how exactly her upbringing was, but she clearly has been raised very well. Her mom did a great job.
DEE: Well, and here’s the thing about Spirit, her dad. He sucks. He was a terrible, terrible husband who cheated on his wife constantly. Can’t keep it in his pants. He sucks.
In his defense—and I can’t believe I’m saying that—he genuinely does care about Maka and wants her— And you I think you see that in this stretch, that as much of a complete disaster as he is, he genuinely cares about her. Before he and her mom had their falling-out because he was a shitty husband… Part of the reason why she loves to read so much is because he’d read to her a lot when she was little.
He sits outside her room for three days to send good vibes so she’ll pass the test. He gets really upset at Medusa when she talks about Crona like an object. Again, Spirit sucks, but I do think the show does a good job of showing how somebody can be shitty in one way but not in another with Spirit, and I do think that he is genuinely trying with Maka.
CAITLIN: He’s obviously a very caring father. And I have a suspicion that he was one of those parents that is really great with their kid when they’re young, but when they start becoming a teenager and start becoming a little bit less dependent and more complicated, he’s not quite sure what to do with that.
DEE: Yeah. Well, and again, it doesn’t help that he fucked up his marriage so bad that Maka’s perpetually pissed off at him about it.
VRAI: I do wish the show—and I think it’s beyond this show and the author’s unconscious biases—I do wish that in addressing that, the show had more cognizance about the fact that Spirit’s behavior with his wife is connected to how he affected Maka by creating an unstable home life for her and modeling horrible masculinity for her. But yeah, I do like the scene with Medusa. I’ll give him props for that. I think that’s a really effective scene.
CAITLIN: But anyway, Maka has clearly had a really strong social–emotional upbringing. Like you were saying, she doesn’t just run away from her fear. She confronts it. She accepts that she is afraid. She’s very in touch with her emotions. And so, when she sees something that she doesn’t understand, she doesn’t go, “I don’t know how to interact with this.” She is able to look at it and figure out how to interact with that.
That is how she and Crona managed to connect, because Maka sees someone who is in need and she knows how to interact with it, and she can figure out how to reach Crona on their level, saying, “You don’t know how to interact with me, but I think I can understand how to interact with you.”
DEE: Yeah, “I will meet you where you are, and we can move from there.” And I like that Crona isn’t just magically better after that and goes to the school and makes friends and is besties. Crona is still deeply, deeply anxious in the episodes following.
And I think one of my favorite little scenes in those post-battle episodes is Maka encouraging Crona to express themselves through healthy outlets. And she’s like, “Why don’t you write this down in a poem? Why don’t you find a way to express yourself?”
DEE: And it’s played for comedy, but in a way that I think is gentle. It’s not making fun of Crona for having depression and anxiety and trying to work through all this. It’s just like, oh, God! Crona’s such a mess!
VRAI: Everyone else is deeply depressed by the realization of how fucked up Crona’s life is.
DEE: Exactly. I thought that was a really nice way to show the process of healing from that trauma and the fact that it’s not going to happen immediately, but finding other outlets for Crona. Because Crona never learned how to deal with emotion, so Maka being like, “Well, why not express yourself in this much healthier, more productive way instead of just murdering people?”
VRAI: Yeah, and then the ending of the last episode of this batch is Crona repeating that to the person that they are definitely going to kill, but it’s still sweet.
DEE: “You should write it down in a poem.” Crona’s very sweet, and, yeah, their whole arc with Maka is really encouraging and nice, which helps counterbalance, I think… We don’t have to talk about Kid a lot this week, but…
VRAI: I do want to acknowledge that I think the show does better this time of having fun at Kid’s expense and him being extremely relatable, but also Patty specifically being a lot better at understanding and being empathetic to how he works and trying to offer him coping mechanisms before being like, “Okay, you can’t do this.”
DEE: [crosstalk] I think you mean Liz.
VRAI: Liz. I do mean Liz. I do mean Liz.
DEE: Yeah, Patty’s contribution is: when nothing Liz does works, she goes, “Patty, just terrify him into moving, please.”
VRAI: “Please move” time. But yeah, I really—
DEE: [Harshly] “Move your ass!”
VRAI: [Chuckles] I really liked Liz this stretch.
DEE: Yeah, I noticed that, too. I thought that the show has done a better job of showing Liz trying to understand and connect with Kid a little bit better and sympathize with him rather than just brushing him off as a spoiled rich kid. Because there are several moments where she’s like, “No, no, no, remember your coping mechanisms, Kid! Remember your coping mechanisms!”
Yeah, I feel like Kid’s anxiety—obsessive-compulsive disorder—however you want to refer to Kid’s big ball of neuroses—I think it is still mostly played for comedy or as a convenient plot barrier, because Kid is very powerful and it’s a way to slow him down sometimes. But I did think this week they were a little bit more sympathetic to it.
I think they also are starting to do a better job of showing a little bit of why Kid is the way he is. Because I talked last week about how he’s got this pressure of: he’s going to be the next Shinigami, so that feeds into a lot of his anxieties about perfection. I think this week also showed he’s very clever and thinks things through, and it can be both a strength—because he figures out what’s going on with Free—and then it can also be this weakness, where he just overthinks everything to the point of paralysis, like needing to solve the puzzle and make things fit together.
So he doesn’t do a ton this stretch, but I still really like him even if I think the show is a little hit-or-miss as to how they handle him as a character.
CAITLIN: That’s a relatable feeling.
DEE: Which part?
CAITLIN: Being able to figure stuff out but then getting paralyzed by thinking about it too much.
VRAI: The catastrophizing is real.
DEE: [Chuckles] Yeah, no, Kid continues to be A Mood. And—the dub was late 2000s—it has a vibe to it that is very Anitwitter-esque in a way that I appreciate, because Kid talks about himself being garbage, and there was one line where he’s like, “Just put me out on the curb on garbage day!” I was like, “Oh, Kid. Oh, Kid, you’d fit right in on Anime Twitter.”
VRAI: Todd Haberkorn as Kid is maybe one of the shining highlights of the dub.
DEE: Yeah. He does a really good job of presenting Kid as this anxious ball, but also simultaneously puts on a front of being the well-to-do next Lord Death. Yeah, no, he does a really good job with Kid, I think. And Kid’s Mamoru Miyano in the original, so that’s a high bar to clear, but…
CAITLIN: Who does not sound like a 15-year-old.
VRAI: No, but… Yeah…
DEE: No, he doesn’t. But that’s okay.
VRAI: Although should we talk about the adults in the room?
DEE: Well, and that’s what I was gonna say. Since we’re continuing our conversation about mental health and madness and where the show does well and where the show maybe doesn’t do so well, I think we need to talk about Stein.
VRAI: Oh boy. Do you want to lead?
DEE: Yeah, so, I want to give the show one point in its favor here, which is that I honestly like that they have a moment where Stein’s like, “People thought I must have had some horrible trauma in my life to make me the way I am. But no. No. This is just me.”
I kind of appreciated that because I think it sidesteps that… because, again, we know Crona does have this pretty significant trauma in their backstory. So I think it helps sidestep that idea of “Trauma makes you evil!” in a little bit of a way. So I thought that was interesting.
I find Stein fascinating on a micro, character level, as this person who was basically born without empathy. I mean, he’s Dexter. He’s functionally Dexter, except without the traumatic backstory; has these destructive impulses that are impersonal. It’s not like he necessarily wants to hurt people. He just wants to take things apart. That’s what he wants to do.
And at some point growing up he realized, “This is bad. This is bad for me and this is bad for other people, and I need to find a way to not do that.” And so he’s really latched on to this authoritative system with Lord Death making the rules and telling him what he can and can’t do, because it helps him find that balance and those boundaries that he doesn’t necessarily see on his own because, again, he seems completely incapable of empathy.
And so, on a micro level I find that concept of the character and this push and pull with him and Medusa over, like, he is interested in seeing things explode just to see what happens out of pure curiosity, but on the other hand, intellectually he also knows you shouldn’t do those things. Morally, you shouldn’t hurt other people. So, yeah, fascinating character.
From a macro, mental illness stereotypes perspective, real rough. Real rough, guys. Feeds into a lot of ideas about mentally ill people being dangerous. Also feeds a little bit into the Evil Aromantic stereotypes.
VRAI: Yeah. So, it’s my understanding that the Medusa/Stein stuff is anime original, which is an interesting addition.
CAITLIN: The Medusa/Stein stuff that Dee is apparently very into.
DEE: “Very into” is maybe a little much. Listen, there’s not a lot of anime where you get to see two consenting adults have palpable sexual tension. And I think Soul Eater does a really good job of showing why they are attracted to each other. Now, would it be a healthy relationship? Oh, no, not at all.
CAITLIN: It is just hilarious to me when you in particular start talking about how much you want to see characters hatefuck.
DEE: I never said I wanted to see them have sex, Caitlin! I said I was into the hatefuck ‘ship. That’s completely different!
DEE: I don’t like watching sex scenes, but I like watching them glare with sizzling intensity at each other, okay? I don’t see what’s wrong about that!
CAITLIN: The dance scene was very good.
VRAI: It’s quite good.
DEE: It’s good, right? That’s the moment where I was like, “Oh, wow, this is actually… Huh! I’m not usually into hatefucks, but this relationship is kind of fascinating to me.” So, yes.
VRAI: I will back you up in humiliating confessions where I admit that, while she is the worst, Medusa is also quite hot… is the thing I discovered rewatching this series. I was gonna say that she’s—
DEE: Medusa’s— Oh, no, I was just going to agree with you. I do think Medusa is an attractive character in a way that you don’t often see in shounen anime, because it’s not like she’s all va-va-voom, tits out, ass out. Her outfit is really practical. But there is just—
VRAI: Yeah, she’s not completely—
CAITLIN: They look so comfy.
DEE: They do. But there’s a particular way that she is drawn and animated that does… And I think it’s partly that snake backstory, right? She’s kind of, what’s the word, slinky? That’s not the word. You guys know what I mean, right?
VRAI: I do, yeah. And it’s like she’s not a completely fetish-free character because there’s a lot of feet shots, but it’s definitely—
VRAI: Her allure is based on her powerful presence, without the tits.
DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That is it. She exudes, especially for Stein, this powerful temptation. And so watching the two of them both verbally and physically spar with each other… I don’t know, it works. [Chuckles] It’s good. It’s interesting to me.
CAITLIN: They talk about them being snakes, but her magic basically boils down to being vector based, which I think is—
DEE: It’s both, yeah.
CAITLIN: Well, yeah, it’s both. But it’s super interesting. I’ve never really seen that done anywhere else. And it’s a really cool way to do something, a really original approach to fight scenes. When she was putting down all the vector tiles, though, it’s like in a JRPG dungeon with all of the little moving sidewalk bits. You know what I’m talking about? There’s one in Pokémon.
DEE: I think she’s… I mean, Vrai, you’re right. She’s a terrible, terrible human being. I think she’s a really well-written villain, though.
VRAI: Yeah. Between the last recording and this one I read all of Chainsaw Man, and definitely that series’s villain and Medusa I would call definitely two of the top female villains in shounen, just in terms of how they are written and what is lacking from how they’re characterized, if that makes sense.
DEE: Mm-hm. Yeah, I think I know what you mean. It’s interesting, too, because what Medusa claims she is after, in broad strokes, I’m not opposed to it. She’s like, “This world is stuck in one place because Lord Death just makes all the rules and everybody follows them. And that doesn’t seem fair.” And Free had a conversation last week with, I think, Maka and Soul where he basically kind of talked about, like, “Why does this guy get to decide everything? I want the freedom to be myself.”
And in broad strokes, I’m like, “Yeah, actually, you guys kind of make a good point. Why is this one guy in charge of everything?” But then on the other hand, they want the freedom to murder people. You’re like, “Mm, okay, no. That one’s not okay.”
VRAI: Medusa does want to attack and dethrone God, yes.
DEE: I mean, she does, right?
DEE: That is what she’s going for, and that is, again, the temptation that she gives to Stein. I think that conversation they have in the basement about why it’s important to have some rules as opposed to just complete and total “Everybody just does whatever they want,” I think it’s an interesting conversation that I don’t know if the show ever follows through on, but I think it is a clash of values that is fun to watch play out in addition to the well-animated fight scenes.
CAITLIN: They say no to libertarianism.
VRAI: If I wanted to put on my hyper-analyst hat, I could make a sad frowny face about the fact that Medusa is still a temptation-, manipulation-type female villain and she is associated with poison rather than direct action, and also the thing that makes her monstrous is specifically that she’s a bad mother, but I’m gonna take that hat off because I think she’s a really good villain!
DEE: I mean, I think those are all fair points to make, too, because I did kind of write that she is sort of written as an Evil Woman, and right now we have this idea that all the witches are bad. And I mean, fortunately, there are a lot of female characters…
You know what? Did anybody else want to touch on Stein and the way he’s written at all? I know I monologued for a bit there.
VRAI: [crosstalk] No, I think you kind of summed it up really efficiently. He does remind me… I think a better version of his character is Jade in Tales of the Abyss, which is always what I think when I see him.
CAITLIN: I don’t have anything really constructive to add. I just lose it every time he’s scooting around on his little chair and then he eats shit and falls over.
VRAI: And also, the two of them make excellent face game at each other.
DEE: God, they do, right? Yeah, I don’t remember how much— I mean, she’s not dead by the end of this stretch. I don’t remember how much they interact with each other past this, but yeah, anytime the two of them are on screen together, it is very tense in a way that I don’t think you see that often in anime, because, again, we don’t get a lot of consenting adults, I don’t know, hatefuck-jousting with each other. I don’t know how to word it. But you guys know what I mean.
VRAI: I do. We get it a lot between dudes where the show strenuously denies that the vibe is there, but…
DEE: Yeah, yeah, horny jousting. That’s what it is. It’s horny jousting!
DEE: I got there. Okay, so… All right, glad I covered that. I had a lot of notes about Stein because I was like, “I feel like this character is a wreck, but also I do find him really interesting on that kind of micro, meta level.”
VRAI: No, I fully back you up. I just think you summed it up really well.
DEE: Okay, good. Good, good, good. Hurray.
Then, well, we were sliding this direction anyway, so I figured we’d move into talking more about the way the show handles gender roles, norms, fanservice, that kind of thing. Because we were talking about Medusa, and I think it helps this week that we have added some other adult female characters to the cast. Right at the tail end, we get Marie and Azusa. What are y’all’s general thoughts on Marie and Azusa?
CAITLIN: Marie is a particular tired stereotype, unfortunately. She is the young pretty woman who is worried about aging and getting too old and just wants to settle down and get married, and she’s resentful of everyone who is young and still full of life.
I love Azusa, though. She’s great. I’ve had a lot of conversations about who is the hottest person in Soul Eater, and Azusa is my current pick. I really enjoyed her conversation with Marie in the bathroom where she’s like, “You know, getting married isn’t the end-all-be-all. You’re a Death Scythe.” And Marie’s like, “I know, but…” And the whole toilet thing.
VRAI: Yeah, that scene feels like the anime— I don’t know if it’s also in the manga, but my bias is saying it feels like the anime knowing that this is a very, very tired joke and trying desperately to work with it.
CAITLIN: You know what, she’s—
DEE: Yeah, I’ll be honest, I jumped around the manga a little bit, but I didn’t have a chance to read as much of it, so I can’t talk as much about one-to-one changes. But yeah, this part I didn’t get a good look at. What were you going to say about her?
CAITLIN: She’s a prototype of Maki. She’s a prototype of Maki from Fire Force, basically, a woman who is extremely powerful and competent, and her head is filled with nothing but thoughts of boys, and she feels bad about being powerful because men don’t like powerful women, blah!
DEE: I don’t get that vibe from Marie necessarily. The vibe I get from Marie is that she didn’t intend to become a Death Scythe. She even says, “I was planning on graduating and then immediately getting married and quitting.” [Chuckling] Which, why were you at school in the first place if that was your end game?
VRAI: To get her M.R.S.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] For her M.R.S. Yeah. It seems like meisters and weapons get married pretty often, so…
DEE: That’s true, so maybe that was the goal. And they mention that she and Stein were briefly paired together and she had a crush on him when they were growing up. I don’t quite know why. I don’t know why Stein exudes sex appeal to everybody around him, but apparently…
CAITLIN: But he is pretty fucky sometimes.
DEE: Yeah. I mean, yeah. I mean, with Medusa, sure. [Chuckles]
But I don’t necessarily get the vibe that… The conversations they have with her isn’t like, “Oh, men don’t like powerful women.” It’s like, “You’re so obsessed with getting married that it scares people away, because you just come at them so hard,” which I think is a fair critique in most relationships.
Marie is a trope that I have often complained about. We talked about this with Toradora, too. The teacher there is also the mid-20s single woman lamenting being a single woman in her mid-to-late 20s. And you see that trope especially in school anime. Marie doesn’t bother me as much, and partly because I don’t feel like she’s as angry at the people around her as those stereotypes often are.
And the other thing is, I think having Azusa enter the frame at exactly the same time helps make her just feel like a character instead of a statement about women in their 20s, because I think she and Azusa are supposed to be about the same age. She makes some comment on Azusa still being young, but I don’t get the sense that Azusa’s that much younger than her. They all seem to kind of know each other, like they all went to school together. And I like that Azusa’s very focused on her job and she enjoys it and she’s a little bit of a hardass.
Yeah, so I appreciate that the two of them came in simultaneously because I think Marie would suck a lot more if she was the only adult female character outside of the villains that had shown up on the cast.
VRAI: Mm-hm. I like them— [Sighs] Not really. I like them fine, but we don’t get to see them do a whole lot in this stretch. They just kind of show up.
DEE: Yeah, we just got the tail end of them. I just felt like they were kind of worth mentioning since, again, we don’t have a ton of adults in the show, period, but a lot of them up to this point have been bad guys.
The show dances around some ideas about adults in this stretch, too, and the secrets they keep and why they keep them. Because Kid and his dad have kind of a standoffish relationship—not a bad relationship, but they don’t seem particularly close. Obviously Maka and Spirit’s relationship is a disaster.
CAITLIN: Don’t know anything about Soul’s parents?
DEE: Yeah. There’s a lot of people whose parents we don’t know anything about, but especially with the stuff with Medusa and finding out that Crona’s their child, I think we do start to see those elements floating around a little bit.
Also, one thought I had in the basement was the fact that all of the adults in their lives are functionally soldiers. Because I’ve not thought of Stein as a particularly good teacher, but when they get down there and he’s basically their commander in the military, he’s quite good at it. And it’s like, “Oh, right, you’re all technically soldiers. That’s a very different role than being like a teacher, caretaker, mentor figure.”
VRAI: It’s interesting that Sid basically gets sidelined for this arc, because he is probably the most healthy and caring adult figure in their lives.
DEE: Yeah, he’s genuinely trying with Crona, and Crona’s just, you know, “Zombie.” [Chuckles] Just doesn’t know how to deal with that. I do think we get more of Sid and I think we get more of Nygus, his partner—
VRAI: Oh yeah, she’s great.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, so cool.
DEE: —in the upcoming stretch, because Nygus has a cool design and we barely get to see her at all. But I do think the two of them get to do more in the coming episodes.
We are starting to see a little bit more as far as characters of color. We met Kilik very, very briefly, and he’ll be in the next stretch as well a little bit more. The cast starts to expand. Oh boy, Maka shouldn’t have called Sid a gorilla, huh, guys.
VRAI: Sure shouldn’t have!
CAITLIN: Nope, that’s no good.
DEE: That was bad.
VRAI: While we are briefly noting those things, the musician designs during the ball aren’t great, and I don’t know what to make of Tadpole Jackson, who is kind of a floating Mr. Popo.
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh, God! You’re extremely right about the musicians. That didn’t ping on my radar at all, but you are correct.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah. No, I did not process that.
DEE: So, Tadpole Jackson is… My read on it… And I’m not, obviously, what’s the word, the defining authority on this. Tadpole Jackson’s face is froggy. I think the characteristics on Tadpole Jackson are very common for frog-type character designs. So I think that’s why he looks the way he does. Also, I just love the name Tadpole Jackson.
CAITLIN: It’s a good name.
VRAI: It’s a good name.
DEE: The first time she says it, I was like, “Yes! I forgot how much I love Tadpole Jackson.”
CAITLIN: Tadpole Jackson is shaped like a friend.
VRAI: Yes. True.
VRAI: Yeah, no, it’s one of those things where maybe the colorist didn’t think, but it’s worth noting and also 100% unintentional.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And especially like you said, I think it’s one of those things where it wouldn’t even faze you, except that it’s on top of… Tadpole Jackson shows up immediately after the scene with the musicians, and we’ve talked about Sid a little bit in past episodes, and so it’s like, hm. I see what you mean there, yeah.
Okay, so we’re lowkey coming up on the hour here, although…
CAITLIN: I do want to add to what we were just saying. Ohkubo is— Once again, this is a little outside of my lane, and feel free to correct me, but Ohkubo is, I think, one of the few manga artists who draws Black characters with Black hairstyles. Most of the time when you get anime and manga characters with dark skin, they still have the smooth hair and it’s either black or it’s, for extra exoticism, dark skin and light hair. But Ohkubo’s Black characters have braids and cornrows, and you can look at them and you can see that it actually has texture, which I think is really interesting and cool to see.
VRAI: I can’t remember if… I think Kilik is sort of a tertiary character, but it’s very cool, and I had forgotten that he is introduced this arc.
DEE: Yeah, yeah, he gets to do more later, and I do remember liking him. So, hopefully we’ll be able to touch on those characters later and have some positive things to say.
One last thing I wanted to talk to you guys about, because I feel like we glossed over it a little bit in the sense of “Ah, shounen bullshit,” but can we talk about fanservice just a little bit this time around, because…
VRAI: Because the Blair scene made me want to die and also just nuke everyone in that street?
CAITLIN: Yeah, that was a low point.
DEE: It’s completely jarring. Some of the fanservice comedy with Blair, I’m like, “Ugh, I don’t see the point, but okay, whatever, it’s in the middle of a light, comedic scene where there’s other goofy things going on. So, fine, her tits are out. She’s happy with her tits out, at least. It’s not embarrassment-based fanservice. So, fine. Whatever, I don’t care.”
CAITLIN: She’s a cat. Cats don’t wear clothes.
DEE: Yeah, sure. If that’s the in-narrative excuse, fine. Again, she seems happy. Okay, I can roll my eyes and move past. But the stuff with her and Mizune is happening in the midst of this big, epic battle and Maka reaching out to Crona and the full-on body horror—which we didn’t even really get to talk about how good the show is at doing horror once Ashura shows up.
CAITLIN: Ooh, the body horror!
VRAI: That scene is so good!
CAITLIN: She’s stretching out his skin! Ugh!
DEE: So nasty.
VRAI: I often contend that anime has a hard time being scary and also that body horror has somewhat diminished since the ‘90s and the really, really fleshy style that was in vogue then. But that Ashura sequence knows that specificity is the key to really good body horror, and it’s great.
DEE: Yeah, this show does horror— It’s mostly a supernatural action show, but when it decides to go all-in with the horror, it does a really good job with it. But yeah, so all of that is going on, and then we’ll just periodically cut to these two scantily clad ladies wrestling in the street.
CAITLIN: Yeah, that’s very Ohkubo. I know neither of you got very far with Fire Force.
CAITLIN: Fire Force is a less filtered Ohkubo.
DEE: [Wearily] Yeah.
CAITLIN: And that is one of the recurring complaints about the show, that when there is an action scene, particularly with a female character, a lot of times they’ll just interrupt the action for this ridiculous fanservice moment that goes on for way too long, robs the scene of its momentum, and there’s no real reason for it to be there. Even people who like the show and who are usually like, “Oh, you guys are just making mountains out of molehills,” will say that it was a really weird, jarring interruption of the action.
So, honestly, I think they probably could have just completely cut the Blair–Mizune stuff. But for whatever reason, they felt like they needed to keep it in. In the end I’m a little bit softer on it because it did have a very funny joke at the end with Free and Mizune saying, “Five Mizunes stacked up.”
CAITLIN: And Free’s like, “Oh. Okay.”
DEE: Free’s very good. His nonchalance about basically everything—he’s an extremely fun character. He’s just along for the ride and everything’s fine. And when Kid’s trying to put the pieces together, he’s like, “Oh, are we solving puzzles now? I like puzzles.”
CAITLIN: He’s pretty great.
DEE: I do. I like Free and Eruka and…
CAITLIN: Eruka is a fashion icon.
CAITLIN: She’s got such a great look.
DEE: She loves frogs and she wants you to know it.
CAITLIN: That adorable polka-dot dress. She’s super cute. I love her.
DEE: Yeah, she’s good. Oh, we were talking about fanservice, and we’re kind of coming up to the hour. One other note I did want to make as far as fanservice: I agree with you. I don’t know why the anime felt the need to keep that in. They toned it down from the manga.
CAITLIN: Oh, I’m sure.
DEE: Because I did want to check on that. And the one thing I really, really appreciate about the anime is when there is fanservice, it is pretty much just Blair and it’s pretty much kind of on her own terms. Again, Blair’s into having her tits out, which… We don’t have time to get into the whole conversation about how they’re fictional characters and somebody made those choices and they don’t actually have agency. Yes. All true. All true. But in the context of the show, she’s not upset about it, so it’s the kind of fanservice I can kind of put up with. It doesn’t need to be there, but whatever.
CAITLIN: No one’s embarrassed.
DEE: Yeah. In the manga, there is some embarrassment-based fanservice around Maka specifically and a little bit with Tsubaki, but mostly Maka. And the moment where Ragnarok, being a five-year-old bully, flips up her skirt, in both versions, he is immediately punished for this.
The manga actually, of course, shows her panties, whereas the anime throughout is like, “No, we’re not gonna show you Maka’s underpants. One, again, it’s harassment-based quote-unquote ‘humor.’ Two, she’s a child, and we’re not gonna undermine our protagonist that way.” And so I do appreciate that the anime had that standard at least. So I do appreciate that about it, and I think that will continue.
I did have to check that scene to be like, “Did Ohkubo? Did he? Of course he did. Of fucking course he did.”
Okay, final thoughts real quick here. Anything you guys want to say about this stretch, if you want to end on a more positive note. I mean, I really liked it. I cried a little bit during the Crona–Maka episode, so that’s usually a good sign.
VRAI: Yeah, I got to gush about how good the Ashura stuff was. I just really like everything around that. I love the hallucination sequences. Man, this show is good at being spooky. Ah!
DEE: It really is. It really is. And so I hope we get a little bit more of that good spookiness in the coming weeks as well.
CAITLIN: Yeah. [Sighs] I love the theme song so much, and I’m very sad to think that it’s going to leave us soon.
VRAI: Right, we’re losing “Paper Moon” for the less good one, yeah.
DEE: Yeah, I forgot there was— I didn’t know there was a second opening theme. I just assumed it was the same one all the way through. I forgot that they change it.
CAITLIN: Jared reminded me recently and it made me very sad.
DEE: Well, it’ll take me less time to watch episodes now because I can skip the intro.
DEE: I can’t skip the original. It slaps so hard.
CAITLIN: Do we have time to tell the concert story?
VRAI: Yeah, we’ve got a little dithering. I think that they’ll cut out.
DEE: Yeah, there’s some early stuff that’s not going to make it in, so, sure, go ahead. Tell the concert story, since we are saying goodbye to the first opening theme soon.
CAITLIN: It just shows how iconic this theme song is, because… This is from the Otakon that most of us managed to make it to. Rest in peace, in-person conventions.
CAITLIN: Dee and I went to the T.M. Revolution concert. So, JAM Project had opened, and unfortunately they didn’t sing a lot of the songs I knew, so I was already feeling a little low energy. And T.M. Revolution comes on, and I mean he’s great, but he…
DEE: Dude, he brought it. He brought that show.
CAITLIN: The first few songs that he sang, I didn’t know. So I was kind of zoning out, and Dee, you were also kind of zoning out next to me. And then I just hear bells, and I felt it in my soul. No pun intended. And I’m just like, “Soul Eater.”
CAITLIN: From that point on, the concert was great, and I’m sure it looked very strange from your perspective, Dee. [Chuckles] But yeah, just completely iconic theme song.
DEE: Yeah, no, it was great. He put on a great show, and we got to see him perform the Soul Eater opening live, and yeah, it was a good time. Audience went wild.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Slowly took off pieces of clothing…
DEE: Yeah, he just slowly stripped. And he’s in his mid-40s, I think, but he looks good.
CAITLIN: It was great.
DEE: Yeah, good on him.
CAITLIN: It was great when he yelled, “I’m naked.”
DEE: Yeah, I remember we were having a group chat about it, and some people were like, “Mr. Revolution, please stop stripping.” And a few of us were like, “Listen, if you look that good in your mid-40s and you’re on stage, you’re gonna show off your abs, too!” No, it was fun. It was a good time.
I think that’s a nice way to wrap this one up. So, next time, folks, we will be back with part three of our Soul Eater watchalong, where we will be covering—guys, help me get these episode numbers right—27 through 39? Is that correct?
VRAI: Yes. That is correct.
DEE: Okay. Excellent, all right. 27 through 39 next time, another cour-long binge for y’all at home.
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