Part three of Caitlin, Vrai, and Dee’s newbie-friendly rewatch covering the “wheel-spinning” arc, an Ikuhara guest appearance, and some new villains!
Date Recorded: January 31st, 2021
Hosts: Caitlin, Vrai, and Dee
0:04:36 The black blood thing
0:11:51 New villains
0:18:40 Adults vs kids
0:26:01 Witches ain’t bad
0:29:55 Crona and Medusa
0:38:29 The gendered shit
0:52:24 Long-running shounen
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai. I’m a content editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. You can find the freelancing I do on my Twitter @WriterVrai, and you can find the other podcast I cohost where we talk about trash media @trashpod.
CAITLIN: Hi, I’m Caitlin. I am the technical editor for Anime Feminist, and I am a reviewer for Anime News Network. My Twitter is @alltsun_nodere. Who knows what I’m up to on there these days, because we’re recording these like five months in advance.
VRAI: Yeah, this is the weirdest record of all time. So, sorry, we’ve come to you from Bizarro Land, listeners.
CAITLIN: Yeah. What’s it like in the future? Are we vaccinated?
VRAI: [crosstalk] God, I hope so.
CAITLIN: Can we hug our friends yet?
DEE: One can only hope. One can only hope. Hello to us in the future. I’m Dee, by the way. I’m one of the managing editors at AniFem. And you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor.
VRAI: Hooray. And welcome to part three of our Soul Eater rewatchalong, where we looked at episodes 27 through 39, or, as I believe Caitlin so neatly coined it: the wheel-spinning arc.
CAITLIN: No, that wasn’t me. That was Dee.
VRAI: Ah, I’ve misattributed.
DEE: That’s okay.
VRAI: Dee, I’m so sorry.
DEE: Nah, it’s fine.
VRAI: [Laughs] Where a bunch of stuff happened, but it was mostly a collect-a-thon of MacGuffins that may or may not be important later, and we set up a bunch of things for the finale, which I guess kind of reveals how I felt about this batch of episodes. But how about you guys?
CAITLIN: I thought it had some really, really good fights. I think a lot of it was table setting. I don’t actually remember the next stretch of episodes very well. A lot of Soul Eater, especially the plotty stuff, I did what I call ADHD watching, which was I had it on and I told myself I was watching but I retained nothing. So I don’t remember what’s going to happen. I don’t know what’s going to come of the machine or Eidon [sic] or whatever Black Star is going through right now. But the fights were very cool. And I really enjoyed seeing the characters outside of the main team doing their thing.
VRAI: Yeah, I guess I should say I didn’t dislike this run of episodes. It’s just that we are entering the traditional part of all of these rewatchalongs where I say, “I don’t remember what happened in the last part of the show.”
VRAI: I remember Crona and Crona-related items, and that’s all.
DEE: That was kinda what stuck with me, too. I basically remember the very, very end, but it’s kinda fuzzy. Yeah, this stretch was… I mean, I coined it the wheel-spinning arc, so that probably gives you a feeling of how I feel about it. There are things that happen along the way that I think are important for character growth and will probably be more meaningful once we see the next stretch and know why things happened the way they did.
But I found the BREW fight, while it looked kind of cool and, like you said, Caitlin, we got to see the teachers in action, and I think the kids took some important steps in terms of coming into their own and going through some losses and challenges that will strengthen them for the final fight… It kind of has the feeling of a shounen training arc almost, where you get to the end of it and it was like, well, they went in and they had this big fight, and it ended up not mattering at all because Medusa got BREW out immediately and everybody was fighting over a fake.
So, I’m not sure why we had to spend five episodes on that, but here we are. It wasn’t that many episodes. Oh, God, it might have been.
VRAI: It might have been.
DEE: Because we did watch a full cour. I’m like, oh, it couldn’t possibly have been five. No, it might have been five.
CAITLIN: Might have been.
VRAI: It might have only been three, but it was still a lot. No, it might have been five. Shit. Mm.
DEE: Yeah, the BREW fight is a lot of—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] There’s some cool fights!
DEE: [Chuckles] Yeah, I didn’t have a lot of notes in there other than, like, “This looks neat.”
VRAI: I like the C-stringers.
DEE: Well, and I have no— Oh, they’re the B-team! [Chuckles] I have no idea what they’re trying to do with the Black Blood thing with Soul anymore. I felt like I did and now I have no clue what’s going on with that. I’m not sure the author quite knew.
Because that seems to be one of the big points there, right? Soul is utilizing his music skills to… I get what he did. He cut through the noise in the field so that they can resonate with one another. And that’s cool, and I like the partnership aspect there with Soul and Maka working together to link the whole team.
But I thought… In the first part, the “going to the demon” and “using the demon” was very much pictured as a bad thing, and any time he does it, you get nervous because it seems like this little demon wants him to do things that will lead him, supposedly, into madness. But that didn’t seem to happen at all in this stretch, and so I’m not sure if we’re supposed to read it like Soul just has a complete control over that part of himself, or I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it. So, that was one of my issues with the BREW arc in particular: I wasn’t quite sure how I was supposed to read Soul’s arc in particular.
VRAI: Yeah, because it seemed like it was going one of two ways, where either this is… you know, it’s about finding balance between reason and madness, which is all your passionate emotions that we label as unilaterally negative and how you harness those for good; or it’s about… But at the same time, there was no visual language about this demon being shocked that Soul has used this in a way that he didn’t want him to, so it seems like he’s playing into his hands. But also it worked out fine, so I don’t know.
DEE: Yeah, I think that’s the part that… because I think I get what Soul did, but I think, like you said, Vrai, the fact that there’s no indication that what Soul is doing isn’t what the demon wants him to do, and now I’m not sure what the demon wants him to do. But it looked cool. I like their new attack.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I’m sort of at the point where I’m just like, well, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m sort of choosing to almost have faith that they’ll figure it out.
VRAI: Before we get into the stuff proper any more, I did want to take a minute to note we’ve got not just a new ending, which we’ve been kind of semi-regularly doing, but we have a new opening this time, too. It’s nice.
CAITLIN: Okay. Yeah, it is by the same singer who did the opening for Paradise Kiss, which Vrai said was “just okay”!
VRAI: It’s fine. I like it fine!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Which is sacrilege, honestly. “Lonely in Gorgeous” is a masterpiece. “Papermoon” is also… I mean, I would be more okay with that being categorized as just fine. I really like the lyric “I’ll see you in your dreams, even if they’re scary dreams.” I also really like the lyric “Don’t scary” for entirely different reasons.
VRAI: “Papermoon” is like… Of the two, I would sooner listen to it on its own than “Resonance,” but “Resonance” is a better opening just in terms of mood and the way it matches with its visuals, where I think “Papermoon” feels a little bit more generic, of the era. It sounds, honestly, a lot like one of the openings for Gundam 00, which was airing around the same time, which it should not; those are very different kinds of shows.
CAITLIN: I haven’t watched the visuals that go with it, but I heard the new Beastars opening, and I was shocked and upset at what a downgrade it was.
VRAI: I feel like it’s tough to do follow-on openings more so than it is with endings, where you have more space to stretch with the kind of tone and imagery that they tend to do, respectively.
CAITLIN: Yeah. The new ending is great.
VRAI: Best ending.
CAITLIN: Love the new ending.
DEE: [crosstalk] I love the ending. Yeah.
CAITLIN: The little breakdancing move Giriko does at the end gets me every time.
VRAI: It’s good. It could have been an opening, honestly, is the weirdest thing about this ending.
CAITLIN: Yeah, just it’s so high energy.
DEE: Yeah, it has the high energy that you would expect more from an… well, I mean, not necessarily, but that you definitely expect from an opening to get you ready for the punchy fights that are coming up.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Also, we got one last episode with Excalibur. I think this is the last one. I double-checked real quick.
CAITLIN: I love that episode so much! Hero looks like someone’s DeviantArt OC from the era.
CAITLIN: I can picture him drawn a little bit more scribbly and colored in with colored pencils and with one hand over his face, looking through his fingers, with his back bent backwards with one wing. And that’s just a DeviantArt OC.
VRAI: I mean, for a hot second, since these are anime original, I was like, is this a joke about Tamaki? Because there’s that one throwaway line about how “In another universe you’d probably be really popular.”
VRAI: But then I kind of discarded that as the episode went on. It’s a fun gag on the kind of other shows of the era. I liked this episode a lot.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. He seems so nice, but the moment he has a little power he just becomes so shitty. He uses Excalibur’s powers to become a sex criminal.
VRAI: Yeah, it got dark for a minute there, although kudos to this anime for not including the panty shots.
CAITLIN: Yep. Thank you, Igarashi.
VRAI: The bar is low, as always.
CAITLIN: It did get me a little at the end because Excalibur sneezes a lot like I do, and that was what broke him.
DEE: Well, he never stops, apparently. He just keeps sneezing.
CAITLIN: You know when I sneeze, I sneeze at least four times in a row!
VRAI: It’s okay, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: At least!
VRAI: We won’t banish you to a cave.
DEE: No. You don’t force us to listen to your story for five hours every day, so you’re good. It’s okay if you sneeze silly.
VRAI: God, what a perfect ending to that joke, though, just the escalation of it being “Well, we found somebody who can stand him except for this one…” That’s just good joke execution. Damn, Igarashi, you did good.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, great, perfect episode.
CAITLIN: Excalibur is a shining beacon…
DEE: Of memery?
CAITLIN: … of quality— [Laughs]
VRAI: It’s good.
I said nothing happens this arc, but we do have an entirely new team of villains. There’s an entirely new—at least half-dozen characters.
CAITLIN: Yeah! Like I said, it’s table setting. It’s getting everything ready for the… Maybe it’ll be the final arc in the anime, but it’s the main plot in the manga, with the Kishin and all of that.
VRAI: Yeah. We can cut this if it’s nothing, but Dee, were you able to check in on the manga, or do you have memories of if we are at that point where there’s divergence points worth talking about?
DEE: I couldn’t check in on it. I kind of ran out of energy.
VRAI: That’s fine.
DEE: I’m not that into the manga, is part of the problem. I just prefer to watch the anime, and it’s been a hassle to try to get volumes, so I did not check in on it, no.
VRAI: Nah, no worries.
DEE: And my memory of it is… I know Arachne shows up around this time. And I know there’s a battle over BREW. So I think this arc is still pretty close to the manga, using my very, very fuzzy memory of it from like a decade ago. I think the next arc is where they go completely anime-original, because they get to the final fight a lot faster than the manga does, in my memory of it.
CAITLIN: Yeah, Jared has been telling me that it’s actually pretty close right up until near the end. They just had to make an anime-original ending.
DEE: Yeah, which is why, if my memory serves, the ending feels a bit rushed, but we’ll get to that when we get to it.
VRAI: Yeah, fair enough. That said, I don’t dislike the new antagonists. I think it opens up some interesting stuff that the story is doing, particularly with the conspiracy theory elements.
DEE: How do you mean?
VRAI: Well, because Medusa was… Like we talked about last time, she has that kind of gendered element of: she is a character who lies and manipulates people and that’s a big part of her thing.
But Arachne is specifically an information broker-type character, where she sits back and isn’t actively involved in things a lot of the time. So, her introduction to the story brings along the magic plot devices, but also those themes dovetail us a lot more into Kid’s investigation of his father and his connection to the witches and all of that stuff, which is something I like. I think it is a strong theme for the story to be exploring.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, I’d agree with that. I personally find Arachne and especially her minions to be kind of bland, especially in comparison to Medusa and Eruka and Free, who… God, we didn’t see Free once this arc and that feels like—
VRAI: [crosstalk] No, we didn’t.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, where is Free?
DEE: —that feels like a crime. They were a lot of fun. Medusa was genuinely terrifying because she was so active and involved in the story. I think she posed a real threat, whereas Arachne just feels like… Like you said, she’s kind of got a crime boss vibe, which means she mostly just sits back and has other people do stuff. She just makes orders and has her Jasons go take care of business for her. Which, by the way, I call them the Jasons.
DEE: Every time her minions show up with their extremely stupid outfits where it looks like they’re wearing their shirts pulled up over their heads, I just laugh.
CAITLIN: Yeah, they’re like Cornholio meets Jason.
DEE: Right? Yeah, I cannot take them seriously. I was like, “You guys are my favorite characters this arc.” I love the Jasons. They make me giggle every time they’re on screen.
VRAI: Amazing. I mean, you’re right. Other than the metatextual elements, Arachne herself is definitely let down by the fact… Giriko’s okay. He has a couple of okay scenes with Justin.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I like Giriko.
VRAI: But Mosquito sucks and isn’t very interesting.
CAITLIN: Ha-ha-ha. “Mosquito sucks.”
VRAI: [Blandly] Heh-heh.
DEE: Heh-heh! I get it!
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, I don’t enjoy Mosquito. I like Giriko. He’s an asshole. But he’s got a really… I’m so superficial with Soul Eater because… Something about Soul Eater, especially the anime, not the manga, turns me into a stereotypical shounen fan, because y’all are sitting there like, “Yeah, you know, this plot element…” I was like, “Yeah, but it looked cool.”
CAITLIN: Giriko’s got a really cool design.
DEE: Yeah, he does.
CAITLIN: And his breakdancing fights are really cool. Arachne’s hot.
VRAI: She is quite an attractive lady. Not as hot as Medusa, though.
DEE: Oh, gosh. What’s the—
CAITLIN: [Through laughter] I’m just super shallow, sitting over here, I guess.
VRAI: [Chuckles] Sorry, Dee, what were you saying?
DEE: Oh, I was just gonna say I can’t remember the character designer’s name, but he’s very good and he works on a lot of different Bones shows. And I think he does a very good job of drawing attractive adults, because yeah, no, you’re right, they are all attractive-looking characters, very much so.
VRAI: I think my deal with Giriko is that it’s not that I dislike him; it’s just that because he mostly has to hang around with Mosquito and his character type isn’t the kind that can really play off of Arachne—I like his scenes with Justin, but otherwise he doesn’t really have anything strong to ping off of, and so he’s just kind of simmering shittily without a fun way to let that energy out.
DEE: I think that’s a good way to word it. I mean, they try to position him as being at odds with Mosquito. The two of them don’t like each other. They have very different ways of going about things. He fancies himself like a free spirit, but he does everything Arachne wants.
I think there’s some interesting stuff there. I just don’t think the series really gives him… I think he’s one of those characters that would need more screen time to shine and he doesn’t get it, whereas I think Eruka and Free didn’t get a lot of screen time… Well, I guess Eruka did. Free didn’t, but his personality was so immediately Big that he didn’t need it. He was automatically fun to have around. And I think that Giriko’s written a little bit differently so that that’s not necessarily the case with him.
CAITLIN: Put Giriko and Free in the same room.
VRAI: Yes. Good! Excellent! Perfect! Print it.
CAITLIN: And maybe make them make out? No.
VRAI: Nah. Mm? Mm? Nah.
DEE: [Performs a robotic series of questioning hums]
VRAI: Also, the teacher characters have the same problem, I think, where Marie gets a lot of really cool development this arc, but I spent a lot of time thinking, “I wish Azusa and Naigus were one character and it was Naigus and she got more to do that wasn’t just being stoic and competent.”
DEE: Mm-hm. I did think it was cool that when Sid has to go deal with Mifune he puts Naigus in charge of their forces. She’s very clearly the second-in-command, who if Sid has to go take care of things, she doesn’t come with him. He’s like, “You stay here and take care of things here because I trust you to do that.” I thought that was an interesting way to showcase another kind of partnership, because typically we just see the partners together all the time.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of really interesting stuff that goes on with the adults in Soul Eater and the way they’re used in the story.
DEE: Yeah. And I— Sorry, go ahead.
CAITLIN: There’s notes for this later in the show notes. Should I just go into it now or should I save it?
VRAI: [crosstalk] Carry on.
DEE: Yeah, why not?
VRAI: Nah, nah. Nah, nah, let it flow. My show notes are always suggestions.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] What I think is really interesting is that the adults… they play an important role in the story. They’re not front and center most of the time, but the plot would not be continuing on without them. This is not like a shounen where the adults are just the mentors and they don’t do anything else.
The children, the main characters, they’re prodigies, they have a ton of raw power, but they are the ones who just jump into the fights, because fighting is pretty much all they can do, while the adults are doing… they are trained, they are knowledgeable, they strategize, they do reconnaissance because they know how to sneak, they know what to look for. And I thought that was really interesting and more… not grounded but thoughtful approach, because reconnaissance is hard! You can’t send someone like Black Star on reconnaissance!
DEE: Yeah, and I like that… The whole point in this fight is the kids are really there more like backup, like “We trust you to handle yourselves if the minions come after you, but that’s your job: you’re supposed to just take care of the minions if they come after you.” And obviously things go very south and everybody kind of improvises, and it sets up…
The one throughline I’ve found as I was organizing my notes for this is: this stretch is, I think, very much about all of the kids taking steps towards independence, and a lot of that is them challenging the adults around them and straight-up disobeying them a decent amount of time because they’re like, “Well, I hear what you’re saying, but I feel like this is the right thing to do. So, I need to go do that.”
CAITLIN: Marie telling them not to go into the field. I really liked how that was handled, as well, because I feel like in a more poorly written story, it would be shown as a mother hen sort of thing.
DEE: Yeah, like, “Oh, what a buzzkill.”
CAITLIN: Like, “Oh, we can’t have mothers because mothers are the antithesis of adventure.” She was genuinely sad seeing the children fight because she is an adult. Her job is to protect the children from having to fight. It’s a failure of the system when the adults can’t protect the children. She’s not wrong at being upset and sad.
But the kids knew that the right thing was to go and help their friends. That was the only thing that they could do, and she knew that and they knew that. But I really appreciated how that was handled.
DEE: Yeah, I think it’s a very sympathetically handled scene where nobody’s in the wrong. Like you said, she’s not pictured as this strict buzzkill, mean ol’ teacher who won’t let you go have fun. She genuinely cares for these kids, and it’s just that in this moment there was really no good answer. Yeah, I did appreciate that.
I think, again, when you pair Marie with some of the other adults in the story… like we’re starting to wonder what the hell is going on with Lord Death. He sure is keeping secrets from everybody, including his basically second-in-command with Sid. He refuses to tell him the full scope of what’s going on.
I really liked the scene at the very, very end—which we’ll dig into more once we start talking about Crona—where Maka calls out her dad about, like, “How dare you say that Crona apologizing that he shouldn’t get a second chance when you get—” Sorry, “they.” I should say “they” with Crona.
VRAI: [crosstalk] It’s hard because the subs went with “he” and it’s easy to slip into what they did.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, the translation uses “he,” and so it sticks in my brain. But when Maka goes against Lord Death and her dad in that final scene where they’re like, “Well, Crona betrayed us and an ‘I’m sorry’ won’t fix it,” and Maka’s like, “You’ve gotten a million second chances. You say ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you just do the same damn thing again when you cheated on Mom. I trust Crona not to do it a second time.” I really appreciated that scene because Maka is… I think, of all the kids, she’s the one who has been the least rebellious.
CAITLIN: She’s a good girl.
DEE: Yeah. I mean, she and Kid both bought into and believe in this system and these authority figures. And so, to see them both this arc really going against that and pushing back against that based on their own experiences, their own sense of right and wrong, I think that undercurrent about the coming-of-age was, to me, the one thing looking back at this stretch of episodes that really stood out as not just wheel-spinning. It was something that seemed to be going on intentionally with all of the characters. So, I did like that.
VRAI: Yeah, that’s easily the strongest part of this stretch of episodes: that battle of idealism versus pragmatism and “Oh, no, the entire society you live under is built on a lie” and trying to pick up the pieces of what you believe while you’re growing up. And I don’t know that I trust this show to come to a potent thesis about it in the way an Ikuhara show might, but emotionally it really captures that journey that Kid and Maka are going through, which is good and cool.
And I think characterizing the adults so well is a big part of that, because Sid has gone from this character who was the best caretaker for these kids to somebody who is just painfully complicit in hiding things from them and may be making things harder or more dangerous from them because he’s caught up in these varying loyalties, and I really liked what they did with him this stretch of episodes, actually.
DEE: Yeah, I think they do a good job of giving you a broad scope of adults because—I didn’t mention this—we’ve also got Medusa, who is absolutely the worst parent.
CAITLIN: Oh. Bad! Bad mom.
VRAI: She’s the worst!
CAITLIN: And then you get Mifune, who’s the best parent.
DEE: Mifune is a very good dad to his tiny witch daughter.
VRAI: I’m very interested—because, again, I remember nothing about the last 12 episodes—how much space the show will have to… because it’s kind of brought up this element of “Are witches really evil?” That sort of standard-but-not-bad kind of narrative. But it brings it up so sparingly through this singular character and his precious uwu charge that I wonder if they’ll really have time to dig into that, but I really like them. I like Ann and Mifune.
CAITLIN: I really enjoy Mifune’s episodes. I’ve been having discussions with Jared about who the hottest Soul Eater character is, and then it’s like, oh, wait, it’s Mifune. [Chuckles]
VRAI: I mean, he is the total package, as opposed to Medusa, who is the hottest and the worst.
CAITLIN: I felt it when he was like, “Oh, God, I would love to be a teacher at the school.” He loves kids in a totally not sketchy way. But he can’t do it because he has Angela. And I felt that. I can’t think of anything that’s directly applicable to my life, but as a teacher myself, that sort of thing is something that I’m aware of. It’s like, where does this thing that I want conflict with what I have?
I would love nothing more than for the story to end with the witch-versus-DWMA war ending and Mifune gets to be a teacher and live with Angela in peace. That’s really the only thing I want out of the Soul Eater ending.
DEE: [Chuckles] All the other characters could die, as long as Mifune is happy!
VRAI: I will say, I remember having, the first time I watched this, conflicting feelings about Medusa’s arc in this stretch. I think I like it better now. I will say the first episode where she comes back is some peak horror for the show.
CAITLIN: Creepy children’s programming—
VRAI: It’s really good!
CAITLIN: —gets to me! When she’s sitting there watching the TV show, with the apple… Ugh! Ugh!
VRAI: It’s just good horror anime-making, and I was pleased. On the whole, I both understand and am a little annoyed by giving her a child body because we need to nerf her for this arc because she’s too efficient.
DEE: [crosstalk] I didn’t necessarily feel like it nerfed her. The body, specifically. I mean, Stein basically killed her, and so it tracks for me that it would take her a while to get back up to full strength. But I don’t think her possessing a child’s body at this point is the reason why she’s maybe low on power. I think it’s because she had to piece her soul back together and, again, possess a kid. And God, that part is terrifying.
Can I tell you guys a fun fact about that episode?
DEE: It’s storyboarded by Kunihiko Ikuhara.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, that’s why it’s so good!
DEE: The part where you really tell is the dining room conversation with Arachne and her minions, and there’s this weird thing going on in the background where the Jasons keep switching vases and plates.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah! [Laughs]
VRAI: Everything is explained now. [crosstalk] I was gonna mention…
DEE: And you’re like, “This is strange. I guess it’s symbolism?”
CAITLIN: [Through laughter] God damn it, Ikuhara! “That’s strange. I guess it’s symbolism?” is just the Ikuhara experience summed up.
DEE: I did it.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk; through laughter] This is a blessing!
VRAI: [crosstalk] I can understand everything now!
DEE: I’ve summarized his entire canon. We can all go home.
VRAI: [Exclaims in a tentative singsong] I have this at the end of the show notes, but we might as well talk some about Crona now because those two characters kind of go hand in hand. But I was really impressed, by which I mean upset with, how the Crona and Medusa stuff is in this run of episodes.
I feel like the character who becomes good and then has a slip-up betrayal is pretty common in shounen. But because Soul Eater specifically has spent so much time underlining how it’s specifically about Crona’s trauma and how hard a time they are having adjusting and how many small steps it takes for one backslide to be so big, it feels a lot more grounded and painful instead of frustrating.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah. And I think a lot of the time with shows like this, you have that moment where Crona breaks free from the toxic family member or adult authority figure or whoever it would be, and that would be it, right? Then they would become a member of the team and that would be their story going forward.
CAITLIN: And they have a big confrontation later where she tells Medusa— Er, blah! Pronouns. I don’t know why I went with “she.”
VRAI: [crosstalk] Pronouns are hard.
CAITLIN: Where they tell their mom, “You don’t have power over me anymore!” and it’s a big, triumphant moment and we all applaud. But that’s not how it works with abusive parent relationships.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I, too, like [obscured by crosstalk].
DEE: And insomuch that Soul Eater is also a fantasy series, so obviously there’s a lot of unreal elements involved in that, but I like that this goes back to that and shows that it’s not that simple or straightforward and how hard this is for Crona.
Because that moment when they start crying and they say to Maka, “She’s my mother!” it’s like, “Aww!” It just breaks your heart because it isn’t as easy as “Well, I know that you’re a terrible parent and you’re abusive to me.” You are the person who raised me, and there’s still that sense of affection and attachment even though Medusa doesn’t deserve it.
VRAI: And it so smartly plays into actual abuse dynamics because we see in the first half Medusa is so cold to them, but now that she wants something from them she’s very sweet and affirmation-y.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah. “I’m so proud of you” and “You can do this.” And even makes the task a little bit easier when it’s clear that Crona is not up for… I can’t remember what Medusa initially asks Crona to do. And Crona’s like, “I don’t think I can,” and then she’s like, “Okay, well, how about this? Just put this in Marie’s tea.”
And yeah, you’re right. She’s very sweet and loving and like, “Oh, I’m so proud of you for doing this,” to Crona, which is something Crona wanted very badly in the first stretch. So, the divided loyalties and the guilt. And there’s a surprisingly realistic panic attack experienced by Crona at one point.
So, yeah, I think Crona and Maka’s relationship is kind of the beating heart of this series even though we just touch on it periodically. You know what I mean? I think that might be the thing that the anime really latched on to and was like, “This is going to be our emotional throughline, is these characters.” Because that episode feels more like the conclusion of the arc than the big fight with BREW did. Does that make sense?
VRAI: Yeah, but I will say that conversation they have on the roof felt so flat for me, because it clearly wants to get to the point where they have this conversation about mothers and Crona has this realization about their own conflicted feelings and understand Maka’s feeling with her mom, who I guess we’ve confirmed has disappeared now and isn’t just not around. That’s new.
But why does Crona know what divorce is, let alone have normative opinions on it? Like you just needed to put these audience reaction asides in there, so that the comedy schtick would keep going. It doesn’t feel natural to this character, those moments, for me.
DEE: Yeah, I guess that’s fair. It didn’t bother me, but yeah, I think that’s a fair criticism. I think it sticks the landing really well, though, with the self-isolationist pit…
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, the scene gets where it’s going.
DEE: [Chuckles] …that Crona falls into.
[Pained, sympathetic chuckling]
VRAI: It’s a metaphor!
CAITLIN: Aw, what a powerful visual metaphor.
DEE: Maka’s such a good character, and it’s such a good scene where she comes in and tells Crona, “I need you to stop hurting yourself because you’re my friend and it hurts me to see you hurt yourself.” Again, I think a lot of the time these stories don’t necessarily go that route, and I liked the way Maka worded that in terms of “No, I care about you, Crona.”
VRAI: The last scene of the episode is really interesting and the series doing good nuance, because during that whole conversation I had flashbacks to the Twitter discourse if Soul Eater had been airing now.
CAITLIN: Oh, God, don’t do that.
DEE: “Crona did nothing wrong”?
VRAI: “Crona did nothing wrong”!
CAITLIN: [Through laughter] Soul Eater slightly predates Twitter! Don’t try to—
VRAI: “Crona did nothing wrong” or “Crona is a monster who was still complicit in these actions regardless of if they felt bad about it.” This show is surprisingly nuanced about it, like, “Yeah, some people did die and more people might die because you did this thing. But also, you’re a child who was kind of forced into a corner, and those can both be true.”
CAITLIN: Another thing I thought was really interesting with Crona was their relationship with Ragnarok during these episodes. Ragnarok kind of does the classic shounen thing where he’s defeated and now he’s smaller and friendlier, which they literally call out. They literally are like, “Well, he’s smaller now.” [Chuckles]
And the moment that Medusa comes back, Ragnarok starts abusing Crona again because Ragnarok is more or less a manifestation of Crona’s self-hatred. And when they’re away from Medusa’s influence, when they’re with people who are supportive and who care about them, he’s smaller and quieter and he eats snacks with them, and he seems harmless again. It seems like he has lost most of his power over her. But the moment Medusa comes back, he is back to calling them useless, telling them to just shut up and obey already, just do what Medusa says because they are useless without her.
DEE: And their friends would never forgive them if they found out about this anyway, so…
CAITLIN: Yeah, and your friends are gonna hate you. So, there’s just a lot going on with Medusa. And they’re not the subtlest metaphors. I don’t feel like I’m brilliant for sussing this out. I’m not gonna write a big thesis on it. But it’s still interesting to see acknowledged as an emotional process, especially in a shounen like this.
DEE: Yeah, and I think it’s a really good way to visually and dramatically show that, instead of just relying on a bunch of internal monologues from Crona, to have Ragnarok be that presence.
VRAI: Sidenote apropos of nothing: it is so fucking rude that they did at least two runs of Soul Eater figures and they never made a Crona one. And this is rude to me, as somebody who collects figures of my tiny gender babies.
DEE: I’m sorry.
CAITLIN: Do you feel personally attacked?
DEE: That is extremely rude to you specifically.
DEE: They were like, “Hey, we heard Vrai really wants a Crona figure. So, let’s not.” [Chuckles]
VRAI: “Let’s not make it. We don’t want their money.”
DEE: That’s right.
VRAI: Yeah, yeah. Oh, I love them. But speaking of gender shit, though, we should probably talk about that annoying Black Star and Maka episode, though.
DEE: Yes, I wanted to spend some time on this one, because I think that’s the one I had the most notes on.
CAITLIN: Yeah, there’s a lot happening in that episode. And unlike with Crona, where there’s a lot happening and it’s good, there’s a lot happening and it’s not so good.
DEE: I hated that episode until the very, very end, when I figured out what it was trying to do. And the way I wrote this down in my notes is “There’s a difference between—” You know, we talk about this a lot of the time with colorblind versus color-conscious casting in shows, where because of various stereotypes and power dynamics and whatnot, both in fiction and in reality, you can’t just close your eyes and assign casting to characters, because it can still lean into stereotypes and things like that.
And I think the same can be true of gender, because ultimately what that episode is trying to be about is Maka stepping into a leadership role and the importance of a leader to understand and accept the people who are following you and to change your methods to help suit them instead of just shouting at them to suddenly become a round peg in a round hole.
That is what I believe that episode is trying to do, because it does end with Stein’s kind of triumphant: “Maka’s the team leader!” And Maka’s like “Hell yeah, I’m the team leader!”
CAITLIN: Yeah, it never really gelled.
DEE: Yeah, the problem is because Maka is the only female member of the cast and because—
CAITLIN: Well, Tsubaki!
DEE: No, no, sorry, not of the cast, of the meisters. So Maka’s the only one who can do the resonance. The meisters are the only ones who could do this resonance thing, right? So one of them would need to be the leader.
Because of that, and because Black Star basically doesn’t have to do jack shit—Tsubaki takes care of all the emotional labor—it very much turns into an episode about how girls just need to accommodate their big, strong men friends and bend over backwards to make sure that things… They need to be the ones who change because clearly he can’t.
VRAI: He’s just so strong and passionate. You want him to slow down for you? Eat shit!
CAITLIN: I completely agree. I feel like the episode would have come across a lot better if they— Because later, in another episode, Sid talks about how Black Star is really going through something right now, because he was never beaten in a fight before, but now he’s getting his ass kicked over and over and over. But we just get a flash of that deer thing in the actual episode, so we don’t know what’s going on exactly with Black Star, just that he’s not feeling great right now.
So, without that context, it really seems like Black Star is being a brat. And it’s up to Maka to accommodate him, once again, as the girl on the team. Maka has to be the reasonable one. Maka has to think about Black Star’s feelings.
Poor Tsubaki. She hasn’t gotten any development from the very beginning of the series. She’s done nothing but be the mouthpiece for Black Star’s internal emotional processes.
VRAI: Yeah. I mean, she kind of has that one two-parter in the very first cour that’s about her feelings of self-worth and her plans after that.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Right! Well, that’s what I’m talking about.
DEE: Yeah, that’s what Caitlin’s saying.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, yeah. Yeah.
CAITLIN: That was what I was referring to. She gets all of her development at the very beginning of the series, and it’s good. It’s a good couple episodes. And then she does nothing but support Black Star. [Chuckles] So, that episode was really frustrating for me.
DEE: I think what would have made it work for me is that moment where Tsubaki pops Black Star in the back of the head and he’s like, “Yeah, I know, I screwed up. I shouldn’t have lashed out like that,” and he says, “Will you help me make it right?” and she says, “Sure.” I think up to that point it’s pretty good.
And if Black Star had done any of the work to have that conversation with Maka—like maybe Tsubaki is there to help him out because we know Black Star is not good at words. He’s not good at expressing himself, so I can understand it being like, “Hey, I do need your help with this.” But the fact that Black Star doesn’t have to do jack that episode—he puts in no emotional labor to make up with Maka at all; he just has Tsubaki do it for him. That to me was the big sticking point, like, okay, if you want to have this conversation, then Black Star needs to be a part of it.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I agree. And I know that Stein’s not a great teacher in that way, and also Stein is also going through something right now—Stein is going through a lot of things right now—but he really didn’t help my perception of the episode with how he was like… Maka was like, “I want Black Star off the team,” and Stein’s like, “All right, you’re off the team. Because guess who’s the strongest member of the team? Black Star.” It’s like, yeah, but if Black Star is impeding the team’s progress, it doesn’t matter if he’s the strongest.
DEE: Yeah. That’s also a him problem. There should be some give-and-take here, and instead, Maka is the one who just has to come to terms with everything.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So frustrating.
DEE: Yeah, that episode made me real angry. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: The one thing I liked about the episode was at the end, when Maka was like, “All right, I want you to punch me. I punched you.” And I didn’t think it was fair for her to apologize like this. He absolutely deserved for her to deck him.
DEE: He did.
CAITLIN: Some people are like, oh, you shouldn’t hit people. I’m like, no, sometimes people deserve to get punched. But when Maka was like, “All right, I want you to punch me to make us even,” and so he goes all out punching her back, that didn’t feel as gendered as it could have. That felt like something, a moment between two equals, not between a boy and a girl. But at the same time, that’s such a small thing in such a weird, uncomfortable episode.
DEE: Yeah. And again, because of the way the episode ends up framing it as this leadership thing, I don’t think the author had any awareness of what I would call these “unconscious biases” that are happening in the story. I do not think it was intentional. But again, that’s why it’s important to think about these things, because you can accidentally do a sexism. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: And that’s something that you see in Fire Force quite a bit too.
DEE: Oh, yeah?
CAITLIN: Just a lot of behavior that’s like, well, if this were two guys doing this, it would be fine, but the genders of the character make it feel gendered and kind of thoughtless and uncomfortable. And I mean, there is stuff in Fire Force that is absolutely, definitely gendered and in an annoying way. But yeah.
I feel like, overall, Soul Eater is generally pretty good about this stuff. And I know that Ohkubo chose to have a female character to make the story stand out, and he generally treats Maka pretty equally with the male characters, but it’s not… I don’t know. I lost my train of thought.
DEE: I think Black Star just consistently gets a pass. And up to this point, I was like, oh, he’s just a big silly kid. And he is. And I don’t feel like… How do I put this? The way he reacts to things I think is realistic for a 13-year-old who has always kind of been the big fish in the small pond. But this arc frustrates—
CAITLIN: And who doesn’t have parents.
DEE: Yeah. It sounds like Sid basically raised him, which is kind of cute. But it’s frustrating that the narrative isn’t asking him to change in a way that I think it is the other characters. I don’t feel like it challenges his behavior. We understand that he’s going through some stuff as far as insecurity and self-confidence goes. But he’s also being a dick.
CAITLIN: He’s the most standard shounen character.
VRAI: Well, I kind of think the show— Go ahead.
CAITLIN: And he doesn’t get challenged on it, because that’s just how shounen protagonists are.
VRAI: I almost… I don’t want to get my hopes up, even. But I almost felt like with his last episode, the next-to-last one in this batch, they were maybe trying to build on setting up doing something with that because of his fight with Kid and he’s got these angers over his losses.
And maybe it’s [from] starting HRT, but at least intellectually I have some sympathy with how that episode framed him as this kid with… He feels angry and he doesn’t know what to do with it because he knows this isn’t necessarily productive emotion. “But what do? I’m a teenager.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. He’s definitely… He’s going through something.
VRAI: And specifically the way that episode had that moment where Sid’s like, “Oh my God, is he turning into his dad that we had to kill because he killed too many people?” Potentially, there’s something interesting there, but I’m not sure I have faith in the show to pull it off, because, you’re right, it’s given Black Star a pass in the way it hasn’t with other characters.
CAITLIN: I like Black Star. I think he is generally a good kid, even if he’s dumb as hell. There were people on my timeline… I was talking about Mifune. They’re like “Yeah, his only mistake was not killing Black Star!” And I’m just like, “No! Black Star’s a child! Mifune would never hurt a child if he didn’t have to!”
DEE: [Chuckles] Yeah.
CAITLIN: But I like Black Star. I enjoy him a lot of the time. I think when he grows up, he’s basically going to be Galo from Promare.
DEE: He’s got TRIGGER protag energy.
CAITLIN: Just a grade-A himbo.
DEE: [Chuckles] Yeah, and again, I agree with what you guys are saying. And Vrai, I do agree. I think that Black Star’s directionless anger and the way he lashes out at people, I think that is realistic, again, for his age and what’s been going on with him. It is just that question of: is the show going to force him to confront what he’s doing and change himself in any kind of way?
I feel like Black Star never has to change to accommodate other people, but everybody else has to. And that is an important life skill, and Black Star should probably learn it. Some cooperation and compromise would be good, I think.
CAITLIN: It’s such a thing with just teenage boys in general. It’s almost like a “boys-being-boys” thing.
DEE: It feels that way sometimes, yeah, like, “Well, what are you gonna do?” And I’m like, “Well, you could learn how to sympathize and empathize and talk about your feelings.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. You know what I feel like would have made the episode better is if—Sid’s conversation, where he’s talking about how Black Star is going through something right now—if that was who had been there instead of Stein, if there had been someone who at least was able to guide Maka through.
If the episode’s about Maka becoming a leader, someone who can guide her instead of saying, “Well, figure it out.” Someone who can say, “You have someone on your team who is having a hard time right now, who you want to be able to meet you where you are, but sometimes they just need you to meet them where they are because they can’t meet you that way.” I feel like that would have made the episode so much better, instead of just Stein being a dick and a bad teacher.
VRAI: Yeah, because overall, in other episodes, they do have that very good theme of “You don’t always have to understand what somebody is going through; you just have to respect it and meet each other halfway.” That’s good for YA fiction, but it just broke so bad this time.
DEE: Yeah. That’s frustrating. We’ll see where Black Star goes next arc, I guess.
VRAI: And the last 12 episodes, because we’re coming up on the end of the anime!
DEE: We are.
VRAI: Which, you know, that’s a little sad. But also, yay, it’s a manageable length. Look at it. Look at it being manageable. I’m still bitter about the whole long-running thing. It makes me tired.
DEE: Yeah, no, I like the length of Soul Eater. I know there’s folks who would like us to have a full adaptation, but… And we can talk more about this next week, too. I will try to get a hold of the final volumes, so I can refresh myself on how the Soul Eater manga ends, so we can talk about that a little bit next week, but no promises. Things are hard right now.
CAITLIN: I would like a full adaptation just so that… I don’t have the tolerance for Ohkubo’s fanservice bullshit. And so, I’m not going to read the manga. I would like to see the rest of the story filtered through Igarashi and Studio Bones.
VRAI: Oh, that’s awfully optimistic of you, thinking that that’s what would happen as opposed to…
CAITLIN: No, listen. I’m saying in a perfect world where I got what I wanted and anime was always good, Ohkubo’s vision filtered through Igarashi is pretty much ideal, because you get all the coolest aesthetic, you get the fun writing and the cool fights without all of the panty shots.
DEE: Cuts out the bullshit. It’s great.
VRAI: We love it. Any final thoughts on this round that we didn’t get to, that we can squeeze into two minutes?
DEE: Nothing that we could squeeze into two minutes, no.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I feel like there’s some stuff to talk about with Stein and his madness.
DEE: We’ll have time. We touched on it last time. We’ll have time to talk about it next time, too, I’m sure.
VRAI: It’s still dancing the dance of ableism. It’s a lot.
DEE: It’s a lot.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s a little complicated, I think.
DEE: Yeah, the show is… We can’t get into this in two minutes, so we’ll just talk about it next time. It’s fine.
VRAI: Yep. Put a pin in that.
VRAI: All right. Well, yeah, good work. And you know what we can unilaterally say for this stretch is it only had Spirit in it for like two minutes, so it must be good.
CAITLIN: And with a funny joke! With a funny joke! Because when Death was making him repeat after him to talk to Justin…
DEE: For the lip-reading, yeah.
CAITLIN: He was imitating Death’s speech patterns, and I laughed! I don’t know if that was in the dub because you guys are watching the dub, right?
VRAI: Actually I watched the sub for most of this stretch because, I don’t know, I just got into the swing of it and it was good. But still going back and forth.
CAITLIN: Yeah, but Spirit resignedly copying Death’s “Nyoom!” kind of speech patterns was very funny.
VRAI: He did it.
All right, I think that brings us to the end of this one. Thanks so much for joining us, AniFam. If you liked this episode, you can find more of our stuff by searching for us on your podcatcher of choice or finding our website, AnimeFeminist.com.
If you really liked this, you can always go to our Patreon, patreon.com/AnimeFeminist. Even $1 a month really helps us continue to make content on the page and in your earbuds and on transcripts. We fold that into our monthly expenses. So, the support really, really helps.
Thanks so much for joining us. And next time, we will be back to watch the final stretch of Soul Eater. And I’m excited. And one more dash of Crona Feels, please.
DEE: And remember: be like Excalibur and only use the most lavish of bathrooms!
CAITLIN: I can’t believe we heard Excalibur take a shit on camera.
DEE: That’s the show! Good night, everybody!
VRAI: [Through laughter] Stop it!