Digging into Maddness (or I finally finished the Soul Eater Manga): my White Whale

Soul Eater, the anime series about scythe miester Maka and her scythe-human hybrid partner Soul and her band of monster hunting friends, was one of my most influential anime series. It’s haunted aesthetic, great fights, animation, and fun characters made a giant impact on my teenage years. It was a series I watched three times in a row back on YouTube when companies would post whole episodes for free in an early streaming attempt. It was a series I loved but learned later was lacking due to wrapping up with an anime-original conclusion. That made me seek out the manga to find the truth only to be confronted with an insanely accurate adaption. This shocked stall made me sit on the manga, stuck at vol 9, always wondering what the future was like. What was different? How did it change what I thought was a pretty solid ending. After more than a decade of wondering I finally found out… and it’s amazing.

It feels important to say that I never felt unsatisfied watching Soul Eater. Despite, now clearly, only hinting at much more interesting ideas and story concepts, they all felt beyond the bounds of our characters. Kind of what Hunter x Hunter does, but unintentionally. Sure, Maka and the rest grow and change. Maka, the daughter of a human and a weapon, awakening both sides of her parentage to help win the day, is crucial to the series. But so is Black Star and Kid’s arc, though they are basically deeply compressed versions of what the manga does. My point is that the anime was so set and focused around the core team and their missions that all the expanded lore felt like just that. Lore. Not important or necessary, just flavor text. Unfortunately it will be hard to go back to the series knowing so much of what I know.

The odd thing is that even with this expanded information the broad strokes of what the anime covers and what the manga explores feels relatively small on the larger plot. Both series are consistent until Crona, non-binary (I assume. They call them a he, but has always clearly been non-binary. Though that does lead to… you know what, they’ll get their own section) child to the witch Medusa, turns on the DWMA and corrupts Stein further before leaving. In the anime they turn themselves in near immediately while in the manga they split and then a DWMA investigator, JB, is killed when he gets too close to the truth. In that divergent point it feels like more should happen, and it does in the details but not the broad strokes.

In the broad strokes, the DWMA take on Arachnophobe by attacking their castle, then end up having a final battle with the Kishin, master of Madness. In that fight Death the Kid unlocks his full potential, along with Black Star getting to go all out. Finally, Maka has a realization and beats the Kishin. That describes both series pretty well. It seems like Ohkuba gave his rough sketch for the rest of the series and Bones did what they could. Except for all the specifics (so that’s what the book of Eibon is, and I finally get to see Kilik do stuff!) and important character beats that surround the series main idea: order vs madness.

Every character arc revolves around the idea of order: the modern systems, perfection, symmetry, and balance; versus the discordant, erratic, and isolating nature of madness (and paranoia). If this were a longer form piece (like a whole book on this series) I would dig into every character, but even just a cursory look at our lead Maka and Soul prove the point. Maka, the bookish and strong willed meister has deepseated issues when it comes to her father cheating and mother getting a divorce (the fact we don’t see the mother at all feels like a mistake in both). She is compassionate, but scared of being weak. She is physically the weakest of the group and through her struggles must realize that it’s okay not be strong because you have others around. In her worst moments she feels useless and has nothing to contribute but when paired with Soul she has power. Meanwhile Soul, the too cool for school musician, has his own fears and madness about not being good enough. He comes from a line of musicians and chose to run away instead of face that linage. To prove his path a different way. But with Maka he learns his music doesn’t have to measure up as long as it reaches people.

This same examination can be done for Kid and Black Star. Kid, a symmetry obsessed grim reaper jr, must learn how to find balance in the imbalance. He is interesting to compare to Black Star because of how similar their arcs are. Black Star, often disparagingly called a Naruto Clone (which he is not. Naruto is brash and loud in hopes he gets himself to believe it. Black Star does believe it and wants the world to see) wants to be the strongest person around and will go to every length in order to achieve that goal. In both cases they give into madness and must be snapped back into seeing rationally. They both have more supportive and stable weapons. Kid using twin guns Liz and Patty, while Black has the multi-tool Tsubaki.

I might be more of a story guy, but even outside of that, if you come purely for the action, the series has that too. Though not as intricate as the anime, the manga is incredibly dynamic and readable (like the action is not the story). The choreography is stellar. Every fight feels fair and well planned out. The multiple page fight scenes flow so well. With panel work that gives enough detail to give a picture in your mind while also having enough connecting tissue to form a bigger fight. The moments of more classic “anime” style fights with overblown powers that come out of nowhere never impact the current battle to feel cheap. They often come out of character revelations and declarations. The big power surges also aren’t how they win. Instead they often give the edge enough to either talk down the foe to an extent, or use another method of magic in order to win. It never relies on pure power to win but soul (pun kind of intended). This doesn’t mean there aren’t epic as hell moments that makes me sad the anime never got to adapt.

It is hard to deny that the manga isn’t a better story. It’s themes and characters are even more fleshed out, along with an even more intriquet world and setting. But if I were to say there is one character failed by the series it is Crona.

Crona, description given above, was the character I never liked the most but did feel the most attachment too. They were always nervous, unsure what to do in most situations, and was terribly awkward. This came from their incredibly abusive upbringing under Medusa. They literally could not understand others but where able to when Maka finally resonated with their soul. From there the arc is the same, but Crona is made much more redemptive and immediately in the show than manga. In the show they realize how dumb it was to listen to Medusa and go over to the DWMA side and help take down their mother. It might be read as too easy, but you also shouldn’t assume the arc was done. They’re still a teenager with room to grow. Crona in the manga is the long game. Finding Crona and bringing them back is Maka’s main goal for the rest of the series. Unfortunately Crona is not treated nearly as well.

For much of the book they are just absent. Never checked back in with, only mentioned. When they are finally seen they have been so wholly corrupted by Medsua that they’ve become a single minded monster with incredible power and broken psyche. A psyche that gets worse when he ends up killing his mother in the best single chapter or a manga, probably ever. A kid so starved for affection that when they are given some by the person who believed in them only to constantly abuse them that they kill her and decide to try and absorb everything. It makes the possible reading of non-binary problematic by saying they’re monsters. Of course they do come around eventually and act as sort of the soul of humanity realizing what they must do in order to purge madness. That is a unique idea that would have worked better if they were more prominent in the middle chunk of the book.

Though what I often used that time they were absent focusing on was Ohkuba’s growth and maturity as an author. The early parts of the book were incredibly crass. Nudity and sexual innuendo abound. It’s not bad, but felt juvenile. So it was neat to see himself push that from the book or reincorporate those ideas in fresh ways that, by the end, when the old sex-comedy bits return they feel fresh and more mature in a way. The joke was not just about seeing girls naked or touching boobs, but how the characters relationship change to those events. It’s subtle but almost secretly genius.

It is also hard not to want Bones to do a FMA Brotherhood and come back to remake the whole series or adapt the bits they missed. Not just for the fights they could do justice too with even better animation skills, but because music becomes such an integral part of the story that getting to hear what the composer would do with the musical ideas would be a joy to hear and see. It’s a great series that I am glad I finally got to read to completion. But the lingering thought I have is not just how good the book is, but how artistic and bold it feels in comparison to Fire Force. I like what I have read and seen of Fire Force (vol 13 or 14 and the first season), the Fire-demon fighting manga, but it also feels less styalized and bold. Kind of just standard. That could change. He could keep evolving as an artist, but even if it is good it won’t carry the weight this massive series has in my soul.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

If you enjoyed this: like, comment, and follow us here, and on Facebook & Twitter at Tower City Media! Subscribe to our YouTube Channel, Tower City Media and Submit to the suggestion box: TowerCityMedia@gmail.com!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s