Nobody has out-styled Soul Eater yet

I was reminded earlier today of how one of my first entry points to long-running Shonen series had been Soul Eater, and how – even at that still-nebulous stage of my anime fandom, it left such a distinct imprint on me as something that was ‘different’ from the norm. Even now, I still hear the show referred to fondly – whether it be some of its standout moments of sakuga joy, to the distinct, memorable characters. Just let’s not say too much about that anime original ending…

But what I want to talk about here is Soul Eater’s distinct sense of *style* – something which I feel is the show’s single most defining trait. Atsushi Okubo’s character designs – via their treatment from studio Bones – are the show’s standout visual call-point. In many ways, they stand as distinctly ‘un-anime’ – almost recalling a more Western-orientated cartoon aesthetic. Like something out of a Gorillaz video. All jagged edges, elastic limbs and loony expressions. Soul Eater, more than any other anime outside of perhaps Studio Trigger, like a fun ‘cartoon’.

This styling is further born out in a cast that is not only refreshingly multicultural and varied, but also in the show’s ‘urban’-tinged soundtrack which twists hip-hop beats with spiky, pumped up OP themes. The English dub can’t go unmentioned too – it’s one of Funimation’s finest, with a stellar performance from Laura Bailey in particular – which makes me sad she far more rarely does anime work these days.

And then there’s the anime version’s tight approach to story – each episode, while forming part of a longer narrative, also functioning very much in a standalone vein. There’s a reason why – even now – particular episodes such as the hilariously wacky Excalibur moments or the episode where Death The Kid chases the train through the desert are still imprinted firmly in my mind. The Soul Eater anime imbued itself with a sense of movement and forward momentum that few shonen anime adaptions these days manage even a fraction of – so concerned are they with stretching out each manga chapter for all it’s worth.

So looking back, I wonder whether Soul Eater was a kind of last gasp of mid-00s anime idealism; of the era where Haruhi and Gurren Lagann ruled the airwaves. An age before the copy-book sheen of the likes of Blue Exorcist, Twin Star Exorcists, Ass Class etc. introduced a glossier, more plasticly polished type of shonen. Soul Eater was a little rough around the edges – and in that, it found a roguish charm I just don’t see often enough these days.

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