Netflix Canada has always been kind of a bittersweet medium, especially for animation enthusiasts. First, there is no animation section- animation in Netflix land is strictly anime.
This is fine, except that anime almost ALWAYS has an extremely involving long-term narrative. So you constantly find yourself sucked into the first 12 episodes of what seemed to be a benign little show but is actually the tip of a convoluted multi-verse demon iceberg, at which point (the climax of the first season of course) you will without fail discover:
THE THREE RULES OF THE NETFLIX ANIME WASTELAND
1. That the show is from 2005, has completely disappeared from the cultural canon and is of no relevance to anyone anywhere.
2. The show actually has 7 seasons, the first two of which are on Netflix for regular human viewing, and the rest of which are locked in a vault deep within the catacombs of Tokyo. Did I mention the last ten of those episodes were never translated into English?
Also in order to understand half of what goes on you will need to watch the 3 preceding series’s in the super-secret multi-verse, which are peppered on a series of asteroids that are lost in deep space.
3. That while you were reading Wikipedia to the information of these lost episodes’ whereabouts, the complete synopsis was SPOILERED out of existence by an over-eager fan. Go ahead- take a look at the Wiki page I visited to do some supplementary research about the anime that I will cover in the rest of this post; you will instantly have the last 10 episodes destroyed for you as they were for me.
The point is that however fickle Netflix may be, I found a sweet anime oasis in the series Soul Eater.
Now keep in mind- you will have to watch more than 3 episodes to start liking it.
I have noticed a common theme with the structure of anime plot arcs that I am coining ‘The Reverse Sonic Underground Theory’.
REGULAR AND REVERSE SONIC UNDERGROUND THEORIES
The regular ‘Sonic Underground Theory’ is a narrative bait and switch (also coined by me- surprise!) Named for one of my favorite childhood shows Sonic Underground.
In Sonic Underground, the first episode is a massive two-part epic, where an exciting premise is launched. Dr. Robotnik (I chose Robotnik over Eggman, not just just because it’s my preference, but also because it’s the name they use in this series) develops a machine that ‘roboticizes’ people- turning them into controllable cyborgs for his personal army. He uses this power to dissolve the monarchy and turn the land of the show into a militarized state. Flash forward – the triplet royal heirs (obviously Sonic, and his never-to-appear-again-ever siblings Sonia and cult favorite, Manic) are reunited by a soothsayer, activating their latent magical powers. They begin a quest to find their lost mother and defeat Dr. Robotnik!
Look, it’s all neatly described here in the theme song. “Dun dun dun dun bwaaaaaaaaa SONIC”
SYNOPSIS OF EVERY EPISODE AFTER THAT: Random-ass battles in different terrains, repetitive catchphrases “IT’S SPIN AND WIN TIIIIMMME”, copious blue streaks of light, and occasional references to their mom to tie it all in. (This insanity lasts for about 60 episodes, only forty of which were even produced, and the series never came close to a real conclusion.)
Thus the definition of the Sonic Underground Principle: Introduce amazing premise, unleash it’s full animated wrath into the pilot, stir up interest, then release 38 episodes of insipid bullshit.
Therefore the Reverse Sonic Underground Principle, characteristic of half of all animes: Release three episodes full of static characters, benign events and repetitive catchphrases. Then step back and reveal A SUPER AWESOME WICKEDLY DARK ANIME WITH SEXY/HILARIOUS CHARACTERS AND A PLOTLINE AS THICK AS A KNOTTLY GYM ROPE.
This is why nobody but me watched Cardcaptors. If you are like me and know about the principle, you will usually watch up to five episodes in good faith and be teased forever by your friends who walked in on you viewing any of those first episodes, (or even sat through one with you and gave up), and then noticed that you continued watching the series. “THIS stupid show again?” “YES DAMNIT!”
Ok guys, fair enough, I can see why this doesn’t look very cool.
SOUL EATER SYNOPSIS
The Grim Reaper founds the Death Meister and Weapon Academy (DMWA) for people who are able to transform themselves into weapons, and people who can wield them (meisters). These reaper-meister pairs must consume 99 kishin eggs (human souls infected by a demonic presence) and one witch soul to drastically increase the weapon’s power and transform it into ‘death scythe’ (not always an actual scythe). The team then becomes part of the reaper’s personal guard.
The main characters are three sets of weapon-meister teams:
1. Maka ( a be-skirted studious girl with bitchy tendencies and a creepy womanizing dad who happens to be the Reaper’s personal death scythe) and Soul (a brooding magical scythe, who plays the piano and is obsessed with being cool)
2. Black Star (the last member of a clan of universally hated assassins. He has incredible raw power, and incredible powers of annoyance) and Tsubaki (A doormat character who has a massive repertoire of weapon incarnations)
3. Death the Kid (The Reapers son, who has a crippling plot-squashing obsession with symmetry) and his twin sister pistols, Liz (a paranoid smart-ass) and Patty (a ditzy moron)
The weapon-meister relationship dynamic is fascinating. Firstly, in order for the meister to wield the weapon, their souls wavelengths have to naturally harmonize with each other. Once they’ve established their compatibility, they almost always move in together in the weird residential type apartments around the academy. There’s also a quasi-romantic aspect to it, because they have to pretty much be soulmates to make this kind of partnership possible. At first I thought they lived together for this reason, but then I realized it would be unfortunate if you were attacked in the middle of the night but your sword lived across town. The partnerships are usually male/female, but there is no particular pattern as to which gender is usually the weapon or meister.
Also, only the weapons eat the souls, but I don’t think the writers have actually worked out how this happens, because the only weapon character ever shown eating a soul is Soul, probably because he has a comically large fangly mouth- and it’s not too much of an animated stretch to draw him sucking one back (souls seem to be on average as large as two fists).
They played with the logistics a bit once and had Liz loading souls into Patty’s magazine, which I guess would be the human equivalent of having your sister shove cartridges of power up your ass. Maybe it works like alcohol and it’s more potent that way? Who am I to say?
The animation style is a weird juxtaposition between light and dark. The colours are bright, and the Reaper is a cute cartoony character with a Professor Dumbledore-esque persona, crazy proportions and quirky mannerisms.
The sun and the moon are living entities, that are frequently panting and spouting blood – giving off a weird pastel Majora’s Mask feel. At first I thought that they were exclusive to Death City (where the DWMA is) and that it was a place caught between realms that acted as a portal to reap souls from multiple places and time periods. I assumed this because characters like Al Capone, Jack the Ripper and the Wolf Man make appearances as humans who are on the verge of becoming kishin, but later on it starts to look like there is only one world with a finite timeline. Also Death City was revealed to be in Nevada, albeit some suspiciously Japanese-cultured Nevada.
HOW THE REVERSE SONIC UNDERGROUND THEORY WAS TEMPORARILY ABLE TO WRECK THIS AMAZING PREMISE
As some strange attempt at character differentiation, each male character had one theme sentence that served as the base for all of their dialogue in the first few episodes. For example a zombie character’s dialogue would always run something like: “I would let you win, but that’s not the kind of man I was.” or “I used to be the kind of man who would say yes in a situation like that” or even “let me see your hammer, I was the kind of man who was good with tools”.
Soul, whose central theme was coolness would wake up and say shit like : “I don’t think today’s going to be a very cool day” or “studying for tests is so uncool” or “you’re being the opposite of cool right now”.
And sometimes Death the Kid would just see something a little off kilter, yell “NOT SYMMETRICAL” or some variation, and collapse from a nosebleed.
Another weird oversimplification was that each of the witches has some sort of transfiguration spirit animal that serves as the source and theme of all their powers. Fine. Except every time they’d try to use magic, they’d have to pull some kind of pokemon-saying-variations-of-its-own-name dialogue, so you’d get a spell like “Fribbit ribbit, frog ribbit kribitt ribbit” or sometimes it was even reduced to something like: “pumpkin PUMPKIN pumpkin PUMPKIN PUMPKIN PUMPKIN! *glass magically fills with alcohol*
(Also did I mention that this gem of a spell comes to us from a magical cat whose schtick is to turn into a naked woman and ask whatever man is around to bathe with her- which is usually followed by the character in question getting a wicked nosebleed from what we can assume is concentrated lust).
Prompting the internet to create this
Haha, thanks Deviant Art for this bit of gold
This video (and the above screenshot) is from the episode where it all turns around – even though all that happens is an exam and there is none of the cool demon fighting shit that the show is actually about.
Somehow all of the annoying static characters transform into intentional parodies of themselves and from that point on it all takes themselves a little less seriously. Maybe the writers realized they had hammered too hard and shattered the characters. 4:22 is probably the best moment in the first season – Black Star attempts to thieve the test answers, has the shit beaten out of him and is hung up by his shirt bleeding down the blackboard. Soul thinks he is trying to communicate the test answers to him.
And so, somehow, all of these insurmountable irritants dissolve early in the first season and magically leave behind an awesome show. What can I say other than Reverse Sonic Underground Theory?