Have you ever enjoyed a world so much you wouldn’t mind another season of it, but in a domestic setting? From the creators of Soul Eater comes Soul Eater NOT! under the concept that while Maka Albarn’s journey may be over, fans wouldn’t mind a lighter, fluffier revisit in the days before Jacqueline joined up with Kim and is constantly fantasizing about her. Soul Eater NOT! is clearly NOT the stylized animation, funky transformations and fight scenes that we’re used to. Yet, does Soul Eater NOT! still have enough merit on its own for those homesick for DWMA?
A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment.
Given Soul Eater is a personal favorite show of mine, I came into Soul Eater NOT! with a lenient mind, understanding this is an altogether different story within roughly the same universe. Roughly, because timelines and discrepancies aside, the noticeably rounded out art and shoujo character design clearly slot this anime into a different genre. If this is the Teen Titans Go of Soul Eater, will it rate around the same level of disappointment?
In contrast to Soul Eater’s introduction that establishes Maka as an E.A.T. student in training, NOT! is the typical freshman story. Tsugumi Harudori is the pinnacle of average (read: flat-chested), entering the Normally Overcome Target (N.O.T.) class. Cop-out acronyms aside, she meets two more girls that fall short of anime wife standards, and proceed to have a rather unromantic yuri love triangle.
Anya, the tsundere real life princess, and Meme, voluptuous airhead, are both intent on becoming meister to Tsugumi’s weapon. The only problem is, Tsugumi doesn’t really know if she wants to be a Demon weapon – right now she’s mostly a halberd without an edge – and she’s far from able to choose between two capable meisters.
The existence of the N.O.T. class brings up the idea that Demon weapons are a stigmatized and attending the DWMA is not so much a choice as opposed to necessity. Given the DWMA’s elite reputation and the prevalence of Demon weapons who have made a name for themselves, Tsugumi’s classmates reacted with admiration.
Still, Tsugumi herself is less sure about living and training far from home. Which begs the question: it makes sense for Demon weapons to enter the N.O.T. class, but if meisters are specifically there to perfect their skill for fame or justice, why would any of them end up sticking to the N.O.T. classes, apart from lack of skill?
Instead of delving into the details that might flesh out the world of weapons and meister motivations, Tsugumi is stuck without one as the anime travels down a path of being light-hearted slice of life. We are gradually introduced to the backstories of some fan favorite side characters, such as how Jacqueline gets Kim, and the Thompson sisters. In the midst of it all, Tsugumi’s unassuming kindness is what apparently drives each change of heart, as unlikely as it seems.
However, given the feel good setting, even Liz and Patty get reduced to rather flat characterizations and gags that seem lackluster. The endearing character quirks aren’t strong enough to drive the story when removed from any real conflict, and feel repetitive.
Thankfully, the anime does pick up after what feels like several fillers to get to a plot that is an echo of the original Soul Eater storyline. The enemy, surprise – a witch, springs a trap that in all objectivity would make for exciting viewing. Except, without the funky animation and transformation abilities, NOT! cuts action for speeches about friendship and not abandoning one another.
The cute but generic art fails to deliver on anyone taking the battles seriously. While tensions rise and Meme becomes infinitely more interesting once in the hands of the enemy, the pacing yet again ends up killing the high stakes set from the unexpected turn of events.
Perhaps reading the manga and skipping through the empty minutes of indecision would improve the experience. Otherwise, it distills into a very shoujo-esque moment of a few inexperienced N.O.T. girls chasing after each other and accomplishing what E.A.T. students apparently do not think to do in taking down a witch. I admit the anime follows a linear path to show Tsugumi’s growth, which only makes sense. Still, I was slightly let down by the fact that we aren’t treated with a fully animated assembly of all 9 Death Scythes poised to stare down one witch.
As much as I and the rest of the fanbase might have liked an anime with more day-to-day DWMA world building that explores student lifestyles, NOT! is not it. It’s hard to tell someone to simultaneously approach it with no expectations of anything previous, yet requiring knowledge of said series to appreciate half of it. Soul Eater NOT! feels like the creators put together a sweet but rather pointless slice-of-life out of some side panels.
There are some funny moments, and a few explanations for the odd minor detail that the first series missed – not that Soul Eater needed to make sense. I can’t say it’s terrible, only that the entire experience is missing characters that you really love or hate. There aren’t obvious flaws, and something is always happening, even if you end up slightly dissatisfied about how it happens. If you want to watch it for anything, Jacqueline’s obvious yuri crush on Kim, and Liz and Patty in maid outfits might be the fanservice you’re looking for. What Soul Eater NOT! does well is instill a sudden need to rewatch the entire original Soul Eater series over again.
-Cute art and design, if generic compared to the first series.
–Friendship and never abandoning each other, etc.
-If you ship Jacqueline/Kim, this is for you.
-It’s easy to watch, if you like school life fluff.
-Pacing and characters feel like this is an entirely different story altogether (perhaps a doujinshi of someone’s self-insert OC).
-Missed potential that tries to placate Soul Eater fans with cute girls alone.