Manga-ka: Atsushi Ohkubo
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: July 2012
Synopsis: “Ding-dong! DEAD-dong! Class is about to begin, and you don’t want to be late on your first day of school! Join Tsugumi Harudori in the NOT class at Death Weapon Meister Academy, a school dedicated to training transforming Weapons like Tsugumi and the Meisters who will wield them. Many NOT (Normally Overcome Target) students aspire to join the elite EAT (Especially Advantaged Talent) class, but it may take Tsugumi some time to find her confidence—and a partner—at this crazy school!”
Soul Eater Not! is a spin-off of Atsushi Ohkubo’s Soul Eater. It introduces a new cast of characters who attend the same school as those in Soul Eater, but focuses more on their friendship, schooling and quirky personalities than the monsters and battles those traits are used for by the previous leads. As someone who couldn’t really get into the first series, and who doesn’t usually find shonen slice-of-girl-life stories interesting, I went into this book with low expectations. To my pleasant surprise, however, I closed this book upon completion with a smile on my face and an eagerness for volume two.
I’ve read two volumes of Soul Eater and have seen a handul of episodes prior to reading this spin-off. I thought Soul Eater had some great characters and a neat artistic look, but I just couldn’t get into enough to keep going. Still it gave me a good starting point for reading Soul Eater Not!, though I don’t think any knowledge of the prior series is needed except to understand some cameos. From what I’d read in Soul Eater, I thought that weapons were weapons first, people second. Soul Eater Not! puts a really fun twist on my preconceptions by revealing that weapons are, at least in most cases, actually people born with a genetic disposition to transform into a weapon. They don’t go into how one discovers this particular quirk, but it’s something I hope gets explored eventually. How weird would be that be? Breasts, voice changes, hair in funny places and, oh yeah, you suddenly turn into a giant scythe.
The story’s lead character is just such an individual. Tsugumi Harudori is a new student at DWMA (“Death Weapon Meister Academy”). She’s attending so she can learn how to control her abilities as a weapon, an ability we get to see mid-book already much more advanced than I was expecting based on her concerns (and it looked pretty darn cool). She quickly befriends two girls who are enrolled at the same time – Meme and Anya. Unlike Tsugumi, both Meme and Anya are meisters, the wielder of weapons, thus they don’t change into weapons themselves. In this school, weapons and meisters are meant to partner up and better each other as weapon and master.
Tsugumi is an entertaining lead. She doesn’t have many stand out quirks of her own but she’s personable, enthusiastic and well-humoured. She needs all these traits to deal with Meme and Anya who are both considerably more quirky than she is. Meme is pretty out there, always in a daze and very slow on any uptake. She also happens to be quite apt at battle when the need arises. This at least explains how and why she ended up at DWMA when she can’t even focus her thoughts long enough to remember her own name. Anya is a rich girl looking to live a commoner’s life, apparently. She’s beautiful and carries herself with a prideful almost arrogant air but without much in the way of actual ego (though she’s obviously quite skilled at some things). She’s eager to fit into the ‘commoner’s life’ and comments on the quaintness and oddities of this life that she finds so different from her own, including giving some weird names to stuff. Both she and Meme quickly become smitten with Tsugumi, and the three quickly become a friend-triangle of roommates and rivalary for who gets to partner permanently with Tsugumi.
When I originally read Soul Eater, I didn’t get past the first two volumes mostly I found the pacing erratic and the art unappealing. I was assured repeatedly that they both got better over time but I never went back simply due to the fact one can only read so many series at once. Soul Eater Not! really shows me how far the creator has come, or at least that they work better within this more cutesy story style. Whatever it is, the pacing of Soul Eater Not! is really great. The way the different characters and settings are introduced and explained is really straight forward but free of boring exposition. You learn a lot but never too much. I love a story that can world build this well without the use of info dumps. It didn’t take long for me to get drawn into the story and attached to the characters as learn about the workings of their school and dormitory alongside them. It also helps that it’s really funny sometimes and I enjoyed having some good intentional laughs, whether they were dealing with jealous friendships, troublesome dorm mates or an arguably obligatory stint as workers at a maid-like cafe.
As a spin-off of Soul Eater, I wasn’t surprise to see cameos from its characters but I really like how they were handled. They’re brief but relevant, easily able to connect the series together without making this new series dependent on beloved characters in the old one. Because it’s a school, teachers overlap and on her first day, Tsugumi, meets Maki and immediately takes her as a role-model.
Yen Press’s production work on the book is top-notch. I’ve been repeatedly impressed lately with just how much they keep raising the bar with little additions that make for strong first impressions. The book’s cover is printed on white textured canvas and the artwork has been given a shiny spot gloss. It feels great in your hand, and the way the artwork is coloured with neon pink outlines looks really snazzy as well. Without having read the original Japanese version, I can’t speak to the accuracy of the translation inside but the adaptation certainly read near flawlessly to me. Every character had a unique voice and they pulled off a number of really weird word jokes.
This was a really strong first volume. The tone is fun, the characters even funner and still it manages to weave in a dark subplot that sprinkles everything with a sense of urgency and danger. After all, this is a school where students are taught to battle and hunt (and even encouraged to do so in the hallways against other students for experience!). I didn’t expect to read Soul Eater Not! and think much of it, but my favourite stories are often those that catch me completely by surprise and Soul Eater Not! certainly did that.
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Book provided by Yen Press for review purposes