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Soul Eater Collection 1 Blu-ray Review

13 min read

Learning to master your weapons in Death City isn’t the easiest of tasks, especially with friends like these.

What They Say:
Maka is a Meister and Soul is her Weapon. As students at the Grim Reaper’s Death Weapon Meister Academy, their study habits couldn’t be more different. But in battle against the supernatural forces of evil, they’re a freakin’ lethal team.

That’s when Soul transforms – literally – into a razor-sharp scythe, and every defeated wicked soul he sucks down makes him more deadly. That’s when Maka unleashes the merciless slayer within, wielding her partner and dropping monsters. Seriously. Monsters. Like the witches, werewolves, and zombies that lurk in the shadows and feed on the souls of the innocent.

Every freakish ghoul Maka and Soul take out strengthens their bond, and fighting alongside their fellow Meister/Weapon classmates, Maka and Soul are the world’s last line of defense against evil.

Contains episodes 1-26.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this series brings us the two language tracks in lossless form using he Dolby TrueHD codec. The original Japanese is as we saw it during the original release in stereo form with an average between 640kbps to 1.1mpbs depending on how involved the scene is. The English mix gets the bump up to 5.1 in lossless form and that ranges fairly wildly, to the sub 1mbps range to just over 2mbps and it handles the added oomph given to the track pretty well. The English mix has a bit more of a dynamic feeling to it but it’s not a show that creates an intense amount of surround material out of what didn’t exist, but it’s an improvement overall compared to the original Japanese mix. That mix has a very solid feel to it across the forward soundstage where the characters dialogue is very well placed and the fight scenes have very good impact to them. It’s a solid action mix that works well in its original form and is expanded upon incrementally with the English mix. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2008 and 2009, the transfer for this twenty-six episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The series is working with high definition source materials so it’s not an upscale/SD remaster. The episodes are spread across three discs with nine each on the first two and eight on the third. Soul Eater has a very distinct look to it and a particular style with how its executed with the animation so we have a lot of scenes with bold and static backgrounds so it can work with a low bitrate, especially as it turns to dialogue and only the mouths move, but when it hits the action sequences it races up high into the thirties to make sure it’s all smooth and problem free. When you’re about six inches from the screen, you can see some very light fuzziness around some edges, but largely the show looks fantastic here with its deep, rich colors and highly detailed backgrounds that are brought in throughout. The action scenes have a great look to them, with very fluid animation that keeps you engaged with it, and the transfer here works very well with all varieties that are thrown at it. This was a show that demanded a high definition transfer and the payoff is here with the richness of colors alone.

The packaging for this release is definitely a space saver overall as it’s in a single sized Blu-ray case with a simple cardboard slipcover over it. The slipcover replicates what’s on the case artwork itself but has a bright and more colorful look without the plastic in the way. The front cover gives us a shot of Maka wielding Soul with the array of colors and shapes behind her while she has a somewhat incredulous look to her face. The logo is the same as we saw on the DVD releases with the arrow design going right at an angle, which ties into other parts of the background. It’s a busy cover overall, and the logo is covered with the Japanese text, but it fits in with how the show itself feels and definitely sets the tone for it. The back cover uses a nice side arrow along the left going upwards which has the logo again as well as a few shots from the show. The background is kept rather simple with shades of green while placing some character artwork of Maka, Death the Kid and BlackStar with serious expressions to their faces which is rather nicely done. The premise for the series is done through the middle, kept simple considering much content ishere, while the extras are laid out simply along the right so you know the basics of what’s there. Add in a clean and easy to read high definition technical grid that covers everything in a very easy to read fashion and it’s a solid looking cover design. The cover does have artwork on the reverse side that spans two panels where the main characters are all laid out with bright colors that has an infectious amount of fun to it.

The menu for this release has a nice bit of style applied to it, something I wish they’d do a bit more of in being creative. The menu is given over to using just clips from the show for the most part as it dominates the screen and they use a lot of action and fast paced pieces with some solid music to really set the tone for it. It’s a perfect primer for it. What I liked about the menu though is the navigation strip itself along the bottom, which uses larger text than they usually do, and it’s nicely styled with the font itself as well as the way it’s colored. Unselected pieces are in grayscale while the piece the cursor is on is filled with multiple colors, making it very easy to tell what you’ve selected. Of course, when you get into the submenus, there’s some good style there as well for the header text, but the rest of it all is very small, largely by necessity when it comes to the episode breakdown since you have the full episode title alongside the numbers and it takes up a lot of space. The navigation strip also doubles as the pop-up menu so it’s quick and easy to use and a breeze to navigate. As with all other FUNimation releases, it ignored our players presets and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.

The extras for this release mirror the DVD releases and are all in 1080p as well. They’re solid extras that have some oomph to them though the overall runtime, commentary excluded, is just forty minutes. The first disc has an commentary track for episode seven while the third disc has the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. In addition to that, there are twenty-six episodes of the “Late Night Soul Eater” segments which run about 90 seconds each. FUNimation set these up well by making sure you could pick them out individually but also click a play all feature to see various kinds of random silliness and artwork related to the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Atsushu Okubo, which is at fifteen volumes in Japan and still running as of this release, Soul Eater is a fifty one episode series which ran from early 2008 to early 2009. The first twenty-six episodes of this release are some of the most visually distinct that I’ve seen in a long time where it really stands out on its own and not exactly ripping off or copying other shows or manga. It’s the kind of show where you can easily see it being broadcast in the US on a late night channel and garnering quite the following simply because of its style and it’s approach to storytelling.

Soul Eater revolves around a place called the DWMA, the Death Weapon Meister Academy, which resides in a place called Death City. It’s in this place that Lord Death operates as something of a headmaster of the academy where meisters are taught to connect, control and utilize their weapons. The weapons are really intriguing as they take on human form but revert to different kinds of weapon form depending on how their training goes with their meister and the skills they acquire. Those who train within the DWMA are often sent out into the world at large to deal with the issue of Kishin, creatures who eat human souls and grow more powerful and twisted. What can stop these creatures are the Death Weapons themselves as they devour the souls of these creatures.

The relationship between the weapons and the meisters is a huge focus of the show, which is both good and bad. The series focuses initially on two sets of these, with the larger portion focusing on the lead of Soul Eater himself and his meister, a young woman named Maka. These two open the series by being a step away from Soul Eater becoming a Death Scythe but they run into problems with that. The relationship between a meister and her weapon is a critical one as their souls must synchronize in general, and the two of them do that generally well but they sometimes fall out of flux and there’s always room for improvement. As this set progresses, the two find themselves struggling with synchronizing as Maka tries to figure out what she’s missing to be a proper meister to Soul, but a lot of it revolves around her not wanting him to be hurt, which conflicts with his being a weapon.

I really don’t find Maka and Soul to be terribly engaging characters however, which is whythe show finally started to interest me with the focus on Black Star and Tsubaki, another meister and weapon combo. The genders are reversed here as Black Star is the meister and Tsubaki is the weapon who partners with him. Black Star has a good history as there’s an exploration of his clan’s past which is filled with tragedy as they were a clan of assassins that went too far. They were all put to death when he was young, but because of his age he was brought into the DWMA and given a new life there. There are still residual issues from those outside of the DWMA though that causes him to be looked down upon. Tsubaki herself has a really good back story episode that’s done as well where we see her family and a connection to her brother that’s surprisingly intense when it plays out. When the second disc kicks off with these stories, Soul Eater became a series that I felt could have some interesting material for me

There are some good secondary characters that help to flesh out the show. The one that gets me very intrigued is Lord Death himself as his design is very cool and he has an interesting mix of seriousness and humor that allows him to be very unpredictable. Another fun one is Maka’s father, Death Scythe, who has a real adoration for his daughter that is spurned regular basis. He’s got some stature but with the way he handles himself he’s often mocked or abused by Lord Death because he’s so wishy washy when it comes to his daughter. Some of the lesser characters are really neat as well, such as the incarnation of Excalibur that appears or the cat that’s introduced in the first episode named Blair who is often mistaken as a witch. She brings some stunning fanservice into the mix that manages to sell a good part of the show at that time.

As the show progresses, it starts to focus more on lengthier storylines. There’s a couple of episodes that deal with more of the setup or side story material, such as Medusa continuing to sow some dissent in small ways among the students, mostly aiming hard at Maka as she tweaks her with the idea that Soul is hiding stuff from her. There are some good bits throughout this as everyone settles into place but the series takes an awkward turn by giving us yet another Excalibur episode. I admit that there’s some really intriguing things done as we see Excalibur’s past across numerous periods of time and the shifts between them is hilarious, but it is an episode that seems to have nothing to do with anything in the long run. Filler at its finest.

Where the core storyline works is when events revolving around Medusa are discovered. Sid’s managed to figure out what she’s up to, though it’s through a trap set by Eruka, It doesn’t take much for people to put two and two together but the timing is where it becomes awkward. At an anniversary party of the academy, Lord Death himself has come to enjoy things which is a real rarity. Everyone is there at the tower where it’s being held and it’s quite the quasi-formal party. Stein’s intent on getting Medusa to reveal what’s going on, and she does, but it sets the stage for a bigger trap as she has those Witches working with her trap everyone in there, including Lord Death. Only a few manage to get out through Sid’s quick thinking who now have to save Death City.

Medusa’s plan is actually pretty nicely thought out if not for Sid’s last minute idea. With everyone trapped, she sets the Mizune “family” to causing trouble throughout the city in an effort to flat out destroy it. This brings Blair back to the screen for a bit in a rather fun, if lusty, fight sequence, but that’s all just eye candy compared to what’s going on below. As it turns out, the reason that Lord Death doesn’t leave the City or his main area of operations all that much is that he’s instrumental in keeping the Kishin sealed below. Medusa is intent on using her allies to free the Kishin, and old student of Lord Death’s gone awry, in order to bring massive amounts of chaos into the world which is all that she wants.

That setup doesn’t take too long and we then focus on the multiple episode chase through the lower levels where the goal is to free that Kishin. Medusa has a pretty good plan with this as she intends to use her ability to hold them at bay while Crona and the others head further down the path. Not surprisingly though, Stein along with Maka’s father have a plan to send everyone off after them while they deal with Medusa. The show quickly diverges to multiple pairings where everyone is going after each other and having to figure out the various weaknesses in order to move forward. The challenges that each faces is pretty good but a lot of the focus is on Maka as she has to deal with Crona, Medusa’s daughter who is paired up with the Demonsword that is decidedly creepy and highly appealing.

Over the course of eight episodes, there aren’t any real surprises in terms of the structure of the fights or the results to be honest. The release of the Kishin is a big setup piece, one that has Lord Death getting actively involved in the fighting as well because of the special relationship he has with him. This leads into the changes that Lord Death has to make to Death City and the academy going forward, which has a number of the other Death Scythes coming back from the world to start the search the Kishin. The introduction of more characters isn’t a surprise either but unlike some shows where I’d feel like it’s a reach, the group that comes in here is pretty interesting and they seem like they’ll add something good to the show. It also allows Maka’s father to go through some trouble before he finds what his new position will be and it’s a lot of fun to watch him internalize and panic over things.

In Summary:
Soul Easter is a show that I had a hard time with when I first saw it and have much the same problems this time around, though going through this many episodes at once smoothed over some of the way things connect with each other. The shows strengths continue to be its visuals but it manages to become more interesting with the story itself as it gets to the third disc here and has the trap sprung to release the Kishin. Like the first time around, I’m still not overly enthused about any character in particular but I like how the whole show is coming together. There’s a lot of unique and creative things about it and right now it’s still the main draw, though the story does start to come together better with the introduction of the Kishin and the changes to how the DWMA is going to operate. The high definition release of Soul Eater brings a lot more richness to the series, a series already quite rich when it comes to the colors and detail of its animation, and it’s a space saver at that, never mind a money saver as well. This is definitely the release to get if you’ve missed it before or were waiting for it in this format because overall, it’s a strong looking release that has a lot of appeal.

Japanese Dolby TruHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 7 Commentary, Episode 23 Commentary, Textless Songs, Soul Eater Later Show

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A-

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: May 24th, 2011
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 635 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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