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Soul Eater Not! Vol. #01 Manga Review

11 min read

Same school, different students and goals.

Creative Staff
Story/Art: Atsushi Ohkubo
Translation/Adaptation: Stephen Paul

What They Say
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! Featuring an all-new cast as well as a few familiar faces, Soul Eater NOT! offers an exciting peek at the lives of incoming DWMA students!

The cover of the release is one that is certain to catch the eye of anyone who sees it sitting on a shelf with other manga releases as Yen Press has gone for a rather unique and attention grabbing look by bypassing the slick stock that most manga and paperback novels get and instead using a card type that isn’t as slickly finished which provides a bit of a rough texture to both the eye and touch. Over this a glossy and slick ink stamping has been laid which provides a very pastel offset to the whiteness of the rest of the cover causing the image of the three main girls, series logo (with a small winking “soul” image separating the first two words) and author’s name to really stand out even on a shelf full of colorful images.

The image from the front then carries over to the side where the title is printed in the same ink with a white boarder with both the “soul” image and a circle being present in hot pink and white used to show the face’s features and the volume number in their respective places while the author’s name and the Yen Press logo are listed in black at the bottom. The back of the volume continues the sparse and clean look as it contains just the eyes, nose and mouth of the winking part of the “soul” logo with “NOT!” above it in glossy hot pink ink while the copy is listed below that in a more standard ink that while the same color isn’t as glossy and doesn’t ride over the dimples in the material the same way as the rest of the cover.

The book uses a fairly standard sort of paper that is relatively pulp free, though a few floaters do mix their way in on rare occasion, and the printing is sharp and defined even if the paper mix isn’t quite as white and which feels like it lacks some “pop” in standing apart on the page that some other titles posses.

The text itself is well translated as it flows smoothly while honorifics are also present for certain characters or used by certain characters though they aren’t used by everyone (which is reflective of the personalities in the book) and it falls into the general standards Yen Press has established for their manga titles. For the most part it appears that signs and badges are translated- the book takes place [fictionally] in the Nevada desert so it wouldn’t be impossible these were in English originally, just unlikely- while the drawn sound effects are left in Japanese with both the onomatopoeia translation as well as a more English version where applicable being listed below it. In addition the book also contains a “translator’s notes” section at the back to explain terms or ideas that get presented but which won’t fit comfortably into the space between panels at the points where they come up.

The art is something that fans of the original manga Soul Eater will recognize as instead of handing the property off to someone else to work on, Atsushi Ohkubo handles the work himself- presumably with the same staff as the main title though they aren’t credited in this release. For those not familiar with his art style he has the ability to draw some very attractive characters when he wants to but he seems to have a particular liking in making many of them a bit on the plain and less detailed side of things for many of his characters. While he does establish models for his characters to be drawn off he frequently departs from what would be a strict interpretation to add in some extreme changes to facial features and sometimes bodies to exaggerate a punch line or to add a physical dimension to a characters emotional state or dialogue. While this often works for much of the material at times it feels like gilding the lily and it can take away a bit of the power of the art work but these instances where it becomes such a negative factor are rather on the rare side. Additionally Ohkubo does have a fairly good talent for drawing bodies as if in motion which is a positive as his stories use this to a decent extent even in this opening part of this spinoff series.

Content: (please note that content portions of review may contain spoilers):
The world of Soul Eater is the kind of blending of over the top humor with some softer horror elements and some semi-realistic components that comes across as a sort of Tim Burton inspired Halloween shop as adapted by a department store chain to sell to a broad consumer base as they attempt make the holiday one that isn’t too scary on the surface for the youngest of potential customers while providing a bit of darker themes just slightly hidden so the not completely cynical hipster doesn’t have to see being seen looking at the items as a fate less preferable than death.

In this world there are assorted powers that run wild and while Death (Shinigami) had largely used his skills to keep the worst offenders at bay in the past he currently passed this active role onto others for reasons as yet unknown to the cast at the point in the series timeline these events take place. Instead he has chosen to institute a method of training humans born with powers to protect themselves and the world using the skills learned at his school, the Death Weapon Meister Academy (DWMA for short) located in Death City Nevada. It is here that students born with the ability to change into weapons need to come to learn to control their powers least they become a danger to those around them and to which students with an aptitude toward wielding said weapons come each for their own reasons as they look for a weapon that they can partner with.

Inside the academy there are two basic programs of study- the EAT (Especially Advanced Talent) track that trains the students to become front line fighters in the war with evil humans and witches and the NOT (Normally Overcome Target) track which trains students to be able to control themselves and whose students makes up the backbone of many different civil service positions throughout the world.

The book starts by introducing the readers to Tsugumi Harudori, a fourteen year old Japanese girl who describes herself as being “In love with love” and who possesses the ability to change into a weapon which practically requires her to attend DWMA. She has heard a lot about the school from various bits of gossip that gets spread and she sometimes allows herself to fantasize that there is a chance her destined Meister might be a cute boy, or even a pair of cute boys who squabble over her in a triangle sort of relationship.

As she attends class she finds that there is no such fated encounter waiting as she steps across the doorway (not that she realistically really thought it was going to happen mind) but when she hears some boys plotting to take advantage of what appears to be a well built physically yet mentally spacey fellow student named Meme Tatane, Tsumugi decides to step in as she had been inspired as she trudged up the enormous stairs to the academy by the encouragement given to her by a twin pigtailed wearing girl who will be familiar to fans of the original property.

Given that DWMA is the kind of school it is, the boys immediately challenge Tsumugi for getting in their way and one transforms into his weapon form to challenge her which leaves Tsumugi at a disadvantage. Luckily for Tsumugi, fellow new student Anya Hepburn steps in and agrees to wield Tsumugi in her weapon form which they find out together is a halberd as they pair of girls team up to dispatch the now over their head pair of boys. With a sort of bond formed between this trio, they go to the girl’s dorm and discover that they will be assigned to a three person room as there just happens to be one available. But the previous conflict may be merely a harbinger of things to come as life at DMWA isn’t going to be easy as there are threats both internal and external that will place the girls in varying degrees of danger from confronting possible starvation to more immediate threats on their life. With so much going on will the three girls live to see the end of their first fortnight at the school- and even more pressingly, how are they going to get along when the team is a weapon-Meister match, not Meister-Weapon-Meister and what effect will this reality have on their new budding friendships?

Given that one of the harder things to do is create a market for a product it isn’t terribly surprising that spinoffs and sequels are often created to capitalize on the existing franchise. What is a bit rarer though in the world of manga is a spin off that is created and then produced by the same author and which is run concurrent with the original material, given that the creators are often kept quite busy churning out pages for their flagship title- yet Soul Eater NOT! manages to buck this hurdle rather well as it feels like it got as much attention as if it were the only title the author was currently working on. The series also has a built in environment that provides many cameos from the original title allows for a convenient crossing of paths while also providing a natural place for the characters to exist without seeming to strain the original premise. NOT! allows the author to focus on some of the structures that surround the world he has created while not disrupting the flow of the flagship title by adding some new facets to his world without having to disrupt the flow he had built on the other title as well as the ability to use these new characters as a tool to help explain his world that the advancement of the main characters no longer allows because of their character growth.

But the story isn’t all “look at the world I built” by any means as the author chooses that rather than make a manga series that just exists to show off some elements he developed he goes further in creating a true side story populated by characters that are intended to interest the reader just as much as the characters he created before. To this end he creates a trio of characters who look like they will be the center of attention as they learn their craft as well as balance out the various trials that stand before them along the way. From the introduction Tsugumi Harudori is presented as the focal character as she knows a bit about the setting but her inexperience and incomplete understanding is used to help flesh out ideas as well as become the centerpiece for events. Tsumugi is presented as an earnest sort of girl who can still get caught up in events and daydreams but is an overall rather grounded individual all things considered. Her two roommates on the other hand are a bit closer to walking Japanese tropes in these early pages with the spaced out yet possessing of superior martial arts skills Meme Tatane covering a fair amount of bases that readers of manga have grown to know (and perhaps love, perhaps hate) while the princess who wishes to see the world outside and who has idealized it and its people Anya Hepburn portrays an awkwardness in dealing with matters that is often set up by her tsundere like demeanor (she often acts cold and aloof while her internal dialogue presents her as the exact opposite).

What really sells Not! though is in how the author takes these characters and molds events to give the girls the best chance to shine as something more than just a route collection of character traits going through the paces. He injects some life into the characters as they deal with the various tasks that drop in front of them from needing to find a part time job after encountering a particularly tough obstacle in the girl’s dorm to having to actively decide if they are going to give in to moments of fear or try to overcome them while also showing that just making a decision isn’t going to itself be enough to overcome all obstacles in front of them. To help maximize the connection to the characters and their struggles the author also includes a good deal of humor to help sell the characters and their charms as well as limitations and through such he creates a rather sweet tale of some (semi) average (after a fashion) girls dealing with a world that is equal parts familiar and unique to produce a rather warm glow as the reader basks in the successes and stumbles of these girls who are on the path to womanhood…though it may take a strange detour through the path of the warrior for them to get there.

In Summary
Soul Eater NOT! takes a new path through the world the original series created by introducing a trio of girls who have come to Death’s Academy for their own reasons as they look to make their way through this colorful landscape with the abilities they posses. While this set up could easily be lost if the focus was too broad by featuring an entire incoming class or by focusing on the power aspect of their personalities, the author chose to instead he makes a point of focusing on these girls as people who have special powers rather than special powers that walk around in skin. This decision allows for some amusing and sometimes touching moments as the girls go about their day with the hopes of becoming the people they wish to be while dealing with the realities of who they currently are and how much they may have to grow to reach their ideal. In some ways this might be considered a slice of life like tale…as long as one compensates for the fact that the “life” part in this case focuses on a world where the sun has a face, Death wears a jovial mask and some teenagers have the ability to change into weapons anyway. NOT! is a charming little side step into the Soul Eater universe that serves to both fill out some of the edges of the original title while also standing its own ground in its presentation of the trials and tribulations of the trio of new students it focuses on.

Content Grade: B
Art Grade: B
Packaging Grade: A-
Text/Translation Grade: B

Age Rating: 16+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: July 24th, 2012
MSRP: $11.99