Stories are about heroes, plain and simple. The champion protagonists who, more often than not, risk it all for the safety and betterment of whatever world they happen to reside in. But what about the other guys? The ones who reside in said worlds all the same. The ones who are protected. Their lives aren’t irrelevant, just often unseen. So what if the viewpoint shifted for once and the audience saw what constitutes an average person? An average person in a not-so-average world.
Welcome back to Death City, Meisters and Weapons alike. Yes it’s that wacky town found somewhere in Nevada that teaches the heroes of tomorrow, today. The last time we visited this Halloweenesque city (in Soul Eater), we followed the exploits of Maka and company as they sliced, diced and shot their wat through a surprising amount of mad villains; such as clowns, witches and insanity incarnate. Busy days to be sure. However, as you surely would’ve noticed if you’ve seen said series, the core crew of characters where students at DWMA. Now, I may not be a quote-unquote genius, but it did strike me that said school had a capacity way higher than 5-10. My suspicions were confirmed completely in Soul Eater Not! as we once again return to DWMA, but through the auspices of another classroom.
Turning our gaze from the prodigies that we’ve seen before (apparently member of the illustrious Especially Advantaged Talent class), we look instead at the fairly average crew who make up the Normally Overcome Target class. Now there’s a sentence is a goldmine for acronym lovers, but I digress. More specifically, we tag along with Tsumugi, as bubbly, unconfident girl who has recently discovered her potential for transforming into a weapon. Which is pretty cool. Thus we find ourselves witness to a hybrid supernatural, slice-of-life series, though it is more the latter than the former.
After meeting roommates Meme and Anya, a layer of drama is thrown upon their already tumultuous education, made so by the bevy of colourful characters that enter their lives, as both girls are Meisters and wish for Tsumugi to be their weapon. It’s like a love triangle, but with the desire for physical combat instead of..the other thing. Although the series tends to walk the line between these two interpretations more than once, given Meme’s penchant for jumping into Tsugumi’s bed in the middle of the night, not always fully dressed. Though obviously a concept presented to bolster humourous competition between the girls, it is pretty interesting to see this side of Weapon-Meister partnering. The previous series showed that a Meister can use more than one weapon simultaneously, but the reversal of said dynamic is far less simple. Of course, the girls also place a large amount of their friendship on their potential pairing, leaving the looming possibility of some very hurt feelings.
As one might have gathered already, this branch of the Soul Eater story carries far less action than the previous. Though characters and aspect of the original make cameos and appearances, they are more to remind the viewer of the franchise connection than to greatly impact the story. That isn’t to paint them in a negative light by any means, in fact I really enjoyed the brief glimpses of just how much more competent the EAT class members were in battle than their NOT counterparts. Sure the first series gave comparison between the characters, but they were all top tier. It’s refreshing to see those same characters through the eyes of another charater in the universe, further removed from their particular struggles. It reveals the mystery around those characters that isn’t viewable when the focus lies on them, with this picture painted without the knowledge of their less-than-perfect classroom sessions or comedic infighting. Linking the NOT and EAT students together however is the characters of Kim Diehl and Jacqueline O’Lantern Dupré (their full names aren’t ever actually uttered in the series, I just think they’re cool). Though frequent supporting characters in Soul Eater, they receive a great deal more attention in Not!, with their when-will-they partnership taking focus in more than one episode. They also serve as a definitive representation of students who improve enough to move to the EAT class.
Anyway, enough about how this series makes the last one interesting. Let’s get specific about Not!. As a slice-of-life, this series takes us through days of classes, afternoons of part-time jobs and nights of dormroom shenanigans. You know, normal stuff. Not much else to say now that I think about it. With the core cast being a nervous girl, a ditzy girl and a pampered girl with zero life experience, you can pretty much understand how their daily life might become complicated, especially when they work in a cafe. Hint: Coffee gets spilled. Eventually a much more sinister and more Soul Eatery plot develops, reminding us all exactly where these girls chose to go to school and what that entails. Though cool in its own right, the bulk of the series is devoted to less combative daily life, which is a plus or minus depending on your personal leanings. That being said, the bleed over over normal to explosive adds a credence to how shocking a shift it is. Personally, my favourite moment of the series, regardless of brevity, was the focus on just how terrifying Meme’s penchant for forgetfulness can truly be. Though surrounded by a short story episode designed to retain the more upbeat nature of episodes prior, it still stood out. Which was exactly what it should have done.
Given it’s existence as a combat school in a place called Death City, one might not expect Soul Eater or Not! to carry with it a vibrant colour palette. Well, regardless of that opinion, it does. Though far from it’s most prominent feature, the characters and locale of this series carry with them a flair and personality that is shown through their designs. Again, far from garish, they are diverse enough that the series avoids devolving into a series of schoolrooms populated by uniforms on what may as well be marionettes. Though I’m not exactly sure how the very obviously scorpion themed witch managed to remain innocuous for so long, I mean, her high heels have stingers on them. They don’t even serve a purpose, they’re just there.
So, what do you say about a story that focuses on what are, by and large, the side characters of any given saga. Of the people who are busy learning, living and doing all that normal stuff whilst the heroes save the day? To be honest I’m not sure what you’d say, mainly because I’m not sure if this is a story about those people. Sure they’re not the best, but they damn well could be. It’s a school for people who turn into weapons and the fools crazy enough to use them in battle. Even a regulation day is off the wall. Combined with the drama that encircles our triumvirate of schoolgirls, they left normal behind long ago. That being said, this is certainly more reserved than it’s predecessor. Now whilst I know constantly referring to another series during a review might not be good form per se, it is unavoidable with this particular anime. Namely because it references the original series constantly also. Though you don’t have to have seen it to enjoy this series, you will certainly be able to see a lot more in certain moments, such as an off handed reference to someone called Arachne. Regardless, Soul Eater Not! is a fun series that sits on the borderline between school drama and supernatural action and I don’t think it’s getting up from that seat any time soon.
Only a Madman would attend the DWMA…luckily there’s a lot of them going around