Pop culture is littered with examples of the power of fans bringing back shows from the brink or out of obscurity. Hell, even Star Trek owes its longevity in part to the fervent fan campaign following the cancellation of The Original Series. Things are a little different when it comes to anime, and beloved shows tend to soldier on well past their sell-by date, but much of the power still resides in the hands of viewers, consumers and fans. Soul Eater was a case in point. For many, its low-key ending failed to deliver the kind of pay-off we needed following fifty episodes of action, character interaction and mental illness allegory. It was the power of the fans that inspired mangaka Atsushi Okubo to revisit his kooky world of schlocky horror and shonen action for a five volume spin-off. The result is Soul Eater NOT!, paying homage to its forbear while catering to an altogether different audience.
While pitched as a side-story, Soul Eater NOT! is as much a prequel to the events of the main series and while the glut of cameos could convince you otherwise, this series is focussed on a new ensemble. On discovering she can transform into a weapon, Tsugumi Harudori enrols in the Death Weapon Meister Academy (DWMA) where she meets fellow freshmen and weapon users Meme Tatane and Anya Hepburn. Each are enrolled in the Normally Overcome Target (NOT – geddit?) class where they learn to control their power in order to lead a normal life, rather than the combat focus of the Especially Advanced Talent (EAT) class where we find Maka, Soul and all the others we know and love.
Given the softer focus, you’d be forgiven for brushing off these 13 episodes as Soul Eater lite. They adopt a more slice of life approach, lacking the craziness and brashness that typified the original series. Tsugumi and friends have to get jobs to support their measly funds supplied by the Academy, which sees them serving coffees and cleaning swimming pools. Tsugumi even goes on a date, and later on they all grow pumpkins. The other noticeable difference is the stylistic departure. While Bones spearheaded both productions, the character designs are worlds apart. The kitschy skull-like noses, sharp lines and block colours are all absent. Instead the girls have a more moé design, coloured in softer hues. The combat, likewise, doesn’t have quite the same mad, frenetic energy, but there are a few new and ludicrous weapons to enjoy.
The cameos might pander to fans of the original, with all the Liz and Patty or Doctor Stein scenes stealing the series, but NOT! is gunning for the mainstream crowd. Soul Eater is popular, for sure, but it doesn’t have the same crossover appeal as other genre giants. Still, this spin-off might endear newcomers, and that’s something we should be celebrating.
It might not be the OVA addition to the original we’ve all been craving, but NOT! adds some fun touches like Deathbucks and the flea market. There’s some great gags, while the usual boob jokes grow ever more tiresome, and affectionate moments between characters to pass the episodes in time for the Halloween season. But it’s a lot like candy – while the first few satisfy the initial craving, it starts to get sickly pretty quickly.
English dub; episode 5 and 9 commentary; clean opening/closing animation; commercial collection; US trailer and soul eater whoops!