Soul Eater, Vol. 4
written by Atsushi Ohkubo
What if the Grim Reaper ran a school? In Soul Eater, he does, and Shinigami-sama, as he is called by those who know to him, has named it the “Death Weapon Meister Academy” (or DWMA for short). The DWMA exists for one purpose and one purpose alone—to produce supernatural weapons suitable for the use of Death himself. The student body consists of special humans called Meisters and their sentient weapons. Humans and weapons paired together into combat teams, with each Meister’s objective to feed his or her weapon ninety-nine souls of evildoers and the soul of one witch. Once a weapon has consumed one-hundred souls, it will be worthy of Shinigami-sama’s hands.
In this volume, Scythe Meister Maka and her partner Soul meet with Dr. Stein for some intense afterschool tutelage. He succeeds in starting a fight between them, and their souls fall out of sync…a very big problem when they to go toe to toe—or would that be toe to paw?—with a werewolf in the thrall of a wicked witch. Will they be able to resolve their differences in time to pass their final exam? Meanwhile, Shinigami-sama’s fastidious son, Death the Kid, is in for some high adventure on a ghost ship, where he faces down the Demon Sword Ragnarok and its androgynous, enslaved wielder.
This, Atsushi Ohkubo’s ironic entry to the shounen manga genre, is a very popular title with a global fan following. The success of its animated adaptation by Studio Bones has surely contributed to its renown, but the Soul Eater manga is more than worth reading in its own right. Furthermore, the fourth volume is by far the best yet. Handsome, Tim Burton-esque artwork and a full-throttle attitude towards plotting, action, and fanservice are great when read “straight,” yet chapter after chapter chock full of parody and genre pastiche reminds readers that Ohkubo is just a little bit smarter than he pretends.
Volume four is very nicely balanced, divided between three subplots. Two are especially strong. The first is focused upon character development, specifically the relationship between Maka and Soul. For the first time in the previous volume, their lives were put truly at risk, and now they have to come to grips with the full ramifications of their chosen vocation. The second subplot is a hilarious romp through what would be, in other circumstances, an extremely unfunny situation: exams. Suffice it to say that at the end of the day, it’s nice to see hard work justly rewarded in Soul Eater.
The final chapter subplot is a showdown, and as a more or less straight up and down fight, it is arguably the least interesting of the three. However, the fight—and the volume proper—conclude with a sinister question mark that is sure to bring reader hurrying back to the bookstore for more. All in all, this is a manga that demonstrates its creator’s sublime self-awareness of genre codes and reader expectations. A strong title, it more than deserves its popular acclaim. Highly recommended.