Shounen fight anime and manga, in the past few decades, has developed a very definite style from Dragonball (and Dragonball Z) on – no matter the tone, the series tend to have a bright color palette for both characters and for the overall visual style of the series. Things might get dark and stormy in bits with narrative and tonal weight, but the colors for the characters themselves will maintain that color. You’re never going to see Naruto, for example, putting on an all black traditional ninja outfit for a really serious or dramatic mission. This gives Soul Eater a visual edge that really makes it stand out from the pack.
The series is based around the Death Weapon-Meister Academy (DWMA), in Death City, run by, well, Death. The students in the academy are made of of “Weapons” – people who can transformed into magical weapons when teamed up with a Meister who their soul can resonate with; and Meisters, who handle the direct combat, and who have their own distinctive special abilities independent of the powers of the Weapons they team with. Teams of Weapons and Meisters are sent on missions to obtain the souls of people who have been corrupted by evil and Madness, and in particular Witches – people who use magical power to spread madness and corruption throughout the world. Obtaining 100 souls and the soul of one Witch will allow a Weapon to graduate and become a Death Scythe – one of the most powerful Weapons out there, and one worthy of being wielded by Lord Death himself.
The show also changes itself up by being a shounen series with a female protagonist. The lead of the show is Maka Albarn, a Meister at the Academy who works hard both in her studying and training. Her Weapon, Soul Eater, is a scythe, who has a more laidback, cool attitude. He also really likes Jazz. Her team-mates couldn’t be bigger polar opposites.
There’s Black*Star, whose personality is functionally identical to that of Naruto from the early seasons of his series (and early volumes of his manga). Black*Star is loud, brash, and incredibly enthusiastic and hyperactive. Continuing with the theme of Weapons being the opposite of their Meisters, Tsubaki is much more restrained, and she tries to keep Black*Star from rushing in to situations that he’s not prepared for. Additionally, Tsubaki is distinct from the other weapons in that she has multiple distinct forms, generally focusing on ninja weapons (Kusarigama, ninjatō, etc.) – which change based on the kind of attack that Black*Star needs to perform, rather than changing form strictly based on the strength of the attack.
Then there is Death the Kid – the son of Death. He is impeccably dressed in a suit and tie, and generally tries to maintain a serious demeanor, which is somewhat undermined by two points. First, he prefers to get around by a skateboard which can turn into a rocket-hover-board. Second, he has an extreme case of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Order, with a particular focus on symmetry. This leads into his Weapons – the Thompson Sisters, Liz and Patty. Their weapon form is a pair of handguns, which can transform into larger cannons depending on the power of the attacks, and which Kid fires upside down (squeezing the triggers with his pinkies).
Not only do the Sisters have very distinctive personalities from Kid, but they also have distinctive personalities from each other. The taller sister, Liz is incredibly laid back, almost to the point of slacking, but is also a major scaredy-cat. Patty, on the (literal) other hand, has a personality much like a little kid – going on nonsensical non-sequiturs, having an tremendous amount of enthusiasm (almost on par with Black*Star’s, but not as directed), and is more easily distracted. Patty is also the shorter of the sisters.
This right away leads into the very distinctive style of the anime – it has a very dark, gothic, and macabre look. Even daytime scenes have a very angular, expressionist edge to them. The sun and moon themselves aren’t immune from this – both are anthropomorphized, not with cutesy, cheerful faces, but with faces which are creepy and which leer at the world below. Character designs involve a lot of dark colors and greys, with some bright colors being limited to the second closing credits sequence. It visually separates the show from every other shonen series (even contemporaries like Fullmetal Alchemist, which are serious and somber, but have a more grounded visual design esthetic).
Also, the series never really gets into the fanservice of other Shounen anime, with Maka in particular never becoming the sort of fanservice figure that, for example, Erza Scarlet in Fairy Tale, or the various female members of the cast in One Piece become over the course of that series as time passes (and bust sizes increase). There is a sum total of one character who really engages in fanservice. Specifically, that is Blair – the Cat who can turn into a human that looks like a witch, who lives with Maka and Soul. She occasionally wanders around the house in a towel, and who occasionally shoves Soul’s head into her cleavage. She appears sporadically in early portions of the show, before she basically drops out of the series in the show’s second half.
The writing of the series in generally is very solid. According to my research, part way through the show’s conclusion, it starts to run out of manga and chooses to write it’s own ending instead of padding the series until the manga finishes or going with a “Read the Manga” ending. Considering how the ending is the executed – without spoiling things – I can roll with that. The ending we get isn’t perfect by any means, and it’s just wanting enough to make me want to read the manga.
Still, part of the appeal of shounen anime is seeing the action of the anime in motion, and the anime pulls that off really well, and in particular seeing this world constructed in color is great and I look forward to reading the story on the printed page.