Volume four of The Perfect Edition see Soul Eater in pure, shonen action mode. It’s the classic setup of an evil villain waiting at the end of a gauntlet of enemies, with each of our major characters getting a battle against an established baddie as they duke it out for the fate of the world. The main event is the rematch between Maka, Soul, and the Ragnarok duo, and it’s some Grade A shonen fighting goodness. While the various beats it hits are pretty standard, they’re delivered with the series’ signature style and Ohkubo’s exaggerated choreography, and thus land with a ton of impact, especially once “mad” Maka takes over and delivers some of the goofiest creepy- cute faces ever put to page.
Though the fight itself ends on a bit of a let down. Much is made about Maka resonating with Soul and giving into the black blood, but that ends up not mattering much as the fight resolves in a classic power of friendship conclusion. Don’t get me wrong: Crona’s backstory is emotionally affecting, and Maka reaching out to them with unconditional compassion is probably the best character moment in the series so far. But it doesn’t quite match the tension and personal stakes that led up to it, and it leaves the whole black blood storyline feeling anticlimactic when it should be a huge turning point.
But the star of the show here is the Kishin himself, as the rest of the cast predictably fail to prevent his awakening. The sequence of Free and Eruka approaching his resting place is the most palpable horror in the manga so far, and it’s followed up by a gloriously gross sequence of body horror as the Kishin literally puts himself back together skin-first. In classic Big Bad fashion he crushes our heroes with barely a whisper, and the only downside is that his fight with Lord Death has to be cut short so we can set up for the next arc. Again, that’s predictable for this kind of shonen story, but it’s still a tiny bit deflating to close things out with the new, dangerous villain running away. This is also supposed to be a sample of what Lord Death is capable of himself, and it winds up a pretty underwhelming showing for the guy.
Fittingly, Volume 5 is all about establishing the new conflict, introducing new characters on both sides as Ashura’s awakening stirs up the rest of the world. On the good guys side, we’re introduced to three of Lord Death’s other Death Scythe weapons, each with their own quirks and powers. And like much of Ohkubo’s extended cast, they’re a mixed bag to start, as we initially learned about them through their singular comedic gimmicks. Marie Mjolnir has a great design and likable personality, but she’s also obsessed with finding a husband, and that joke gets old fast. Similarly, Justin Law is a great fighter and has an interesting backstory as a solo Demon Weapon who became a Death Scythe at just 13, but his joke about always having his earbuds in wears out its welcome in record time. Azusa Yumi has probably the coolest powers of any weapon outside Tsubaki, but is defined as the by-the-books straightwoman of the group and doesn’t get much to do initially. They’re not terrible, but by the end of the volume I was really wishing to see them get serious and stop goofing around. This formula works well with the kids because we already know their personalities beyond the tired gimmicks, but it’s a chore to get through with a ton of new people.
The real treats come with the new villas introduced. Ashura himself is still off at the distance, but his resurrection spurs the revival of Arachne, a powerful spider-themed witch who immediately steals any page she’s on. Her subordinate weapon, Giriko, leaves a little to be desired, as he initially just feels like a meaner version of Free. But his chainsaw powers make for some wild fights that more than made up for his retread personality. Their diminutive old butler(?) Mr. Mosquito has a striking, cartoony design that makes him stand out among Ohkubo’s other villas, and his condescending attitude towards Giriko breathes a lot of life to this new primary villain group. Add in Medusa returning – by possessing the body of an innocent little girl, no less – and we have a great new villain group even before the return of Mifune, who’s been forced to fight on their side under threat to Angela’s life.
The following volume is more scattered, as we now need to introduce a common goal for the sides to scrap over while Ashura remains a looming hypothetical threat. This comes in the form of a search for the Demon Tools, designed centuries ago by a mysterious sorcerer named Eibon and scattered across the world. Volume 6 is bookended with two different quests for these tools, and makes for some of the best action in the series so far.
Kid’s skateboard race against an enchanted train across the desert is a real highlight. It’s a fast-paced and unique action setpiece, coupled with a three-way fight between Kid and both Arachne and Medusa’s croonies that works as great spectacle and a nice highlight for the main kid who had the least to do in the previous arc. The closing battle in a snowy maelstrom doesn’t get a conclusion in this volume, but it’s got a lot of great, classic shonen moments for some of the side cast. Sid and his partner Mira, along with Death Scythe Azusa, have a fantastic and tactical fight against Mifune that shows off Ohkubo’s improved eye for melee, packed with lots of inventive twists involving both the snowy landscape and Sid’s zombie body. Meanwhile a secondary team of DWMA students actually get to shine instead of Maka and co, which is always welcome in battle series with huge casts. The big, important fight is of course being saved for our main crew, but it’s still nice that Kirikou and his team can show off their stuff for a bit.
Outside of the action, the forces of darkness are still active in other ways. Ashura’s awakening is causing a stirring of madness among the general populous, and especially in Dr. Stein, who’s slowly being consumed by his inner darkness. But the real kicker is when Medusa slithers back into Crona’s life just as they’re starting to make friends at DWMA, and convinces her abused child to betray them and become her spy inside the school. After the progress we saw Crona make after their fight with Maka, it’s genuinely heartbreaking to see this backslide, retreating into the madness and fear that once defined their entire personhood. It’s by far the most affecting character arc right now by miles, easily eclipsing the rather pat teamwork lessons Maka and Black Star deal with during a training chapter here.
Unfortunately there is one big, obnoxious zit on volume six’s face, and its name is Excalibur. For reasons I can’t comprehend, the story interrupts itself for a full-length comedy chapter about Hero, a total gag character, teaming up with Excalibur to take over the school and get revenge on everyone who looks down on him. As somebody who also loves committing to overlong comedic bits for the sole purpose of annoying the reader, I can at least appreciate the idea behind Excalibur, but that doesn’t make his dialogue any less of a chore to sit through. Add in some much un-needed skirt flipping and boob groping jokes and you have a chapter comprising all the worst elements of Soul Eater here, breaking up the rising tension of its story and character arcs. Maybe this would have worked better in the original collected volumes, but with The Perfect Edition‘s expanded chapter count per-book, it absolutely kills the tension while reading the volume on its own.
Other than that blemish, these volumes represent a solid, if somewhat inconsistent, new arc for Soul Eater‘s overarching story. The biggest complaint – besides Excalibur – is that the expanding scope of the story leaves Maka and Soul feeling underutilized and out of focus. That’s perhaps to be expected as a series with such a huge cast goes on, but after their partnership defined so much of the conflict before this, it feels like the series doesn’t quite know what to do with them besides occasional hinting at the return of the black blood demon. But on its own, this is an effective, often thrilling chunk of storytelling and offers some fantastic highlights.