How Mad is Soul Eater? (and Perverse, and Schizo, and Neurotic)
[Minor spoilers for episode 42 of the anime and chapter 47 of the manga]
In many ways the show Soul Eater is as mad as a hatter: it’s twisted. But the fact of it being twisted is itself twisted, because the whole premise of the show is that the heroes are opposed to madness itself. If I were analyzing creator Ohkubo I’d say he was conflicted between selling out conforming to society (and earning loads of bucks in the process, why not?) and letting the crazy artist inside of him all out.
Some examples of madness in Soul Eater:
1) Obsessive Characters – a boy who wants to be God (Black☆Star); a man who wants to dissect everything he sees (Prof. Stein); a man fixated on coffee (Buttataki Joe); a boy fixated on symmetry (Kid).
2) Utter disregard for security at Shibusen – witches infiltrate the school with impunity (Medusa, Kim); the leader’s right-hand man spends his evenings spilling the beans at a witch-infested hostess club (Death Scythe + Risa & Arisa).
3) No stable definition of classes or groups:
a) Who is a witch? – A humanoid female being able to transform into and/or control animals. Blair is not a witch because she’s a cat that can transform into a human being. But the Mizune are mice that transform into a woman and they’re all witches (huh?)
b) What is Free? – Immortal, werewolf, wizard, warlock… Huh? Even he gets confused.
c) What gender is Chrona? And–is she a witch?
4) Hierarchies are powerless – not a single one of the witches in the show obeys Mabaa the supreme head of the witches (e.g. Medusa, Arachne, Kim, Eruka, the Mizune); Arachnophobia tolerates murderous rivalry at its highest levels (Mosquito vs Giriko); only half (!) of the Death Scythes show up when Shinigami calls them.
5) Sexuality is rampant and freely expressed (more so in the manga):
a) Blair desires Soul Eater; Free desires Eruka; Ox desires Kim, mad Kim desires Ox; Maka’s daddy desires everyone, including Maka; Tsubaki desires Black☆Star, Black☆Star desires himself.
b) Black☆Star oggles girls in onsen and Hiro oggles girls in bathroom (because he can). The boys get their own shower scenes.
c) Ragnarok exposes Chrona’s undies and Shinigami exposes loli-Medusa’s undies.
d) Technicians and their weapons see each other butt-naked all the time. This circumstance doesn’t leave them indifferent, but it doesn’t make them run off to a motel either. Rather, a sexual tension builds like some sort of incestuous, simmering sibling love.
e) In what will become the locus classicus of improper behavior in Soul Eater, chapter 47 of the manga implies that Liz and Patty “took one for the team” in an engagement with Giriko, and enjoyed it! Giriko rejects Maka and tells her to come back in 7 to 10 years!!!
(If you think there’s nothing insane or perverse in the free expression of your sexuality, think again. Even in “modern society” desire is only approved in small portions pre-packaged in specific sizes. Everything else is considered madness, and you’ll pay for it, in prison or in hell as the case may be.)
But as I pointed out at the beginning, the heroes in Soul Eater are supposedly fighting madness. Seeing how mad the world already is, I don’t get why Shinigami doesn’t just throw his hands up in the air and give up. Give me a break!
The rhetoric is classic: “don’t let yourself be controlled by madness”. But this is contradictory because, well, madness is really all about being “out of control” or more positively, “letting it all hang out”. And this is not just me claiming this, but Soul Eater itself backs me up. What happens when Maka goes mad? She forgets her neurosis and fights better. What happens when Soul goes mad? He plays a mean piano! Soul is a musician at heart, so for him to play better means he’s becoming a better person!!
What happens when Stein goes mad? Here we come to the crux of the matter. See, Stein is really being pulled in 2 directions: to be a socially acceptable individual or to be a psychopathic doctor. This dilemma is not born of the Kishin revival, but it’s something he’s been dealing with since he was a little lad. Because of his willpower, he’s strong enough to deny his true nature, but he can’t really renounce it either, and so the answer to question: “what happens when Stein goes mad?” should be “we don’t know because he hasn’t”. Instead, he’s so torn between two forces that he’s descended into a catatonic state (=system shutdown), which is exactly what happens when you put a happy, healthy schizo into a mental institution!!! Says Nietzsche: “Become who you are”…
Episode 42 chilled me to the bone. Shinigami starts handing out meds to strengthen resistance to madness. Let’s medicate all the children, why don’t we? Later on it turns out the meds are placebos, to fool the students and give them confidence in their struggle. I actually think that makes it worse, and that in many ways that is how our own society functions.
The story of Soul Eater is bursting at the seams, and it’s interesting (and I guess sad) to see how Ohkubo pulls back from the brink to whip out a decent, respectable message, despite himself. The fandom’s love-hate toward Maka Albarn must reflect his creator’s love-hate toward himself (now I’ve said too much, I haven’t said enough ♪) This on top of the proportionally tiny but potentially important bits of censorship in the movement from manga to anime. A double censorship to go along with the doubly twisted character of the show…
PHILOSOPHICAL NOTE: To understand how society comes to define and control individuals, and especially the role of the concept of “madness” plays in that process, you’d better read Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. Foucault argued that “the soul is the prison of the body” which is immediately applicable to Soul Eater.
THANK YOU: The last screencap is from Random Curiosity. I usually make my own but was unable to do so this time due to technical difficulties. Thanks also to mahou-x.