Soul Taker Vol. #3 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, June 07, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, June 11, 2002
The last volume of Soul Taker left me rather disappointed, but with a glimmer of hope that things would start to make soon and build up to a respectable finish. During a rather laborious viewing session, I took in volume 3, and have to admit that I do not believe that the creators of Soul Taker wished to do other than jerk me around for a few hours. I am struggling for a word which means the opposite of "entertaining", but that fully captures the negative energy flowing through these episodes.
Audio is consistent with previous volumes, but through these mostly dialogue-intensive episodes, there is little here to give your speakers a workout.
Video quality is identical to previous volumes, with the same strengths and the same weaknesses. These episodes feature more brilliant color than previous episodes, and the show continues to look mostly fabulous.
This time around, the cover is graced by Soul Anubis, who is vaguely seductive with her tall, curvy figure and Amazonian armor and Oh My God, is that a nipple? With its shimmering iridescent cover and Devilman-inspired design, this is the most appealing of the series covers to date. The disc comes in one of the strange new cases that Pioneer has been using lately, proving that their marriage with Scanavo was short lived. First pressings of the discs come with a glow-in-the-dark cling with an image of the Soul Crusher. The availability of the clings has been greatly improved since volume 2, but it's still not exactly a goodie I would recommend spending much effort to try to track down.
Volume 3 brings a new menu for the system. It's typically Nightjar, which means its good, if a bit overblown. The change is nice, and personally, I prefer this menu to the one used on volumes 1 and 2.
Extras include non-credit OP and ED (always a welcome addition), a sing-along version of the OP theme (in which the Japanese lyrics are finally presented in Romaji!), a strange "art gallery" of a Halloween mask, and the standard Pioneer trailers (never thought I'd be saying that!)
The "art gallery" is actually so disappointing, I've lowered the extras grade for this disc. Somebody made a Soul Taker mask for a costume, and Pioneer has included several before and after pictures of the mask. Um..., okay. This is the kind of thing that belongs on somebody's personal web page, but I really could care less. For me, this kind of extra, becoming more and more prevalent on Pioneer DVDs, is at the same moral level as the action figure production photos on previous discs. It has NOTHING to do with the show at all, only the third-hand merchandising, and the whole thing smacks of DVD fluffing.
(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers.)
Soul Taker has become a tedious exercise in stylish, symbolic mythmaking. It really doesn't even matter what is going on with the plot any more, except that everyone looks good doing it. Unlike, say, Revolutionary Girl Utena, which set an engrossing plot and sympathetic characters in a baroque, fairy tale setting with richly symbolic imagery, Soul Taker has become an aimless journey, a maze of misdirection which only circles back on itself. Each episode is organized such that the clues are all revealed in reverse, each hint of the basic story revealed before the crucial fact that gives it meaning.
In the last volume, we were starting to see the big picture. Kyousuke's father finally started giving him the pieces he needed to understand his destiny, including the terrible secret of his birth mother and the conspiracy behind his birth. The first episode here shows Kyousuke meeting with the first flicker, and we learn why (but never how) Runa is creating them. It seems, at first like an important episode, at least until you realize that we already knew everything revealed herein, and that the plot elements have been lifted directly from the three previous episodes. In the next two episodes, Yui Kirihara attempts to destroy the Hospital for betraying her. She creates a new mutant, the Soul Anubis, designed specifically to target Kyosuke's human weaknesses, defeat him, and draw Runa out of hiding. During all of this, Shiro explains why he is fighting his own sister, Kumogi and Richard Vincent discuss the Beta Applicon project, and we see Yui Kirihara being manipulated by a mysterious entity who is only perceivable as a disembodied voice.
And therein lies the continued problem with Soul Taker. These episodes are talk, talk, talk. Characters just keep talking. They never shut up and do anything. The plot just moves along without any sense of direction. Kyousuke, Komugi, and Shiro visit the ruins of the hospital, and Shiro begins telling Kyousuke about his surrogate mother's death. Then they go to an abandoned Kirihara laboratory, and continue the conversation. Then they go to the Kirihara headquarters, and Shiro is still going on and on. Even the battle with Soul Anubis is a letdown, where Anubis beats up on Kyousuke for an entire episode, talking and talking and talking. She hits him, he falls down, and then she yells at him some more. And the worst part is they never have anything meaningful to say. For all of Shiro's talking, he never really explains why he hates his sister until the very end, proving that all of his previous ramblings were nothing but hogwash. I don't have a clue what Kyousuke is fighting for any more, nor do I care.
The series' creators seem to think that if they can couch all of this in sassy-looking symbolism, it will immediately attain some sort of spiritual or intellectual depth. But when Kyousuke is actually nailed to a cross, we realize that the creators of Soul Taker have fully lost control of any sense of balance and subtlety in their storytelling. Even the bloated and pretentious Neon Genesis Evangelion, for all of its psuedo-religious claptrap, never attempted to literally crucify its main characters. And moreover, at the end of the day, Evangelion had something meaningful to say about the human condition.
In one of my early reviews of the series, I expressed some concern that the animation quality might deteriorate as the series wears on. Sadly, my fears have been realized, as the animation quality on volume 3 has taken a nosedive. Much of the animation now consists of static images that have been digitally morphed to resemble animation. In addition, there are many animation glitches and visual continuity errors that simply should never have been allowed to pass through editing.
Really, Soul Taker's fatal flaw is that it is simply too shallow to have been dragged on this long. The story is too thin, relying on a convoluted structure to maintain interest. Even the visual style has become dull and uninteresting by the 9th episode. I actually fell asleep while trying to get through this disc. I really think that Soul Taker is a show that came too late. If it had been made a few years ago, it would have been a solid four to six episode OAV series that probably would have had much greater impact. There is no saying, "Too much, too late," but Soul Taker is evidence that maybe there should be.
Only at the end of the third episode on this disc, when Kyousuke has attained Godhood and Runa has finally appeared (albeit only fleetingly), is there any sanity. Yui Kirihara, realizing how badly she has been played as the fool admits, "It's all like a dream. I want to awaken from this dream quickly." Sing it sister. I hear ya.
Panasonic Panablack TV, Codefree Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)
Mania Grade: D
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: C+
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Soul Taker