Soul Taker Vol. #4 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B+

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  • 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.
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Soul Taker

Soul Taker Vol. #4

By paul     August 17, 2002
Release Date: August 13, 2002

The Review!
After a stunningly awful second act, Soultaker returns for a grand finale that is nothing short of grand. It's a shame the series as a whole isn't very good.

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. The final episodes contained here feature some very nice art and animation, and the video for this disc is gorgeous.

If I thought the packaging for the previous volume was nice, this one simply blew away my expectation. The cover features Kyosuke partially transformed into the Soultaker holding his sister, Runa. The iridescent cover makes a real difference here. Before, the shiny covers looked a bit dark, but this time around, the cover is bright enough to be visible in just about any light, and the iridescence gives just a subtle boost to an already strong cover. In hindsight, my only complaint about the covers for the series is the absence of a cover featuring Nurse Komugi. First pressings of the discs come with a glow-in-the-dark cling with an image of the Soul Anubis. The cling is okay looking, but little more than a line-drawing, and of limited collectible value.

Volume 4 has another slight modification of the basic Soultaker menu. I know a lot of people like NightJar's menus, and this one is a pretty good one, but their menus for TV series seem to me to be becoming more intrusive as they also become more formulaic. Not really a complaint, but I'd like to see something a little more organic and easier to use from them in the near future. They've raised my expectations to unreachable levels.

Extras include non-credit OP and ED, a sing-along version of the ED theme, a line art gallery, and the standard Pioneer trailers. The sing-along version of the ED features rather awful-looking video, simultaneously oversaturated and washed-out, with a fair amount of general noise. The audio seems to be mixed at a lower volume than the show or the non-credit ED.

(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers.)

Soultaker would have worked better as a six-episode OAV series. After having completed the series, it seems that as a 13-episode series it lacks a certain depth needed to sustain it for the duration. Initially, it seemed as though the show would be a kind of dark, gothic mystery with an interesting visual flair, but by the end of the first disc, it revealed itself to be an interesting update on the classic genre of costume superhero anime, the likes of which we hadn't seen in a very long while. We loaded up with interesting supporting characters, some typical teenage angst ("Who am I? What is my destiny?") and some fairly exciting monster of the week episodes.

But somewhere along the way, only a few episodes in, the show forgot to be a superhero show, and instead became self-absorbed, self-important, and reverted to being an oblique mystery, explaining much, but saying very little. It became a show in which a lot of things happened, none of which signified anything. The fights had all the routine drama of a Sailor Moon battle, dragging on until Kyosuke broke out the Lightning Breaker attack, or the even more dreaded (and dreadful) Double Lightning Breaker. As if that wasn't bad enough, these fights, as superfluous as they seemed, often disrupted the basic drama of the episode, cutting them short before they could develop dramatically.

Though Soultaker volume 4 never quite fixes the dramatic problems the show has had up till now, the show has finally abandoned the obliqueness which has plagued the more dramatic elements of the show. The grand mysteries and conspiracies are finally revealed, and the big picture the show paints is immensely logical, believable (within the boundary of the show's rules), and surprisingly moving.

At the end of the previous volume, Runa had finally made a limited appearance to Kyosuke, and the important clues to solving the bigger mysteries had begun falling into place. Abandoned by Shiro, Kyosuke and Komugi were left alone to reach the bottom of the mystery of the Kirihara Group, the Hospital, and the Beta Applicon, and to discover the true secret of the Soultaker.

Things get underway with a bang as Kyosuke faces off once again with his father, Richard Vincent, now succumbing to the Beta Applicon infection raging through his body. Though this episode suffers from some of the same, What the heck was that all about that plagued previous episodes, the story is told much more plainly and directly than ever before, and the animation quality during their fight is fairly impressive. What is perhaps most impressive about the fight is that the Lightning Breaker is nowhere to be found, nor does it make an appearance anywhere in this final collection of episodes.

Getting closer to his goal of understanding himself and his destiny, Kyosuke pushes on to Moon Colony #8, his birthplace, now abandoned, for the showdown of showdowns, the 3-episode finale that cracks the mystery, answers all the questions, and provides a context for much of what has come before in the series. Runa makes her long-awaited appearance, as do several characters whose appearances have been strongly foreshadowed. What is simply stunning about the way all of this works itself out is how the whole damned thing makes a kind of sense, when you see it all in front of you. Several times during the finale, I was guessing what would happen just before it did.

Certainly predictability in a mystery is a negative characteristic. But when played out here, in a story where I've been frustrated and confused so many times before, for me to be figuring it out as it plays out is evidence of a well thought-out master plan. Everything fit into place not just as it should have, but in perhaps the only way it could have. They story, as it plays out is not so much the story of grand conspiracies, but the story of a collection of bad decisions, each taken in the interest of the better good without the gift of foresight, but which ultimately bring our characters to ruin. The story features not so much an assortment of villains, as good-hearted people who do the wrong thing for the right reasons, and frequently the right thing for all the wrong reasons, simply because they cannot see the outcomes of their actions. The finale has the pathos of a Greek tragedy, though I doubt that Euripides would have cast a squeaky-voiced nurse with a giant carrot on her back in a major role. (It's a GIANT CARROT! Get it?)

In fact, the Greek tragedy description is perhaps not entirely inappropriate, as the story is really a tale of feuding gods, with humanity caught in the crossfire. Ultimately, the supporting cast winds up being rather inconsequential. Those who manage to live to the end of the series wind up acting as little more than a Greek chorus for the familial tragedy playing out in front of them. The most important main characters are those who don't even show up until the final act. Kyosuke's father, Richard Vincent, is little more than an insignificant pawn in a game being waged by players who do not even show up until episode 10 or 11. (In fact, if you can keep from cracking up laughing at who shows up in the final seconds of episode 10, you did better than me!) Even the Flickers, long promised to be the key to piecing together the meaning of the show, were irrelevant. Though we have been following these characters for many episodes, the story isn't really about them. It is, instead about the shadow figures, the legends, the puppetmasters. It makes me wonder how much of the preceding episodes really mattered at the end, if everything revolved around characters we do not meet until the very end.

Another misdirection is the visual style of the show. For a show so rich in visual imagery, it is surprising that Soultaker is so utterly devoid of meaningful symbolism. The phrase "style over substance" frequently comes to mind regarding Soultaker, but that is perhaps misleading. There is a deeper substance, certainly not as deep as initially suggested, but it would be more accurate to say that the style deceives the viewer, distracting from the substance, obscuring it. In fact, the final episodes do not play tricks with the viewer at the same level as previous episodes. The story is told much more directly here than ever before, and that is perhaps the most singular reason for its artistic success.

Buried away in Soultaker's story, is about 3 hours of solid entertainment, mainly an interesting introduction and a compelling final act. A weak middle act, without much dramatic interest, drags down the entire show. Unfortunately, it would be hard to tease out the essential elements from that middle act, leaving the general recommendation of the series to be difficult, and perhaps quite impossible, for me.

For those who have been enjoying the series up to now, this is an easy recommendation. Those, like me, who have been following it out of a sense of stubbornness, should probably give the final volume a chance. There really is some good stuff here that will help wash away the bad taste of the previous volume. It really won't be worth owning for you, but for a couple of hours and the cost of a rental, you can at least see through to the end of a story that actually does go somewhere at the end.

But for those of you who have yet to buy into the series, I can't really recommend the series as a whole. The ending, good as it ultimately is, is poor reward for sitting through some of those middle episodes in volumes 2 and 3. And without those episodes, a lot of the significance and poignancy of the finale will be lost.

In all, Soultaker was frustrating, confusing, and disappointing which left me strangely satisfied at the end – an experience I cannot really recommend to others, nor will I hopefully ever have to relive myself.

Review Equipment
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)


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