I think I can now pinpoint the problem I have with Soul Eater, and it’s a problem I have with some other shonen titles to various degrees. It’s the Adult Authority Figures.
I mentioned some time ago the difference between Sgt. Frog and it’s antecedent, Urusei Yatsura, in how they treated adulthood. Sgt Frog treats adulthood as being just as fun as childhood, Urusei Yatsura portrays it as some kind of living hell.
Now the difference between Soul Eater and what is obviously my favourite shonen series, One Piece, is also a difference between how they treat adults, but rather than a difference in a philosophical view of adulthood (Soul Eater seems to side more with UY, given Maka’s father’s characterisation), it’s in the use of Adult Authority Figures.
Soul Eater, like many shonen series has the main characters firmly placed as students of older, wiser, characters, who know more than they do. Naruto is an exemplary case of this format, for all the goofing off and disobeying orders that Naruto does, he’s never shown to be smarter than Kakashi. In Soul Eater, no matter how goofy Dr Franken Stein or the Grim Reaper are, they know more than the main characters, and at the current time, the main characters ultimately have to bow to their greater knowledge.
In One Piece, however, all characters who feasibly have authority over the main characters are wrong. Even if, in theory, they are right. Regardless of common sense, fact or circumstance, Luffy’s decisions always end up being the right one in the end. It’s resolutely anti-authority. It’s a bunch of kids having adventures, doing what they want, without adults telling them what to do. Even if some of the kids are 27, 34 and 100+ years old. Part of what turned me off Bleach was the slow turn of the main characters from being anti-authority, to doing what the series’ “grown-ups” want them to do.
The lesson is: if you are going to write an adolescent fantasy, go the whole hog and STICK IT TO THE MAN!