Soul Eater: Maka, Black Star, and Gender Representation in Shounen Manga

This scene, I think, sums up Black Star better than anything else. Best (?) assassin ever.

I did actually like this episode much more than the first one, for whatever strange reason. I think it sank in over the week as I thought about it and started to really like it. I should probably stop panicking when there’s this super awesome gotta see it series premeire and I’m not as blown away by the first episode as everyone else is because, well, this always happens. Every time. I should just give up and watch whatever.

At any rate, from this episode and the snippet of Death the Kid at the end of the episode, Soul Eater is proving to have an extremely likable cast. Black Star and Tsubaki are quite the dynamic duo, with the former being comically incompetent and the latter being mildly tolerant of the former’s comic incompetence. Tsubaki probably knows she could do better than pair with Black Star, as Maka pointed out–she’s evidently a very good Weapon–but she sticks by him out of affection. I have seen it hypothesized that Tsubaki actually wants Black Star to peep in on her bathing, due to the fact that she’s not embarassed at all but is merely concerned that he isn’t hiding his presence. The cliff bath scene, though, was brilliant in every way: the long zoom in on Black Star screaming at the top of his lungs followed by cut to commerical was genius. For the most part, Black Star is incompetent, although he does have a few tricks up his sleeve.

And that’s part of why I’m liking Soul Eater more, actually: it’s breaking gender stereotypes in shounen manga/anime. As pointed out last time, the major protagonist for this series is Maka, who is a girl. This is a shounen series. It’s almost like it’s some bizarre twisted offspring of the moe phenonmenon, as if the logic went thusly: “Boys like cute girls, and boys like beating things up, so let’s have a cute girl who beats things up! Surefire hit!”

But that’s not quite all. What interests me is how the male and female characters are portrayed. In the Maka/Soul Eater pair, Maka is the Technician and Soul Eater is the Weapon. The obvious implicaton there is that Maka, the girl, is in charge, and Soul Eater, the guy, is the second fiddle. I’m not really well-read on shounen series, but it strikes me as unusual that, for the main characters, they’d choose such a relationship dynamic. What’s being done here isn’t just a simply ploy to get boys to read both for cute girls and punching things, as they could have stuck to the simple, commonplace shounen formula of male protagonist and female support, wherein the former gets all the glory and the latter is shafted throughout the entire run and serves mostly as eye candy.

Seemingly in rebuttal to this is the fact that the other two sets of main characters, Black Star/Tsubaki and Death the Kid/Patty/Liz, are in the more standard male-dominant relationship, with the females reduced to supporting roles. Or are they? It’s clear from episode 2 that Black Star is totally incompetent, and Tsubaki, if not in charge, has more than a mere supporting role. We don’t know much about Death the Kid yet, except for that small (and hilarious) snippet at the end, where he’s overly picky about how far to the right Patty is standing. As in Black Star’s case, it’s not exactly overly casting him as a badass who’s going to kick ass and take names. We haven’t seen his prologue yet, though, so we don’t really know what he’s all about, so I’ll address that next week.

Granted, in the case of Black Star, this subversion of shounen standards is clearly done to generate laughs, which it certainly does, but even a subversion done for humorous purposes can have lasting impact. If a humorous subversion goes over well, as Soul Eater’s certainly is, what’s to stop a more serious subversion from going over well? If my theory above is corrent and the decision to make Maka the main character and portray her as strong and not weak was consciously done as a result of the moe phenomenon, then it’s further proof that, like it or not, moe is changing anime, and, in many cases, for the better. It’s nice to see a once-lambassted (still is, but it’s getting less common, I think) concept start to bear positive fruit.

In conclusion, I guess I should say that now I’m a fan of Soul Eater. I’m glad it’s a year-long series, as I’m eager to find out what’s going to happen, and it will be a grand year indeed.

12 Responses to “Soul Eater: Maka, Black Star, and Gender Representation in Shounen Manga”

  1. 1 blissmo 20 April 2008 at 1:51 am

    Oh, this episode was just really funny and I am a fan of Soul Eater too! Death the Kid looks really funny and I sure hope he is!

  2. 2 Inuhanyou 20 April 2008 at 3:12 am

    If you like such types of main character girl/guy relations in shounen, you should check out “Chrno Crusade” the manga (or Chrono Crusade, based on your location).

    It has the exact same type of scenario, as the main male and female are designed to balance instead of having the male character be the focus why the female is support. They actually share the same panel time and she’s probably one of the most competent female leads you’ll ever see

  3. 3 Faye 20 April 2008 at 8:19 am

    Death the Kid is amazing.

  4. 4 OGT 20 April 2008 at 11:18 am

    @Inuhanyou: I watched a few episode of Chrno Crusade Back In The Day and didn’t like them too much, but I see what you’re saying. I also think that the way the arcs were structured inevitably ended up with Rosette being useless/unable to fight, and Chrno had to save the day. There was more of a balance, yes, but in Soul Eater I don’t think there’s much Soul can do unless Maka is wielding him, so it’s less of a balance so much as a reversal.

  5. 5 Inuhanyou 20 April 2008 at 11:49 am

    Remember, i said the “manga” of chrno crusade in my earlier post :P

    The anime branched off completely by the third volume of the manga, almost 70% of the anime was different from the manga and its conclusion.

    I avidly suggest you read the manga my friend, you won’t regret it

  6. 6 lostty 20 April 2008 at 2:57 pm

    I completely agree that this is surprisingly a great series and I really am a fan now. This is just a series that stands out so much more than others.

  7. 7 shirokiryuu 20 April 2008 at 4:00 pm

    *minor spoiler*

    In the Death the Kid and Patty/Liz relationship, it isn’t exactly a fully “male-dominance” relationship, since Death the Kid is so anal about perfection it debilitates him, without Liz and Patty snapping him out of it, he would be pretty useless

  8. 8 Shiryosuke 24 July 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Death The Kid is beyond own.

  9. 9 dacrayzblaze1 17 June 2009 at 12:44 am

    well i will say this about black star. he is not conceited witout good reason. he’s actually brilliant. he just has a really loud mouth. now when he shuts up, he’s amazing.

  10. 10 erichimawan 1 December 2010 at 4:54 am

    Yes, this is the only manga I know to have a female as the main character… But that’s great! I’m a fans too!

  11. 11 New York 17 April 2013 at 9:44 pm

    That was both intriguing as well as insightful! Thank you for sharing your views with us.

  12. 12 15 October 2013 at 11:22 pm

    I think this is among the most important info for me.

    And i am glad reading your article. But should remark on few general things, The web site style is perfect, the articles is really nice :
    D. Good job, cheers

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I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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April 2008

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