So after watching The SoulTaker for the Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa project, I can honestly say that it was a much less painful experience than rumor had led me to believe; in fact I rather enjoyed it, or enjoyed the process of watching it, or something. Prior to actually watching The SoulTaker, the most I’d heard about the series ranged from “it’s terrible” to “it’s kind of alright” and the fact that Nakahara Komugi (of Nurse Witch Komugi-chan Magikarte infamy) was a spinoff of SoulTaker. This is not exactly the kind of buzz that is heartening to hear for a series, and so I’d filed the series off in the back of my head as “probably shouldn’t watch” which was exactly what it was until the Secret Santa project came around. Considering that my other two options for the event were Narutaru and Paranoia Agent and while I’ve seen half of the former (it’s no Bokurano manga, but neither was the Bokurano anime) and I intend fully to watch Paranoia Agent at some indeterminate point in the future (that mystical Shangri-la where I have Free Time in which I can read all I want and watch the anime I’ve meant to watch), I decided that SoulTaker would be the more adventurous option of the three, and the most in keeping with the spirit of the project.
“Adventurous” is, of course, a kind of understatement for SoulTaker. It is, after all, an early Akiyuki Shinbo series, and I am fairly sure that, out of the total of 325 minutes of the entire series, exactly seven of them were spent with what passed for “normal” lighting in SoulTaker. The rest of the series was occupied by screens that were mostly black, backgrounds that seemingly escaped from Frank Lloyd Wright Does Cathedral Windows, 45° camera angles, and lots and lots of dark colors. Lots of dark colors.
All the dark colors add to the paranoid atmosphere of SoulTaker, the story (?) of which is the prime driver of the paranoia in the series. I would, at this point, explain what sense I managed to piece together of the plot, except I don’t think it’s actually possible for me to put it in words, as the plot does not exist to make any sort of coherent sense. The generalities of the plot revolve around Kyosuke Date being betrayed by nearly everyone in the series at some point, punching people in SoulTaker mutant/alien form, and crying tears of blood. The point is: this series is paranoid to the max, as it starts out with Kyosuke getting stabbed in the heart by his mother and ends with Kyosuke killing his grandfather. You can call it allegory or you can call it bad writing, the plot is highly abstract and doesn’t cohese well into a sensible narrative; the characters are slightly less abstracted, but they still do not seem to function in the way characters normally do.
The only way I was able to even start to make sense of SoulTaker was through the old standby of the reality/fantasy binary: Kyosuke starts off the series with a strong desire to rescue and locate his sister, whom he loves,although all he ever has contact with are fragments of her personality (or “Flickers” in the parlance of the series). Most of the episodes involve Kyosuke meeting, dealing with, and eventually rejecting (or failing to attain) different fragments of his sister, until the end, where the machinations of other characters eventually re-integrate her personality and reconstruct her. Of course, his sister is both 1) young and innocent-looking and 2) sinister and deadly; long story short, she attempts to kill off the entire human race simply so that she and Kyosuke can have an idyllic existence as the Adam and Eve of a new race of hybrids. Kyosuke rejects this, and eventually “kills her so she can live” by absorbing her into himself before saving humanity.
I have no idea if that previous paragraph makes any kind of sense whatsoever, and I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t, but hopefully it’s not difficult to see the implication that fragments and outward manifestations of a person’s personality are easier to like but deceiving of the true nature of the dangerous personality behind them. A general reading is possible, but it’s hard not to see SoulTaker as a sort of cautionary tale for the modern otaku: even in 2001, the abstraction of character personalities and physical traits, familiar now to all, was well underway, and unease was already beginning to stir. Here we have fragments of a single idealized personality—likable, attractive, and often subtly sexualized on their own—that, when assembled, form a frightening and destructive whole that threatens humanity; here we have the otaku, pursuing the idealized personality suggested by the fragments, then confronted by and eventually assimilating the twisted reality of their ideal.
In the end, I can say with assurance that I liked watching SoulTaker, which is, to me, always the most important thing, and infinitely more important than concerns as to whether I liked a given work qua work, or whether or not I think a given work is good. In that regard, the Secret Santa project is, at least in this instance, a success.