The Soul Taker
After being stabbed through his heart by his own mother and buried alive, Kyosuke Date is rescued by an odd young woman who seems to have an unusual affinity for him. When she is kidnapped by the powerful Kirihara Group, Kyosuke decides to rescue her with the help of a mysterious man who seems to know more about the situation than Kyosuke. The Kirihara Group doesn’t seem to be the only organization interested in the woman, as psychotic mutants from a mysterious ‘Hospital’ come to claim her as well.
Caught between two factions he does not understand, Kyosuke’s confusion is only compounded by the nature of his new friend. She is a Flicker, an embodied soul shard of a sister Kyosuke never knew he even had. Desperate to save her, he taps into latent abilities of his own, to transform him from a mere young man to the powerful mutant Soul Taker.
If you think I'm spoiling a lot of the plot in my synopsis, let me assure you that it only basically describes the first episode and half of that oddness occurs in the first ten minutes or so.
However, I would like to put aside talking about the plot for a moment and instead concentrate on the visual aspects of this show. Soul Taker has some of the most intriguing visual design work I've seen in a while. Interesting lighting, varied camera angles, surreal and creative scene design, alternative palette work, and a number of other visual elements end up being quite a bit differently utilized than you see in most shows. This in turn helps generate the show's somewhat surreal and dark atmosphere. Incidentally, I think this title has the highest number of stained glass window shots I've seen in any title as of yet.
While people often discuss anime in terms of an individual title's animation quality or artwork, it is far less often that people discuss whether or not a show is truly utilizing the potential of the medium. While a show certainly doesn't have to be oddly stylized or use edgy visual elements to be good, anime is, after all, one of the visual entertainment mediums where the initial constraints of visual design are minimized. The visuals and feeling of Soul Taker just would be much more difficult, for example, to successfully communicate in a live action production.
Those visual elements and the atmosphere they help generate are rather critical to the show's appeal as well. In a more straight forward show, many of the plot elements and events in this show would end up seeming more campy or in some cases silly, but instead in the context of the surreal world we are being presented they end up not seeming that way and thus not undermining the show's general serious tone. For example, one of the main characters is a mutant cosplaying nurse (who did in fact get her own highly hysterical spin off show) of all things and yet this character's antics do not end up clashing with the dark tone or even seeming out of place. Instead she seems strangely appropriate.
In one sense, Soul Taker has the feeling of what I would call "dream logic". Overall, events do flow in a logical manner resulting from cause and effect, but when surreal elements enter into the story, they do not seem disruptive. Perhaps it isn't so much dream-like as it is nightmarish, particularly for the main character. With battles occurring in places like spontaneous graveyards and psychotic mutants often bristling with weapons made from seemingly everyday objects, the action often does seem like something ripped straight from the sleep of an anxious (and apparently doctor adverse) mind.
I've heard people describe this show as difficult to understand, but honestly, in terms of actual plot progression, the title is fairly straight-forward and I'll even have to say in some ways vaguely formulaic. They reveal a bit of the world piece by piece with each episode that passes, but with these revelations comes greater understanding rather than additional questions, something for which I am grateful. As I noted the basic plot isn't necessarily the most original creation in the world, but I still did find it intriguing to follow Kyosuke as he probes the mysteries of his own background, his sister, and the strange events he has been caught up in. They also have enough interesting plot elements, such as the Flickers, to still keep the overall plot from seeming overly derivative.
The initial pacing of the plot in the first few episodes is a bit weak and at first it seems like this title is simply going to be 13 episodes of Kyosuke going into his Soul Taker form and beating the snot out of the mutant of the day. While there is certainly that element, once we get past the third episode or so, fighting no longer becomes the central focus. There certainly isn't a lack of action, but they integrate it a bit more smoothly into what is going on. I will note, however, that the choice of using the vaguely retro sounding main opening theme as background music in some of the fights is, and this is being charitable, a tragic music direction mistake as it often amused me in scenes that weren't supposed to be amusing. Fortunately, they did not use this in every fight like I feared.
While this title is more about plot than character work per se, this doesn't mean that it neglects development of its characters. Kyosuke, being the lead, obviously is the primary focus. He starts out the series as a bewildered young man. This isn't particularly surprising considering the various events he experiences during the transition from his old life to his new one. As events progress and he learns more about the situation, it is interesting to see how he changes and particularly how he attempts to reconcile certain elements of his moral beliefs with some of the choices he is forced to make.
I was generally pleased with what they did with the other main characters and antagonists. Though a few of them are ciphers, we do get insight into everyone's motivations by the end of the title. Though there are some characters who do some rather ruthless and downright evil things, once some of their motivations are shown, it does help the viewer feel some pity for them. The various representatives of the Hospital and some in the Kirihara end up with a very tragic air about them and in their own way end up seeming like victims despite initially seeming just psychotic and/or sociopathic in nature.
The show's central plot point, the Flickers, does raise a number of interesting character and psychological issues. Some of the Flickers are aware of what they are, some have some feeling about it, and some have no clue. Some are aware of being chased and actively fighting to protect themselves and some definitely need Kyosuke's protection. I found the idea of embodied soul fragments rather fascinating and I thought the show did a good job of exploring the different ideas associated with this concept. I was slightly irked by a certain plot twist involving the Flickers toward the end of the show, but I suppose, in terms of the plot, it did make sense.
For all the mutant action, strange visuals, and the like there are actually interesting thematic issues dealt with in the title. There are the Flickers, of course, and their issues, but the other main focus has to do with the nature of morality and the various choices we make based on our beliefs. Toward the end of the show, there are also some interesting points raised about moral perspectives and the nature of suffering. I will note that some of the thematic issues are dealt with a bit bluntly, but I still found them interesting nonetheless.
As I now consider the show overall, I cannot help but think that some of its potential has been wasted. By building the framework around Kyosuke as a transforming mutant, the creators limited themselves somewhat. As it stands, Soul Taker is an intriguing title full of visual creativity and some interesting plot ideas, but I just wonder if it could have risen to true excellence.
There is one last element of this show I felt I should mention. Soul Taker makes rather heavy use of Christian iconography. The cross as a symbol of suffering, in particular, is rather heavily used. Now, in context of the show, most of the symbols and motifs used do make sense and do help with communicating some of the associated themes. They do directly mention Christ and the Devil on multiple occasions. Now I can't say that Soul Taker is particularly trying to communicate a Christian message necessarily, but it does use those visual elements to help explore the idea of good and evil. I could see, though, how depending on one's religious sensibilities they might feel the use of such elements to be inappropriate.
A unusually creative visual style along with some interesting plot elements help elevate what could have just been another ‘transforming mutant/superhero/robot’ show into something much more intriguing and satisfying. If you like your anime a bit less on the surreal side you might want to subtract a star or two. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: There is a lot of violence in this title, and many people die including effective innocents. It seems like they tried to lessen the impact of some of this violence by implying the typical front-line troops were robots, but many of these "T-Dolls" often seemed to bleed anyway. While not always directly shown, impalement seemed a popular injury in this show. There are a few more gory scenes not directly related to fighting later on as well. The stylized nature of the violence keeps it from being too bad, but still it helps push up the appropriate age. There is a bit of nudity and fan service scattered through out as well.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (13/13)
The Soul Taker © 2001 Tatsunoko / The Soul Taker Production Committee
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