Soul Eater teaches us that one day we will die.
… Hey! Hey! Come back to this article! I swear it’s not going to be so morbid throughout. I’m sorry but it’s true, as human beings, it is ascertained we will one day depart from this world and (depending on your view) a skeleton, in a black robe and carrying a scythe will help us through to wherever we need to go. He’s the Reaper, a literal personification of death.
And it is this personification that we place our fear of dying. We run and hide, but the Reaper Man will always find us. So why do we fear him? If you do believe in going to the next life, wouldn’t you rather have someone there to help you? Death – The bloke with the robes and scythe, not the concept – has been given the old humorous treatment before by Terry Pratchett in his Discworld series of novels, and so does the manga and anime series Soul Eater, with Lord Death as one of the main characters. And using literally Death as one of the main and most powerful characters in the series, Soul Eater rather cleverly asks us to do exactly the same as what Blue Öyster Cult asked us to do in the 70’s: “Baby don’t Fear the Reaper”.
Come on Baby (Don’t fear the reaper)
Seriously, look at this guy:
How could you ever fear him? His appearance is too damn cute and simple to ever be feared by well… anyone really. He even has a slapstick, high pitched voice and manner of speech you would expect from a child’s entertainer. But Lord Death didn’t always look like this. 800 years before the series even started, Death was more for the realistic skulls and scary voice, with a big claw arm with DEATH tattooed on it (It was a different time… I was a different personification of Death then. I thought it looked cool…).
So, why the change from big and scary to small and cute? The answer lies in the setting of the show. In this series he’s Lord Death because he is the leader of the Death Weapon Meister Academy; A Hogwarts for training young children to hunt down and collect Kishin Eggs to prevent them from turning into Kishin: Demons of Madness who consume human souls. And children don’t tend to run with open arms to the big skeleton monster, but they will run to the cute monster…
The children are a symbol for all of the humanity. The whole trope of don’t fear the reaper is one of the underlying themes of Death’s design: if he doesn’t look scary at all, then why should Death be scary? With this, we can run and take his hand with all our love.
If you do fear the Reaper, however…
Bad things are going to happen to you. Asura embodies this. The entire reason he became a Kishin is that he was scared to die. So he killed innocent people and fed their souls to his weapon, Vajra. He then consumed Vajra and became a Kishin. And because Lord Death was having none of that, he ripped Asura’s skin off, drained all his blood and then stuffed Asura inside a bag of his own skin.
So… other than being cruel and unusual punishment, what’s the point of this? No matter how much Asura kicked and punched and shot laser beams from his freaking mouth, in the end, Asura was defeated and Death won again.
Perhaps this is the most pessimistic of all the themes in the entire show, but if you can’t escape death then why fear him? Asura perfectly chronicles the struggle we all feel with Death. It is scary. Like really scary. We have a right to live in fear of the fact that one day our synapses in our head will stop firing, the constant beating in our chests will grind to a halt and everything we ever are will cease to exist. But if we do that we would live in a futile existence, trapped in a bag of our own skin trying to ‘live’ as long as possible. Because when we die it’s all over right? Well actually…
We are the Walking Dead
If I may go off on a tangent for a brief moment. Season five of The Walking Dead has one of the corniest lines in the whole series. After main character Rick Grimes talks about how his hardened group of survivors is going to survive in this world after their home is destroyed, he says to the team that how they are going to live is by telling themselves they are “The Walking Dead”. Instant Eyeroll. But this is probably what the character Sid has to do. Because he is literally the walking dead. He’s a zombie. In the employ of Death himself, which is pretty much an affront to the whole concept of Death, especially considering he retains his soul. But Death is all cool with this. Because Sid is dead, but he isn’t dead.
Let me explain. David Eagleman once said a human dies three times. Once when they biologically die, a second time when they are put in the ground and a third time when people forget us. Sid is a walking middle finger to this. He’s dead, sure, but he’s kind of still alive. Because we remember him. We keep seeing him, and hearing about him constantly. That is why Death is cool with Sid working for him. He ain’t dead. Just like we won’t be dead, especially in this age. We have our phones and technology and Facebook. Even if you don’t become famous, the general fact that you exist online (You have to be, to be reading these words) is a stamp. You probably have Facebook and an email. How soon do you think Facebook is going to crash? Probably never.
Yeah, but why Death?
“You’re pulling this out of your arse, Jackson” I hear you say. And you’re probably right, but this is the kind of writing I do.
So as a counter argument to your rather basic statement I offer you this question: Why Death? Why with thousands of possible deities and things to chose from did they pick Death? Was it to pull off some clever puns, like 42-42-564 (Read aloud as Die Die Kill in Japanese, “しに、しに、ごろし”) to ‘knock on Deaths door’ and ‘Death City’ in Nevada (Probably in Death Valley), or to do some subversion of the idea that Death takes souls? All valid answers, but again, why Death?
There are dozens of mythological beings that collect souls, but at the end of the day, they chose Death to be the patron deity of this series. You could argue it was just for the puns, and because the manga is a shounen I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that, but some of the deepest messages can be taken from mediums designed for children. For example, Alice in Wonderland deals with the struggles of growing up and the futility of human existence. Soul Eater is no different, using cheery visuals it deals with the futility of fearing Death. And by literally having Death presented as a character in a cute way was how they showed this.
Take his hand
This is probably the most pessimistic thing I have ever written, about the inevitability of Death and Soul Eater. But, well, one day it’s going to happen to all of us. We fear Death because we see it as an ending, and to make matters worse the popular conception of the reaper is terrifying. And that’s why Soul Eater is important. Here the Grim Reaper is presented as a cute, cuddly little thing, with his image spread all over his city. In Soul Eater, the only human we’ve ever been shown to die doesn’t, instead they turn into a zombie. Dead, but walking. Dead, but remembered. And this is how we should approach Death. Our mortal time is up, but we will be remembered.
So Baby, Don’t fear (The Reaper). Otherwise, y’know, you might get your skin ripped off and you might get stuffed into a bag made from the same skin. Not exactly a good way to ‘live’.