Sunday, November 21, 2010

Soul Eater - "Guitar vs Piano" or "Guitar FOR Piano"?


Soul Eater - "Guitar vs Piano" or "Guitar FOR Piano"?

Ohkubo Atsushi's "Soul Eater" is a stunning manga (later, anime) in several aspects. One of the area's I have a particular liking for are it's musical and sound references, puns, and analogies. (Both his series, B.Ichi and Soul Eater, are loaded with these.)

In the musical spirit of this manga, I posted to YouTube my first, and so far only, AMV (Anime Music Video) featuring Soul and Maka to the Goukisan's song, Guitar Vs Piano. It was too perfect; I just couldn't resist.

(Shameless Plug but also for reference-- The video, it's notes, and community commentary can be found here:

About two weeks ago, someone going by "Magnenntae" posted the following comment:

"I find it strange that Soul plays the Piano and that Maka plays the Eletric Guitar, only because Soul is more crazy, headstrong and overall unpredictable, while Maka seems more refined and somehow elegant, similar to the piano. I suppose it's only because I expect an instrument to resemble it's musician for some reason."

Stumbling across it again, I couldn't help but respond. But being the wordy person I am I just can't limit it to a comment-- I need an essay. Not that I mean to tear down the comment; it's a good observation and I actually appreciate the discussion. It helps when someone legitimately challenges something I just sort of took for granted and it make for a good prompt. Of course, this is all my own interpretation based on various scenes and facts set forth in the series, mainly the manga.

I have to say, the symbolism of the piano in the series has never bothered me. The piano is a versatile and classic instrument, perhaps THE classic instrument, with a proud history; Soul himself is rather similar. (The manga makes this more clear, going more into his family's history.) It can be played classically, in hard rock, or even in pop; even songs not originally meant for it sound right on it. I'm particularly fond of modern piano, keeping it's sense of class and nobility while maintaining the strength and fullness of modern music. It's also one of the few instruments on which two or more parts can be played simultaneously; one person can play a whole song, both harmony and melody. Yet it still cooperates well with other instruments. It can be featured or can be accompaniment to highlight other instruments, like voice. You get the picture.

One interesting thing is that Soul's family is not a family of weapons; there's no history of the trait anywhere. While we see Soul's piano as a distinguishing or even odd feature, in his family, it's the weapon trait, not his musical ability that distinguishes him-- they're all world-class musicians. (His brother plays the violin.) What's more, his family seems to be classical musicians, but his preference is to jazz and funk*. It just kind of goes to show that even his "cool" personality can be fitted to a piano. It's also been alluded to that his own compositions are less classical but more dark and mysterious, even disturbing. I think he kind of struggles with the disparity between others' image of a piano and his own.

On the other hand, the guitar is only slightly less classic and versatile. An acoustic guitar is only second to the piano in "gateway instruments," especially for musicians interested in or partial to voice. The only real difference for our purposes is the electric guitar, which unlike it's piano equivalent, lends it's own feel to anything played on or with it. See Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) and Savatage. (The two are essentially the same group of people, but TSO is more of an artistic project, while Savatage is more of a local circuit band. Their sound, mission, and technique are similar.) These bands use electric guitars and other rock instruments in some VERY classical music and styles (like Beethoven and Mozart classical), but the sound is very unique and the entire atmosphere is different for it. You could play "Flight of the Bumble Bee" on strings, as originally intended; on a brass band, as in the movie Drumline; or on electric guitars, as in Beethoven's Last Night by TSO. (Incidentally, I don't believe Bumble Bee is Beethoven, but homage is paid to several other artists in that opera.)

This is where Maka comes in. Interestingly enough, Maka is in NO way musical. She doesn't even APPRECIATE music, let alone "understand" it, as she puts it. She can't dance, can't sing, can't play an instrument; doesn't even really find enjoyment in listening to it. Because of this, she is particularly jealous of Soul, but it's also because of Soul that she even cares. She knows that music is important to Soul and wants to find it important as well, if even for no other reason than to understand HIM better.

We also have the guitar-vs-amp analogy. I actually found that analogy more flawed. Weapons are BORN Weapons. We're not sure if the same is true of Technicians, but other Weapons can be Technicians as well (see Liz and Pati). Weapons will be Weapons, regardless of whether or not there is anyone to wield them. At the same time, it seems that just about anyone with half an inclination could be a Technician. This makes the Weapon the unique highlight of any set but since a Weapon can't traditionally wield itself, it's the Technician's job to make them look good. In any extended sense, Soul would be the guitar in that analogy and Maka the amp (except for the fact that they were really trying to illustrate the interaction of the "soul waves" (heehee, soul waves, sound waves; it just goes on), which may indeed originate from the Technician).

Maka gets to deal with this dilemma on a regular basis. If she can't keep up with Soul, he can't fulfill his potential. You wouldn't want a really awesome guitar to sound sh__y because of a bad amp, now would you? You'd replace the amp. And Technicians are, theoretically, SO replaceable. (Yes, I know about the whole Soul-BlackStar thing, so they can't be replaced by just ANYONE, but still can be replaced.) And if Soul simply WON'T replace her, that would make her feel even worse.

In the end, it turns out being a story of Maka trying to BECOME the guitar to Soul's piano. She not only wants to be able to properly highlight him on the stage (BlackStar would be crying right now), but wants to understand him more on a personal level and loosen up a bit; become more wild and "cool" like the guitar.

*an interesting moment in translation is when the kids ask Soul to supply music for their party. Due to the Japanese alphabet and transliteration of certain English words to Japanese, he may have brought "funk" or "punk" which doesn't even amount to a whole letter's difference in sound. (funk = ファンク punk = プァンク = パンク) Interesting side note, Ohkubo seems partial to metal, himself.

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