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Anime Review: Bleach, Vol. 1

Posted by: Carlos Alexandre on July 30, 2007 at 10:27 am

Bleach, Vol. 1

Distributed by VIZ Media
100 minutes (4 episodes)

bleach.jpgWelcome, dear reader, to my review of Bleach. I usually start my reviews with some little snippet that relates to what I’m about to review, sometimes equating aspects of it to real life situations or stating how I feel about the franchise in question. With the rest of this review already written, however, I find myself at a loss with how to tie into the show’s synopsis. Do I just leave this preamble out and get down to business? Do I make a Ghostbusters reference, since Bleach is about souls and all that funky stuff? Hell, I even contemplated talking about real bleach and how it weakens fabric over time, hoping to humorously tie it into some analogy relevant to Bleach (the show).

But I’ve got nothing. So… hey. This is Bleach. The show. I like it.

Life isn’t dull for Ichigo Kurosaki, a tough-as-nails fifteen year old high school student whom trouble often finds. Whether it’s being bullied (rather unsuccessfully) about his bright orange hair or entangled in a supernatural plot involving purifying lost souls, Ichigo doesn’t often suffer from boredom.

Let’s elaborate on the “supernatural plot” that our scrapper hero is dealing with. You see, Ichigo possesses a special power, one not normally reserved for normal human beings: he can see ghosts. Specifically, he can see and communicate with the souls of the dearly departed who, for one reason or another, still linger about our mortal coil. And that’s all fine and dandy. But then Ichigo witnesses a girl using a sword to defeat a giant soul-eating creature known as a Hollow.

The girl, Rukia Kuchiki, is a Soul Reaper, a slayer of Hollows and helper of wayward souls. Later, she sneaks into Ichigo’s bedroom, only to discover that unlike any other human being, he can see her quite clearly. After arguing with Ichigo and bringing himup to speed, a Hollow attacks, and Rukia is injured during the fight.

She tries to give a little of her power to Ichigo, so that he can temporarily take up the mantle of Soul Reaper and defeat the creature. She underestimates his power, however, and Rukia unwillingly ends up giving Ichigo almost all of her power, transforming him into an incredibly formidable Soul Reaper, one who almost effortlessly dispatches the Hollow and saves his family.

Left nearly powerless, Rukia commissions Ichigo to do what she will not be able to do again for some time: hunt Hollows and help the souls of the dead pass on.

Bleach‘s story is more than just a little kooky, and with terms like Soul Reaper, Hollow, and Soul Society thrown about, I got the impression that this is another one of those “normal kid gets swept up in a bizarre alternate world” cartoons that is all the rage these days. And that’s what Bleach is, through and through; it carries with it an expectable level of corniness.

What sets it apart, other than a liberal helping of slick visual polish, is a cast of characters so well crafted, animated, and voice acted, that any negative impact the contrived story could have had is pretty much negated. Make no mistake, though; Bleach‘s characters aren’t carrying the story on their backs. Rather, they work well within the constraints of their fictional world, meshing with the story but still standing taller than its limits.

I had a difficult time finding reasons to hate these characters, and in the end I found none. Ichigo’s “tough guy with a heart of gold” persona has been done a million times before, but he still manages to win over the viewer with moments of both inspired insight and surprising insecurity. Rukia, less of a foil to Ichigo and more like the other side of the same coin, convinces you through her actions and words that she rightfully deserves the respect she commands. Chad, a towering boy with seemingly superhuman durability, does not leave you doubting that he is a quiet and protective pacifist. Every character is convincing, and all are the sort you want to root for.

Colorful visuals and carefully constructed settings are the backdrop in Bleach, with scenes ranging from bright daytime to murky nighttime to surreal otherworldly dimensions. This is one pretty show, no doubt about it. The animation in Bleach isn’t the smoothest you’ll see in television-level cartoons, but it is some of the most stylish, with very few reused sequences. Gritty combat scenes and everyday-life moments alike are presented elegantly and beautifully.

Bleach‘s dub is top-notch, each voice actor portraying his or her character perfectly. Johnny Yong Bosch once again proves his versatility, giving us an Ichigo that, despite sounding like other characters Bosch voices, encompasses every aspect of Ichigo’s roughness and idealism. Michelle Ruff’s Rukia is appropriately stern and arrogant all at once. Orihime’s bubbliness is presented convincingly by Stephanie Sheh. I could keep on listing each voice actor and how well they perform, but I think you get the picture.

The intro and ending themes are very catchy and extremely well done. The intro is especially noteworthy, with a decidedly urban feel that matches well with the animation. The background music within the episodes themselves, however, is forgettable. It isn’t bad, but it just doesn’t stick.

I heard good and bad things about Bleach and I wholly expected it to be the sort of show that someone like me tends not to enjoy. Though it isn’t perfect, and occasionally throws out a situation or line that makes me shake my head, it has won me over, and chances are good that it will win you over too. Bleach is highly recommended.

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