**First off, I just want to mention that this is currently a review for just the Soul Society Arc of Bleach (Seasons 2 and 3), what I consider to be the "main" part of the series; later, I plan on coming back and rewriting this review into three separate parts: Pre-SS, SS Arc, and Post SS Arc (aka Arrancer Arc and on, not including fillers), as I view each part of the series to be completely different from the others. I plan on rounding all of the scores to come up with the "final" marks that appear at the top; as such, expect the final scores to plummet signficantly as compared to what they are now.**
***This review is spoiler-free***
With that out of the way, on to the actual review. :)
Originally, Bleach suffered from a drab, weak story that persisted through the first season, if you could call it a story: rather, it was more of a monotonous monster-of-the-week series. However, the story in the SS Arc is the exact opposite. This arc revolves around Ichigo and his friends invading the Soul Society in order to rescue Rukia, who has been sentenced to death for giving Ichigo her powers. This main plot of the arc itself is interesting, but rather simple and continues as such until halfway through the second season; I won't spoil it for you, but suffice to say there's a surprising plot twist. At this point, a sub-plot emerges in the story that proves to be just as important as the main plot, and this is where Bleach begins to shine. Questions start to build up as both parts of the story progress and eventually weave together. Plot twists, betrayals, conspiracies, and murders slowly form the backbone of both stories until what started as a simple plot becomes complex and intricate. Yes, intricate. Bleach is overflowing with tiny, seemly trivial details that are easy to overlook at first, yet in actuality are excellent examples of foreshadowing handled masterfully. Everything comes together at the end in a way that is completely unexpected and yet explains everything: in other words, a twist ending, and one of the best twist endings I've come across in a while. No matter what you think is going on, it's not. It's this amazing twist ending that makes the story in Bleach all the more to be appreciated; after all, good buildup early on means nothing if the end isn't satisfying. And best of all, the ending is handled in such a way that one could stop watching the series at the end of Season 3 if they wanted; yes, there is a cliffhanger, but all of the questions poised earlier are answered and tied up neatly. In a long-running Shounen anime like this, it definitely increases the value of the series.
For those of you wondering why I took a point away if the plot is so supposedly “amazing”, it’s mainly due to the rather slow pace that tends to plague Bleach at times. This is mostly evident in Season 2, especially among the beginning episodes; however, the pace does pick up later on, albeit rather slowly.
Animation is probably Bleach’s lowest point, mainly due to its inconsistency. It ranges from sloppy two-frame scenes to beautifully drawn scenes with fluid frame rates. What makes it even worse is how quickly Bleach can switch between the two, such as during its abrupt comedy scenes, which always suffer from poor animation. This is especially true during the first part of season 2, which is nothing but poorly done comedy (and equally low animation as a result). However, after that the animation seems to gain a little more consistency; it seems to be average for the most part after that, and the number of poorly drawn scenes compared to good animation balances out for the most part. Knowing this makes getting through the sloppy scenes a little more bearable.
Music was a difficult aspect to grade. For the most part, Bleach’s soundtrack is tastefully done with a wide variety of pieces, ranging from electric guitar solos for the fight scenes to piano and violin duets for the quieter moments. Of course there are a few irksome songs, such as “Diddy for Daddy” and the other pieces that play during comedy scenes, but these are easily overshadowed by the others. The real reason why I took off 1.5 points is due to the amount some songs are used. There are some “pieces” (really not pieces; more like endless loops) that are used over and over again, not only making them grate on the ear but also taking valuable time away from other songs that could have been used. Thankfully this is mostly true just for the second season, season 3 balancing out the songs more adequately. But it’s still annoying to hear those 10 second “songs” looped over and over again for no apparent reason…if it wasn’t for the fact the rest of the actual songs are extremely catchy and well done, the Music score would definitely have suffered.
A good story means nothing without characters. After all, most people would rather follow a boring story with dynamic characters than an epic with cardboard cutouts plodding through each scene. Of course, the story that manages to weave both together is the one with the most appeal, and Bleach manages to do exactly that. The characters are the highlight of Bleach; not only is there an extremely wide variety (in total, I counted about 35…granted, many of them are minor), but every single one possesses a unique personality. And while not all have intricate background stories, the well done personalities alone keep most characters from blending in the crowd. There are, however, plenty of characters who do have well-developed pasts, and they form the backbone of Bleach’s cast. Characterization is what drives Bleach, especially in how they have become the person they are: most of the flashbacks are used to show how the character has changed since that point in time but doesn’t yet realize it. Take Rukia’s dark past, Byakuya’s inner conflict, Renji’s hidden fear he never knew he had…it’s these little details about their pasts, revealed slowly and in pieces at a time, that develop the characters and shed light on why they view the world the way they do. These insights are inextricably linked to the plot and themes, which is what elevates Bleach from a merely satisfying series to a much more fulfilling, deeper experience.
Yes, I have a Themes section in my reviews. I’m the type of person who loves to read between the lines; if a show doesn’t have hidden meaning, I don’t enjoy it. If this doesn’t apply to you, then simply skip over this section.
Bleach is filled to the brim with tons of themes and symbolism, even though it may not seem so at first. It’s all too easy to brand Bleach as a mindless Shounen fighter due to all the flashy fight scenes, but those over-the-top fight scenes are a core part of the plot, which, in turn, is linked with a fair amount of themes. To name a few, there is the theme of the importance of temperance (take Byakuya’s honor and Ichigo’s desire to win, both taken to dangerous extremes), learning from the past and moving on, appearance vs. reality, and how having too much pride can hurt those closest to us. The themes are proven repeatedly through not just the story and characters but also through symbolism, such as the Phoenix (***Spoiler: the one present at Rukia’s execution, representing her rebirth***), Black and White (Black=Desire, White=Honor), the color red (symbolizing passion that eventually leads to violence), and one other notable form of symbolism which I can’t mention due to spoilers. I’d love to go into more detail, but unfortunately this review has become longer than expected and I’m going to have to cut it short. If you’re interested or want to know how on earth I see themes/symbolism in Bleach, just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.
Technically, the Overall score should be 8.5 if calculated correctly. However, this score reflects the overall value of the show, the feeling I had at the end after watching it. I can honestly say that the superb story and intricate characters easily overshadowed the music and animation. Hence why I awarded the SS Arc of Bleach 9/10. This part of Bleach truly is a masterpiece all around, one that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a thought-provoking story. As for the later parts of Bleach...well, that will be covered later on, but for those of you still wondering I highly recommend the review below mine (the one that's 3/10). It's an overall review of the series, and RedCrossRobbery does a great job of explaining just how far Bleach has fallen.