Bleach tells of story of fifteen-year-old Ichigo Kurosaki, a High-school student who possesses the ability to interact with the dead. This power leads him to encounter Rukia Kuchiki, a Shinigami sent to the living world with the task of eliminating evil spirits known as Hollows. After an unfortunate twist of events, Rukia is left obligated to lend her powers to Ichigo, but Ichigo unwillingly steal all of her energy. Now a substitute Shinigami, Ichigo must follow the customs of a Reaper, including the businesses of hunting down Hollows and aiding lost spirits.
A few years back, the eternal prowl for a good Shounen brought me back to my Anime to Watch Stickies note, and I found myself pausing my cursor upon Bleach. Bleach was a series that had been posted upon that note for perhaps eight months. I thought “what the hell? Maybe all those Youtube comments were right, and it can be compared to other not-so-hidden gems that the Shounen genre has been known to dish out.” As such, I downloaded the first three episodes and sat back, hoping that Bleach would be deserving of all the hype surrounding it.
Now, here’s the moment to say that I like the genre of Shounen. From ancient classics like Dragonball, to more recent works such as Soul Eater, I don’t just like it; I downright love it! I don’t care if it’s mainstream, or if the animation is riddled with twitchy-flaws or even if the main character has hair that spikes up all the way to freaking Saturn! I truly adore Shounen anime. Considering this fact, one might believe that I actually like Bleach. Well, I don't.
Bleach is a romp of a Shounen, with limitless power-ups, busty female characters, and even a white-masked monster or two. Hidden among an overabundance of these archetypes, there is a truly interesting story of friendship and sacrifice. If only Bleach focused on this area more, and cast aside its dated centers as a plot-story. Unfortunately, through tumultuous filler and un-strategic battle sequences, it remains an obtuse insult to the genre it tries so desperately to personify.
The saddest thing is, Bleach might have actually worked for me, had it been the first Shounen I ever watched. Regrettably, it wasn’t, and I couldn’t help but glare at the constant plot twists ripped straight out of the bare bones of other well-known adventure stories. The interactions Bleach offers up could have been so much better, and for that, I was disappointed. For example, in the moment when Ichigo first notices that Rukia is the new member of his class, he emits words that are so reminiscent of dialogue in Shaman King, that it is almost sickening. Another discussion set that confused me presents itself in episode 2, and concludes in episode 3. Rukia tells Ichigo that even Shinigami don’t know what it is that Hollows want, yet in the next episode, she states without any hesitation that Hollows are after souls. This one plot hole brought my respect for the show down to sub-Arctic levels. Even in its best moments, Bleach’s story is an incomparable farrago of uneven twists and random leaps.
Sadly, Bleach doesn’t even have animation rooting on its side. It’s okay I suppose; fairly average for a Shounen, and certainly nothing to rave about. Shaky frame movement and still-shots of characters bombarding other characters with super-charged attacks cripple the battle scenes. Still, along with many of Shounen series, Bleach’s animation has its moments, especially in the midst of important spectacles of battle.
The color quality of Bleach is something to be appreciated. They remain fairly consistent throughout, although I didn’t enjoy the scratchy shadows that appear occasionally beneath people’s chins. They are unrealistic and downright ugly in my opinion, but I do realize this addition was simply taken out of the manga, and that it is just a variant of artistic styles.
The sound quality of Bleach is nothing exceptional either. The first opening is quite enjoyable I’ll have to say, considering that it is by Orange Range. The first ending on the other hand is an awful English-Japanese hybrid track that I didn’t even bother learning the title of. The underlining sounds are strange and fake; like that moment in a show when someone’s neck is grasped and a weird rubbery-crunching sound emits itself. Now that I think about it, there were quite a few of those scenes in Bleach as well.
The voice acting is... well, it's okay. Nothing truly stands out, but I can't recall any moments where it was absolutely terrible and unbelievable either. One thing that bothered me in the English dub was the fact that practically every Shinigami in the Soul Society is voiced by either the same man or the same woman, depending of course on whether the characters in question are male or female.
The background music isn’t wonderful or terrible. Unlike Fairy Tail or Naruto, there aren’t any songs that caused me to think; “Now that’s Bleach music.” Tracks sort of fade into the backgrounds, but don’t heighten the effects whatsoever. There is one song that I’ll never, ever forget. It flares up any time Ichigo whips out his sword, and it goes something like this... “If you wan’na see some action...” Ugh... I can only speak for myself here, but I literally cringe with terror whenever I hear that song. I can’t decide whether it goes too much, or not at all!!!
Right away, we are introduced to Ichigo Kurosaki, our tough, street brawling, loud-mouthed protagonist. The first few minutes give us an insight into his life at home, and his interpersonal interactions with random citizens who inadvertently stumble into the alleyway where a child once died. Let’s just say that Ichigo should seriously consider getting counseling to help him quell his anger towards strangers. Of course, this leads me to Ichigo’s main personality trait, his “fake” outward disposition. After his mother died, Ichigo just had to become depressed, and had to blame himself, and had to grow cold and emotion-ridden. Now, with a character like this, I’d love to say that our hero pulls it off and manages to accent it with a little originality, but he really doesn’t. On the contrary, he spews angry words, disrespects his elders and secretly mopes, just like any InuYasha and Sasuke-like character would do. Ichigo is an angry person who hides an inner immaturity (sound like every teenaged boy you know?) Well that’s because Ichigo is your every-day teenaged boy, even coupled with his so-called tragic past.
The other characters are simply present to fill in gaps when Ichigo isn’t showing off some epic new power up. Other than Ichigo and Rukia, there’s Orihime, the disproportionate ditz, Uriyu Ishida, the composed soul survivor of the Quincy clan and Chad, Ichigo’s silent follower. There’s just something unbelievable about Bleach’s cast; something that causes them to come off as fake and overdone. Needless to say they aren’t bad, but I can’t connect to them either. They are cold and distant, like glaciers in the far north that cannot be stroked by the sun, or even by something as potent as Global Warming. I want to like them; I want to feel for them, but even in the most trying of situations, they just flop there and screech things like “Ichigo! Save us!” or “Save Rukia!”
Although it is often placed with Naruto and One Piece, the three really can’t be compared because the former two belong to a completely different category; one comprised of well thought out plots and bold characters. Bleach is far from bad, but in all honesty, the distinct lacks of foreshadowing and originality that it presents, make it pale next to One Piece and Naruto. Even in the best of scenes, when plot elements come crashing together, I am left with a feeling of unwelcome familiarity. I’d absolutely love to say that in instances like this, Bleach was just being Bleach. However it wasn’t, it was being bad-Shounen. Still, Bleach works very well with what it has been given; an okay story, middle-of-the-road characters, and a world partially plagiarized straight out of Yu-Yu Hakusho.