Okay... I need to get my thoughts down on this series. I've been a Naruto fan for the past six years and only this year, 2013, did I decide to sit down and read the Bleach manga. I thought "Now I'd be the biggest goddamn hypocrite if I said Bleach sucked ass without ever perusing the source material". Never mind that I had been saying that the whole time I had been a Naruto fan.
I won't be divulging and "explaining" what the story is about in this review. That's what the synopsis on its official A-P page is for.
Okay, here are my views on Bleach (here we go o_o )
The story is originally compelling. It lays down the groundwork in the beginning and sets itself up to be a supernatural/action/comedy sort of thing. Truthfully the explanation of things such as "reiatsu", "reishi" and such are vague and not well-explained, despite Rukia's shitty drawings to teach Ichigo about the world of Soul Reapers. And there are elements like "kido" and "hados" --spells--that seem to have their own levels that the reader only vaguely knows the extent of. The plot continues on, with me still trying to figure out exactly what the hell everything means. Maybe I'm too slow to pick up on things like that, but explanations are not dwelled upon in this manga, just expected to be accepted by the reader and the characters as fact before moving on.
Anyway, the story moves on and the characters are forced to move to a new location, which is Soul Society. There is a tragedy and a betrayal and a new enemy rears its ugly head. For some reason this "danger" is very vague, despite staring you right in the face. It's so all-powerful that one cannot help but feel almost immune to said danger because it's almost like being a defeatist germophobe living everyday life. "I'm going to get sick some day so...come get me, I don't care."
Let me skip to my observation of the characters for a sec:
Like Naruto and One Piece, Bleach boasts a HUGE cast of characters numbering in the hundreds. Tite Kubo has said that when he doesn't know where the plot should go he creates more characters to break his writer's block. My friend has told me that that's a good thing, but here's how I see it:
If you don't know where to go with a story with the characters you've got, then you should take the time to fill in the characters and give them even more depth, not hope that you can slip in some "self-growth" down the road as an after-thought. There are scores of characters and frankly they're almost all flat.
The only ones that are "blessed" with any sort of multi-facetedness are --in my opinion--Ichigo, Orihime, Rukia, and Nelliel, among a few others. Everyone else is stuck in First Gear because
A) They have only one goal in mind
B) Are stock characters and therefore are incapable of changing,
C) Are very minor characters and therefore just say their lines and are on their way
D) Are not given the time to develop because they are killed off or overpowered by Tite Kubo's desire to make them look cool
Another thing about the characters that I have a HUGE problem with, and well go back to STORY:
What drives me up the wall are the ass-pulls-galore. When a character is introduced, there is NO baseline of what their abilities are. There is no introduction of any sort that says "Hi, my name is Teddy Munchkins, and my Zanpakuto can suck the blood out of you." You as a reader must wait until they are engaged in battle and THEN they'll unveil their "special ability". Now sometimes that's all well and good. For villains especially, that is good, and the odd "Ally" who is more secretive with their powers (Izuru Kira, for example). What it is NOT good for is for it to be applied to every character.
The whole Uchiha clan is guilty of ass-pulls, as well as Danzo and really anyone with access to a Sharingan. I will argue, though, that this trend does not extend to the rest of the cast when it comes to slipping out of a tight situation. Characters either are defeated or their resolve and tag-teaming helps them defeat a foe along with a special trick they packed that was an extension of their abilities that we knew they had, a very logical leap. I have not read One Piece so I cannot attest to it but if it's so widely beloved it has to avoid that tendency overall, right? Please say I'm right, please.
And I know that you cannot immediately introduce a character and their ability like that; I think I'm deviating from my main point.. My main point is the POWERUPS are absolutely ridiculous.
9 times out of 10 (9/10! 9/10!), the new character unveils a super-special ability of theirs and apparently I'm supposed to be wowed by it.
I'm not. These special abilities are pulled out of thin air! How am I supposed to know they have that ability? Am I supposed to be mesmerized by the power I didn't even know they had? There are never any establishments of basic abilities and powers for new characters until they're in battle, and when it's in battle there is no time to really revel in that special ability because it's in the blue and you weren't expecting it.
In Naruto, the titular character has his Shadow Clone Jutsu and relies on it a lot. When new characters are introduced, like Rock Lee, it was revealed he uses only Taijutsu. Later on in the Chuunin Exams, Kishimoto revealed that Lee uses leg weights as a means of increasing his agility. Once they're taken off, he's a green Flash. We already knew Lee was fast before and it is only much later that a special ability that we can imply he has trained for was revealed that fit in perfectly with his previously known skills. It *is* wowing because we did not know that it was a possibility, but it still made sense that it could occur.
And I guess I should even these examples out, but in One Piece, Luffy has the ability to stretch like rubber. Usopp can make shit and sometimes that stuff works, other times it doesn't. When it does work it's usually well within the realm of believability (as much as can be believed in a shonen manga).
Hell, in Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward and Alphonse have alchemy and that possibilities, while endless, means that they need to strategize and use it effectively. The same goes for all of the benders in Avatar: The Last Airbender/LoK. You know they can use certain elements and when Toph first busted out her "sheet metal armor" or Aang with his "rock armor" you were wowed because while you knew they could bend metal and rock, you didn't know they had developed such a technique out of said ability, which was what made it new and cool.
How about I put my complaint in better terms: The abilities of the characters are never set up beforehand. The scope of their powers are never established. Because of this, everything seems like an ass-pull, and everything they do seems to be almost like an "intervention of God/Kubo" to keep the ball rolling. As a reader you have NO IDEA what a character is capable of, and so when something completely unfounded and baseless happens you feel a little cheated. For me there is no excited shock because I never knew what the abilities were to begin with. It's one thing if the abilities were hidden for a long time and then only unveiled at some moment, like Urahara's. It's another thing when the abilities are revealed just as they are happening, like Sui Fong telling Yoruichi that her "stings" will kill a person if they're struck in the same spot, and then her big-ass missile thing during the battle with Baraggan. I had no way of knowing she had that ability! It's not cool, it's cheating!
I'm much better at explaining my ranty complaint above verbally than in writing.. Fuck.
Moving onto this..
Tite Kubo has a very unique art style. It's skritchy in a way that you can see all of the pen marks. It's something that belongs in a seinen manga rather than a shonen one, but it really helps the mood. The character designs are varied but at the same time banal. It's almost like he's having a contest with himself to see how many different "OCs" he can create before they start looking like each other. After awhile the faces blend into the exact same structure, just with different hair, outfits, and expressions. Probably to cut down on time drawing them..
I do have to give Tite Kubo enormous credit for his trendiness. The chapter title pages are always unique and the outfits and styles he has for them change almost constantly. He has a real eye for fashion and what is "in" and popular. Shonen mangakas rarely attempt to mix it up as much as he does. He goes above and beyond in terms of "artistic experimentation" to make something different and cool. The fact that he has "theme songs" picked out for his characters also proves that he's determined to personalize each character according to their personality, looks, and abilities.
A problem I have with his art is that there have been many times when he has done little to nothing on a page. I've read something on TV Tropes that said that he "didn't want people to be distracted by the background and not focus on the story" or something like that. There have been times when all he had was a word or two on a single blank page. "The Heart". Fuck that! That is so..asinine and egotistical of him to do that. Wasting a whole damn page. The backgrounds are pretty basic and not heavily detailed, especially in the outskirts of Hueco Mundo, but this changes once the 1000 Year War Arc get started up because then you get to see some palace architecture, but overall Kubo is very fond of spacious, non descript, barely furnished buildings a la modern minimalist.
His ability to draw subtle changes in expression and convey emotion through the eyes varies from very intricate to blatant and sometimes I find myself laughing at peoples' expressions. His ability to draw different styles of eye should be noted as they were distinguishable in the middle of the series but by the ending the females' eyes were becoming very similar to Orihime's doe-eyes.
What grinds my gears is the constant back-and-forth, the retreading of old ground both storywise and setting-wise. There are multiple "infiltration/rescue" arcs and "final assaults" and the only things that change are the setting and the villains that need to be taken down.
Re-reading the Hueco Mundo arc, specifically those chapters that featured Orihime, made me realize that much like the very popular show Supernatural, there are moments where serious things happen but before the characters and the audience are allowed to really let that sink in, it's waved away shortly after or not fully expanded upon.
Another thing. The gimmicks. Things like The numbering of the Espadas and Fracciones and all that jazz. As well as what each Espada "represents"... That is pure bullshit. Only after practically everyone has left Hueco Mundo and focused their attentions on the battle over fake Karakura Town did someone admit (Barraggan) that they are representatives of ways to die.
That is utter...crap. That is just something thrown in there that only JUST associates itself with the character it's assigned to. Just something as a "fun fact", not anything that really plays itself with the character, his/her struggles or abilities or whatever. Barely, but just barely revelant.
Also, characters seem to be made up just to foil another character whilst in battle. Masashi Kishimoto says he creates new characters that would be formidable and entertaining challenges against other characters. I'm not a hypocrite, my favorite manga does this.
But it's almost as if the enemies in Bleach serve no purpose other than to reveal a character's abilities that were forgotten about until recently. Szayel has no other reason for existing other than being beaten down by Mayuri and being a spot in the roster of the Espada, for example, and Aaroniero is arguably even more glaringly this for Rukia.
The 1000 Year Blood War Arc is where a bunch of enemies are introduced in quick succession to the point of overflowing--26+ in fact, one for each letter of the English alphabet and representing the first letter of their code name/special ability i.e. G for "Glutton", Z for "Zombie", etc. Now in the right hands this could be cool and interesting but since there are already so many characters that are being juggled around, it quickly gets muddled and the fights devolve into a Round Robin as Kubo tries to quickly introduce them and have sped up battles. Because there are 26 of them and they were inevitably paired up with some Soul Society members that I didn't particularly care for, I found myself quite literally skipping two or three chapters ahead in order to resume the "plot".
It was that easy to do: Don't like them fighting Giselle? Skip skip skip. The best part is that the fighting is not cut away to focus on plot development or the movements of other characters, usually, so you won't really miss anything by employing this strategy of skipping over the battles you don't want to see.
And even more glaringly obvious is the very, very tired trope of "Hah, you thought you defeated me!" that is employed by every single member of the Sternritter at least once, leading me and all of the heroes going
This was a story with a moderate amount of potential that, had it ended after Aizen's defeat, could have led me to give it a 6. I would have accepted its flaws and chalked it up to Kubo failing to catch the many balls he was attempting to juggle. Unfortunately the story dug into its cracks even further as it continued on like a very unnecessary reboot, retconning and adding a lot of (honestly) story-ruining information. The small good things to have come out of this second stretch were unexpected backstory for some characters who were previously believed to have been figured out and set in their ways (i.e. Shunsui, Nanao, Mayuri, Nemu, Kenpachi, Yachiru, Unohana, etcetera), which I have to kind of give props to since I like to know characters' histories no matter who they are. However, with the aforementioned ass-pulls quickly overstretched its limits and the ability to be stomached with constant overestimation of the audience's ability to connect the lines of logic and plausibility. It was expecting you to make a square out of three lines; it was expecting you to completely let go of the fact that there were many ideas and bits that you had to let go because he didn't fully capitalize on them because he had so much other shit to juggle and more train tracks to lay down before the story overcame his ability to create more plot.
The amount of frustration I feel for the falling out of potentially cool characters and plot points is so freaking high, you have no idea.