Ichigo Kurosaki is an average high school boy with a not-so-average ability to see spirits - something that hadn't affected his life much until a strange woman entered his room one day. Named Kuchiki Rukia, she's a shinigami who was sent from the spirit world to destroy a hollow - a dead-soul-turned-monster; and much to her surprise, Ichigo can see her. When the hollow suddenly attacks his family, Rukia intervenes and is injured in the process, leaving Ichigo to fight it himself. But when Rukia lends him her shinigami powers - which is forbidden - he inadvertently drains them away and has no way to return them. Now, Ichigo is a full-fledged shinigami who must juggle his studies with his newfound duty of fighting hollows; but having gained his powers through forbidden means, the spirit world isn't going to leave Ichigo alone. Ichigo and Rukia must keep their situation a secret from the other shinigami, or the consequences could be dire.
Story: I have a lot of nostalgia for Bleach. It was my first venture into the world of both shounen anime and manga, and was what got me started on a journey that – even today – has me devouring whatever I can get my hands on. As such, it pains me to repress my inner fangirl and actually look at this series critically. At the time of writing this review, four hundred and twenty-three chapters have been released, the story thus far has reached a definite conclusion, and mangaka Tite Kubo has announced that a further two arcs spanning the best part of another four years will follow. It doesn’t bode well that I will openly admit that I wish he’d instead sat back, realised that he’s had a good eight-year run and called it quits while he was still ahead. Bleach follows typical teenager, Ichigo Kurosaki, and his not-so-typical ability to see spiritual beings. One day, the high-schooler finds his family under attack by a giant creature known as a Hollow, and while attempting to protect them, he meets a shinigami (soul reaper in the English translation) named Rukia. She then ends up transforming him into a shinigami and now Ichigo is adjusting to his new life of protecting spirits from Hollows before finding himself thrust into a series of events that puts both his and the spirit world at stake. Without a doubt, the Soul Society Arc is Bleach’s strongest. With Ichigo et al barging into the spirit world and raiding the very heart of the shinigami government, this section of the narrative has far more direction than anything else that follows, demonstrating clear goals, twists, intrigue, and a good progression in the protagonist’s power and prowess. This arc shows what shounen manga is all about; grippingly awesome fights, engaging new characters, fun comedy, and a kick-ass plot. However, no matter how well a formula works, Bleach suffers from one fatal flaw: Tite Kubo has a nasty habit of taking all the good points of his manga and beating them within an inch of their lives. While the Soul Society plotline triumphed, simply re-hashing the entire thing in a new setting just ain’t gonna cut it. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens with the Hueco Mundo (land of the hollows) arc that follows, but instead Kubo replaces the Seireitei with Las Noches, slaps a few Espada in place of the Gotei Thirteen, and cuts out any of those quieter moments of plot development in favour of producing a string of progressively more difficult battles. Focusing on a sequence of action-packed fights isn’t dissimilar to basically any other shounen manga and the plot does continue to develop a little – albeit in the fine tradition of characters stopping dead in their tracks mid-combat to have an in-depth conversation about death and power; however, the recycled storyline and Kubo’s over-reliance on awe-inspiring conflicts means that, as a self-contained arc, there isn’t really all that much fresh content. The whole plotline feels kind of like a pair of hand-me-down jeans that you’ve always wanted; they may look all new and sparkly on the outside (ooo look fun new land, funky new enemies, Ichigo kicking ass), but then you get them out into the cold light of day and that’s when the problems begin. Under the glaring sun you quickly realise that actually, they look a bit grubby (what happened to all the intrigue of the Soul Society arc…), there’s a gaping hole in the pocket (convenient power ups pulled out from nowhere/the mangaka’s ass), and… wait… what the hell is with that suspicious looking stain in the crotch area?! (oh look, they’re off to rescue someone trapped in a strange world with pretty much zero chance of success AGAIN) Unlike the likes of Kishimoto and Oda who have embarked on their behemoth series with what seems like a clear game-plan and a full understanding of their worlds, Kubo appears to just make it all up as he goes along, changing rules to suit his every whim. Often this leads him to abuse the ongoing mystery behind Ichigo’s powers to the point where watching his “development” as a fighter throughout the series feels like playing Monopoly with a blatant cheater. Every time the carrot-haired shinigami finds himself in a tough situation and winds up in the slammer, Kubo either miraculously powers the teen up using the stash of “Get out of jail free” cards hidden up his sleeve, or completely ignores all restrictions placed on Ichigo’s abilities and continues to traverse the board while collecting triple his two hundred pound share each time he passes “Go”. Art: As the strongest aspect of this manga, Kubo makes great use of varied mark-making from precise angular lines for detail and atmosphere, to freer and thicker calligraphic inking to emphasise atmosphere or grandeur. He also makes good use of different shaped panels and full-page spreads to express the gravity or sheer awe of the situation at hand or the intense determination through smaller more concentrated imagery. When it comes to his character designs, mangaka Tite Kubo demonstrates solid technique, though not quite at full on pagegasm level. At times it seems that many individuals’ faces could be interchanged and no one would actually notice. Granted, this isn’t particularly out of the ordinary – all artists have their own facial vocabulary – but in comparison to other long running shounen franchises, a fair portion of Bleach’s cast feels re-used. Oda’s wacky designs for One Piece all look different; likewise Kishimoto’s subtler, more muted visuals in Naruto show distinct variations between all of the primary, secondary, and even tertiary players. The similar facial designs scattered throughout, affect not only the likes of Grimmjow and Hisagi – who essentially appear to be Ichigo clones with different hair colours and added accessories – but also makes less prominent personalities in the Bleach universe, such as many of the female Fraccions from Hueco Mundo, meld into one big Kubo-drawn blob. This isn’t to say that the characters in Bleach are completely unimaginative in their appearance, as that’s far from the truth. Kenpachi’s craggy facial features, Kurotsuchi’s increasingly twisted appearance, and Chad’s shaggy-haired, large-lipped façade that only a mother could love all stick out for their bold designs. On top of that, Kubo also ideally matches a character’s visage to their personality, such as the harsh and pointed features of Byakuya that mirrors his icy and proud mannerisms, or the doe-eyed and curvaceous figure of the irritatingly “nice”, caring, and fluffy Orihime. Characters: It would be impossible to say that Kubo’s creations are dull, as there are plenty of characters that grab attention for their bold personalities. When it comes to varied individuals Kubo shines and their various differences not only means that there’s something for everyone, but their interactions also contribute to the majority of the humorous content. However, for every deranged Kurotsuchi and glacial Byakuya, there’s at least one lacklustre Orihime, and for each time a cheeky Urahara and flirtatious Matsumoto take centre stage, a vapid Hinamori waits in the wings to bore or irritate the reader to sleep. As for Ichigo himself, he sinks into the role of standard shounen hero like it were a comfortable armchair, though at the same time he doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. When it comes to development, Bleach is a bit of a mixed bag. Some protagonists evolve nicely and receive an admirable amount of exploration, allowing the reader to become invested in the individual. Others make for more compelling reading by remaining fairly mysterious all the way through with mere hints at their personality or intentions gradually bubbling their way to the surface. Then there’s the murkier end of it all where there are those whose entire evolution falls completely by the wayside reside, or those whose development is either rushed, half-formed, or completely bungled (Kubo’s recent attempt to make Gin more than just a creepy slimeball springs to mind here) – I like to call it the land of those the mangaka forgot. With such a huge cast it would be silly to expect every last minor character to have a fully fleshed-out personality, but in certain cases – more noticeably in the series’ antagonists – any kind of development happens so quickly, that it appears to have come out of nowhere. At times it seems like the individuals in question have done a complete one-eighty with little to no explanation, which makes it difficult to relate to their actions or even care about what happens to them. Overall: I want to genuinely like Bleach, I really do, but that simply isn’t to be. Instead I have a weird love/hate relationship, in that I hate loving it. While sheepishly admitting that I enjoy reading it, every cell in my body screams out that I shouldn’t because – while it can be thoroughly entertaining if you immerse yourself in its world – it just really isn’t that great, especially in comparison to what else is out there. When it comes to the “Big Three” of shounen manga, Bleach is more like the retarded cousin to the two shining idols of Naruto and One Piece – or more appropriately, the Wonderweiss to their Ulquiorra and Grimmjow.
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 ) STORY: 6/10 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: CHARACTERS: 6.75/10 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: Their powers. 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.. ART: 8/10 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. STORY (continued): 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 It's ridiculous. Conclusion: 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.
I love Bleach. I think it has some great story arcs, awesome characters and some cool action scenes. However, amongst that is the 9 volume wait for the main plot to start (athough it's well worth the wait), some seriously underdeveloped characters and that stupid but necessary story arc in volumes 49-54. However, if you are willing to push though all that annoying stuff, Kubo has created a complex, interesting plot line that is so well thought out there are characters that appear to set up their next apperance 30 volumes later. There are many plot twists even until the end. There are also some very interesting characters. There is a reason Bleach is so famous, and has gone on so long. While not perfect, Bleach ticks all the boxes for a good shounen series while still being different enough that you don't feel like you've read it a hundred times before. I feel like I should mention the art in this series as well. Kubo was a relatively new mangaka when he started this series, and his art style changes quite drastically over the course of the series. I found it quite nice, and it also means that his weird style from the beginning doesn't last the span of the series, which I found to be a good thing. Bleach is not for everyone, but if you don't mind wading through a bit of boring stuff to get to some really awesome stuff, then I'm sure you'll love Bleach.
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