Bleach is the latest in animes most prolific genre – the shonen – which typically means action and a touch of comedy to keep things light, but which, in the tradition of the Dragonball series and its contemporaries (One Piece, Naruto and Bleach), can also denote a voluminous episode count. Just like those series Bleach is an epic with hundreds of episodes in waiting and an ever-growing cast, but for the sake of this review we probably shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.
As an introduction to the series Bleach 1:1 (series one, part one) is an excellent volume in itself; funny, action-packed and a worthwhile watch in almost every respect, well-paced and suitably intriguing. The story begins with a young girl clad in black, dressed like a samurai and perched above a lit city in the dead of night, but soon cuts to our protagonist, Ichigo Kurosaki, an orange haired student at one of the local schools beneath her watch. Unlike normal people, however, Ichigo’s hair is bright orange (and he can see ghosts), which brings him enough trouble, but is eclipsed by the arrival of a Hollow – giant creatures formed when the souls of the dead are left to their darker feelings, writhing until they become unrepentantly malicious and destructive. Later Ichigo is left to contemplate his day, when the young girl sneaks in through his window searching for the Hollow, but is surprised to be kicked to the ground when it becomes apparent that Ichigo can see her. However interesting that seems to her, their exchanges are brief, as the girl becomes tired of Ichigo’s brash and impudent tone, binding his arms with a spell and being interrupted by the arrival of the Hollow she had been searching for – but has been strangely unable to sense, marked out by the screams of Ichigo’s sisters.
Rukia runs to their defence but Ichigo also tumbles down the stairs, and seeing his sister in the grips of the Hollow, tries to break the spell binding his arms, and succeeds in doing so, despite the girl’s claim that no human could ever break the spell, and would shatter their spirit trying. Ichigo is clearly an exception, but is unable to fend off the Hollow, incurring a severe injury, but causing his new friend similar harm when she puts herself at risk to defend him. The situation is bleak, but while the Hollow remains injured by his exchanges with the girl she makes Ichigo an offer – that he takes her powers in order to fight off the Hollow and save his family. They exchange names, and in an instant Rukia is left stunned by the empowered Ichigo and his unwieldly Zanpakuto (the name of a Soul Reaper’s sword, which manifests parts of their character and demonstrates features of their spiritual strength). In seconds Ichigo defeats the Hollow, but is surprised the next day when his family are unable to remember the incident, and are convinced that a truck ploughed into their home without injury or stir, but even more so when Rukia arrives at his school posing as a classmate and pretending to have never met him.
From there Ichigo is forced into service as a Soul Reaper, when Rukia informs him that the exchange of power was only meant to be temporary, but seems to have resulted in Ichigo absorbing most of her spirit energy, forcing Rukia to use a temporary body to mask the scent of her soul from Hollows. Fortunately Ichigo can perform her duties in sending spirits to the Soul Society (where she came from) and defeating Hollows while her powers recover, setting the stage for Ichigo’s numerous battles with the Hollows, which form the premise of the series. Other enemies also exist however, and this quickly becomes apparent when an assassin is dispatched from Soul Society to capture Rukia and defeat Ichigo, or when Ishida Uryu (a classmate of Ichigo’s) declares his hatred of Soul Reapers, his nature as a Quincy, and his rivalry with Ichigo and Rukia.
There’s a lot to keep pace with in the series, but it does a great job of explaining itself throughout (Rukia’s inept visual aids being a particular example), while, at the same time, maintaining a consistent air of mystery. This, in turn, is one of the most appealing qualities of the series – its unique fiction and attractive use of mystery, coupled with its accessible nature. To cut it short, there’s much worthy of praise – the dub, the soundtrack, the atmosphere, the appealing characters – and little truly derisive criticism – the teddy bear character Kyon and the surprisingly domestic feel of this first volume – making Bleach an easy series to take a summaretical tone with (and here it comes).
All in all Bleach is a great series with a functional introduction, which only really pales in comparison to the standard of future volumes in the same series, which I know – like many – from personal experience, only gets better. The value offered by this volume only adds to the need to get in and enjoy the series, if you’re not put off by the inevitable problem of filler, with thirteen episodes of almost consistently high quality, and the knowledge of greater things to come.
For all its merits Bleach is easy to praise and hard to truly hate, but that might depend on the degree to which you’re comfortable with the exaggerated action at the heart of the genre, and which takes centre stage here as well. For anyone who enjoys this kind of action Bleach is one of the best options out there in the world of anime, and I strongly recommend it.