In the second feature-length release in the Bleach franchise, the Soul Reaper Toshiro Hitsugaya takes centre stage. Hitsugaya and the tenth section are guarding an artefact known as the King’s Seal when they are attacked by an unknown masked Soul Reaper. The stranger takes the seal and escapes, with Toshiro in hot pursuit. As a result, Hitsuguya is suspected of treason and the whole of the tenth section is placed under arrest while their commander is hunted down. Ichigo and his friends believe that there is more to the story than meets the eye and try to discover the truth before it’s too late.
Virtually every long-running anime franchise you could name, from Doraemon to One Piece, has spun off into theatrical releases to complement the TV version. They can be anything from cheap compilation movies like the first Gundam movies, to proper original theatrical outings such as The Castle of Cagliostro or the Cowboy Bebop movie. In the case of Shonen Jump anime, such as Bleach, these movies typically take the form of standalone feature-length stories that are usually original material (i.e. not based on storylines from the manga) occurring outside the usual continuity of the ongoing series. This is the second of the Bleach movies to be released in the UK (to date four have been released in Japan) and, unusually for these film versions, it features contributions (mainly character designs) from the original manga author Tite Kubo.
Due to their format these movie spinoffs of TV anime are often creatively limited. Essentially filler, their creators are bound by the need to tell a story that won’t affect the series’ continuity in any way. They couldn’t, for example, kill off a major character or introduce any other elements that would have an impact on the future of the series. They also need to create something that doesn’t have to be watched at a specific point (for example between episode 120 and 121) as it can’t be relied upon that all the fans will have the chance to watch it right away. As a result this movie can be watched if you have followed the series up to any point from about season 3 onwards.
One of the ways writers get around the creative roadblocks is to introduce new characters who are specific to the plot of the movie. As they don’t feature in the series it allows for genuine tension as to what their fate will be. In this movie the additions include the main antagonist, who has a surprisingly sympathetic backstory. His relationship with Hitsuguya also allows us to discover more about the mysterious past of the pint-sized Soul Reaper, and makes for pretty compelling drama.
The animation quality here is barely above TV level and in fact in places the design work looks positively shonky and off-model, perhaps a result of a modest budget. However, for the action scenes it’s fine, and the climax is suitably epic; even if it’s not going to be giving Ghibli staffers any sleepless nights. The music is classic Bleach, so if their musical choices normally work for you, then you’ll get a kick out of it. The theme music for the feature (by Sambomaster) is suitably funky.
This disc comes with some really revealing interviews with the creative team (in which they are surprisingly honest about the limitations they faced) that are certainly worth checking out.
It’s worth mentioning this is NOT a good place to start watching if you’re a newbie to Bleach. There are zero concessions to newcomers, and frankly you’ll be completely lost. This is a ‘fans only’ kind of deal.
Essentially this is well crafted fan service – in the original sense of the word, not the pervy, panty-flashing variety – in that it gives fans more of what they want. It’s no classic but it’s entertaining and if you’re a Bleach superfan you’ll eat it up. For the rest of us it’s pretty forgettable, but always watchable. If you’ve got a craving for more Bleach the this should do nicely until the next series comes out.