“Black spirits and white, red spirits and grey, mingle, mingle, mingle, you that mingle may.” – William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
For some reason, probably due to the fact that there were so many volumes of these particular series and I feel that I will never catch up, I have never read any of the big shonen manga, or seen their anime adaptations. The closest I have got was when I won a competition held by Manga Entertainment, and they accidentally sent me a copy of Naruto Series 4 Part 1 instead of The Sky Crawlers which I actually won.
Luckily, Viz Media has released a series of “3-in-1” editions of their longer running series, which seem ideal to get anyone started on these works. Thus this is the first in a series of four articles in which I will be reviewing the first three volumes of each of the big four shonen manga: Naruto, One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist, and firstly, Bleach.
For those like me who have yet to come across the series, Bleach by Tite Kubo follows 15-year-old Ichigo “Strawberry” Kurosaki, quite possibly manga’s most popular redhead, who was born with the ability to see ghosts. He meets a girl called Rukia Kuchiki, who claims to be a “Soul Reaper” (or shinigami), whose job it is to dispose of dangerous ghosts called “Hollows”. For some reason Ichigo can see Rukia and can physically attack ghosts, so when a hollow attacks his family and Rukia, Ichigo agrees to become a Soul Reaper and help those around him.
The first thing that has to be said is that these 3-in-1 editions are extremely good value for money. These books cost £9.99, whereas a normal single volume costs £6.99. That is a saving of just under £11. Why would you go for the single volumes unless you are the kind of person who insists on having their entire collection looking all the same? The other benefit is that if you think you might not like the first volume, you get another two volumes almost for free to see if you might actually like the rest of the series.
However, for me there is a problem with these mangas that are published under the Shonen Jump label. It is not a big problem, in fact it is only three words long, but it appears over and over again for seemingly no reason, and those words are, “Read this way”.
Now, I can understand why you want to publish this once or twice at the start of a book if you are new to manga, I can understand why you want to publish this at the end of the book to stop people from reading the story backwards, but there is no need to publish them in the middle of the book. Nobody starts reading a book in the middle. Also, you do not need to print that phrase every time there is a bit of space on the top of the page. Plus, as this is a 3-in-1 manga, you can probably remove the extraneous “Read this way” mentions, especially the ones from Volume 2. It does get annoying.
However, getting back to Bleach, I have to say that I rather enjoyed it. I like the mix of strong provocative art and the visual humour. Examples include a huge memorial picture of Ichigo’s dead mother kept by his eccentric father Isshin (p. 15), and my personal favourite which is Ichigo flipping up a table with a sign on it reading: “Caution: For use in sight gags only!” (p. 20)
There is also an interesting use of language. It is not so much the use of Japanese but some of the unlikely English words that an American company like Viz Media have put in the translation. Not only have they used the word “wanker”, but they use it twice on the same page. I love it when Ichigo describes one hollow as, “a four-star wanker.” (p. 262)
On the downside, the only extras this manga features is some character profiles. There are not even any translation notes, which would be useful. For example, a more hardened anime fan would recognise the Soul Reaper job as being akin to a shinigami, but the term “shinigami” makes no appearance in the book.
Still, this book is an entertaining and brisk read. It is easy to see why it is so popular.