Bleach - Season 1 (Ep. 1-20)
Born with high spirit energy, Ichigo Kurosaki has been able to see ghosts since he was very small. When Rukia Kuchiki--the Soul Reaper of his district--lends Ichigo her powers in order to save his family, Ichigo must now act as her stand-in.
As he learns what it means to be a Soul Reaper, Ichigo must send good spirits to a peaceful afterlife in the Soul Society while simultaneously warding off evil ones, known as Hollows, that have an insatiable desire to devour all human souls in their path.
Clean OP and ED
Behind the Scenes of Bleach featurette - interviews with English cast
March 31, 2009 (DVD release)
Director: Noriyuki Abe
Writer: Masashi Sogo
Composer: Shirō Sagisu
Starring: Johnny Yong Bosch, Michelle Ruff, Stephanie Sheh, Jamieson Price, Derek Stephen Prince, Kirk Thornton
Distributor: Shonen, action, adventure, fantasy, supernatural
Genre: Shonen, action, adventure, fantasy, supernatural
Most anyone familiar with anime or manga will recognize the carrot-topped Ichigo, garbed in the robes of a Soul Reaper. First released in the 2001 August edition of the Weekly Shonen Jump, Bleach has sold over 84 million copies world-wide, ranking it among the best-selling manga of all time. In 2005, it was awarded the Shogakukan Manga Award in the shonen genre.
The enormous popularity of the manga resulted in multiple offshoots for the series, including a direct anime adaptation, several movies, video games, and even half-a-dozen stage musicals. The fandom of the series certainly seems secure in lieu of future installments, but is Bleach really all it’s cracked up to be?
Beginning with season one, let’s step beyond the Senkaimon to seek answers: Is Bleach a spirited, action-packed adventure? Or do ghastly flaws make it the weakest link of anime’s “big three?”
While most 15-year-olds in Japan are focused on education, friends, and finding love, Ichigo Kurosaki is more often focused on the spirits haunting the streets. Blessed with high Spirit Energy, and able to see ghosts since he was a boy, Ichigo spends his days defending the meager graves of defenseless ghosts, putting up with his overly-rambunctious father, and watching out for his younger sisters, all while carrying a heavy weight of guilt—a silent burden he first shouldered the day his mother died.
Enter: Rukia Kuchiki, the Soul Reaper assigned to protect Ichigo’s district from Hollows—evil spirits who seek to devour all souls in their path. When Hollows attack Ichigo’s home and threaten to kill his sisters, Ichigo accepts Rukia’s offering of power and becomes a Soul Reaper in her stead.
Now responsible for fulfilling Rukia’s duties as a Soul Reaper, Ichigo agrees to defend the populace from Hollows while simultaneously sending wandering human souls (or good spirits) to the Soul Society where they can be at peace.
And as if learning the ins-and-outs of soul reaping and keeping his new occupation hidden aren’t hard enough, Ichigo is forced to confront a ghost from his past—the Hollow responsible for the death of someone he held very dear. Not only that, but Rukia holds secrets of her own, and by the time Ichigo realizes she’s broken Soul Reaper laws punishable by death, he finds himself forced into battle with her own kind.
Saving friends and family means stepping beyond the gates and into the Soul Society itself, but Ichigo has much to learn about controlling his powers before he and his allies are prepared for the challenges that await them beyond.
Perhaps the most biblical concept that Bleach advocates is the value and sanctity of life. Ichigo’s greatest character trait is his willingness to protect others—risking his life for his sisters and total strangers alike—and when he’s told that it’s his Soul Reaper’s duty to save every spirit he sees, Ichigo is quick to say that helping innocents has nothing to do with self-righteous “duty.” Despite his consistent, Grumpy Cat frown, Ichigo consistently stands up for those who can’t fight back, such as a ghost girl whose memorial is upset by bullies. When he discovers that the Hollows were once human souls, he checks his hand before delivering the killing blow. “Protect the innocent” seems to be the Soul Reaper mantra, as often stated in the show.
Kon is a Mod-Soul (a genetically modified human soul) condemned to be destroyed as part of a failed experiment. In a sense, this alludes to the concept of abortion, as Kon was scheduled to be destroyed while in his pill (or non-human) form. Having survived the horrors of genocide, Kon is incredibly sensitive to human life, vowing never to kill any living creature. He even goes so far as to save a trio of troublesome schoolboys from a hungry Hollow, even though he overhears the kids metaphorically discussing that he should have been killed off.
Friends and family sacrifice a lot out of love. Characters take blows for each other and come to each other’s aid. Rukia is sensitive to Ichigo’s grieving over his mother’s death, assuring him that she’ll be there to listen if he ever wants to talk. Likewise, Ichigo’s father consoles him when Ichigo begins blaming himself for his mother’s death. “It’s not anyone’s fault that Masaki died. It’s just that the woman I fell in love with was a woman who could die protecting her son. And don’t forget, you are the guy the woman that I loved gave her life to protect,” he says. “Live well, age well, and go bald well. And die after me. And… if you can, die smiling. If you can’t, I won’t be able to face Masaki.”
Chad makes no apology for staying at the side of a young boy’s spirit, even though it subjects him to the cruelty of a Hollow, and both Tatsuki and Chad are shown fighting off bullies who are preying on the defenseless. The power of familial love is demonstrated in an episode where a sibling’s unconditional love is able to free her brother from the corruption of a Hollow. Despite her cold, business-like exterior, Rukia is willing to touch the body of a dying human in an attempt to save him, even though it’s considered a crime in the Soul Society, penalized by twenty years of imprisonment. A character forgoes medical treatment on his own wounds so that an injured friend can be helped first. It’s all good stuff.
Other biblical morals are emphasized to a lesser degree. Characters are encouraged to look forward beyond their fears and past regrets, and one is humble enough to self-acknowledge his own cowardice. Chad is a gentle soul who never strikes back in anger; we see in a flashback that he views his strength as a gift to be used for helping and being kind to others, not for harming them, even when people are unkind and bully him for his unique abilities. A celebrity states “inspiring children to defeat the forces of evil” as the main motivation for his career.
The entire concept of Bleach centers around spirits and souls. Thus far, a deity of any kind is kept out of the equation, but time may change that.
Spirits of deceased humans regularly wander the world, but only Soul Reapers or those humans with high Spirit Energy (such as Ichigo) are able to see them. The spirits of humans must be stamped with the hilt of the Soul Reaper’s blade (known as a Zanpakuto) in order to be sent to the Soul Society, a place likened to our understanding of “heaven,” where pain, hunger, and aging do not exist. Spirits who stay too long in the human world, due to regret or lack of fulfillment, risk becoming Hollows (also referred to as “evil spirits” and “demons”) who seek to devour the souls of the living and dead (this process can create additional Hollows). Because Hollows were once human, their human faces can sometimes be exposed by slicing off portions of their skull masks.
There is much talk of Spirit Energy, Spirit Ribbons, and other plot gimmicks that involve the word “spirit.” The ghostly forms of deceased individuals are often portrayed on screen, and nearly every plot-line centers around some form of spirituality. One episode follows the live stage performance of a paranormal television personality and his battles against “the forces of evil.” He visits an abandoned hospital where he encounters the spirit of a Demi-Hollow (a spirit connected to the world through regret and in the process of becoming a Hollow).
When Hollows are dispatched by a Soul Reaper’s Zanpakuto, the human’s soul within the Hollow is said to be purified of any sins it had committed, allowing it to enter the Soul Society. However, if a Hollow is guilty of great sins, such as murder, than the Gates of the Underworld will be summoned at its demise and it will be sealed away within as punishment. We witness this in practice after one particularly nasty Hollow, a serial killer, is defeated. The Gates of the Underworld, adorned with skeletons, rise from the ground, and the Hollow is chained within and pierced through on a blade as punishment. Certain humans—members of the Quincy—are able to destroy the soul of a Hollow completely upon killing it, thus erasing it out of existence entirely without any hope of purification. This is said to “upset the balance” of the spiritual world with the real one.
There’s some noteworthy things to be said about the incorporation of Japanese religion within the plot. One episode is focused on a soul who became a Hollow due to the grief of seeing his sister gradually “forget him” over time. He notes that she used to pray for him every day and her prayers lessened his loneliness, but that when she ceased praying for him, he became bitter and sad. Cue the Hollow transformation. The sister explains that she is at fault for begging him to stay with her at his deathbed, thereby tying him to the physical world. Characters are shown praying at Japanese funeral alters and pouring water on graves in, what appears to be, some sort of ritual.
Additional instances of spirituality pepper the plot. The soul of a young boy is placed into a bird. Ichigo obtains a pill that, if swallowed, separates him from his physical body, allowing an alternative soul to possess it in the meantime. Human souls are modified through experimentation. Rukia reads from a book that sounds like a biblical passage; Ichigo tells her the reading is outdated. Soul Reaper blades have magical properties, allowing them to transform, and the blades are implied to be living things with human-like manifestations. Reapers can also perform incantations and spells using certain gestures and phrases, though this concept isn’t explored too deeply in season one. There’s also infrequent talk about the Chain of Fate that connects the human spirit to its body and allows it to return… or not. A good-spirit-turned Hollow is shown fighting against his “possession.”
Bleach is one part slapstick violence and one part bloody violence. Tongue-in-cheek tussles between human characters result in bloodless punching and kicking with often exaggerated effects (kicking someone all the way down the road or implanting someone’s face in the concrete, for example). Ichigo and his dad often fight, though it’s played for laughs and not portrayed abusively. The dad seems to believe he’s training Ichigo to be cautious and prepared, whereas Ichigo merely gets annoyed with the antics. This same comedic “beat up” routine is common among certain schoolmates and other characters as well.
Sometimes human VS human battles can be bloody. A street gang is shown beating up a character with brass-knuckled punches and kicks. Sword fights between Soul Reapers result in everything from thin, bloody slices to deep, pulpy gashes and stab wounds. Hollows lose considerably more blood as their skulls are cloven in two by sharp Zanpakuto blades (think wave-like sprays, a la Attack on Titan, though not anywhere near as frequent). The evil spirits lose both life and limb, and blood trickles, flows, pours, and gushes, depending on whether the blades stab through their skulls, slice across their bodies, or cleave them in two. Upon mortal injury, Hollows dissipate into thin air.
Hollows swarm helpless humans (both living and dead), leaving limp, bloodied bodies in the aftermath. These evil spirits also have a penchant for biting, and many a Soul Reaper caught in their teeth is rendered bloody bite marks.
Blood is often shown running down the characters’ foreheads and arms. Blood splashes on the ground, and characters occasionally cough it out in good ol’ fashioned anime style. Some characters are stabbed through by Hollows’ sharp limbs, and one is thrust through the center of the chest. Blood occasionally pools under wounded characters.
A Hollow unleashes an army of little, frog-like minions. These spew green blood and red leeches upon being sliced in half. It’s said that this Hollow was once a famous serial killer who murdered a boy’s mother by stabbing her seven times as she “ran away bleeding.” He met his demise by falling from a twenty story building.
There’s talk of genocide in the cases of the Mod-Souls and the Quincys.
Hollow transformations are rather violent and disturbing, as characters scream in horror for extended periods as they transform.
Language is fairly frequent, occurring about six times per episode, and usually used to punctuate frustration, anger, or cockiness. Forty-three uses of d***, fifty-six uses of h***, six uses of bast***, four uses of a**, three uses of dumba**, two uses each of pi**** and jacka**, and one use of bada**. Other noteworthy words include “freakin’” (used four times) and the unfinished phrase “son of a—“ used three times. “Sucks” is also used with moderate frequency. “Idiot” is the insult of choice, and often paired with one of the above swear words.
While there’s a total lack of cleavage and immodest clothing in this first season, the character Orihime has rather large breasts which are sometimes accented by exaggerated curvature under her otherwise modest attire. This feature also puts her on the receiving end of a lot of sexual dialogue and innuendo. The character, Kon, is portrayed in a tongue-in-cheek, perverted way; the camera bounces off of Orihime’s curvy chest as Kon exclaims, “Supersized!” Following their first encounter, Kon fantasizes about being hugged to Orihime’s “valley of soft pillows” while in stuffed animal form. A day-dreamy animation of the action in question accompanies the line. Another character uses “boobilicious” when speaking of her.
Orihime is also the subject of a female classmate’s affections, which begin as tight hugs and pet names of “cute,” and end with said classmate beginning to unbutton her shirt and trying to throw herself on Orihime in an attempt to “stake a claim on her.” We later hear this classmate ask Orihime if she wants to spend summer at her house because her parents will be away. When she’s accused of being a “pervert,” the classmate retorts with, “It’s not like I asked her to take a bath with me!” It’s clear that this character is a lesbian, though minor at that and portrayed in a very tongue-in-cheek way. Other school girls wonder if all the food Orihime eats goes straight to her breasts, trying to fathom how she can eat so much and stay so thin.
Kon takes a look up Rukia’s skirt as he lays flat on the ground. Ichigo’s dad believes that his son is “doing things” in his room because he spends so much time alone in there and he’s in the “springtime of youth.” Classmates gossip about Rukia and Ichigo’s possible romance, and a fellow Soul Reaper asks her if she’s come to the human world for some “entertainment” with a human boy. A pair of love-struck spirits talk about “Going somewhere more private… like a car.”
A nude body is shown on an operating table, but the groin area is covered in shadows. Similarly, a character is depicted nude, but without private parts detailed; the scene is symbolic of the character in limbo, and the nudity is no more graphic than what you might find on a Barbie doll.
A character is shown smoking briefly. Alcoholic drinks are mentioned.
Other Negative Content
Younger viewers may be disturbed by the Hollows, which look and speak demonically, wear skull masks with red glowing eyes, and are cursed with a series of randomized, disturbing powers. One uses a lure, which resembles a human girl, to attract and kill those with high Spirit Energy. Another unleashes gut-spewing frogs and red leeches that explode after contact. I think it’s worth nothing that those who are disturbed by these images are far too young to be watching the show in the first place, however.
Characters aren’t always ideal role models. They often speak harshly to one another. “Shut up”s and “I don’t care”s are fairly common. Some tongue-in-cheek sequences show a disregard for school authority. Ichigo’s family treats their father more like an over-sized brother than a dad whom they unquestionably respect. Some characters, even those on the same side, make very real threats to kill each other.
I pressed the “play” button for Bleach episode one with high hopes, especially as I’d often heard it lauded as one of anime’s “Big Three” alongside the likes of Naruto and One Piece.
At first glance, the show seems to have the makings of an intriguing story. Teenager who becomes a stand-in for a Soul Reaper? Check. Terrifying enemies called Hollows, spawned from un-reaped souls? Check. Protagonist who doesn’t come across obnoxiously optimistic? Check. Protagonist with unimaginable powers who must learn to tame them? Check. Separate worlds forced to interact and collide? Check. Diverse female characters? Check. Quirky characters with personality-telling designs? Check.
Unfortunately, there’s a much longer list of checks than that, detailing forgettable musical scores, a plot riddled with story-telling issues, an underdeveloped cast, uninspired voice acting, and other unpleasant beasties.
But let’s start with the positive. If there’s one thing Bleach gets right it’s its character introductions. Ichigo whirls to life in a bully-bashing battle royale as he comes to the defense of ghost girl and her graveside memorial. Rukia stares into the night, a mysterious silhouette darkened by the glowing full moon. Chad makes his advent with character-telling subtlety and simplicity in the most down-to-earth location possible—the classroom. The list goes on.
Equally impressive are some of the character designs. Yes, there are some stereotypes among the mix of more original models, but they don’t overly detract from the cast as a whole. Gin—a fox-faced Soul Reaper with an unflinching smile and squinted-shut eyes—boasts of an especially unnerving design. Urahara—wearing his trademark green coat, eyes shaded by the brim of his striped hat, and wielding his cane-sword in one hand—makes an equally striking figure that is, at a single glance, one part laid-back playboy and one part all-powerful sage.
Ichigo is a mildly refreshing protagonist. He is reckless and cocky, but he’s also realistic and honest with himself. He’s a student who studies hard and doesn’t goof off in class. When asked to take up Soul Reaping, Ichigo blatantly says that he’s not sure if he can put his life at risk for total strangers. He’s also the first to admit that he’s only human and “not a super hero.” It’s a down-to-earth take on a character that shows certain strands of maturity.
Bleach also makes good use of comedic routines. The show never lets it take itself too seriously, and most intense or emotional moments are broken up by character-driven comedy. There’s a strong reliance on colored screens and distortions for hilarity, but somehow the humor doesn’t feel stretched too thin. Jump-cuts are used to good effect as well, as when Ichigo rushes into the hospital, asking his dad how he can help out. His dad brushes him off, commanding, “Assume the fetal position and don’t move!” Cut to a scene of Ichigo curled up in the hallway in said position. Each character has his or her own set of comedic reels and tropes, but small tweaks of context somehow manage to keep them feeling relatively fresh each time. Those diving into Bleach as their “first anime” may be off-put by some of the stereotyped humor, as a lot of it is “acquired taste.”
To a degree, the stylized artistic choices are also commendable. Bleach makes good use of shadows for moments of deep intensity or heavy emotion. Moonlight, sun rays, opening and closing animation boxes, and unique episodic titles add a certain flair to the story-telling.
To optimistically sum up Bleach’s storyline as “conceptually interesting” sounds like a cop-out, but that’s precisely what it is. It has the ingredients needed for a tight, character-driven, interwoven series packed chock full of unique combat systems, world-building, and ethical challenges. The problem is that, while Bleach occasionally slaps at the surface of the metaphorical plot pool, it never dares to breathe deep and take the full plunge. The result is a lot of numbingly straight-forward storytelling, predictable win-or-lose scenarios, and thoughtless world building,
Conflicts end unceremoniously. Any battle Ichigo encounters is easily overcome in the most linear way possible—either Ichigo stabs, or otherwise defeats, the Hollow with his sword, or the Hollow kills Ichigo (the latter of which, of course, never happens). The formula is refreshingly broken up in episode three when a familiar-faced Hollow chooses to do himself in of his own accord. Unfortunately, all future encounters fail to introduce any unique methods of victory, which makes them very predictable and short-lived. At one point, the show throws Ichigo and Uryu into a battle together, and just when the first meticulous battle strategy seems to be in the making, the otherwise sinister odds are leveled by Ichigo charging in and—yep—stabbing the Hollow with an over-powered attack. Game over, Hollow.
To say that the series is utterly devoid of power would be a lie. The show has its moments, but fails to capitalize on them in order to push character development and intrigue. For example, Kon feels like a stand-in comedy relief until it’s revealed that he’s dealing with the painful reality that he is—and has always been—unwanted and considered a disposable human soul for reasons that aren’t his fault. This opens the door to some deep ethical considerations and character development, but rather than explore the interior of that door, Bleach merely allows us to peer inside before closing it. While the issue may be resurrected in future seasons of Bleach, it is never mentioned again in the first twenty episodes of the show.
At other times, the show’s most incredible moments are overshadowed by an even more incredible flaw. One such moment is Ichigo’s decision to become a substitute Soul Reaper in Rukia’s stead. With his house in shambles and his sisters’ lives in jeopardy, Ichigo accepts Rukia’s offer to become a Soul Reaper, knowing good and well that if he isn’t strong enough the transfer will kill him. As Ichigo leans over Rukia’s collapsed form, he holds the tip of her tightly grasped Zanpakuto to his chest. Rukia at last introduces herself, and, as the Hollow charges toward them in the background, Ichigo gives his own name and thrusts the blade through his chest. In this one scene, we get a motion capture of Ichigo’s relentless character and the right amount of intensity, weighted by high stakes. It’s a great scene.
Unfortunately, said great scene is also weighted by character-breaking believability soon afterward when we begin to learn about how overpowered Ichigo is. The show, on at least four occasions, delivers the phrase “No one has ever” and ends it with Ichigo doing said impossibility with almost flawless ease. These incidents are especially flagrant because even experienced characters admit to being outdone by him, and Ichigo never has to use any truly meticulous means to achieve these apparent “impossibilities.” He simply powers through them, with the only explanation being that he has a lot of “Spirit Energy.” Whether it’s breaking through an unbreakable incantation, sensing Spirit Ribbons that even a trained Soul Reaper can’t, having the biggest Zanpakuto ever seen in the Soul Society, or overcoming a legendary Hollow that an entire squad of experienced Soul Reapers could merely hope to defeat, Ichigo Kurosaki does it all and then some.
A lot of the story-telling relies on the “rabbit from the hat” technique, or, as most know it, deus ex machina. Uryu pulls out a Hollow-attracting token from the realm of “previously unknown.” Ichigo’s father jumps him and presents his son with a token from his mother, not ever before mentioned. Ichigo is able to break through incantations and sense Spirit Ribbons in ways that are never explained. Moments and gimmicks such as these are difficult to watch because the show also proves that it can handle foreshadowing properly. We see Uryu cross-stitching long before we even know that he’s a significant character. Orihime’s magical hair pins, introduced early on as a gift from her brother, later tie into her powers. A simple dive into Ichigo’s mind would resolve a lot of the deus ex machina on his end, though this simple technique is never used.
Another incident worth mentioning: When Ichigo encounters the Hollow that killed his mother, said Hollow uses its transforming lure to psychologically jar Ichigo with a manifestation of his mother. Ichigo then has to overcome his own emotions and block out the imposter while still defeating the Hollow. It sounds intense—and it certainly has the makings to be so—but the momentum is ruined when the spirit of Ichigo’s mother somehow begins projecting through the fake in order to tell him the last words she ever spoke. How this is possible is guesswork at best, and it’s made worse by the fact that an on-scene Soul Reaper claims that he had a vision about this incident earlier (which happened completely off-screen, I guess?).
In the past, I’ve enjoyed some rather impressive English dubs. Death Note comes to mind as having some of the more impressive performances this side of localization. In the case of Bleach, however, there’s an utter lack of naturalism. Rukia sounds tonal at points, like she’s reading from a “how-to” manual. Ichigo’s mother sounds more patronizingly manipulative than motherly. A handful of the remaining cast plow through their script in an almost robotic manner, but even the better actors in the bunch have their fair share of sour lines. Most of the performances feel uninspired, which detracts from some of the series’ more impacting moments. To give credit where it is due, Quinton Flynn (Kon) easily gives the most stellar portrayal of the whole team, and Johnny Yong Bosch more-often-than-not handles Ichigo in a satisfactory manner.
The soundtrack is forgettable with the exception of one—maybe two—tracks. It comes across muffled and directionless with a quality you might expect to hear from an old VHS tape. A couple songs get thrown into the mix, with a fifty percent chance of clashing with the scene at hand and shaking off viewer immersion.
To summarize, Bleach has two enormous issues: (1) there is no direction and (2) there is no foundation. By “direction” I mean that, for the first three-quarters of the season, Ichigo has no ultimate goal or bigger picture. He’s simply set on an episodic, linear quest to kill Hollows and save innocents. But he never allows himself to ask about just what the greater scheme at work is. Even after he encounters the Hollow that killed his mother (episode 9) and swears to get stronger so he can kill it, this drive isn’t reinforced afterwards.
By “foundation” I mean that there is no background to the world in which Bleach takes place. It seems that Ichigo being able to see ghosts is a big deal, but then the show gradually reveals that other characters can see them as well. Are daily doses of spirits considered the norm or not? Bleach never really says. Not only that, but the show does nothing to explain its inner workings. How does Spirit Energy work? Do all people have it, or is Ichigo extra special? Certain gimmicks are never explained or tied into the greater picture of the whole. Spirit Ribbons, magical Hollow-summoning tokens, incantations—all these, and more, are introduced, but Ichigo never stops to ask where they come from or how they work. It’s incredibly jarring to the viewer and leaves them wondering whether these things are common knowledge in general or exclusive knowledge to a select few characters.
In all fairness, Bleach does finally gain a bit of momentum… sort of. By episode fifteen, the stakes are raised: Rukia is revealed to have broken Soul Reaper law punishable by death, Ichigo is forced into a race against the clock to master his powers and save her, and a few other iconic characters begin unlocking their own abilities and uniting with Ichigo in his quest. While the character and plot development issues in no way diminish, the story is at least given some direction and its first truly dangerous threat. Unfortunately, this “notch-up” doesn’t occur until exactly 75% of the way through season one—much too far in to snag unconvinced viewers. Yes, Bleach is a 300-something episode series, but fifteen episodes is still far too long to wait.
From a purely critical perspective, Bleach consistently disappointed me. Having often heard the show lauded as one of the “Big Three” of anime, and having been very impressed with the scope of Naruto’s character development and storytelling, I was expecting something more—so, so much more.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have to force myself through Bleach, and I found it conceptually interesting enough to finish season one with the hopes that the storyline and development would finally pick up at some point. And while the plot is finally given some much-needed direction and real adversity in episode fifteen, it takes the story three-fourths of the way in to arrive at that point. That’s a lot further in than most would-be fanboys and fangirls would be willing to watch, providing the first few episodes failed to capture their interest.
Yes, Bleach has its moments. Some of the characters have unique designs and intriguing personalities, and the concepts surrounding the plot have the makings of something grand. Unfortunately, amateurish delivery, singularly focused development, and straightforward telling hold back these otherwise great benefits. It’s strange to say that Bleach feels oddly age-appropriate for its targeted 15-year-old audience, but at the same time feels immature by standards of similar shows like Naruto—an anime aimed at even younger audiences but packed with deeper characters, enmeshed story-telling, challenging questions, and thought-provoking themes. Based on this first season alone, Bleach feels dumbed down by comparison and lacks a lot of professional maturity. Sad to say, sometimes its frequent profanity and innuendo are the most “mature” thing about it.
Christians should be aware that Bleach has a heavy spiritual side dealing with reaping souls, wandering spirits, and incantations. Anger-laced profanity is blurted out—sometimes in forcible clusters—about six times per episode, and blade-swinging violence can often have bloody results. Sexual innuendo, multiple “boob” jokes, and an openly lesbian character make it inappropriate for young audiences as well.
There are some Wholes among the Hollows in that Bleach does strongly advocate the biblical sanctity of life, friendship, love, and using our gifts to serve others. That being said, the scale often feels tipped toward less beautiful things, as the language, innuendo, and violence feel somehow more flagrant without an equal focus on the show’s more wholesome aspects.
In the end, Bleach Season 1 falls somewhere between “mediocre” and “meh.” There’s something to glean from it, sure, but it falls by the wayside in comparison to shows of similar genre and length. This reviewer found her time better spent watching non-filler episodes of Naruto.
That being said, I’m going to give Bleach a chance to redeem itself in season two and keep my fingers crossed that it’s a wholesome experience that doesn’t ring so hollow.
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+ Conceptually interesting
+ Personality-telling characters designs
+ Character-based comedy routines
+ Dramatic use of shadow and artistry
+ Strong character introductions
+ Mildly refreshing protagonist
+ Unique title screens
+ Themes supporting the biblical value of life, friendship, love, and using our gifts for the benefit of others
- Directionless story-telling
- Predictable conflict resolution
- Underdone character development
- Refuses to explore deeper concepts thoroughly
- Overpowered protagonist
- Tonal dubbing lacks emotional nuances
- Forgettable soundtrack
- Under-developed world building
- Reliance on dues ex machina
- Doesn't gain focus until episode 15
- Bloody violence, frequent profanity and sexual innuendo, and prevalent spiritual content