Reviewby Melissa Harper, Jan 22nd 2007
Ichigo Kurosaki has always been able to see spirits, but after an encounter with a ghost girl, his spiritual energy starts attracting evil spirits, known as Hollows. Rukia, a Soul Reaper, is sent to investigate, but when her fight with the Hollows goes badly, she transfers her power to Ichigo, effectively making him a Soul Reaper, and leaving her stuck on earth. Ichigo must come to terms with both his new power, and his new responsibilities, and quickly, because the Hollows aren't backing down anytime soon.
It is easy to dismiss Bleach as just another formulaic shonen action show, where the hero is in a cycle of beating enemies to get stronger to beat stronger enemies. However, beginning with the colorful, upbeat introduction, there is a crazy energy about this show that is nearly impossible not to get caught up in. It may be just another show in a crowd of shows just like it, but it stands head and shoulders above its peers, due to the quality of the storytelling, the characters, and the great soundtrack.
This first volume has all the components of any standard shonen action show. First, Ichigo discovers his own power when his family is threatened. He is given even greater power in order to save them, and naturally the world as well. In the second episode, it turns out that maybe he doesn't want the responsibility of all that power, but when faced with the consequences of not using his power, he might be a hero after all. Finally, the third and fourth episodes are a two-part, where someone he knows is put in harm's way due to his new power attracting enemies. This sounds very formulaic, and it is. To its credit, though, Bleach manages to take this age-old formula and make it feel exciting again. One thing that helps this is the interesting cast.
Ichigo is almost a typical anti-hero. He is almost the rebel, the bad boy that gets pulled into being a hero against his will. However, the soft side that would be revealed in a standard show ten or so episodes in is apparent right from the start. He isn't a bad guy. He is just an average high school guy, with a hard crust developed from years of getting teased about his red hair. That is one of the most appealing things about Ichigo; he is actually normal. Rukia is simply a great character. Too often in shows like Bleach, the main female character is either a cheerful but useless girl whose main purpose is to be a cheerleader, or she is a sour shrew who is superior to the hero in almost every way and knows it. Rukia falls closer to the second category, initially, but when her power is taken in the first episode, she is left helpless and dependent on Ichigo. Again, the reality of this character is striking; you fully believe in her plight. She is used to being strong and self-sufficient; having to rely on others is a great source of both drama and comedy in this show. The side characters are notable for their quirkiness; each one pokes fun at a different aspect of the standard action series. That is another strong point of Bleach; it isn't afraid to make fun of itself.
The look of the show isn't as outstanding as the characters, but the show still has a vibrant, energetic look to it. Character designs are faithful to the manga, but the animation on the characters is a little bland. Overall, it looks good, but there is nothing truly artistic in the way the show is presented. The palette is pleasing, and matches the energy of the truly interesting soundtrack.
The soundtrack for this show is, in a word, insane. Insane can be a good thing, however. The opening sequence is set to an energizing theme song by Orange Range, with a unique sound to it that is part hip-hop, part rap, and part pop. This sets the stage for the rest of the soundtrack, which is equally unorthodox. Most of the more tense scenes are scored with simple, strident melodies from a synthesizer, but it is totally unpredictable. The climax of the first episode is underscored by a piece that sounds like it came straight from an eighties film, and the ending credits are accompanied by what can only be described as a Japanese country song. Whether you love or hate it, you will at least find the soundtrack interesting.
There is not much difference in the quality between the English and Japanese audio tracks. The acting on both tracks is well done, and there the characters have mostly the same attitude in either language. Ichigo has a bit more attitude in the English version; he sounds a little tougher than his Japanese counterpart, but the Japanese Ichigo has a fouler mouth, so they even out a bit. The only real drawback to the English version is Rukia. While Michelle Ruff does an excellent job, the humor in the scenes where Rukia is in disguise as a schoolgirl is totally lost, because her voice doesn't change between the two. This is more an error of translation than of acting, but the fact remains that she sounds the same whether she is in soul reaper mode or schoolgirl mode, where in the Japanese she becomes bubbly and ditzy at school, and sounds almost like a guy the rest of the time. “Soul reaper” is another area of contention for some folks; but it really does not detract from the show at all that “shinigami” is translated at “soul reaper.” True, many other Japanese phrases are left intact, such as Rukia's spells, but that isn't necessarily a good thing. “Soul reaper” is an adequate description of what Rukia is, and is therefore a perfectly fine translation.
Viz knew they had a good product in Bleach, so they wrapped it up nicely. Bleach 01: The Substitute is an attractive package, with slick metallic accents on the case, and four episodes on the disk to make it worth your cash. Inside, you'll find collector's stickers to play with, although there is no insert booklet. On the disc, there are the standard previews, art gallery and clean credits, as well as a preview of the first manga volume. It is nice to see them tying the two products together, as well as it being good business.
Even if you aren't usually a fan of Shonen Jump adventures, you should still at least try Bleach. The characters alone are worth sampling, and you just might find yourself trapped in the intoxicating energy of this fast paced show.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Great characters, quirky soundtrack, fantastic energy
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