Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Oct 29th 2008
Bleach the Movie: Memories of Nobody
The life of a Soul Reaper agrees pretty well with Ichigo. He gets to indulge his protective nature, he hangs out with cool, stylish (and invisible) people, and when he gets stressed, he can lop off people's arms to let off some steam. Sure, letting Kon run around in his body rubs him the wrong way and Rukia is always bugging him about leaving his soulless body lying about, but that's no reason to complain. When mysterious female Soul Reapers appear with swarms of blank, aggressive souls and evil Soul Reaper exiles in tow, then it's time to complain. Not that amnesiac Soul Reaper Senna means to raise three types of hell, she just can't help it, what with her being the unwitting key to a world-destroying conspiracy and all. She's also quite human and vulnerable, despite not being human or particularly weak, so she naturally sets Ichigo's protective instincts afire, which can mean nothing but pain for everyone involved.
The law against theatrical adaptations of long-running shounen series being anything but entirely disposable doesn't include a clause that says that they can't also be fun. Take Memories of No Body. It follows all of the guidelines laid down for it and its ilk: It introduces an entirely new set of villains so that none of the established characters need fight each other. It introduces a new victim/major character so that none of the established characters need be put in danger that obviously cannot be consummated. It invents no new finishing moves, reduces the supporting cast to cameos, doesn't substantially change any of the major relationships, and influences the overall plot not a whit. And yet it manages to be unfailingly entertaining throughout.
In its ninety minute runtime the movie manages to pack in a bit of just about everything that makes Bleach fun. Set sometime after the end of the Soul Society arc, all of the fan-favorite characters make appearances, and even if major characters like Chad and Orihime feel unfairly de-emphasized, it's still nice to see them happy and well in the real world. Ichigo's father and K-ON! are on hand for some off-the-wall humor, including a running joke about people discovering Ichigo's “dead” body. The action is thick, and thick with slick cinematic flourishes, and all of the Soul Reapers get multiple opportunities to strut their stuff.
The film moves pretty swiftly, and if some of the scenes and plot points are truncated by the desire to cram a huge cast into a tiny movie, it still finds the time to make a surprisingly effective heroine out of Senna. Effective enough, at any rate, to make it a disappointment when she is reduced to a damsel in distress, and to make her fate of significant consequence to audiences. The ending twist about the ephemeral nature of her existence not only provides a bittersweet coda and gives meaning to the film's name, but also gives the film, self-aware genre fare that it is, the means with which to ramp up the emotional intensity without disrupting the television series' continuity.
Though designed to stand alone, Memories of No Body isn't really intended for newcomers. Neophytes will be lost in the swamp of faces, and fondness for the characters and familiarity with their quirks and relationships is required for full enjoyment of the film. Even longtime fans, however, will find the excesses of some characters cheesy (Kenpachi falling from the sky, bellowing laughter, just in time to save Ichigo's hide is probably the worst of them), and their interactions often smell of pastiche, a scent that often haunts series where the animators have been freed from the restrictions of the original work.
The majority of the film's flaws are attributable to the feature-film, side-story nature of the project, and every one of them is easily forgivable in the face of the visual opportunities proffered by the move to the big screen. Noriyuki Abe, the series' veteran director, retains the washed-out supernatural atmosphere of the television series while feeding the theatrical budget into flashy spiritual effects, plentiful action, and the spectacularly otherworldly set-piece of the Valley of Screams. Niggling little technical issues (particularly with the integration of backgrounds and characters) persist, but they're balanced by enough gorgeous little touches—such as the whirlwinds of autumn leaves that accompany Senna's attacks—that it seems churlish to dwell on them.
Abe's blunt but savvy treatment of Shiro Sagisu's creepy rock score makes the transition to the silver screen unaltered, and the newer, gentler music is excellent, but the forgettable closing theme is a regrettable lapse in his usually impeccable taste in pop/rock.
As one might expect from a cast and crew that have been breathing Bleach for God knows how long, Viz's English version of the film is as near to unassailable as adaptations get. The script makes the tricky business of balancing the need to be true to the original with the need to forge an identity of its own look easy, keeping the dialogue as natural as possible while sticking as close to the original meaning as it can. Gina Bowes pegs Senna's abundance of devil-may-care attitude, Bob Johnson is appropriately sepulchral as arch-villain Genryusai, and the remainder of the cast has lived long enough with their characters to be able to sleepwalk their way through the film.
With two discs and a booklet, the extra material covers a lot of ground. There's an energetic feature-length commentary featuring most of the primary cast (who naturally lose steam as they go), an informative though pedestrian interview with the Japanese staff, and an exhaustive behind-the-scenes look at Viz's Bleach empire that features a rare look at the manga side of the business and an awesome live-action rendering of the first-season opening, starring the film's English cast. There's also some production artwork, trailers enough to choke an advertising executive, and the aforementioned booklet, which overflows with pretty art and redundant information.
It's no The Castle of Cagliostro, or even a Yu Yu Hakusho The Movie: Poltergeist Report (the film that is the standard by which disposable side-stories should be judged), but Memories of No Body is nevertheless a dependably entertaining, periodically involving adventure. Sure you have to be fan of Bleach to enjoy it, but if you aren't already then you're probably not reading this.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Great-looking, surprisingly effective Bleach side-story.
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