Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 28th 2009
Bleach: The DiamondDust Rebellion
When a royal Soul Reaper treasure known as the Ouin is stolen, Toshiro Hitsugaya, boy-wonder captain of Squad 10, disappears along with it. When another captain is wounded by an apparent attack from Hitsugaya's zanpakuto, an execution order is issued. Wounded, on the run, and tortured by the true identity of the thief—Kusaka, a friend he thought long deceased—Hitsugaya must try single-handedly to snuff the ambitions of his resurrected friend. Or must he? After all, there is a certain orange-headed Substitute Soul Reaper who has a thing for lending a hand to the underdog, and his big nose has a habit of poking itself into others' business.
They could have coined the phrase “by the numbers” for The DiamondDust Rebellion. You can almost see its creators in white lab coats inputting Tite Kubo's characters into computers and feeding dialogue through equations to insure that the end product is as colorless, mechanical and mathematically predictable as possible. By the time the movie has run its ninety minute course, you'd give your eyeteeth just to see someone, anyone, say something that you can't predict before they even open their sculpted mouths. But they never do. Ichigo shouts angrily, Kusaka cackles evilly and blathers on about getting revenge and becoming God or some such, and the supporting cast goes robotically about their individual shticks. There isn't a moment of inspiration in the entire film. Characters never break mold, the dialogue dies the moment it exits someone's mouth, and the plot goes exactly where you think it's going, even if you wish it wouldn't.
Unlike the first Bleach film, DiamondDust revolves around an established character—fan-fave Hitsugaya—and focuses heavily on the emotional side of things. It's an admirable ambition, to do a drama-based film adaptation of a long-running shonen property, but it's an ambition that requires courage and skill that its instigators obviously do not have. The fear the film has of treading on the TV series' canon toes is palpable, squelching the daring necessary to make a drama work. No film afraid to alter its characters can ever hope to even reasonably emulate true drama. And even within the insufferably safe boundaries of an extended filler episode—which, make no mistake, it is—DiamondDust does poorly. Cowardice cannot explain a film whose self-important message boils down to a “rely on your friends” platitude. Only rank ineptitude or chronic laziness can do that.
None of this would be the issue that it is if it didn't interfere so consistently with the franchise's true raison d'être. Which is to say, its action. The scene roughly halfway through where Ichigo does battle with Kusaka's Arrancar stooges pretty neatly sums the issue up. As his sword flashes and the main action theme builds to a screaming crescendo and the pulse finally begins stirring, director Noriyuki Abe idiotically cuts away to Hitsugaya doing his angst thing. That's basically the whole movie in a nutshell; all buildup and no payoff. When it should be using angst as a means of adding punch to battles, DiamondDust mistakes it for an end unto itself. Again and again the film supplants violent catharsis with leaden introspection. Until the very end there isn't a single fight whose conclusion is shown. In a genre where thrills are currency, that's a bad move; bankruptcy-bad.
When at last the action begins in earnest, the film does improve. Speechifying and beating of breasts behind it, it moves at a pace befitting an action film. If you must have your Kenpachi or Soi Fon or Byakuya or whoever fix, it's here you'll find it, as everyone's favorite Soul Reapers get in on the action. Sure, the way they're horned into to the fight just long enough to showcase their signature moves is cheesy, but watching them kick a little bad guy butt, no matter how unimaginatively, is more satisfaction than the previous three-quarters of the film offered. And regardless of whether he's morphed into a gooberish ice-monster-thingy (the abominable snow dragon?), it still feels darned good to see arrogant ass Kusaka get his just desserts.
Rather than a theatrical-budgeted visual revolution, Abe's big-screen take on Bleach is a highly polished version of his small-screen take on it. Even with a noticeable increase in mobility and detail, his film relies as much on editing and Shiro Sagisu's sawing guitars and industrial noise (and newly symphonic touches) to move the action along as it does on sheer budgetary power. Characters are more expressive, the settings (an appropriately dreary winter this time as opposed to the flame-leafed autumn of the first film) more fully realized, and the action far flashier, but that sense of punky underdoggedness that his budget-saving inventions give off remains the same. It's only too bad that the bloated pacing, plot and dialogue don't share it. But tiresome speeches and unaffecting affect don't change the fact that the climactic battle—a mad dash through a fractured Seireitei and a fractally expanding tree of organic ice—is a thing of true beauty, or that the fights, incomplete though they are, are expertly choreographed and scored and electrically edited.
The cast of Viz's dub has been on the job so long that they could do this blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs while being dumped in a river wrapped in fifty pounds of chains. Take away the chains and the river, and they can even muster up some conviction. The dub's re-writes, which to be fair aren't always necessary, subtly improve on the original by livening up the language a bit, and the actors slip into their characters like well-used gloves. Excellent work all around for an excellent dub. And if the tragic flashbacks sound unconvincing, that's only because they are. Not even the original cast could turn drivel like “let's be friends forever” into anything but drivel. You'd need alchemists for that, and they're too busy with that whole lead to gold thing.
Though the separation of them onto a second disc is of questionable necessity, there's a lot of supplemental material to be had here. The meat of the disc is a forty-minute series of interviews. Covering a wide variety of staff and tasks, it's most useful to the fan with a technical bent, covering as it does the details of script-writing, character creation, background art (which is fabulous by the way), and special effects (mainly smoke and frost effects), as well as score composition and recording (and the effect that international Bleach fandom has on it) and Sambomaster's love of Shonen Jump. There's also an extensive line-art collection and a promo reel that includes Kon's only on-disc appearance—promoting ticket sales while getting stomped on by a variety of sadists, of course.
Far from elevating it above the featherweight enjoyment of the first Bleach film, DiamondDust's seriousness drags it down, shortchanging its all-important action in favor of rote drama and making for a singularly unsatisfying watch. Spit and polish notwithstanding, you're better off sticking to the television series.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Slick and blessed with good action instincts.
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