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by Carlo Santos,


Ichigo Kurosaki is a 15-year-old boy with the ability to see spirits, something that he considers more of a bother than a gift. One day he meets a Shinigami (Death God) named Rukia, who's on the run from a Hollow—a destructive spirit with unfinished business on Earth. As a last-minute measure, Rukia transfers her powers to Ichigo, whose abundant supply of spirit energy makes him a far more potent Shinigami than she ever was! Soon Ichigo is vanquishing Hollows left and right, and meeting other friends at school with similar abilities. However, Rukia's transfer of power is forbidden by the Soul Society (the official name of the spirit world), and when their agents come to Earth to dish out the consequences, Ichigo finds that he might have to challenge the entire world of the dead to save her.
If Naruto is Dragon Ball Z with ninjas, does that mean Bleach is Naruto with dead people? The colorful characters, numerous fights and high episode count make such comparisons tempting, and fans of one are often fans of the other. With the acclaimed Studio Pierrot handling animation duties, a storyline that dishes out cliffhanger after cliffhanger, and a rapidly growing fanbase, Bleach is clearly the Next Big Anime License. It doesn't aspire to be high art, but it doesn't need to—this is high entertainment, swords out and spirit energy blazing, ready to bring a modern sensibility to the classic shounen themes of friendship, challenge, and victory.

The story starts out like most others of its kind: take a boy in his mid-teens, bestow unique abilities upon him (a cool sword helps, too), and send him out to fight some nasty monsters. For the first several episodes Bleach goes through this methodical hack-and-slash, with sprinklings of comedy for good measure. Things start to pick up when Ichigo meets fellow classmates with Hollow-killing capabilities, adding some firepower and variety to their battles. Generic and boring so far? Good. That's when the real challenge kicks in, and boy does it kick: Soul Society infiltrates the human world, stirs things up, and suddenly Ichigo's on a mission to save Rukia. If you want to know where the series gets really good, it's right here. Ichigo isn't fighting souped-up spirits a few blocks away from his house anymore; now he's in the underworld with only a few friends as allies, facing trained warriors who could damn well kill him. With all of Soul Society as a battleground and no limitations on fighting style or attacks, it takes the familiar tournament formula to the height of creativity. This isn't just training and fighting anymore. This is adventure.

But wait, isn't there plenty of fight-centric adventure anime already? Yes, but Bleach sets itself apart with a cast of characters that couldn't exist anywhere else. Imagine the usual stereotypes, but skew them with odd traits, and give their personalities an extra edge of attitude: that's what makes these characters special. Ichigo isn't just an excitable, sword-swinging hero—he's a hero with a smart mouth and a chip on his shoulder. Rukia's equally strong personality is the perfect complement to that; together the two of them exchange some of the snappiest dialogue in the show. Ichigo's allies are just as interesting: pretty boy Ishida is cool in every way, from his attacks to his demeanor; girly-girl Orihime discovers her power through fashion accessories; strong and silent Chad proves that the only thing bigger than his frame is his compassion. Call them two-dimensional if you must, but these are some very unique dimensions. And that's not even bringing up all the entertaining side characters and opponents, like stuffed-toy sidekick Kon, eccentric shopkeeper Urahara, the thirteen battle squads of Soul Society (learning them all is easier than you think), and that shining example of modern-day parenting, Ichigo's father.

Studio Pierrot makes this show visually pleasing with a bold, mainstream style that most eyes will appreciate. Like the story itself, the animation doesn't pick up until the later episodes, where the budget increase becomes apparent: the second opening sequence is a flurry of high frame rate showboating, and the fight scenes become increasingly elaborate and dynamic. Through it all, the storytelling is always clear—if someone swings a sword, you know exactly who swung it and where it's headed. There are still plenty of shounen clichés like speedlines, special effects and time-dilated multi-episode fights, but the look of the show is one that isn't easily reproduced. Chalk that up to manga-ka Kubotite, whose artistic style still shines through despite being watered down for the sake of animation. Who can forget the funny logos on Ichigo's t-shirts, Rukia's single bang hanging over her face, Ishida's rectangular glasses, Orihime's hair clips, Chad's scraggly features, Urahara's green-and-white striped hat, Renji's visor that looks like a sleep mask... well, this could go on for a while. Although the staff does try to match some of the manga's style in the angularity of the artwork, their true strength is capturing the sheer energy of the series through animation technique.

The soundtrack also has its own distinctive style, employing electronic instruments and modern genres in a way that's easily as effective as a symphonic, full-orchestra track. Even if it's just waveforms out of a synthesizer, the music of Bleach is diverse enough to support the many moods of battle: tension to confrontation to all-out attack. The oft-changing theme songs also make for a fine primer on the world of J-pop; many fans can attest to discovering mellow-voiced singer/songwriter Rie Fu through the first ending theme.

So is it really just Naruto with dead people? Or is it an epic saga in its own right? The unique characters and look of Bleach guarantee that it will, at the very least, rise above the muddle of interchangeable shounen series and march on with its own unique vision of the afterlife. There are plenty of cool guys with swords out there, plenty of spirit worlds to explore, and plenty of Death Gods to vanquish, but there is only one Ichigo Kurosaki, one Soul Society, and one incredibly entertaining anime that will grab you and refuse to let go. For classic adventure with a slick, modern attitude, go no further than Bleach.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : B+
Music : B

+ The next great adventure series.
Not particularly profound or inspiring... but still tons of fun.

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Production Info:
Director: Noriyuki Abe
Series Composition:
Tsuyoshi Kida
Kento Shimoyama
Masashi Sogo
Kazuyuki Fudeyasu
Miho Imamura
Mio Imamura
Rika Nakase
Masahiro Okubo
Masao Ookubo
Kento Shimoyama
Taketo Shimoyama
Masashi Sogo
Natsuko Takahashi
Michiko Yokote
Genki Yoshimura
Noriyuki Abe
Masami Anno
Koji Aritomi
Tetsuya Endo
Manabu Fukazawa
Kiyomu Fukuda
Shigeki Hatakeyama
Yasuyuki Honda
Masashi Ishihama
Satoshi Ishino
Jun Kamiya
Rei Kaneko
Akio Kawamura
Masahiko Komino
Chiaki Kon
Junya Koshiba
Masashi Kudo
Hodaka Kuramoto
Hotaka Kuramoto
Toshihiko Masuda
Tadahito Matsubayashi
Hitoyuki Matsui
Yasuhiro Matsumura
Yukihiro Matsushita
Yuzuru Mitsui
Shigeyuki Miya
Kazunori Mizuno
Yuji Moriyama
Minoru Murao
Takehiro Nakayama
Yasuto Nishikata
Hiroaki Nishimura
Satoshi Nishimura
Mitsutaka Noshitani
Tetsuhito Saito
Tetsuto Saitō
Kageyama Shigenori
Masami Shimoda
Ogura Shirakawa
Yoshifumi Sueda
Natsuko Suzuki
Hideki Tachibana
Yuzuru Tachikawa
Jun Takada
Hiroki Takagi
Motosuke Takahashi
Takahiro Takamizawa
Shinichi Tōkairin
Sanzou Tsuyukida
Shigeru Ueda
Atsushi Wakabayashi
Shinichi Watanabe
Hideyo Yamamoto
Minoru Yamaoka
Episode Director:
Noriyuki Abe
Eitarō Ano
Koji Aritomi
Matsuo Asami
Kiyomu Fukuda
Shigeki Hatakeyama
Tomoko Hiramuki
Tetsuo Ichimura
Akane Inoue
Yasuo Iwamoto
Akira Iwanaga
Taiji Kawanishi
Takushi Kimura
Chiaki Kon
Harume Kosaka
Junya Koshiba
Masashi Kudo
Hodaka Kuramoto
Hotaka Kuramoto
Yasuhiro Kuroda
Keizou Kusakawa
Tadahito Matsubayashi
Nobufumi Matsuda
Yasuhiro Matsumura
Yuzuru Mitsui
Ryo Miyata
Kazunori Mizuno
Geisei Morita
Eiko Nishi
Yasuto Nishikata
Hiroaki Nishimura
Kazuo Nogami
Mitsutaka Noshitani
Yoshinori Odaka
Rokou Ogiwara
Yukio Okazaki
Masaya Sasaki
Kazuma Satō
Yuji Sekimoto
Akira Shimizu
Kazunobu Shimizu
Ogura Shirakawa
Yoshifumi Sueda
Yuzuru Tachikawa
Hiroki Takagi
Takeshi Tomita
Shigeru Ueda
Takeshi Yamaguchi
Minoru Yamaoka
Mitsue Yamazaki
Unit Director:
Noriyuki Abe
Masashi Kudo
Shingo Ogiso
Yuzuru Tachikawa
Music: Shirō Sagisu
Original creator: Tite Kubo
Character Design: Masashi Kudo
Art Director:
Natsuko Suzuki
Sawako Takagi
Tsuyoshi Fukumoto
Masaya Hamaguchi
Yuki Kasahara
Hideaki Kudo
Katsusuke Okamura
Mayu Shirai
Sawako Takagi
Shinobu Takahashi
Mayu Usui
Norihiko Yokomatsu
Animation Director:
Chiaki Abe
Yoshie Anzai
Shigemi Aoyagi
Eiki Arasato
Eri Baba
Kim Il Bae
Bum-Chul Chang
Manabu Fukazawa
Akihiro Fukui
Yeong-Hun Han
Daiki Handa
Kenji Hattori
Yūri Ichinose
Shin Jae Ick
Hidenori Igari
Hiroaki Imaki
Keiichi Ishida
Masashi Ishihama
Tomomi Ishikawa
Nobuyuki Iwai
Gil Soo Joo
Akio Kawamura
Toshihiro Kikuchi
Gi Nam Kim
Hyon Ok Kim
Hyun Ok Kim
Seong Beom Kim
Yong Sik Kim
Yun Jeong Kim
Seiji Kishimoto
Akemi Kobayashi
Ryo Kobayashi
Yukari Kobayashi
Ryou Kodama
Makoto Koga
Masahiko Komino
Atsushi Komori
Mitsuki Kosaka
Fumiaki Kouta
Tsuguyuki Kubo
Masashi Kudo
Manabu Kurihara
Shinichi Kurita
Boo Hee Lee
Shuji Maruyama
Ippei Masui
Tamami Miura
Shuuji Miyazaki
Kazuya Miyoshi
Minoru Morita
Yuji Moriyama
Ju-Yeon Mun
Tsutomu Murakami
Keiya Nakano
Shingo Ogiso
Masaya Onishi
Shigetsune Ōsawa
Chang Hwan Park
Hye-Ran Park
In-Hee Park
Jong Jun Park
Tomoko Satō
Yang Kwang Seock
Lee Seongjin
Sanae Shimada
Makoto Shimojima
Jae-Ik Shin
Kim-Young Sik
Sayuri Sugitou
Natsuko Suzuki
Shin'ichi Suzuki
Shinichi Suzuki
Yoko Suzuki
Hiroki Takagi
Motosuke Takahashi
Kei Takeuchi
Yukari Takeuchi
Masaya Tanaka
Seiki Tanaka
Kubo Tsuguyuki
Takashi Uchida
Miyuki Ueda
Tomomi Umemura
Masaru Yamada
Asuka Yamaguchi
Keiko Yamamoto
Osamu Yamamoto
Yoshimitsu Yamashita
Naoki Yamauchi
Teruhiko Yamazaki
Kim Sang Yeop
Takeshi Yoshioka
Director of Photography:
Toshiyuki Fukushima
Katsufumi Sato
Shunji Aoki
Ken Hagino
Kyoko Kobayashi
Mai Nagai
Yutaka Sugiyama
Jun Takibuchi
Yukio Yoshimura
Licensed by: Viz Media

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