Reviewby Theron Martin,
Ichigo Kurasaki isn't exactly a normal teenager, and it's not because of his orange hair. He can see spirits, too. That also allows him to see a sword-wielding young woman in black who suddenly appears in his room one night. He soon learns that Rukia is a Soul Reaper and uses her sword, a zanpakuto, to both defeat malicious spirits called Hollows and more peacefully send other spirits on to an afterlife called the Soul Society. When a Hollow comes after Ichigo's family, Rukia is injured fending it off, so she resorts to a forbidden method to defeat it; since Ichigo has high "spiritual pressure," she transfers her powers to him so he can become a Soul Reaper himself. Ichigo is initially reluctant to comply with Rukia's efforts to train him, but more hostile Soul Reapers who come seeking Rukia and the connection between a notorious Hollow and the death of his mother convince him to take his new mission seriously.
Live-action adaptations of supernatural stories must be approached with trepidation, given the number of cringe-worthy efforts in the past. That caution certainly applies to this movie, which debuted in Japan in August 2018 and is now available on Netflix. However, this movie mostly avoids the problems that sink other such efforts, in the process becoming a passable and briefly even good adaptation of its source manga.
One thing that this movie does make clear is that Ichigo's oversized zanpakuto looks rather dumb in physical form. Instead of the more tapered design seen in the anime, this movie makes it look like someone took a katana and stretched it to three times its normal width. Its ungainly-ness only stands out much when Ichigo is posing with it though, and that isn't often. Urahara's trademark outfit also looks even more cartoony in live-action. Contrarily, the standard Soul Reaper garb looks sharp, as does the Captain's outfit worn by Byakuya, so the movie isn't a wash on the design front.
The casting choices aren't bad, either. Sota Fukushi, who's done some other anime-related live-action work, makes for a respectable Ichigo. Hana Sugisaki, who voiced Mary in Mary and the Witch's Flower fits her role well as the film goes on, and she actually has some good chemistry with Fukushi. Erina Mano is a fitting beauty in a more limited role, while Yu Koyanagi makes about as good a Chad as could be hoped for, and Yosuke Eguchi sells the role of Ichigo's father. The one significant disappointment is Taichi Saotome who almost clownishly overacts as Renji. His version of the character feels like the obnoxiously stereotypical sneering villain of a corny old J-drama.
The story of the movie covers essentially the same territory as the first 17 episodes of the anime series, ending with Rukia's return to the Soul Society under escort of Renji and Byakuya. It leaves out the spiritual awakenings of Chad and Orihime and the whole business with Orihime's brother, but plays up Ichigo's encounter with Grand Fisher more and combines it with his initial encounters with Renji and Byakuya to save time. These trimming and condensing choices were wise, as they strip out needless distractions and allow for surprisingly smooth story flow and a good balance of action, character building, and even a bit of comedy. The end of the movie will leave a bitter taste in the mouth if more isn't made, but it does close off enough for the movie to stand on its own in such a situation. The one big loose end in that case would be Urahara, who's left just popping up a couple times with nothing to do, so he'll doubtlessly leave franchise newcomers scratching their heads about his purpose.
Unsurprisingly, the movie leans heavily on CGI for its Hollows. Action scenes show a heavy influence from the wire work used in Chinese martial arts films, which is integrated relatively well with the CG. So are the more practical special effects, like vehicles getting knocked and tossed around during fights. Effectively supporting the action scenes in particular is a musical score that takes clear inspiration from Shiro Sagisu's distinctive soundtrack for the anime but does not directly replicate the anime's core themes. Netflix is mostly offering the movie in its normal dub and sub choices. However, that does not include an English dub yet.
Overall, the Bleach live-action movie stands well enough on its own that viewers won't not need any familiarity with the franchise to follow it. It comes together in a more entertaining package than expected, just enough to give it a casual recommendation.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Art : B-
+ Above-average special effects for Japanese live-action, generally good character chemistry
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