Publisher: Viz Media (Jump Comics).
Release Date: August 7th, 2001 – August 22, 2016.
Genre(s): Fantasy, Adventure, Supernatural.
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5/5).
Among the many countless Japanese shōnen manga series that took the world by storm, there was one with a orange-haired kid that caught my eye as a young teenager. When he was introduced to a world that reimagined grim reapers with fascinating characters who possess unique abilities (especially upon unleashing their bankai), I just couldn’t believe it. My excitement was piercing through the roof. My curiosity was piqued beyond my understanding. From the various friendships built through the series to the incredible action scenes capturing the mangaka’s stunning artwork, I was enthralled by the journey and wanted to see how cool this kid could get as he grew up. Unfortunately, I ended up quitting on the anime (or just anime as a whole) in my young adult days and never got around to completing this series. This year, I took the time to revisit this beloved series and to find out for myself what happened to this orange-haired kid and what kind of evil was he able to slice away from existence.
What is Bleach about? The story follows the young teenager Ichigo Kurosaki and his unexpected burden (or gift) upon obtaining the powers of a Soul Reaper from the mysterious and in distress Soul Reaper Rukia Kuchiki. As he learns about his ability to see spirits and his new role to send the good ones to the afterlife while eliminating the bad ones, he slowly makes new friends in otherworldly realms and defeats evil foes with ill intentions as the stakes increase over the years. Collected in 74 volumes, his adventures set him on a course towards self-discovery and maturity despite his usual temperament characterizing him as a hotheaded kid who never asked for anything in the world but to be left alone to his peaceful loafing. He also discovers along the way the history behind the Soul Society and the secrets that they have kept from the world.
Upon setting my feet into this universe, I was completely taken by a wave of nostalgia. The characterization of each of these heroes, the character design illustrated with a refined sharpness, the action-packed story-lines that always had you wondering what new ability these guys were going to showcase. I was simply mesmerized by the direction of this action-centric franchise and looked forward to the inevitable battle match-ups up until the boss fights that would occur for the story-arc. There’s something thoroughly captivating to watch Ichigo Kurosaki and his friends grow and reinforce their bonds as they face new menaces along the way. There was simply nothing that could stop these guys from helping each other get out of hell and I found it exciting as things started to heat up in their world..
The entire franchise can be divided in four story-arcs: the Soul Society arc, the Arrancar arc , the Fullbring (or The Lost Agent) arc, and the Quincy (or the 1,000 Year Blood War) arc. The first story-arc remains the most captivating and original narrative of the franchise, feeling fresh and exciting for fans to indulge. Once mangaka Tite Kubo enters the second story-arc, you could already start to tell that he wasn’t going to give up on the formula that made the first one such a success. It doesn’t ruin much but it does feel a bit more long-winded as the inevitable fights are stretched out as much as possible to keep the suspense high and the series as engaging as possible. However, considering that this remains one of the best story-lines of the franchise and introduces some innovative character development (especially in terms of power-ups), it’s hard to hate much of the action offered here.
The third story-arc is where the mangaka loses it. It completely betrays the original premise of the manga and explores unusual new ideas that never gel together. Good thing it was a short one, right? Not exactly… The final arc is the ultimate nail in the coffin. Everything is awkward, the balance between humour and drama is odd, the fan service ruins certain characters. You could tell that the mangaka wasn’t even trying to give fans a hint of hope towards revitalizing a dying franchise. It doesn’t help that the final act attempts to throw everything in the barrel, praying that the concoction will bring back the dead. Leave it to the final volume’s epilogue chapter to offer nothing satisfying for long-term fans too. Sure, it shows that it was rushed, that there was something outside the story (e.g. publisher and author contracts) that might have pushed for a quicker death, but this wasn’t the way to go. Is it as awful as I claim it to be? No. You will find some exciting new reveals but to see some things get retconned for other things to work was just a shame.
Bleach is an action-packed manga series exploring a young teenager’s quest to rid the world of evil spirits.