Thursday, 27 October 2011

Bleach: Pre-timeskip

I’ve done it for the other two Shounen Jump ‘Big Three’ titles, so now that the anime has come out of its latest extended filler arc and skipped ahead a year and a half to one of its most unpopular arcs, it’s time to give Bleach the same treatment.

It’s interesting to note that I didn’t get into any of the Big Three on a first attempt. One Piece’s Alvida episode seemed frivolous and unfunny and Naruto seemed like its main character was going to be too hard to like, let alone root for. But by the Haku/Zabuza arc, Naruto was a firm favourite and One Piece hooked me in as soon as Zoro was set free – though took another few months to rise up to my favourite Jump title besides Hikaru no Go. Bleach, on the other hand, was a long, long slog before it picked up and became not only watchable but compulsive viewing.

But – unlike the authors of The Anime Encyclopaedia, whose entry is clearly based on a cursory viewing of the first few episodes – I stuck with it, curious as to what all the fuss was about, and I ended up glad I did. For while the first forty or so episodes are rather dull and emotionally distant, once Ichigo travels to Soul Society and its major figures are introduced, a far more interesting world, with far more interesting characters, comes to the fore.

Bleach is about a teenager who can see ghosts. He has a reputation as something of a delinquent, especially because people jump to conclusions based on his hair colour – which supposedly is natural and not a result of bleach. This was for some time put forward as a wrangled reason for the series’ title, until mangaka Tite Kubo came up with a better one about wanting to refer obliquely to white. One day, he sees a female shinigami in battle with a ‘hollow’, a monstrous and predatory spirit looking to feed on the souls of the recently deceased. The shinigami, Rukia, ends up injured, and lends Ichigo some of her power to defeat the creature. However, he absorbs far more than expected, not only becoming powerful enough to defeat the hollow but rendering Rukia almost useless for a while. Thus, he has to take on her responsibilities and do battle with the creatures from the spirit world, who seem to have taken an interest in him and those around him.

As I mentioned, the story doesn’t really pick up until Ichigo travels to the Shinigami world of Soul Society to rescue Rukia, which means taking on warriors far more powerful and more experienced than he is – and becomes mixed up in a coup that just happens to erupt as he is there. This section has some irritating power-up moments for Ichigo, but introduces the shinigami captains, antagonists who later become sympathetic and even the best things about the series in a similar way to HunterXHunter’s genei ryodan. My favourite is the straightforward battle-freak Kenpachi, but the likes of the aloof Byakuya, the gruffly childlike Toushirou and the unhinged mad scientist character Kurotsuchi have great designs and dynamics.

Bleach was also quite innovative with its filler, original episodes not based on the manga aired in order to prevent anime catching up to Jump chapters. Initially, Studio Pierrot fell back on their Naruto filler tricks with inconsequential single episodes – including one about a ghost baker shamelessly ripped off from Kekkaishi – but later began to do long, extended story arcs, even introducing characters that come back for cameos in later non-filler episodes. These usually outstay their welcome and fall apart even if their original ideas were remarkably good, but they generally offer far more to keep an audience than long seasons of bitty, inconsequential single-episode stories.

In the end, Bleach is in a state of uncertainty. Many seem to think it would have been the ideal time for Bleach to end when the time-skip happened, and everything beyond that has been sub-par. And even before its timeskip, I wouldn’t call Bleach the best series. It’s often frustrating, its central character is remarkably uncharismatic for a Jump protagonist and there’s often an air of desperation about how its loose ends get tied up. But there are some battles here that ought to be a fix for any lover of shounen, and really, if you’re watching a long-runner from Jump, that oughtta be what you’re looking for.

Movie 3: link
Movie 4: link


  1. Nice to know another fan of the big shonen trio ^_^

    I've had a rather strained relationship with Bleach since I started watching it in 2005. I'm still watching it after all these years (skipping filler after the Bounto arc), but I still haven't grown to like it very much, especially compared to how much I love Naruto and One Piece. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I just don't like the characters as a whole, and I find Ichigo to be a very uninteresting protagonist.

    Time and time again, Ichigo has gotten the crap beat out of him only to come back with some new super power - this plot device has been used so many times that I can't even take it seriously anymore every time he bleeds his gallons of blood and is about to be killed because I know he'll just pop back with some awesome power at the critical moment. And unlike Naruto, who went from an immature, cocky mischief-maker to a noble and competent ninja by Shippuuden, I can't help but feel that Ichigo has remained pretty much the same character-wise throughout the series thus far, despite all that's happened to him.

    It's funny that you mention Kenpachi is your favorite because he's a prime example of the type of character I dislike. I just can't get into the self-absorbed, bloodthirsty, violence-loving guys like him. I much prefer the compassionate but strong guys like Chad and Kumamura. I guess I don't have a thing for the stylish, bad-ass type of characters that Bleach has a lot of, and prefer fun, less creepy protagonists like the Straw Hat crew. And just an aside, 90% of the humor and gags in Bleach make me roll my eyes than laugh.

    But! Since I've stuck with Bleach all this time despite my gripes, I guess I don't dislike it that much ;) There are a handful of characters I enjoy seeing and the series has piqued my interest more since the latter part of the battle with Aizen. This current arc in the anime where Ichigo is trying to get his powers back through Fullbring looks like it'll be good. I hope it keeps getting better~

  2. Ahh, the filler got better after the Baunto, but equally I can understand why someone not too keen on Bleach would skip it. On the other hand, if you've stuck with it this long, like you say you can't dislike it that much! That's a whole lot of hours.

    Bleach is the only one of the three I don't read the manga for, and I've heard little other than complaining about the arc the anime is just starting on, so I can't really judge it too well. I'll have to wait and see how it goes!

    Ichigo is definitely not very interesting - and also not so bland that most people can project themselves onto him. I think he's one of the series' biggest flaws.

    Kenpachi I like because he's only self-absorbed in that he wants to fight, all the time and without regard for anyone but the opponent. His singleminded pursuit of strength is cool in my books, because he just does not care about anything else and lets everybody know it. Chad and Komamura I quite like, but I don't find myself very attached to either.

    I miss when HunterXHunter was the third of the Big Three!