This is another of the Young Man with Special Abilities stories, labeled shonen since the primary market is for young males. Our hero fifteen-year-old Ichigo Kurosaki can see and interact with ghosts. Ichigo has an advantage going into his saga — his father always attacks him when they cross paths, to make him tough enough to take care of himself. This is played for slapstick, but it does what is needed — Ichigo’s no stranger to a brawl. He has two younger sisters and a motley group of friends, representing an interesting collection of history and talents – some not yet discovered.
One night Ichigo abruptly becomes entangled with Rukia, a member of the mysterious Soul Society. Her job is to hunt Hollows — spirits that have not moved on to the next plane of existence, and have morphed into demonic beings that will eat the souls of both dead and living. Ichigo should not even be able to see her, but before you know it, Rukia, curious and also slightly depleted by an injury, hands Ichigo her sword and a bit of power so he can take out a Hollow. Of course, this is where Ichigo’s energy swallows Rukia’s, leaving her trapped in the human plane.
Unable to fight until her spirit power regenerates, Rukia briefly lets Ichigo fight Hollows, satisfying his desire to protect benign spirits and mortals, while showing Ichigo he might have a talent for spirit-hunting. But Rukia has broken a couple of rules, even if it was unintentional. They are important rules that might get her executed by her superiors. When an old friend arrives to retrieve her from the human plane, Ichigo puts up a fight and is saved only by Rukia interceding. But Rukia can’t save herself, and vanishes into the spirit realm.
Ultimately, Ichigo and his friends find individuals with hidden pasts who really want the group to stop Rukia’s execution, and will assist the group with weapons and some understanding of how these tools will behave in the spirit realm. The sword of a soul reaper is a sentient thing – it has a name and history of its own, and you can never unlock the true greatness of a sword until you meet it and befriend or defeat it.
Ichigo and his gang are tossed into a very strange layering of Real and Spirit worlds, where they discover that Ichigo is not the only mortal with unusual powers. There they will meet the Soul Society, who are hostile to their arrival, and are capable of swatting them like flies. The “good” Soul Society members are not necessarily nice people — some are nuts, some are prigs, at least one is a sociopath, and then there is the ubiquitous doll-like little girl who always grates on the nerves.
BLEACH, like many Japanese anime, grows darker as we go along. There is much fighting and bleeding going on, and they almost always announce what attack they’re about to do next, just as little boys do at play. (This sums up a lot of anime, actually, since shonen stories sell well.) It has a real, layered plot, intriguing characters, flashy fighting and more than one mystery to solve. The art is good to beautiful, the costumes fantastic, and the music for opener and closer bizarrely alternates seasons as the best and worst music I’ve heard attached to an anime. You’ll know the worst ender where all I can say is: “THIS music after the plot turn in the story?”
The first disk has surprises but shows us that the kid is loyal to family and friends and backs underdogs because he hates bullies. Then the story picks up steam and starts weaving multiple stories together, stair-stepping into increasingly greater victories as we see the multi-layered real and spirit worlds.
Why watch it if you’re not into Coming of Age stories? It actually has a plot that, at least in the first 120 episodes, holds together. It has interesting characters and also interesting histories for them and their worlds. There’s plenty of fighting with fantastic swords that also have history. There are numerous puzzles to solve, including a death sentence that must be foiled. The art is solid, the costumes fantastic, and I want to know what happens next
This anime is so popular that a later plotline, called The Bounts, was actually created to give the manga artist time to get ahead! BLEACH moves fairly quickly, with the occasional update. Recaps happen with new episodes, but it’s not nearly as tedious as during NARUTO, for example.
PG-13 for a lot of blood and injuries, some healed magically, some requiring more time to mend. I’ll watch as long as we stay on this quality level or go above it.