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Title:
 Bleach Series 1 Part 1

UK Distributor:  Manga Entertainment

BBFC Certificate:  15

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  24.99

Episodes:  1-12 (of 20)

Audio Options:  English 2.0, Japanese 2.0

Subtitles:  English

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)

 

It's amazing how quickly people forget about things.  For the past few years anime fans across the UK clamoured for someone to release Naruto, saying how it would finally take anime to the mainstream and prove a massive hit that would turn everyone in the UK into anime fans.  Now Manga Entertainment have managed to release Naruto, the same fans are using the same arguments to clamour for something else - Bleach.

Yes, Bleach is the official Next Big Thing, and has proven a massive hit in Japan and America in both manga and anime forms.  Once again Manga Entertainment have broken the bank in order to bring the series to UK audiences, so all that remains to see is if it's worth all the fuss.

The story follows the schoolboy Ichigo Kurosaki, a young man who has two things that sets him apart from the crowd - his bright orange hair and the fact that he can see ghosts and spirits.  His two sisters Yuzu and Karin can see them too to a lesser extent but Ichigo can not only see them but hear and speak to them too.  To start with it's nothing more than a slight annoyance and he helps the ghosts try to find peace when he can, but his life gets turned on its head when the a sword-wielding woman in a black kimono walks through his bedroom wall.  The woman is Rukia Kuchiki, and she is a spirit being known as a Soul Reaper whose job involves helping normal ghosts find peace and dealing with monstrous fallen souls known as Hollows.  Hollows are attracted to people with high spiritual energy, something that puts Ichigo and his family directly in their sights!  Rukia is searching for a Hollow when she runs into

Ichigo and it's not long before it attacks them both.  In a desperate attempt to save him Rukia throws herself in the Hollow's path and is seriously wounded, leaving her with one option - pass some of her powers to Ichigo so he can fight in her stead.  However, the transfer unlocks Ichigo's latent spiritual abilities, and he inadvertently takes all of her Soul Reaper powers.  With Rukia powerless Ichigo is left with little choice but to stand in for her as a Soul Reaper until her powers return.  However, despite his strength he lacks experience and if he is to protect his family he must heed Rukia's advice and learn as fast as he can...

 
Bleach seems to have taken Naruto's place in the forefront of the anime community's mind, and it's certainly got a lot going for it.  The human character designs (I'll be coming back to the Hollows later...) and animation is good, as is the voice acting.  The premise is interesting and ties an in-depth mythology and strong fantasy elements around real life rather than setting up a new fantasy world for the series to inhabit.  There's also shedloads of action to sink your teeth into, and some solid drama and decent comedy underpinning a decent story that starts to develop quite quickly.  Rukia and Ichigo make decent lead characters and there's a nice romantic triangle forming between them and Ichigo's pretty but scatty schoolmate Orihime Inoue, but sadly things are not all rosy.

Although Bleach Series 1 part 1 is enjoyable and action packed, it suffers from bouts of cheesiness, predictability and crap monster syndrome.  All of the hollows that turn up in this first volume look rubbish, just look at the picture to the left for an example.  Why fallen souls look so pants is beyond me, as is the reason why one of them can spit exploding leeches, but the idea behind them is relatively interesting even if they are poorly realised.  The storylines were sometimes a little daft - particularly the one about the parakeet with a boy's soul in it -

and in places you had to suspend belief even more than normal, especially when Ichigo's inexplicably Mexican classmate Yasutora 'Chad' Sado survives a steel girder falling on him pretty much unscathed.  But despite this it is still very good in places, the storyline about the death of Ichigo's mother is surprisingly moving, as is the storyline about Orihime and her brother.  The action comes thick and fast and things really start to pick up at the end of the volume when rival Hollow-hunter Uryu Ishida turns up and challenges Ichigo to a duel.  It's a shame that some of the more moving storylines to get mired in mawkishness though.


I actually found this volume a bit frustrating to be honest, as every now and again the series showed real flashes of genius and the action is frequently great.  But too often it fails to focus on the things that set it apart from its peers, dwelling instead on running gags and overextended fights.  I liked the fact that the English dub retained the Japanese names (although I found the constant mispronunciation of Kon's name nearly as annoying as the character himself), and was glad to see a proper subtitle track but was very surprised to see a lack of subtitles of Japanese signs in several episodes.  Technical issues aside, having read the manga on US import I know Bleach gets a lot better, but in this volume it only hits the standard Naruto has set in a handful of episodes.  Things pick up towards the end, but at the moment Bleach is a surprisingly average series that fails to completely take advantage of a great premise and strong characters.  It's enjoyable enough, but if I'm honest it is not as good as Naruto thus far.

Extras

Textless closing sequences, trailers and production art galleries to peruse.  Not bad, but pretty standard stuff.

Ratings

Feature:   Extras:
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