One of the most popular manga series, both in the US and Japan, is Bleach.
The on-going comic has sold over 40 million copies (of the reprint volumes)
in Japan alone. Here in the US, Viz has released over 20 volumes of
the translated manga. The animated series has been making its way
to DVD also, with individual volumes selling well. (For a more
detailed look at the series, check out Don Houston's reviews of the individual
Now Viz has collected the first five discs in one nice package. Fans
of supernatural anime are sure to gobble this up.
Ichigo Kurosaki is not your average kid. Sure, he goes to high
school like other kids his age, and he helps his father out at the medical
clinic that his family runs, but Ichigo can do something most people can't:
He can see ghosts. It isn't scary or freaky; it's just something
that he's learned to live with.
"The name is Ichigo. I'm
the one who's going to beat your ass."
One day he spots a girl, Rukia Kuchiki, that he assumes is a ghost,
but she isn't. She's a 'Soul Reaper', someone who helps dead people
pass on to the other side. In addition to that, Soul Reapers fight
Hollows, spirits that weren't been able to pass on and have subsequently
turned into monsters who feed on people's souls.
While talking to Ichigo, Rukia is attacked by a Hollow and wounded badly.
Knowing that Ichigo won't stand a chance against the evil monster, she
transfers some of her power to the young man. At least that's what
she tries to do. For some reason he absorbs all of her power.
With his new-found abilities he's able to easily defeat the Hollow, but
afterwards he's not able to give Rukia her powers back.
next day at school, Ichigo is astounded to discover that the new transfer
student is none other than Rukia. Without her Soul Reaper powers,
she can't travel back to the Soul Society and is force to put her essence
in a gigai, an artificial body. Living in the closet in Ichigo's
bedroom, Rukia forces Ichigo to take over her job, fighting Hollows and
defending humanity. The lad is a little hesitant at first, but Rukia
can be quite persistant.
This first set of 20 episodes covers the first story arc which pretty
much sets up the show for what's to come. We're introduced to the
supporting characters, many of who will play important parts in the series.
Orihime Inoue is a female classmate of Ichigo's who is an orphan.
She was living with her brother until he died not too long ago. Unfortunately
he wasn't able to pass over and comes back as a Hollow, which changes Orihime's
life once again. Another friend of Ichigo's is Chad, a tall muscular
student who looks intimidating but is meek and mild in temperament.
Ichigo also goes to school with Ury? Ishida, a quiet studious person who
is hiding a big secret. There's also Kon, a modified soul who inhabits
Ichigo's body when he's in Soul Reaper form, and when he isn't lives in
a stuffed Teddy Bear.
In this first story arc Ichigo fights a lot of Hollows, and viewers
learn about his past, and are introduced to the supporting characters.
The series starts off a little... well not slow, but unexciting. The
early shows play out like a monster-of-the-week program, with Ichigo helping
out one of his classmates and learning about their past. Just when
I was about to write it off as an entertaining yet average show, things
started coming together. The stories started building on what had
happened earlier and they fleshed out the characters in a nice way.
The pace quickens during the last 1/3 of these episodes and there are some
unexpected twists and turns that makes the show very engaging. Things
come to a head at the end of this set, but they aren't resolved... we'll
have to wait for the next installment for that.
These first five volumes of the series, containing 20 episodes, come
in a nice 'book' style case with a page for each DVD. The book itself
is housed in an attractive slipcase. Inside the front cover is a
pocket that contains a nice mini-poster. One side has an image of
Ichigo while the other is covered with conceptual art.
The set comes with the original Japanese audio track as well as an English
dub, both in stereo. I alternated between the two every episode for
the first couple of discs, and finally settled on the Japanese track which
was just a tad more natural sounding. The English actors did a good
job, and managed to breathe live into the animated characters. While
the show would have been enhanced by a multi-track audio option (especially
during the fight with the Menos Grande), the stereo audio was fine.
There was a little use made of the soundstage, though not as much as I
There are optional English subtitles, though they don't translate signs
or written text, which was a bit irritating at times.
This show is presented with a full frame image, which looks pretty good.
The colors are nice and strong and the blacks are solid. There was
a little banding in some scenes, but aliasing was largely absent, as were
other video defects.
Each of these five discs comes with a series of production sketches
and a clean opening or closing. The final DVD also has a featurette,
Behind the Scenes of Bleach. This 19½-minute show has interviews
with the English voice cast, who talk about their characters and the recording
process. It was a nice look at the dubbing process.
This is a really fun show. Though it started off like an average
anime series, in the later part of this set the program started bringing
together some dangling story lines in a satisfactory manner. The
show picks up speed as one of the main characters becomes endangered and
the some unexpected things happen that makes the show much more interesting
that I thought it would be at first. A solid show that deserves a
lot of its hype. Highly Recommended.