There are some anime properties that simply rise above the rest and pop for whatever reason. Dragon Ball had it and so did Naruto for that matter. The next behemoth to come from Japan is undoubtedly Bleach, which you've probably heard of by this point.
In Japan the manga is still going strong since 2001 and the animation has garnered over 150 episodes with no end in sight. On this side of the pond VIZ has been handling the show's release on DVD. Bleach can also be found on Adult Swim and if you step into an anime convention somewhere you'll undoubtedly see just how popular the series is thanks to all the cosplayers. Yes, it's safe to say that this show is the next phenomenon like DBZ and Naruto, but just what is it all about?
At its core Bleach's plot is all about souls. There is a heaven known as the Soul Society and Hell of course, but in our world there are souls that refuse to pass over for whatever reason. Either they lack the ability or they are turned into hellish monsters known as Hollows. Naturally no mere human can see these ghosts but their presence can be felt and Hollows actually have the ability to impact our world through their actions. Luckily there are beings known as Soul Reapers who are spirits that possess power to battle the Hollows and assist the dead when it comes time to pass over to the Soul Society. One Soul Reaper in particular, Rukia Kuchiki, soon encounters a human who is anything but mere.
One night in his bedroom 15 year old Ichigo Kurosaki is laying there thinking about the events of the past day when he feels something and notices a young girl dressed in black walking into his room. After asking her what she's doing he decides to kick her which gives Rukia something of a shock. You see, Ichigo has the ability to not only see but interact with souls. He also possesses some strange power that is beyond what a normal human should be able to wield. It's this aura that attracts a Hollow to his location and his life would never be the same after this night.
Rukia casts a binding spell on him but through some strange forces he's able to shake it off which is something that a human shouldn't be able to do. Ichigo does another surprising thing and confronts the Hollow one on one without fear. Sure things don't go so well but Rukia leaps in at the last moment and protects him by taking the full force of the Hollow's attack. The only alternative for both of them to survive is for Ichigo to take some of Rukia's powers as a Soul Reaper. Due to his strange abilities he essentially drains the girl of just about ever ounce of energy and becomes a substitute Soul Reaper with a massive weapon and unique abilities. From this point Bleach really kicks things into full gear.
Rukia begins to train Ichigo and teaches him what it means to be a Soul Reaper. At first Ichigo is cold to the idea of fighting Hollows for strangers but eventually he learns what the creatures really are and sees people he know in trouble. After fighting a couple Hollows he determines that he will help Rukia until she gets her abilities back. So, he becomes a Surrogate Reaper and jumps into action whenever the need arises.
During the first twenty episodes Ichigo takes a couple of Hollows to task and we meet many personalities that make up the structure of the show. For the most part Ichigo and Rukia take center stage but Ichigo's family, some of his schoolmates, and others from the spiritual realm begin to trickle in. One of my favorite characters was introduced as a Mod Soul who is accidentally placed inside Ichigo's body while he's off as a Soul Reaper. They resolve this situation by getting the soul out and place it inside of a stuffed bear which leads to hilarious results.
From start to finish this first "season" release from VIZ is virtually nonstop. The concept is creative and intriguing with unique situations and a large amount of depth all around. The characters are well-developed and their personalities play off of each other perfectly. The show also presents some fantastic action sequences tucked in between some finely written dialogue. This is a smart show that looks like it would appeal mostly to children but it's actually fun for all ages.
If you haven't already purchased the individual volumes of Bleach then I highly recommend picking this set up. This was one of those rare shows that once I popped the first disc into my DVD player I couldn't pull myself away until the final disc left. These twenty episodes were thoroughly entertaining and proved that Bleach lives up to the hype that came with it. Chalk me up as another fan!
Bleach comes with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio and receives a very competent transfer from the folks at VIZ. This is a very vibrant show with a wide color palette and it makes nice use of its relatively clean presentation. There is very little grain to complain about and it only appears in some darkly lit scenes and even then it's mostly in the background. Compression is nonexistent and so is aliasing for that matter. While it has more to do with the production of the anime and a desired look for the show there are many moments where the image is very soft. It's nothing entirely distracting but it certainly keeps Bleach from being as great looking as it should have been.
English and Japanese 2.0 language tracks are available for this release of Bleach. It's unfortunate that no 5.1 selection has been included because these action sequences simply beg for a greater sense of immersion. This leaves some aspects of Bleach with a flat feeling as the action and effects never quite live up to their potential. Still, for stereo tracks both are competent enough and the sound is split evenly throughout the front channels. As far as the dubbing is concerned both with the English and Japanese casts do very well and I actually found myself having a difficult time choosing one track over the other which is a rarity.
The bonus features with Bleach's first season are relatively light. There is a cosplay "Chain of Fate" included as well as a mini poster and each disc has production sketches and clean animations to look at. There is a "behind the scenes" featurette on the final disc that has some content with the English cast but it's mostly fluff in the end. I would have liked a more in depth look at the show's original production but alas that's not available here.
Bleach is a big hit in Japan and it's starting to really catch on here in America. The first twenty episodes compiled here proved to be a lot of fun with an intriguing concept and boatloads of action leading the way. I couldn't get enough after sitting through all five discs and I found myself wanting the next batch of episodes already. If you haven't seen this show then you're missing out on a wild experience that stands out on the current marketplace. This is a solid anime all around.