Studio (Network)/ Years aired: Studio Pierrot(Adult Swim-Toonami)/ 2004-2012
(Minor spoilers ahead. Not anything “big-picture.”)
AniB’s thoughts: Ah, another of the “big” shonen anime from the past 15 years- the tale of Ichigo Kurosaki and his friends as they’re plunged into the battles of Soul Reapers- the shinigami of this universe- and Hollows, corrupted souls who devour others and wreak havoc. Essentially, Bleach hit the jackpot in popularity when it first started its run back in 2004; this was the era of the long-format shonen franchise especially when it came to the West, and so three shows in particular defined this idea in the wake of Dragon Ball Z’s dub that made shonen relevant on a large scale in the West: Naruto, One Piece, and this show. While Bleach was key to the era, it also would come to close a chapter too- by the time the show finally came to an end in 2012 after an exhaustive 366 episode run- enough for every day in a leap year- the anime scene had greatly changed, and while one of this blog’s favorite shows- Hunter x Hunter– was techincally an ongoing shonen, the idea was largely exhausted, save for the continuation of already established franchises (the same two already mentioned- Naruto and One Piece), and in the past year and a half, the revival of Dragon Ball with Super coming into existence.
Bleach itself is an interesting show that shows both the good and bad effects of becoming massively popular. While there are generally interesting elements in the show- such as the dynamics between the world of living, the Soul Society (where the Soul Reapers and the souls of the departed reside), and Hueco Mundo- the Land of the Hollows- the pacing and fillers represent the side that prevents it from finding its true peak form. There is in fact, some really decent character development- and a few individuals in particular (especially Kisuke Urahara) have outstanding backstory and more depth than you’d imagine. The problem is getting there. The Hueco Mundo arc of the show, as an example, lasts for around 1/3 of the entire show (including fillers), has battles that often take the span of 5-10 episodes to complete- and contains lots of said battles and long staredowns. (In that regard, Bleach got DBZ syndrome.) In fact, doing a quick calculation of canon material vs. filler (meaning anime-original content/non-manga material here, even if well done), 191 episodes can be considered “canon” to watch the entirety of Bleach– a measly 52.1% of its run time, constituting a bare majority of its episode. Of course, hardly all the extra material is terrible- the first major filler arc (Bounts) is relatively entertaining, and others will point to the Zanpankto Tales arc as another example. Regardless of the quality however, the interruptions to the main storyline can be rather jarring and unwelcome- and while this is a result again of Bleach’s popularity and the need for the manga and anime to align, it also constitutes quite a bit more tediousness to what is already a very lengthy watch.
When Bleach gets going though, it’s got some very entertaining action sequences when they finally do get to the point (such as Ichigo and Byakuya Kuchiki’s fight in the picture for this article), and the payoffs are usually decent for very long buildups. I’ll also be the first to say that I very much like the character design in this show, as it tends to reflect both personality and pleasing aesthetics into one. The mechanics of zanpakto– the special weapons usually in the form of a katana Soul Reapers wield- is also very interesting, as are the distinctions between classes of Hollows as another example of universe-building. Overall, the plot stays straightforward despite all the detours; the usual shonen tropes and power-ups are very much present, and if you’ve got the guts for a very long watch, you ultimately might enjoy Bleach very much despite its predictability at times (and I did, all things considered.) And if you’ve already watched it…I’ll just say I love the way these guys say “Bankai…”
Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime. Bleach is a very comfortable show to look at; it’s got a typical style for a shone anime, good colors, and unique enough character models. Some of the action sequences are also outstanding. However, it is not particularly groundbreaking in any one aspect. 3.75/5 points.
Characterization: As is typical for a show of this style, Bleach has a massive cast which it juggles; for the purpose of this analysis, this section will just canvas the main characters.
Ichigo Kurosaki is the main character; noted for his bright orange hair and straightforward personality, he becomes a Soul Reaper, or shingami one fateful night after meeting Rukia Kuchiki. Driven by a powerful despite to protect those he cares about and loves at all costs, Ichigo’s the consummate description of a shonen protagonist: timely powers, generally a badass, naturally gifted and very straightforward as a character, which isn’t to say he’s bad… just fit for the role he plays.
Rukia Kuchiki serves as the Soul Reaper who initially unlocked Ichigo’s shingami powers and set in motion the events of the show. Often showing a mock callous or serious side, she also cares deeply about her friends; she becomes great friends with Ichigo and his human allies (particularly Orihime) and has a special connection with another Soul Reaper, Renji Abarai…
Speaking of Renji, he’s a hot-headed impulsive Soul Reaper not at all unlike Ichigo personality-wise. Determined and stubborn, Renji is longtime friends with Rukia, is tough as nails, and has his own goals to reach, based on events in his past and through his life.
Speaking of Ichigo’s human pals, there are a few, but in this case it’s referring to the aforementioned Orihime, “Chad” (whose actual name is Yastoru Sato), and Uryu.
Orhime Inoue is a kind, gentle soul who experienced great loss at a young age (both her parents and her older brother are dead.) She greatly wishes to become strong, and acquires the mysterious power “Shun Shun Rikka,” which in turn are 6 guardian pixie..things who allow her to “reject” any phenomenon or injury.
Chad immediately upon his first appearance is noted to be an abnormally strong, big guy for his age. Half Mexican and half Japanese, he develops powers similar to that of a Hollow, which physically manifests on his arm. He’s been friends with Ichigo from a young age and always vowed to have his back…
Finally, Uryu Ishida is a Quincy- a human who exterminates Hollows with specialized spirit energy techniques manifested usually as bows and arrows. Because of Quincies having a long-held grudge against Soul Reapers (and perhaps rightfully so, just watch the show), Uryu initially starts off as Ichigo’s fierce rival, but quickly turns into a close friend and trusted ally.
The rest of the cast is just as diverse and interesting, if not even more so (the captains of the Gotei 13 and their lieutenants could fill a whole column themselves.) I’ll give special mention to Aizen here- he’s the big bad of the show. (Regardless of whether you watched Bleach or not yet, that doesn’t give away much- and if you have, you know.) 3.5/5 points.
Story quality: Massive overarching story structure for the main plot. The non-filler material is pretty entertaining, and Aizen makes for a great main villain. The major problem with Bleach’s story-telling is the massive amount of filler (which accounts for nearly half the episodes in the show’s 366 episode run); an agonizing tendency to take its sweet time getting to, and concluding climactic showdowns in the story, and certain major plot holes, that while resolved ultimately in the manga (as the Bleach anime ended prematurely) still exist here. (SPOILER: Also, there is a strong belief Bleach should have ended with Aizen’s defeat instead of doing a timeskip in the anime, but what’s done is done.) 3/5 points.
Themes: There’s a great deal of focus on the usual tropes: Getting stronger, protecting what you believe in, surpassing your limits, sacrifice… it’s not anything really that new, but Bleach does a relatively good job with these ideas. 3.25/5 points.
Don’t insult the viewer: Filler, filler, and more filler. Seriously, the amount of non-canon material is irksome to no end, despite the relatively good quality of some of it. Bleach also inherited DBZ syndrome for some of its battles being drawn out; and the violence was intentionally toned down (whether or not that’s a good thing is probably a personal preference.) Some really catchy tracks repeat through the show- you’ll know them when they play. 4/5 points.
Total Score: 17.25/25 (70%). Bleach is a typical shonen anime with some interesting characters and a curious enough story, but mostly suffered from its own massive popularity, due to the obscene amount of filler and the tedious length of certain arcs. However, if you’re looking for a long watch show and like lots of sword fights and battles with a good cast and a decent story, Bleach is a good choice.