Bleach – Season 1: Agent of the Shinigami arc

Bleach – Season 1: Agent of the Shinigami arc

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Ichigo Kurosaki is a teenager with the ability to see supernatural beings, which leads him to Rukia Kuchiki. Rukia is a Soul Reaper, a spiritual guardian trusted to guide the souls of the dead from the World of the Living to the Soul Society – the afterlife realm where she comes from. She also fights beings called Hollows, lost souls who have turned into monsters that can attack both other spirits as well as humans. After becoming severely wounded by protecting Ichigo from a Hollow, Rukia transfers her Spiritual Pressure to Ichigo so that he can fight in her stead while she recovers. Finding herself  now trapped in an ordinary human body, Rukia must advise Ichigo as he balances the demands of being a substitute Soul Reaper whilst attending high school. As they hunt Hollows, Ichigo and Rukia ally themselves with others who have spiritual power: Orihime Inoue, Yasutora “Chad” Sado and Quincy Uryuu Ishida.

Bleach is based on the popular shounen manga written and drawn by Tite Kubo. Now a worldwide phenomenon alongside other big titles such as Naruto and One Piece, it is loved by many anime fans for its fast-paced action, humorous characters and epic battles. Over the last decade, it has garnered a lot of attention and popularity all over the world.

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The plot isn’t the most original one I’ve ever seen, but it’s the combination of aspects that make this one so successful. A boy in his mid-teens with supernatural powers fighting big bad beasties with his equally powerful friends. This first arc of Bleach essentially gets the viewer used to the introduction of Soul Reapers, Soul Society and the link it has to the World of the Living. Ichigo battles Hollows and learns about this strange new world with sprinklings of comedy between him and his friends along the way.

That’s when the Soul Society infiltrate the human world, hearing that Rukia has transferred her spiritual powers to a human – which is a crime punishable by death. As Rukia is taken back to Soul Society, Ichigo embarks on a mission to get stronger, infiltrate Soul Society and rescue her. This where Bleach‘s trademark action kicks in, hitting you full on with high-octane fights, which seem to constantly increase at the stakes are raised. Facing Hollows suddenly seems small-fry as Ichigo and his small group brave the onslaught of the Soul Reapers on their own turf.

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On the surface, the plot appears quite basic, but what makes Bleach rise above the mass of other shounen anime is the variety of characters that just couldn’t come to life anywhere else. What initially starts off as your usual common anime archetypal characters are given well thought out quirks and edges that make them recognisable and relatable. The main cast of characters are quickly established, with solid foundations set quickly in a fast-paced environment.

We soon see that Ichigo isn’t just an excitable trouble maker – he has the propensity to be a real hero. Rukia has a strong personality that balances Ichigo out well, and their relationship begins as it continues to go on – with a real chemistry. Uryuu is cool and collected, the polar opposite to Ichigo; Chad is strong and compassionate and Orihime discovers that she has some unusual abilities that stem from the hair accessories that were given to her by her older brother.

But Bleach does a good job of fleshing out the supporting characters, too. In fact, this is done so well that many fans favour the supporting characters over the main ones. Aside from Ichigo’s main group we have stuffed-toy lion sidekick Kon, eccentric and mysterious shop-keeper Urahara, the thirteen squad leaders of Soul Society, Ichigo’s two contrasting sisters and the wonderful example of modern parenting – Ichigo’s dad. The viewer is never completely bombarded by these characters, either. They all have their own time to engage with the main characters and show their strengths and personalities. All-in-all, it’s a very solid cast and they all intertwine to make a great anime dynamic.

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Studio Pierrot makes Bleach a very visually-appealing show with a bold, mainstream style appreciated by the masses. The hard, strong lines and fluid animation really suit the style, especially when it comes to those action-packed battles. It takes until the later episodes of the season to notice the subtle transitions in this area. The fight scenes become more elaborate and extended, but done so in a way that the viewer can always follow what is happening and how opponents are reading one another, which makes for clear storytelling without the ‘talking head syndrome’ which some anime gets bogged down by. At the same time there are still shounen clichés aplenty like speed-lines and time-dilated multi-episodic fights, but the overall style of the show is very original and tailored to the franchise.

One thing I personally appreciate about Bleach is that is acknowledges that characters have more than one set of clothes. Some anime have their characters wearing the same thing every episode (just in case, I don’t know, it confuses people). It’s good to see the group wearing different things out of school, changing their clothes in real-time, because, fighting Hollows all the time or not, that’s what teenagers do. It’s good to see that there’s no skimping on production and someone’s really thought about each character and their individual styles.

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It’s obvious to see that the unique characters and style of Bleach is where it gets its staying power. It’s also what sets it apart from the rest of the shounen flock. Ichigo is a very strong character and his world holds many open doors in which the story could grow through. It’s a very strong start to the series with an extraordinary cast launched into an adrenaline-pumping plot.