Let’s face it…live adaptations for anime/manga series don’t have the best track record. When you have flops like Dragonball: Evolution, Blood: The Last Vampire, Attack on Titan, and Fist of the North Star, the mere mention of a new “live adaptation” sends anime fans running in the opposite direction. Bleach however, appears to be one of the rare exceptions.
Bleach tells the story of orange-haired high schooler Ichigo Kurosaki (Sota Fukushi) who has a special relationship with the supernatural. In order to save his younger sister from the hands of a malevolent being known as a “hollow,” Ichigo is granted the powers of a sword wielding substitute shinigami (soul reaper) by a real shinigami named Rukia Kuchiki (Hana Sugisaki). Upon transferring these abilities, Rukia loses her own power and finds herself stranded in the human world. The film follows the pair as Rukia attempts to train Ichigo to carry on her assigned duties and simultaneously get her power back in order to return to her home, the Soul Society.
The anime ran for about 8 years producing a total of 366 episodes. It included a vast world with a huge cast of uniquely powerful characters and a story of war that transcended both time and dimensions. The film focuses on the first 18 episodes of the series … which brings us to the issue with most live adaptations.
These films generally take about 1.5 to 2 hours to sum up episodes, and sometimes, multiple seasons worth of content. Most try and fail … horribly. Bleach managed to overcome this by skipping quite a bit of the world building and early character development we saw in the anime series, and still, managed to deliver a sufficiently pleasing experience to both old and new fans.
For the most part, the movie remained faithful to the source material. Things opened up exactly like the first episode of the series showing young Ichigo and the death of his mother at the hands of the hollow known as ‘The Fisher King.’ Present day teenage Ichigo is then shown running the fade of the bullies under the overpass; the only real inconsistency being the color of the younger version’s hair. This was followed by Ichigo and Rukia’s initial encounter and the attack of Fishbone D.
While the supporting characters didn’t really get explored as much, their interactions were pretty much on par with the anime: over-the-top antics between Ichigo and his father, the varying personalities of his high school friends, and most importantly, the developing relationship between Ichigo and Rukia. Although they did a good job of casting and portraying Rukia visually, her character seemed a bit more serious than her anime counterpart. Fortunately, they made up for this by including some of the reoccurring memorable moments from the series such as the clowning of Rukia’s rabbit-like drawings.
The special effects and action sequences were really well done, although, the first Konsō (soul burial) early in the film had me a bit worried. Smaller effects like the use of kido and the Gokkon Tekko (skull gloves), along with larger scale effects including the hollow battles and the glimpse of the massive Soul Society, served up a healthy dose of eye candy. The standout moment was the Fisher King fight leading directly into the battle between Renji Abarai and Ichigo. This sequence diverted away from the anime but did so in a pleasing way. The setting and CG used during this fight took the conflict to a different level, and in many ways, surpassed the respective fights from the series.
Anime tends to present viewers with huge, vivid worlds full of stylish characters that do the impossible in the most fantastic ways. These characteristics are often hard to translate into a live setting. Bleach faced the same challenges as other live adaptations and managed to stand tall where others have fallen short. While it wasn’t perfect, the film did a good job of both catering to existing fans and providing an experience entertaining enough to draw in new ones. I give this this movie an 8.5/10. – Kevin Richardson, Graphic Designer & Moderator of Urban Anime Lounge