The Bleach anime is based on a manga series written and illustrated by Tite Kubo. The anime was produced by Studio Pierrot and directed by Noriyuki Abe. The series aired on Japanese television from October 5, 2004-March 27, 2012, for a total of 366 episodes. There are also four anime films that are part of the franchise. VIZ Media holds the North American rights for Bleach.
The protagonist of Bleach is a 15-year-old high school student named Ichigo Kurosaki, and he can see ghosts. After witnessing a girl attacking a strange creature in the middle of his
neighborhood, the girl visits him one night in his bedroom. She says she is a Soul Reaper and she is surprised that Ichigo can see her. At first, Ichigo doesn’t believe her, but his mind is changed when another strange creature, which he learns is called a “hollow,” attacks his house and terrorizes his sisters.
The Soul Reaper is severely wounded when she tries to protect Ichigo. When things look bleak, she introduces herself as Rukia Kuchiki, and she says she will transfer some of her powers to him so Ichigo can protect his sisters. However, in the process of the power transfer, he unintentionally absorbs most of Rukia’s powers. With his new power, Ichigo defeats the hollow.
The next day, Rukia suddenly appears in Ichigo’s classroom as a transfer student. She has transferred herself into an artificial human body, which she must stay in until she can recover her abilities. Without her powers, she is stranded in the human world. Ichigo must now take over Rukia’s job as a Soul Reaper, and it’s up to him to battle hollows and guide lost souls to Soul Society, which is what we would think of as “Heaven.”
In Bleach, all the characters are “souls”; living human beings have souls contained within their bodies. Spirits have a form that is composed of particles and spiritual energy that is
called ectoplasm. The ectoplasm can mimic human anatomy, but it ages more slowly. For the spirits, there is no distinction between spirit and body.
Most humans cannot see or sense the spirits; however, spirits can inhabit artificial human bodies that can be seen by humans. One in 50,000 humans is a medium with some degree of awareness of nearby spirits. But of those, only about a third of them can see the spirits clearly. And only the strongest of the mediums can speak with or touch the spirits.
There are benign spirits, called pluses in the Japanese version or wholes in the English version. This is a spirit of someone who has died, and they have a chain (called the Chain of Fate) protruding from their chest. The chain binds the spirit to a location, object or person they felt close to in life. The spirit can move around freely if the chain is broken, but this also causes the chain to erode. Most of these spirits are sent to Soul Society by the Soul Reapers before the corrosion becomes significant. If not, then a hole will form in the chest of the spirit where the chain had been anchored.
The Soul Reapers are souls with inner spiritual power and are recruited from the ranks and nobility of Soul Society. They use supernatural swords that manifest their owners’ powers to perform soul burials on the pluses/wholes. They are also charged with
eliminating hollows, which are evil spirits that feed on the souls of the living and the dead. The Hollows reside in an area called Hueco Mundo.
Soul Reapers also have access to artificial souls, which are in pill form and mass-produced by the Soul Reapers. The artificial souls are used to force Soul Reapers out of their artificial human bodies, and they can also be used to evict pluses/wholes that refuse to leave their bodies after death.
But Ichigo is not alone in dealing with spirits. His friend Chad discovers he has an ability that strengthens and armors his right arm, which allows him to fight hollows. Ichigo’s classmate Orihime develops a spiritual awareness and gains an ability to warp reality
through rejecting past phenomena. His rival, Uryu Ishida, is a Quincy (a hollow-hunting archer), ends up becoming a reluctant ally.
There are also many other interesting characters, especially the other Soul Reapers that the audience meets in Soul Society. There’s so many of them, though, that it would take way too much space to talk about each one and their abilities. But a Soul Reaper named Aizen ends up becoming one of the main antagonists of the series.
Bleach starts out as a very interesting anime with fantastic storytelling, and it’s a series that is populated by a lot of compelling characters. There were occasional “filler” episodes in the first three seasons, and most of them were somewhat enjoyable. But around the fourth season, there was the filler story arc about the Bount, and most of this arc was enjoyable. However, the end of the Bount arc was a little disappointing, because the
ending was ultimately anticlimactic.
Unfortunately, as time went on, Bleach started getting bogged down with more filler episodes, with some of these filler stories lasting for a year’s worth of episodes. Not only that, but the tone of the filler episodes started becoming more and more comedic and lighthearted in nature, which is in direct contrast to the darker tone that the canon storylines have. Also, at least one filler story was dropped in right in the middle of a major canon battle, with narration at the beginning of the first filler episode that Ichigo and the others got away. But once the filler ended and the series returned to a canon storyline, there was a recap of what led up to the canon battle, and then the battle continued.
Later in the series, the anime would stretch out the canon material by re-showing at least part of a battle from the previous episode. At its worst, the first half of an episode
would just re-show a battle from the previous episode, and the battle wouldn’t start progressing until the second half.
The Bleach anime does have a timeskip that seems to be required in shonen stories, but unfortunately, the series was cancelled before too much progression could be made in the post-timeskip storyline. But considering how much the series had gone downhill prior to the cancellation, it’s not surprising that audience numbers dropped off enough for the decision to be made to discontinue the series.
In the end, I really enjoy the early episodes of Bleach, and wish that the series could have continued to be that strong in both its tone and storytelling. Now that Tite Kubo has ended the manga, I’m hoping that maybe at some point, a reboot of the Bleach anime could be produced that would focus specifically on the canon material from the manga. While it’s not likely this could happen, it’s not entirely impossible, either. Fullmetal Alchemist got a manga faithful reboot, and Fruits Basket will be getting the same treatment in 2019. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that perhaps Bleach could also be among the lucky anime to get a manga faithful reboot.