Bleach_cover_01I ain’t talking about no damn laundry soap. Bleach is a very popular anime and manga series created by Tite Kubo. It debuted in America is 2006 and is currently shown Saturday nights on Cartoon Network’s late night Adult Swim programming block. It can best be described as Ghostbusters and X-men meet Gi-Joe and Samurai Showdown. It enjoys a nice following, particularly amongst fansubbers and bittorrent pirates, almost becoming as iconic of an anime as Sailor Moon, Gundam, or Naruto. This article deals with the anime, although most of it is adopted from the manga. The series has been on hiatus since last November, and re-runs have been shown in its Saturday night time slot since then. New episodes are set to premiere August 28th.

The star of Bleach is Ichigo Kurosaki, a 15 year old high school student in Japan. He lives with his widower father and 2 kid sisters in their home in Karakura Town which also happens to be a clinic. Ichigo is a lot like other Japanese teenagers, save for the fact that he can see and converse with the spirits of the dead. This doesn’t account for a whole lot, until one day when a monster known as a hollow attacks his family. A mysterious woman gives him the power to become a Soul Reaper in order to battle the monster, and so our story begins.

Hollows and Soul Reapers

hollowHold on a second, hollows? Soul Reapers? I might be going a little over your head here so lets back up a bit. Soul Reapers, or shinigami (Japanese for ‘Gods of Death) as they are known in the Japanese version are grim reaper-like entities who assist the souls of the deceased with passing on to the afterlife, or the Soul Society as its known in the anime. They wield swords known as zanpakuto which are manifestations of the Soul Reaper’s personality. Hollows and wholes, are disembodied spirits who have yet to pass on. A whole is a normal spirit, and a Soul Reaper performs a ritual known as ‘konso’ (in which a Soul Reaper taps the bottom of their zanpakuto on their forehead) to help them pass on. They have a chain attached to them known as the chain of fate. Hollows are spirits who have become corrupted. This happens when a whole’s chain of fate is severed, and the whole hasn’t passed on soon enough. They then transform into monsters who devour human souls in an attempt to fill the void within them (this void was created when the chain of fate was severed), and they first go after people whom they were close to during life. A Soul Reaper can even become a hollow, but if they manage to access their Soul Reaper powers before the transformation is complete, they can become a Visored and gain control over their hollow side. This is what happens to Ichigo.

arrancarHollows reside in a world known as Hueco Mundo (Spanish for ‘Hollow World’) where they can sustain themselves by feeding off the ambient spiritual energy. However, many hollows opt to consume each other. Remember, hollows eat spirits and are basically spirits themselves. Thus hollows eating each other compounds their hunger. Imagine eating a dope fiend and inheriting their drug habit along with your own. Soon, hollows consume each other so much they turn into Menos Grande (Spanish for less big). The first class of Menos Grande are the Gillians, which are huge black hollows with white face-masks. While they are very powerful and prove to be a handful for even a Soul Reaper, they are the lowest class of hollow, and even serve as foot soldiers to more powerful classes of Menos. They are a collective of the consciousness of several hollows, and each of them are fighting to gain dominance. When one asserts dominance, it then becomes an Adjucha. Although Adjuchas are more intelligent and can give orders to other menos, they must continue eating other hollows least they regress back to a Gillian and lose their individuality. Finally, there are the Vasto Lordes, which are the most humanoid-looking hollows. They wear partially broken hollow masks and can wield zanpakuto, putting them on par with captain-class Soul Reapers. Even among the Vasto Lordes, there is fierce competition, with the 10 deadliest Arrancar being given the title of Espada. As you can see, Hueco Mundo is survival of the fittest Darwinism at its worst. If the X-men villain Apocalypse were to visit Hueco Mundo, he would immediately ask the Espadas for autographs and set up cameras to film his own National Geographic special and reality TV series.

Ichigo and Friends

bleachfriendsThe first storyarc of Bleach introduces readers to Ichigo, along with several other people who show up throughout the series, in particular his close allies. Orihime Inoue is Ichigo’s quasi-love interest who lives by herself every since her brother was killed in a car accident. Shortly after Ichigo becomes a Soul Reaper, she gains spiritual abilities of her own. Using her hairpin, she can summon 6 fairy-like creatures, each of which being manifestations of her own spirit. She mostly uses them for healing and defensive purposes. Uryu Ishida is a member of the Quincies, a clan of archers who believe in killing hollows. This belief has put them in direct conflict with the Soul Reapers, to the point where a war between the two has wiped out most of them. While he starts out as Ichigo’s rival, he soon becomes an ally, assisting him in his adventures. Yatsuora ‘Chad’ Sado is the resident big man of the crew. Despite his huge size, he is reluctant to fight unless it’s to protect someone. Even when his own life is in danger, he is rarely fights back. Shortly after Ichigo becomes a Soul Reaper, Chad gains the ability to manifest a strange armor on his arm. Like Orihime’s power, little about it has been revealed. Rukia Kuchki is the Soul Reaper who gave Ichigo his powers. Her power has mostly been drained, so in the beginning of the series she serves as Ichigo’s ‘coach’. Due to a tragic incident in her past, she constantly has a sense of guilt hanging over her head. Soon, she is captured and bought to the Soul Society to be executed for giving her power to a human, and then things really get interesting.

Enter the Soul Society

Soul_SocietyThe Soul Society rescue arc sees Ichigo and his buddies infiltrate the Soul Society to rescue Rukia, and here we learn more about Soul Reapers and the Soul Society. The Soul Society is made up of two areas; the Rukon District, a lower class urban area where most new arrivals live, and the Seritei, a huge complex which houses what is known as the 13 Court Guard Squads. Most of the Soul Reapers are part of one of these units, each of which is ran by a captain or lieutenant. Some of these regiments serve special functions. The squad 2 captain leads the Stealth Squad, or Punishment Force. Squad 4 is the medical and supply division, while squad 12 is research and development. Soul Reapers can awaken the power of their zanpakuto through a process called shikai, where they call out the name of their zanpakuto. Through training, Soul Reapers can further increase their power through a process called ‘bankai’, in which their zanpakuto changes into an even bigger and more powerful form. While Soul Reapers can die, their lifespans are longer than most humans and they can survive and even fully recover from injuries that would kill a normal human. Ichigo and his allies do battle with many of the Soul Reapers, only to find out that the execution was part of a plot orchestrated by a rogue Soul Reaper captain named Souske Aizen. After rescuing Rukia, Ichigo becomes an ally of the Soul Society.

The Bount
Jin_KariyaThe next several episodes see Ichigo and his allies face the Bounts, a race of humans engineered by the Soul Society. The Bounts drain humans of their souls, similar to vampires. Their powers are granted by entities known as dolls, which are similar to a Soul Reaper’s zanpakuto, albeit they are sentient creatures and serve independent of their masters. While they start out trying to attack humans to amass souls, they eventually invade the Soul Society in order to extract revenge on the Soul Reapers for betraying them. What’s interesting about this arc is that is was not adapted from the manga, or even done by Tite Kubo. It basically serves as a filler arc to give the series creator more time to adapt his manga to tv. While it was met with mixed reactions, I enjoyed it, and even though it was longer than it should have been, it helped cool things down before the next big storyline.

The Story so Far
aizenBleach’s current storyline deals with the Arrancars, which are those evolved hollows I told you about earlier. After several Arrancars invade Karakura town, the Soul Reapers are forced to regroup. Ichigo and his friends train themselves in order to become strong enough to defeat the arrancars. We also learn that Ichigo’s father was once a soul reaper. We learn more about the Aizen’s plan, and the Soul Society and the Soul Reapers go to war with Hueco Mundo and the Arrancars. Currently Ichigo and his friends travel to Hueco Mundo to rescue Orihime who was captured by Aizen. When the series went on hiatus in the U.S, Ichigo had just defeated a very powerful Arrancar. It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here, although the fansubbers will be more than happy to spoil it before hand.

Bleach in other media
darksoulsMuch of the manga has been translated and is available in trade paperbacks pretty much anywhere you buy books. Several video games have been made, although only 4 of them (Shattered Blade on Wii and Blade of Fate, Dark Souls, and The Third Phantom on DS) have been released over here. There are also three animated movies; Memories of Nobody, The Diamond Dust Rebellion, and Fade to Black: I Call Your Name. Where the first two have been released on dvd and aired on Adult Swim, the third has yet to see any international release, although I don’t doubt that we will see it soon. For fans of the series’ music, there are several cd soundtracks of music from or inspired by Bleach, featuring music from the show and it’s many opening and ending themes. There is also the Bleach Beat Collection series, a set of albums inspired by various characters featuring songs that are performed by their voice actors. Unfortunately these are Japan only. One last interesting note, Borders bookstores carries ‘Soul Candy’, a small package of peppermints which is similar to the one that Ichigo uses in the show to separate his spirit from his body (thankfully this won’t happen in real life). It even comes in a bunny head package just like on the tv show.

Carrying on the tradition of shows like Cowboy Bebop, InuYasha, Dragon Ball Z, and Robotech, Bleach is an excellent anime that showcases interesting characters and intense battle scenes. It has something to offer everyone, from nerds all the way to jocks, and everyone in between.