Director: Shinsuke Sato
Screenwriters: Shinsuka Sato, Daisuka Habara, Ardwright Chamberlain
Starring: Sôta Fukushi, Hana Sugisaki, Ryô Yoshizawa, Miyavi, Taichi Saotome, Erina Mano, Yû Koyanagi, Seiichi Tanabe
So Netflix seems to have twigged that live-action anime adaptions bring in a lot of popularity from people like me who love to hate watch them, and because of this, the amount of them is increasing quicker than you can beg them to stop. I’ve heard of Bleach. It’s hard not to. But, due to the inordinate amount of episodes, it hadn’t appealed to me to get stuck into it. I didn’t even commit that many hours to watching ‘Pretty Little Liars’ and I wasted seven long years of my life on that show. But I digress…
Bleach is an empire within its own right. The manga ran from 2001 – 2016 with 76 volumes, and the anime from 2004 – 2012, totalling a whopping 366 episodes. That’s not even including the 4 separate feature length films which add another 380 minutes to the total run time. To this day, it remains one of the best-selling mangas in both Japan and the US.
I wanted to watch the new live-action film as a bit of an experiment. The last two reviews I posted were from animes that I knew and loved, so my view on the film adaptions was jaded to say the least. That and they were awful adaptions. So, I wanted to go into this blind and see how easy it was for me to understand the plot, and get acquainted with the universe.
Bleach begins by ticking off the key square in every decent anime bingo: a dead beloved mother. The film follows Ichigo Kurusaki – a high schooler who can see spirits. He meets Soul Reaper Rukia Kuchiki and after a battle with a soul feeding Hollow where Rukia cannot fulfil her duties, she transfers her powers to Ichigo making him a substitute Soul Reaper.
To begin with, I genuinely really enjoyed this film. I found it engaging, refreshing and, for once, I actually cared about the characters. I was worried about feeling confused but I think they did a really great job of introducing a complicated world very simply and accessibly. Maybe it’s because I have the bliss of not having the entire knowledge shoved into my brain, but Bleach did a really good job here.
The acting was a pleasure. Oscillating wildly from campy and the classic over the top ‘anime’ style, to serious and surprisingly good. I found myself truly caring about these characters and being genuinely open mouthed at a surprise death. It’s certainly more than Death Note ever illicited from me, so that’s a pretty decent win for Bleach. I did laugh out loud at a particularly daft reveal for a character by the name of Ichigo however – his dramatic spin around on the spot made me choke on my coffee.
The little details were a delight. Small actions from anime translated beautifully into the film, such as the way characters carry bags over their shoulders. It’s a classic in every anime. Is it a natural way of bag carrying? No. Is it convenient? Not at all. But the live-action Bleach made this small mannerism look natural and effortless. It really put a smile on my face.
The CGI was also surprisingly well executed. I enjoyed that it was sparsely used, and it didn’t break the immersion. The Hollows were mildly terrifying with their masks, so props there too.
If any of you read my Fullmetal Alchemist review, you might remember my intense displeasure at the horrific wig worn by Edward Elric’s actor. By comparison, the wig and styling of Ichigo in Bleach was spot on. It was believable and complimentary of the original material, never once breaking the immersion. Interestingly, the creator of Bleach, Tite Kubo, stated his apprehension at how the film was going to pull off Ichigo’s bright orange hair colour. I’m so glad they didn’t disappoint us all. It also didn’t hurt that I had an enormous crush on Ichigo’s actor (Sôta Fukushi) and his father (Yōsuke Eguchi), but that’s just me being astonishingly shallow more than constructively critical of the film. Sorry.
The music was also really great in Bleach. Whilst not the music from the anime, it was emotive and fitting. We also managed to squeeze in a classic training montage sequence! I loved the typical anime lack of subtlety in just about everything wrong… heavy handed foreshadowing one-liners to the squealing of Ichigos’ classmate Orihime who really has the hots for him. In the anime, Orihime also has red hair, and the film depicts this subtly by dying the actresses hair auburn over her natural colour. When the light shines, her hair reflects red and it was great. Also, I ended up on a Wiki deep dive and found out that the weird Finnish song which plays over a video of a spinning leek girl with red hair is Orihime, so do with that what you will.
Ichigo’s pal (the typical comic relief sidekick) constantly overacts and lies about Ichigo dying, with a follow up of “you’re the guy who can’t be killed!” This then directly parallels to the climactic fight scene where Ichigo gets sliced open three times and blown up, and still drags himself on until the very end. It got a bit tiresome, I’ll admit. With every bounce back from each new absolutely fatal injury, I was getting as fed up as the antagonists. The fighting was well choreographed, if a little gimmicky, but it was all fun and games.
Despite also going off on a tirade about the dubbing in Fullmetal, the dubbing in Bleach was pretty great. This isn’t so much related to my review of the film, but I ended up getting sucked into some of the behind the scenes drama. Whilst most of the original voice talent had been approached to reprise their English dub roles, Rukia’s voice actor, Michelle Ruff, had not even been told about the remake or asked back for her role. From what I read online, this had caused a lot of hurt with Ruff herself, and anger amongst the fandom, with a lot of people claiming that they will boycott the movie. As it was an issue bigger than an actor not returning out of their own decision, I wonder how this might affect the popularity of the film.
I honestly didn’t think I’d enjoy this film as much as I did. I haven’t read any other reviews about it because I wanted to see how I’d feel about it without knowing any of the original source material. It makes me wonder how I’d have viewed Fullmetal if I knew nothing about it, but it doesn’t make me wonder about Death Note, because it was terrible and I would have hated it regardless.
This was a hit in almost all aspects, the tiresome nature of Ichigo’s indestructibility and his pal’s persistent murmurings being the only standout negatives – that and there wasn’t enough of his dad on screen? That counts, right?