As a staple shounen for many years, Bleach was, unsurprisingly, one of the shows I was introduced to when I first started watching anime. That being said, I haven’t actually finished watching all of the show yet, having only made it to episode 266 before distracting myself with the numerous selection of other shows that Japanese animation has to offer. Bleach is a series that I have stopped and started again many times, and one day I will finish it, but until then at least I can say that I’ve watched all of the movies, if that counts for anything.
Containing all four movies released, the Bleach Movie collection provides an overall satisfying experience, aside from one outlier which I’ll delve into first. To be honest, the main reason I watch shows like Bleach is purely for entertainment value; shows where I can just turn my brain off and let everything unfold. Unfortunately it was simply impossible to do that for the first movie.
Memories of Nobody left me feeling incredibly dissatisfied. I don’t know what I expected, but what was given just seemed as if a mediocre filler season was smushed into one ninety-minute catastrophe. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on it, but the whole movie catered too much to an audience that had never watched Bleach before, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Who honestly would see the Bleach movies and think that it’s a good starting point into the series?
As the movie begins, familiar characters fall into situations that are not so different from the show, until a mysterious Soul Reaper appears alongside a malicious new entity known as “Blanks”. The story eventually reaches its climax during a classic end-of-the-world scenario where each character gets their moment in the spotlight as they take on a convenient number of bad guys in what can only be described as shoehorned fan service fights. Once the credits roll you’re left to reflect on how the movie primarily focused on poorly developing one character, barely establishing or explaining anything else. For its time, the visuals were good, and even hold up well to today’s standards. The voice acting is what I’d expect; nothing special but on par with the show. Overall, the production quality of the movie was let down only by the irrelevant story and characters.
The introduction of the young Soul Reaper, Senna, seemed like an exciting prospect as the movie began. What’s this? A new story that doesn’t revolve around Ichigo? Maybe we have some potential here- oh, wait, never mind, Senna is a bland, irritating character that contributes nothing. Even so, Ichigo, of course, has some chivalrous calling to this suspicious stranger and rushes to her rescue when the time comes. Not even the myriad of new antagonists held a lasting impression when the plot finally started to go down. This movie was just, well, bad.
Rather than focusing on Ichigo, the second movie does the unthinkable and focuses instead on Captain Hitsugaya. The series gives enough perspective from Ichigo that when I go to watch the movies I can’t help but yearn for something fresh, and with Ichigo not being the sole driving factor of the plot for once, The Diamond Dust Rebellion delivers on that desire.
When Toshiro Hitsugaya, respected captain of Squad 10 of the 13 Court Guard Squads, finds himself on the run from the Soul Society after the Ōin, a powerful artefact that naturally has the power to destroy the world, is stolen while under his protection. Ichigo, the only character with any sense of rationality, realises that there must be something more to Hitsugaya’s uncharacteristic motives than simply going rogue. To her credit, Rukia also shows some ability to think for herself after learning of Hitsugaya’s sentence, stating that it was too drastic, considering there wasn’t “a shred of concrete evidence”. Of course, there wouldn’t be an entertaining story to tell without the familiar instances of a character blatantly disregarding better judgment.
Despite the lack of forethought from some characters, the pacing is immediately right where it should be; constant action shines throughout an interesting plot that raises questions which have never been brought up before in the series. New characters are introduced and are linked well to already existing characters, giving them reason to exist and helping their development. Eventually the plot does begin to become Ichigo oriented once again, as is the natural progression of all entries into the Bleach series, but each character feels relevant and none of the fights seem forced, unlike the first movie. Bravo.
In Fade to Black, everyone in the Soul Society has suddenly forgotten Rukia, and by extension Ichigo as well! What’s going to happen as Ichigo is forced to fight the same fights that he fought from earlier moments during the show? Straight up, this movie has way too much Kon. Other than that, Fade To Black takes after the second movie in a good way with lots of action sequences but misses the mark on creating a compelling story. Nevertheless, it pulls through in the end and makes up for a rather lackluster story line with thrilling fight scenes.
I would say that it was an interesting idea to have everyone treat Ichigo as a total stranger, but every encounter just feels like a sped up redo of their original introductions to him, quickly resolved with self-doubt as Ichigo spews out personal information about each character. Until everyone begins to fight a common enemy, we just go through the motions as Ichigo attempts to bring each character to their senses while trying to save his long-time friend, and by extension the world. You know, just Substitute Soul Reaper stuff.
As usual, the greatest threat in the history of the Seireitei wraps up nicely with only a few key moments needing just a little more explanation, at least for my tastes. Sure, enough is said that it’s easy to throw a sheet over many of the elephants in the room, but what’s given is the bare minimum, and I can’t help myself craving more substance. All I can say is that while the journey was definitely enjoyable, the destination left a little to be desired.
Sinners have somehow slipped out of Hell and are hoping to make their visits to the world of the living less restricted, and somehow Ichigo Kurosaki holds the key to realising their goals. So when his sisters are targeted by these Sinners, Ichigo has no choice but to take the bait and enter the Gates of Hell, and with a new ally, what could possibly go wrong?
Once action is introduced as the complication as well as the solution there’s not much that can go wrong. It’s exactly what I expect from a movie adaptation of a shounen series. Hell Verse presents so much action that I don’t even remember what happened during the course of the movie or why, and I loved every moment of it. It was also refreshing to see Hell make a return to the Bleach universe, rather than some new force that loses traction part-way through as it becomes increasingly difficult to explain. There was no convoluted reason for what was happening and why our protagonists needed to fight, and I didn’t find myself questioning Ichigo’s motives at all, for once.
In retrospect, the premise of the movie is almost so simple that there’s no way it can be screwed up. Every fight flowed perfectly into the next, and nothing ever felt strained; the necessity of each action the characters took seemed correct. There’s nothing that sets it apart from the other movies, but the fact that there was clear direction from the beginning to the end, with enough twists and turns along the way, created a much more enjoyable experience.
As standalone titles, I hope that my views on the Bleach movies are apparent; however, it is difficult to provide an accurate and fair criticism on the collection as a whole. The movies span across such a large portion of the Bleach timeline, but unlike the show there is no room for a gradual progression in overall quality with only the four entries. It also doesn’t help that the movies boast nothing that ties them to the series aside from recent events in the show or Ichigo’s latest new power. Yet after all is said and done, each movie, ignoring the first, provided an entertaining aspect that helped it distinguish itself from the rest. The story of the second created genuine intrigue, the scope of the third generated so much excitement, and the action in the fourth put all others to shame. With the majority of titles bringing their own strengths to the table, the collection as a whole is well worth it for its entertainment value.
Other than the slick box to keep all of the movies in, I can’t see any major differences between what comes with the movie collection or the individual movies, though it’s nice to have the option of a complete set. In terms of extra features that the collection offers, the first two movies contain a small booklet that comprises of a short introduction to the world of Bleach and its characters, some commentary from a few of the Japanese voice actors on the characters they portray, and views of the staff involved in the making of the movies. While the character and world information is more or less useless to fans of the series, the excerpts from the people who worked on the movie provided a nice window into their aims and thought process during development. It’s a shame that these booklets are only included with the first two movies, as I would have loved to see the director’s views on the third and fourth movies also. The first two movies also include an incredible amount of bonus features on the disc itself, but the last two merely contain some character designs and concept art.
While I wouldn’t give any of the movies a standing ovation, it would be wrong to dismiss the quality of entertainment that the collection provides as a whole. If you’re a fan of Bleach and haven’t seen any of the movies, then this collection is definitely worth it.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.