If you’re someone getting into anime, at some point, you’ve probably heard of the Big 3. This is in reference to three series; One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach. All three share many similarities; they’re long-running shonen series influenced by Dragon Ball that came to prominence in the 2000s and were the biggest series of their time. One Piece is still ongoing both in manga and anime while Naruto ended its run years ago despite the story continuing in its spinoff series Boruto. As for Bleach? It’s become the ignored middle child of the Big 3 as not a lot of people talk about it as much as the other series despite its success and passionate fanbase. Well, let’s change that. Bleach is the creation of Tite Kubo and was serialized in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump from 2001 to 2016, lasting 74 volumes and 686 chapters. In 2004, it received an anime adaptation produced by Studio Pierrot, which is the subject of today’s review. This is Bleach.
Ichigo Kurosaki is a high school student who lives in Kakatura Town with his dad and younger twin sisters and he also has the ability to see ghosts. One day, he’s given powers by a Soul Reaper (or Shinigami) named Rukia Kuchiki. He uses these Soul Reaper powers to fight evil spirits known as Hollows and guiding lost souls to the afterlife. The first episode of the anime does a really good job at setting things up. It establishes the main character and the world. Ichigo’s a hot-headed main character susceptible to anger. Hell, when Rukia gives him her Soul Reaper powers and he has to stand in for her as a substitute, he initially didn’t want to do it. Unlike Naruto and Luffy, he’s not a complete idiot nor does he aspire to be either the Pirate King or Hokage, he just want to protect his loved ones. He soon goes up against a Hollow called a Grand Fisher, which was revealed to have killed his mom when he was 9 years old. Rukia is a great character whose banter with Ichigo is just fun to watch and I love how she can go from serious to silly in a matter of seconds. Fun fact: she was the first character Kubo created for Bleach and originally intended for her to be the main character. Other characters includes Orihime Inoue, Ichigo’s air-headed childhood friend (and second-best girl) who develops the ability to warp reality for defensive, offensive, and healing purposes, Yatsutora Sado or “Chad,” another friend of Ichigo’s who’s half-Mexican and is a literal Chad due to his height and strength, Kisuke Urahara, an eccentric shop owner who’s actually an exiled Soul Reaper, and Uryu Ishida, a Quincy who’s a rival-turned friend. Quincys are humans that can manipulate reiatsu and shape them into weapons, usually a bow and arrow. Ishida has a grudge against Soul Reapers because they were responsible for wiping out the Quincies. Two Soul Reapers from Soul Society, Renji Abarai and Byakuya Kuchiki, are sent to apprehend Rukia since giving a human Soul Reaper powers is considered a crime, and she’s brought back to Soul Society to be executed after easily defeating Ichigo. This motivates Ichigo, along with help from Orihime, Chad, Ishida, and Yoruichi Shihoin (the number one best girl), to set off on a race against time to save Rukia, and this brings us to the Soul Society arc.
The Soul Society arc, which spanned from episodes 21 to 63 in a total of 43 episodes, is considered by fans to be the best arc of the entire series and it’s viewed to be Bleach at its peak. Yeah, those fans are right. The Soul Society arc is great. The atmosphere, the music, the fights, the twists and turns, the world-building, character moments and development. It has it all. I was already enjoying this series at the beginning, but this is where I was invested, seeing Ichigo and the gang fight their way through Soul Society, introducing the captains and lieutenants of the Gotei 13 like Kenpachi, Toshiro, Ikkaku, Shunsui, Mayuri, Sui-Feng, Unohana, Komamura, etc., and seeing many power-ups and abilities be introduced that would be a normal occurrence in Bleach: Kido, Shikai, Bankai, Ichigo’s signature move Getsuga Tensho, Ichigo’s Hollow form, etc. Best fights in this arc inlcude Ichigo vs Renji, Ichigo vs Kenpachi, Ichigo vs Byakuya, Ishida vs Mayuri, etc. This also had the big twist that involves one character: Aizen.
It’s revealed that Aizen was the one who manipulated the events to make sure Rukia gets captured and have all of the Soul Reapers fight one another in order to advance his plans to overthrow the king of Soul Society. Aizen is one of the best anime villains, a confident OP badass who’s always one step ahead of everyone and shows off his superiority every time. He’s amassed an army of Arrancars (Hollows that have Soul Reaper powers) and his elite team of the most powerful Arrancars, the Espada, leading into the Arracanar arc. But between that and the Soul Society Arc, there’s the Bount arc, which lasts 46 episodes. You can skip this arc because it’s filler. It’s not part of the manga, it doesn’t have any effect on the overall story, you’ll miss absolutely nothing. This brings me to an issue I have with the Bleach anime: the filler. See, filler episodes exists when either the studio wants to meet a certain number of episodes in a season or because the anime has caught up to the manga. This happens a lot with long-running series to varying degrees. One Piece has damn near a thousand episodes with 103 of them being filler. That’s a filler percentage of 11%. Dragon Ball Z has a filler percentage of 15%. Naruto and Naruto Shippuden both have a filler percentage of 41%. As for Bleach? 45% filler. Damn near half of the Bleach anime is filler. And it’d be one thing if it was just a few standalone filler episodes, but entire arcs? This was the main reason why I originally never finished the series because of how frequent these filler episodes and arcs would pop up and it kills the momentum of the anime. It’s the same thing that hurt Naruto in the long run.
Moving on to the Arrancar arc. An army of Arrancars invade and attack Kakatura Town. The Vizored (Soul Reapers with Hollow powers) are introduced and they help Ichigo control his Hollow form. During this, Orihime is captured by one of the Espada and taken to their base in Hueco Mundo. So Ichigo and his friends head over to Hueco Mundo in order to save her. But it was all part of Aizen’s plan to lure them away from Kakatura Town to plan an invasion there. But the Gotei 13 were aware of this and created a duplicate of the town where they can fight Aizen and his forces. This was where Bleach was starting to lose me and there’s several reasons for that. Aside from the occasional filler messing up the pacing, it’s a long arc, the longest of the entire anime series, and it DRAGS. The majority of the fights aren’t as engaging as the ones during the Soul Society Arc since they go on for too long like they’re DBZ fights. Plus, this is where Ichigo’s friends get the short end of the stick from Orihime being a damsel-in-distress to both Chad and Ishida being nerfed like crazy. That’s not to say that there aren’t any cool fights because there are. There’s Ichigo vs Grimmjow, all three times they’ve clashed, Ichigo vs Ulquiorra where he goes into full Hollow mode (or Vasto Lorde), Aizen vs the Gotei 13 and Vizored where he pretty much dickslaps everyone without breaking a sweat, and of course, the final battle between Ichigo and Aizen. Is this final battle worth it? Yes and no. It’s not worth sitting through a whole bunch of slogging slugfests and filler, but the actual fight itself is pretty hype. Ichigo taking Aizen down a peg or two is so satisfying, even if it came at the cost of his own Soul Reaper powers.
Episodes 311 to 341, you can skip since it’s all filler. Let’s move on to the final arc of the anime, The Lost Agent arc or the Fullbring arc. This takes place 17 months after Aizen’s defeat as Ichigo is without his Soul Reaper powers and is living a normal life. He crosses paths with a man named Kugo Ginjo, who proposes a way for Ichigo to recover his Soul Reaper powers with help from the Fullbringers. I’ve seen a lot of mixed reception to the Fullbring arc. Some people say it’s good, others say it’s bad. What do I think? I think it’s meh. While the fights were cool and I understand what this arc was trying to do, it didn’t really stick the landing. The arc exists so that Ichigo can get his powers back, but the way he gets his powers back makes the Fullbringers completely pointless. He gets his powers back thanks to Rukia stabbing him in the back with a sword and transferring the reiatsu of the Gotei 13 to him. You didn’t need the Fullbringers for that. It’s not like they’re not exactly compelling characters, they’re just cardboard cutouts. Also, since Ichigo was without his powers, this is a perfect opportunity for his friends to shine. Orihime and Chad do absolutely nothing of value and Ishida is attacked by a Fullbringer and spends most of the arc in the hospital. At the end of the anime, what should have been a feeling of closure and satisfaction is instead replaced with a “that’s it?” Well, there’s a reason for that, because the story continued on in the manga.
And that was Bleach. This anime should have been better than it is. It had the awesome fights, good animation, and a kickass soundtrack. But man, did the story suffer after the Soul Society arc with horrible pacing, less engaging fights, piss-poor development for most of the characters, and the constant filler. Weighing all that I liked and disliked, the Bleach anime overall ended up being okay at best with the manga being the superior version. This is just my opinion. Check it out if you’re curious. It’s on most streaming services including Crunchyroll, Netflix, Hulu, etc. There’s also four animated Bleach movies. I haven’t seen any of them, so I don’t know how they are. And there’s even a live-action movie adaptation on Netflix right now. I did watch that one and it’s surprisingly not that bad. It has issues, but it’s better than most live-action anime adaptations. One last thing before I wrap up: in March of this year, it was announced that the final arc of the Bleach manga, the Thousand Year Blood War Arc, will be adapted into an anime next year. I am interested in seeing how they adapt this arc into animation, so of course, I’m gonna watch it. Next time, we’ll be talking about Avatar: The Last Airbender and I can already see the “THAT’S NOT ANIME” comments coming.