For the record, I have no idea why it’s called Bleach. It has nothing to do with cleaning fluid, nothing gets whitened, discoloured or removed and there are no late 80s Nirvana tracks in the background. The only thing I can think of is that a Soul Reaper’s job in this universe is to cleanse the world of souls, but that’s stretching it pretty damn far. You may as well call it Toilet Duck, or Ex-Lax.
Even as a metaphor bleach doesn’t work. Rather than the all encompassing destruction of a square foot of kitchen sink there’s some sort of connection between two worlds, one of humans and one of souls, so that when humans die their souls go to live in the soul world and when souls die in the soul world they go to live in the human world. There’s also another world or two buried in there somewhere but for simplicity I like to think they don’t exist, much like how Europe treats Luxembourg.
As for this soul transfer thing I don’t really get how souls can die in the ‘afterlife’, but then I also don’t get how souls are born there, grow up there and have a class system there. Where the hell do these new souls come from, and how is there not now massive overcrowding since some characters are literally hundreds of years old? Some of this stuff is so stupidly forced it gets its own unit of measurement, but then Bleach doesn’t care. Bleach has sword fights.
Let’s not pretend otherwise, Bleach doesn’t give a monkeys left arsecheek about its story. The premise is that with the connection between the human world and the Soul Society, Soul Reapers are there to help in the crossing of souls from one to the other. This means either helping friendly souls to pass on by clonking them with your hilt or exorcising evil souls by slashing them with the sharp bit until they stop moving. Evil souls are called Hollows because they don’t have a heart, apparently missing the definition of the word ‘hollow’ by the same distance they missed the definition of the word ‘bleach’, and the fact that souls don’t have hearts anyway because they’re goddamn souls.
Some generic plot stuff happens that gets an innocent human and his friends mixed up with the Soul Society and the Soul Reapers, and then the story sorts of flops along every other episode trying to set up increasingly unbeatable villains for the main character to beat. It’s like Dragonball Z with swords, or the angry teenage brother of Naruto who’s trying to pretend he doesn’t like Linkin Park.
So really the plot exists to serve the action, and the characters have to be visually memorable because they’re the ones who have to swing the swords around and bleed everywhere. If Bleach could get away with not having any characters at all it would probably try it, and would just be a load of disembodied clanging, ketchup squirting and self important duologing.
That’s not necessarily knocking what’s on offer here. The nature of the neverending anime is that plot goes as slowly as is physically possible to wring the maximum amount of episodes out of the franchise. The characters themselves are fairly well developed and nicely designed even if there is a weird double shadow thing going on where the line artist wasn’t talking to the guy with the Photoshop fill tool. The powers are suitably mental as well and the actual plot is relatively interesting. I just wish it would hurry the fuck up.
For example one particular character gets locked away in a tower and spends the next thirty episodes moping and looking sad. Once the heroes inevitably get round to rescuing her after faffing around for long enough to both defeat and be defeated by everyone in the city, I’ve completely forgotten why I should care or like this character in the first place. I liked her thirty episodes ago Bleach, but you’ve just shown her pining like an amputated puppy in the rain since then. It’s not exactly good character development to leave them in stasis and just point at them now and then, shouting “LOOK AT HER SHE’S SAD, DO YOU REMEMBER SHE STILL EXISTS!?”.
It also seems like Bleach wants me to hate as many characters as possible, as anyone in a fight turns into a self-important arrogant douche. Fights normally start with two people looking menacingly at each other exchanging arrogant insults, then they arrogantly clang their swords a couple of times before arrogantly repeating, with one of them increasing in power while the other looks surprised, but still arrogant. They then switch roles until someone wins.
There’s also a whole load of viciously deep wounds and bleeding everywhere, because it seems nobody has any internal organs or bones in this world and bleeding can be stopped by talking to your sword (this actually happened). Either that or everyone is just really shit at their job, as I don’t think anyone of note actually died in the first seventy odd episodes.
Filler episodes are as crap as they normally are in anime and are very obviously not written by the same person as the main storyline, such as when the rubbish Bounts appear from nowhere. Being immortal humans with unexplained giant monster friends and shitty vampirism, it’s roughly here that new abilities are dreamt up on the fly and rules are retconned mere minutes after being explained. Going back to the main plot afterwards feels like coming down from a bad trip and realising that real life isn’t actually a rainbow in a cupboard of gonorrhea.
So it’s formulaic, the plot is as swift as a comatose badger and most of the characters slalom between being a contemptuous prick and a righteous warrior. Yet somehow despite all this it’s still fun to watch. The slow plot allows characters to develop decent personalities, and so you just want them to get on with hurting each other after all the standing around and talking.
The animation can be a tad stilted, often looking more like a coloured slide show of the manga than anything else, but once things get moving they really get moving; a huge plot-relevant fight that’s been built up over some twenty episodes is never a letdown, and the action is always slightly more ridiculous than the situation has told you it’s going to be.
Once the fights themselves start the impractical non-swords are amplified by random magic powers that are as spectacular as they are contrived. One power means that any time the enemy blocks an attack their weapon doubles in weight, while someone else can turn anything vaguely line shaped in the vicinity into snakes, which includes ropes, road barriers and cracks in the ground. It’s bullshit, but then everything is. It’s all because of spiritual pressure or something, which means basically nothing to anybody and is the usual explanatory equivalent of flipping the bird. When it’s clearly not trying I can’t really take the piss as much.
If this review has sounded particularly negative that’s because it is. Even if I feel like I should like it a lot more than I do, Bleach is certainly effective at what it does. You don’t go to Hooters for decorum and quality cuisine, and you don’t watch Bleach for the plot. You go for the boobs and the swords respectively, although you could certainly get both from Bleach if you’re into that. It’s not quite as bad as One Piece or Soul Eater, but still. Running in that kimono must be difficult.