Almost as if it’s sole purpose is to promote the anime upon which it’s based, Bleach succeeds where it’s anime-live action adaptation brother Fullmetal Alchemist failed, and provides a good time even for those who aren’t fans of the anime.
Back in the days when I found questionable means of sourcing episodes for Fullmetal Alchemist online, Bleach was constantly advertised. You couldn’t click on a link without a giant Bleach ad popping up. Whether this is because Bleach‘s publishers new what was going onto the internet and wanted to cash in on that, who knows, but it drummed enough interest in me that I at least knew that it was an anime of some kind prior to 2019.
Now, I never chose to watch Bleach (as an anime), but when Netflix decided they were going to pull off live-action films based on anime features, Bleach was alongside properties like Fullmetal Alchemist and Death Note to be included. Since it’s been about a year since I watched a Netflix anime-to-live-action adaptation, I figured . . . why not try Bleach?
After watching Bleach, I genuinely regret not having seen the anime. I feel that I missed out on the gold-rush.
Long story short
Ichigo (Sota Fukushi) sees dead people–though to make matters worse, he runs into a Soul Reaper called Rukia who gives him his powers after a Hollow attacks his home. When they realize they can’t return Rukia’s Reaper powers to her, she attempts to train him so that his energy rises to a level in which Ichigo can return them. Ichigo quickly becomes entangled in a conflict between the Reapers and the Quincies, and a conflict between Rukia and her brother Byakuya Kuchiki (who happens to be a Reaper commander that cares very little about humans in general).
Long story short, Rukia is told by her brother that she needs to get her powers back from Ichigo (i.e. she’d have to kill him because he’s not powerful enough to return them) or else Byakuya will kill her. Rukia instead chooses to come up with a new, significantly more dangerous plan to get her Reaper powers back. Ichigo involves himself, they complete his training, and take on a dangerous Hollow, only to end up back in conflict with Byakuya and his minion Renji.
For those (like me) who did not watch the anime, Bleach gives you a clunky crash course on the rules of the universe, almost in a powerpoint presentation format. You’ll find yourself half-way through the film, encountering a new element that was not introduced earlier that’ll make you tilt and kind of question what’s going on, only for the film to remember that you as an audience member probably don’t know what’s happening. It’s a jarring disconnect that happens when you produce a film that’s supposed to cater between anime fans and Netflix users that randomly found Bleach in their recommended, but ultimately, it somehow pulls together at just the right moment.
The action is good fun, if a bit of an eye-sore when the animated aspects don’t pan out quite right, looking plastic at best and almost hand-drawn at worst. A slightly unrelated fact, but it pays to know that the man responsible for Devil May Cry was also responsible for the action sequences of Bleach (the more you know, right?), hence fight scenes will feel vaguely familiar to your favourite video game cutscenes involving swords.
It was pointed out to me recently, and I believe it to be a likely theory, that Japanese live-action adaptations of anime are almost specifically designed to be cheesy in certain areas–and after watching this film, I believe this. But Bleach feels significantly more appealing to more casual audiences such as myself than it’s live-action adaptation brother Fullmetal Alchemist. But in comparison to FMA (which tried to please the FMA fandom by throwing in all these important story threads to such an extent that the film was so tangled in itself it almost didn’t know what it was doing, introducing characters and twists left and right, but not really giving them respectable roles in the story), Bleach had a specific direction. It at least acts like the film-makers knew which way they wanted to go, and had an idea of how to get from start to finish with one set of characters. Their road-map from start to finish was clear to them.
That’s not to say that Bleach doesn’t at times bite off more than it can chew–there are concepts introduced that never see the end of the film, for example, and a character death that feels about as meaningless as the film’s explanation for Ichigo’s larger sword. Not to mention that quiet beats could prove to be too quiet–problematic in a film that seemingly centres around action. I did find myself distracted by my phone about three times during the film’s 1 hour 40 run-time and found that I did not miss anything of real importance during those sections.
But overall, I found myself laughing, shocked, and relieved during the times the film wants you to feel those emotions. It’s not a cringe-fest, which is a nice change of pace for anime adaptations, I must admit. Having watched Bleach, I’m truly interested in watching the anime–so I feel that it’s done it’s job. It’s promoted that upon which it is based. And I’m disappointed in myself that I haven’t seen it yet.
Enjoy live-action Bleach for what it is: a fun time.