Ichigo Kurosaki is not your average teenage boy—he's also a Soul Reaper, whose duty is to send souls to the world of the dead while fending off malevolent spirits known as Hollows. However, things get strange when Ichigo and his friend Rukia encounter a crowd of mysterious white "ghosts," and also meet a Soul Reaper by the name of Senna who happily dispatches the creatures. But how come they've never heard of Senna before? And why are her memories so patchy? At the same time, a disturbance is going on in the dimension that bridges the living world and Soul Society, and it seems to be caused by the creatures that Ichigo and Rukia ran into. As Ichigo and the members of Soul Society dig deeper into the mystery, what they discover could threaten the existence of both worlds!
Memories of Nobody is a two-sided paradox—it's everything that Bleach fans fear and everything that Bleach fans desire from a cinematic production of the series. Yes, it's basically an extended filler episode that brings in some disposable characters who add nothing to the canon. But it's also a jaw-dropping, fist-pumping "Best Of" compilation of all the shikai, bankai, and fighting styles that make the series so dynamic. Add in the feature-film production budget, and there's enough animation talent to make sure that this supernatural adventure is worthy of the big screen. Are you ready to join the fight for the fate of Soul Society?
Ah, but don't reach for your zanpakutou blade just yet. The first act of the movie takes its time, setting up an obligatory "meet the main characters" scene, as well as introducing Senna and the mysterious spirits known as Blanks. Unfortunately, this is where the story wanders aimlessly for a bit, much like Senna's own attention-deficit problems. Although the goal is to show Senna's quirky personality and her growing friendship with Ichigo, these scenes do it clumsily, failing to find their narrative direction until Something Terrible Happens.
But even the tragedy that triggers the second act is clumsy in its own way: apparently the crisis threatening the human world and Soul Society is so complex that resident expert Urahara has to sit down with Ichigo and explain it in simple pictures. Although this makes for some cute humor, it also involves too much telling and not enough showing. With so much talk of spirit energy and multiple dimensions, it's like 20th-century physics without actually using the language of 20th-century physics, which makes the explanation far more difficult than it ought to be.
If you're just here for Bleach's unique brand of swordfighting and melee combat, though, that need is easily filled in the movie's climax. Sure, it's a predictable roundup of everyone's favorite Soul Society characters and their flashy moves, but seeing it on a big screen and within the space of several minutes makes all the difference. Nothing gets the blood pumping like Renji's fearsome Zabimaru, or the ice dragons of Captain Hitsugaya, and even a rare sighting of Rukia's own sword technique. This flashiness almost makes up for the blatantly run-of-the-mill storyline: rescue distressed damsel, defeat sneering vengeful bad guys, and save world from certain destruction. Throw in a tender, bittersweet ending, and everyone goes home happy.
As one can probably guess, most of the animation effort goes into the fight scenes, with plenty of slick moves and stunning effects. Although not necessarily a creative breakthrough (Ichigo's finishing move is rather anti-climactic), this collection of sword and spirit attacks clearly runs on a higher budget than the regular series. Observant eyes might also notice the quality of the backgrounds—Ichigo's hometown is more vivid than ever imagined on TV, with rich foliage, bustling urban areas, and striking night scenes and sunsets. Yet there are still signs of the animators slacking off, like the inconsistency of the character designs when viewed at a distance, and the rather unimaginative rock formations that provide the setting for the final battle. Really, this is supposed to determine the fate of two worlds and all you could come up with was a fantasy version of the Grand Canyon? At least the bad guys who live there have some fancy outfits.
Background music in the movie seems a bit lazy as well, with a good portion of it lifted directly from the TV series. Sure, they pick the good tracks, but it gets a bit repetitive when "Number One" (a.k.a. "that funky 80's sounding rock song") starts playing yet again. At least the new material is well-written: the operatic scoring during some of the more poignant scenes with Senna definitely hits the right emotions.
The dubbed vocal performance is about what one would expect from the characters: Johnny Yong Bosch does a high-spirited Ichigo, Michelle Ruff plays Rukia with intensity and pragmatism, and newcomer to the Bleach cast G. K. Bowes captures Senna's flighty personality. On the translation side, purists may question Anglicizations like "Soul Reaper" from shinigami and "spiritual pressure" from reiatsu, but many of the other specialized words like the names of the various zanpakutou and the characters' attacks remain in Japanese.
The theatrical showing of the movie was preceded by a making-of feature with the Viz staff, voice actors, and Japanese production staff, which hopefully will end up on the DVD as well. Prior to that, fans were also treated to a video message from Bleach creator Tite Kubo, reminding fans that he would be at Comic-Con 2008 (which of course got a hearty response from the local San Diego crowd at the theater).
So there it is: the cinematic Bleach production that fans should fear and yet enjoy, a flawed effort that still manages to be entertaining and action-packed. As a summer action movie, it's about what one might expect: familiar characters setting off on grand adventures and somehow saving the world. Sure, the story stumbles in places, you can see the events of the final act coming a mile away, and the animation quality—for all its spit and polish—still takes a dip from time to time. But with the main series' arcs stretching as long as they do, sometimes it's nice to step into a side story that finishes in under two hours.
Director: Noriyuki Abe
Script: Masashi Sogo
Music: Shiro Sagisu
Original creator: Kubotite
Character Design: Masashi Kudo
Art director: Sawako Takagi
Chief Animation Director: Masashi Kudo
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