Reminiscing about a stylish old favorite
Near the end of the month, Shinsuke Sato's live action film adaptation of Bleach will have finally come out after being announced two years ago. Trailers have been dropping, and at this point we know most of the characters that will be featured as well as the presumed villain. I have to admit, I'm not usually the type to get worked up for these live action anime movies; there are so many new things out there to see – why would I be concerned about a retelling of a story I've already seen?
Bleach, though? Bleach is different. For me, Bleach is the beginning of what has become a lifelong love for anime, and seeing these trailers brought back those memories after a long time.
The year is 2004 or 2005, and I recently got a subscription to Shonen Jump – but mostly for the Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. I've been into stuff like Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z, but wasn't really into anime as a whole – that is, until I come across an ad for a new comic called Bleach. The ad sells it as a horror action manga, and I think the monsters look cool, so I pick up the first couple volumes from a bookstore and am hooked instantly. I wasn't wrong about the monsters; the Hollows are huge and scary, featuring distinctive designs and a truly otherworldly feeling about them.
That stylistic sensibility shines through the whole manga, in fact. Tite Kubo has an unmatched knack for urban fashion that not only looks great but also expresses his characters without words. He names his chapters with a focus on feeling over function, with titles like “A Fighting Boy 2 (The Cigarette Blues Mix)” and “Can't Smile Don't Blame.” Each volume even begins with a poem meant to reflect the inner conflict of the character on its cover in utterly abstract ways.
Kubo's paneling is more akin to a movie's storyboard than a typical Jump action comic, following actions and eye movements to the point that entire chapters can go by without much if any dialogue or obvious plot momentum whatsoever (much to the dismay of some weekly readers). In its best moments, Bleach can feel less like a story and more like an aesthetic emotional exercise. In other words, function follows form in every case, for better or for worse, a storytelling philosophy that still informs my tastes to this day.
However, what really sold Bleach to a middle school-aged me wasn't all that fancy stuff I couldn't have possibly put into words yet. No, it was the main character, Ichigo Kurosaki himself.
I'd been reading the various series serialized in the magazine on-and-off and was sort of into superhero stories too, but found myself never really liking the protagonists of these kinds of save-the-world stories. When Ichigo came along, though, he finally spoke to me, finally felt like a “real” person in a “heroic” position. You see, unlike many of his peers, Ichigo doesn't have an inclination to protect everyone and everything.
This actually forms the basic conflict at the beginning of the story; Ichigo has been granted superpowers from the ex-Soul Reaper Rukia, but unlike Rukia, who has been raised and trained to go out and exterminate Hollows for the sake of everyone, Ichigo's priority is what is in front of him. He won't go out of his way to save a stranger across the world, but if there is a crisis right in front of him and he feels like he has the power to prevent it, that's where he feels his responsibility lies. Of course, as the story goes on, the scale of what counts as “in front of him” expands as his ability and understanding of the world expand, but he never really loses that core essence of his character – it simply evolves as he does.
That brings me back to this new movie and its surprising but welcome villain: the murderous Grand Fisher. In the original story, Ichigo's regret and initial reluctance to be a hero comes from his guilt over the death of his mother. When he was a kid, he saw a girl falling into a river and ran off to save her, but his mom ended up dying protecting him in the process. Later we learn that the girl was a ruse – Grand Fisher's ability is to set traps like that to lure people in so he can eat them, and his mother was one of his victims.
The arc where Ichigo finally confronts Grand Fisher is one of the most emotionally charged and satisfying sections of Bleach, so I'm glad the live action movie decided to place its focus there instead of leaping right into the more iconic settings and imagery of the Soul Society and other larger universe aspects of Bleach. Plus, Grand Fisher's lure ability can easily be adapted to be truly frightening, as he creates reproductions of people, at one point even taunting Ichigo with the image and voice of his own deceased mother. Played right, this could be a solid stand-alone story without any of the lore baggage of the later story elements, but possibly setting those up to go off of in sequels if the movie is successful enough.
Of course, the trailers also feature fan-favorite characters Renji and Byakuya, meaning the story is definitely on its own separate trajectory, as they don't show up until well after the Grand Fisher events in the anime and manga. Luckily, we can also see side characters like Chad, Uryu, and Orihime, so here's hoping the film manages to tell a good story while including a surprising number of the extended cast!
Are you looking forward to the new Bleach movie? I'd love to know what you're expecting – and hoping – to see from this new adaptation, so be sure to sound off in the comments below!