In a sea of mediocre to bad anime adaptations, Bleach returns with a surprisingly good film outing.
Motion Picture Rating: PG-13
Production Company: Warner Bros. Japan
Director (s): Shinsuke Sato
Writer (s): Shinsuke Sato & Daisuke Habara
Sota Fukushi: Ichigo Kurosaki
Hana Sugisaki: Rukia Kuchiki
Erina Mano: Orihime Inoue
Ryo Yoshizawa: Uryū Ishida
Yu Koyanagi: Yasutora “Chad” Sado
Taichi Saotome: Renji Abarai
Miyavi: Byakuya Kuchiki
Seiichi Tanabe: Kisuke Urahara
Yōsuke Eguchi: Isshin Kurosaki
Masami Nagasawa: Masaki Kurosaki
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: 9/14/2018
Original Review Date: September 18, 2018
Bleach: The Soul Reaper Agent Arc is an adaptation of the somewhat popular if divisive at times manga & anime of the same name, Bleach. It’s the story of Ichigo Kurosaki, a high schooler who can see ghosts. Becoming a substitute Soul Reaper for Rukia Kuchiki after stumbling upon her battle with a Hollow. The Netflix film, as the name suggests, covers the first Soul Reaper Agent Arc which originally was 20 episodes long.
The first thing people will wonder for an adaptation of a manga/anime into the live action is how does it compare? The film itself races through the events of the first arc at a breakneck pace while trimming down some of the excess in the process. Hollows don’t have nearly as much depth as they did before, being reduced to ghosts who died holding a grudge. Desiring both living souls and ghost souls without any major characterization beyond their design and hunting method. Instead of having numerous ones, we only get three. The very first Hollow Ichigo faces when he meets Rukia, one during Ichigo & Uryū’s massively trimmed down duel (we’ll get to that later), and Grand Fisher who becomes one of the primary threats.
With the trimming down of season 1 into a movie format a few things took a hit with somewhat mixed but overall positive results. Ichigo’s human friends are largely unimportant background while Chad & Orihime are being teased as gaining their powers in a sequel. Uryū suddenly appears to Ichigo after his first encounter with Renji to duel him which sets up the pairs second fight. Unfortunately, duel to kill Hollows amounted to only a single Hollows appearance which somewhat undermines the scene. Urahara like Chad & Orihime became a cameo while Kon & Yoruichi was cut entirely. Renji & Byakuya take the spot of big bad for the film while cutting all other appearances from Soul Society but the pair make more than formidable threats to fit the slot.
Good news is the trimming down gives the film a lot more focus. Now the story is built entirely around Ichigo begrudgingly learning to be a Substitute Soul Reaper at the behest of Rukia so she can return to Soul Society. This turns interactions with his human friends into comedic scenes or breaks between the training scenes which themselves have comedic elements. The interactions between the characters are also a mix of comedic and cute depending on which scene you look at. Uryū comes a bit out of nowhere but it actually fits the way they handle the story. You’re put in the same position as Ichigo with having to learn everything first hand. So there’s quite a bit of explaining for the uninitiated but also Ichigo himself.
With the exception of the fully human friends, the characters look and act like their anime counterparts. Renji, Byakuya, and Urahara, in particular, stand out in this department. The acting was good all-around and they even manage to keep some of the humor like Rukia’s cutesy art and Isshin’s comedic roughhousing (though obviously toned down). The action scenes are entertaining and the effects mostly hold up. The Hollows look fine and the Soul Reapers movement during the fight are fine as well. But Ichigo’s Zanpakuto does look a bit silly at times and the effects on the Awakened Zabimaru are somewhat questionable when it’s extending. Musically, it still loves the use of hip-hop which somewhat fits. Though this might seem odd to anyone who hasn’t seen the original Bleach.
Overall, the film is largely faithful to the original while taking out what was unnecessary or saving characters for later. All the while setting up future plot points but ending the movie in such a way that if they don’t get a sequel, you don’t feel cheated. Making Bleach both a surprisingly bright light in a sea of poor anime adaptations as well as the series itself which many consider had drastic shifts in quality. Usually between bad and okay. But this film serves to highlight its strengths and hopefully can do the same for the Soul Society Arc.