Last week, a manga buddy recently indoctrinated into the joys of anime asked me: “Hey, is Bleach any good? I’m thinking of buying it.”
Oh, I immediately enthused, it’s frigging awesome. Definitely don’t get it.
It’s the little ways in which we try to help our friends, isn’t it?
Because Bleach is awesome, and approaching one hundred and thirty or so episodes in Japan without any sign of stopping, it’s almost too watchable. Sure, that’s not so much in comparison to other series (300 plus for the likes of One Piece and 200 and counting for Naruto, for example), but there’s a certain amount of social responsibility and basic human compassion involved in a question like that – ‘Is Bleach any good?’ Hell yeah, it’s good, but if I go and say that, you might as well just start calling me your pusher and have done with it. Because Bleach is not just good; it’s awesome.
For a few possibly addictive reasons; if you crossed a soapie with a Capcom game and gave it a decent splash of Tokyo street style, what do you think you’d get? Yep. Bleach. High drama and kick-ass action in a cool tee and Converse. Ichigo Kurosaki, main character and anti-hero Exhibit A, is your average sort of cranky high school misfit. Who can see ghosts. And tends to get a bit physical with anyone making light of the dead. One seemingly random meeting later and he’s a stand-in shinigami with a truck-load of power and a bit of an attitude. Round 1; Fight.
The next reason Bleach gets a serious hook in is its serialised approach. You can’t start watching and then just stop; not if you want to know what happens at any point and there’s always something new happening. With a cast of (practically) hundreds – and pretty much all of them fall on the anti-hero side of the line themselves – the series not only embraces its serialised format, it celebrates it. Mix that up with a bit of teen angst, some truly decent storylines, a few sledge-hammer subtle sentiments and highly appealing characters who are having trouble saving themselves, let alone the world, and what you have is a recipe for success. The stars of Bleach are young, cool and most importantly angry; good kids trying to become good adults and struggling to find some kind of place and meaning in a world where the odds are against them.
The mangaka Kubo Tite’s edgy combination of kooky comedy and brutal drama is of course the progenitor of this success. The reason why Bleach works so well is that Tite covers all the bases and yet it manages it in such sizzling style that the relatively formulaic, level-boss structure of story progression becomes not a feature to overlook but a feature to look forward to. In a Joss Whedon-esque kind of way, the manga’s material acknowledges the push of expectation and defies it by pushing back. If one cool fighting character with special powers floats your boat, then Bleach gives you a dozen of them. If emo-crises and melodrama do it for you, then Bleach is like the waiting room at Dr Phil’s place. If you like button-mashing finishing moves, then Bleach just keeps powering up its players. Nothing is ever static in this series, and yet there is a startling consistency of character, and character development, that just sucks you in and keeps you there – evidence of Tite’s control over what he’s doing and of the anime producer’s wisdom in letting him do it. With such a strong stylistic mean inherited from its cooler-than-cool source, even filler episodes and story-arcs barely cramp its animated style.
Which is why I cautioned my friend, when she asked me about it. Because Bleach is one series heady with its own power. It knows what you like and it gives it to you until you’re dazed, and then it just lets you have more. And I’m not the kind of person that would just let someone throw themselves into something so cool it ought to be criminal without at least a little warning.