I can’t remember where I first ran into Bleach, but I THINK it was in the pages of Shonen Jump, a manga anthology magazine that I used to subscribe to. Bleach was fairly popular at one time. I remember seeing the volumes in the local bookstore, the Longview Public Library had it, and there was even an animated series on Netflix. I enjoyed Bleach when I read it, but that was ten or fifteen years ago. Does it hold up today? Let’s find out…
Tite Kubo – Bleach Volume 1 (2001/2004)
Bleach is written and drawn by Tite Kubo, who, according to the intro in my copy of the book, had only done one other comic series before starting this one, so for a sophomore effort, it’s pretty dang good. The artwork is crisp, with nice solid lines, and an excellent use of contrast (which is essential in a black and white comic.) When the monsters arrive, Kubo infuses the scenes with lots of grays and blacks, as well as a plethora of “action” lines, deftly controlling the mood of the story, and he designed some great creatures, as well (but I’ll get to those in a second.)
The story follows the adventures of Ichigo “Strawberry” Kurosaki, so nicknamed because of his red hair. (Is there some Irish ancestry in this Japanese kid? Or perhaps just a genetic anomaly?) Strawberry is a high school student whose family runs an emergency clinic, and, perhaps coincidently, Strawberry can see and talk to ghosts. (He has two sisters who can also see ghosts, although one doesn’t see them very well, and the other can see them just fine, but doesn’t BELIEVE in ghosts. Their father can’t see spirits at all, and he’s incredibly jealous.) Ichigo, being able to see and talk to spirits, has become a magnet for ghosts who come to him looking for help.
Unfortunately, not all spirits are peaceful, and Strawberry eventually discovers that some spirits can go rogue, lose their humanity, and turn into monstrous creatures called “hollows.” He learns this when a “Soul Reaper,” named Rukia, comes to his house to hunt a hollow that has been drawn to Ichigo because of his strong spirit energy (which is what gives him the abilities mentioned above.) Rukia, who can’t normally be seen by humans, is spotted instantly by Ichigo, and during her battle with the hollow, she is injured and transfers some of her powers to Ichigo, who then destroys the creature. In a complication, Rukia quickly realizes that she accidently gave ALL of her powers to Ichigo, and she is now trapped in the human world until she can get her “dark energy” back—and Ichigo, in the meantime, needs to take over Rukia’s duties.
The book is irreverent fun, fast paced, humorous, and even turns a nice shade of creepy, when a scene calls for it. It’s a “teen” book, meaning that the book never gets too gory or overtly nasty (as opposed to something like Octopus Girl, which is just sick from beginning to end.) The characters are interesting, especially once we get to Ichigo’s school and are introduced to some of his classmates. It might just be me, but I really enjoy the portrayal of high schools in Japanese comics and anime—it’s like high drama infused with this remarkable camp aesthetic. (Has anyone out there seen Haunted Junction? It’s the perfect high school story, in my opinion, with lots of cliques and ghosts and melodramatic tension. I’ll have to review that series one of these days.)
Another thing that Tite Kubo does well is create monsters. The “hollows” are strange, demonic creatures that feed on human souls (of both the living AND the dead. Yep, ghosts are imperiled by hollows, too, and since Ichigo can see them, they beg him for protection!) The hollows are usually large, with chimerical bodies, part spider, part snake, or some other hybrid, and they have these wonderful, creepy masks that they wear, almost like candy skulls from some otherworldly Day of the Dead festival. Even if the story was bland (which it isn’t), I think I would still like this series just for Kubo’s monsters!
So overall, this book held up well. It’s clever and funny, very fast paced, and has some great monsters in it (to keep a simple soul like mine intrigued.) The story isn’t as epic as Dororo, nor is it as side splitting as the Ranma books, and it’s certainly not as creepy as Junji Ito’s scary-ass comics, like Museum of Terror, but Bleach is still fun and addictive, as the story develops in some weird ways as it progresses. One thing I’m still not sure of, though—why is it called “Bleach?” Is Kubo implying that Strawberry bleaches his hair? (I don’t think so, because Ichigo specifically says his red hair is natural.) Or maybe it’s because the Soul Reapers are “bleaching” spirits clean when they take them to the other side? I don’t know. And, even though I don’t know (which does bug me a bit,) the book is still entertaining and probably safe enough for even littler kids to read, middle school and up should be no problem, BUT it’s also exciting (and tackles some interesting questions about life and death,) enough to keep this 46-year-old kid interested as well.
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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