On this evening, 10 years, or 3,652 days, or 87,648 hours, or 5,258,880 seconds ago, the premiere of Bleach aired on TV Tokyo during the network’s 40th anniversary on the air…and the world was never the same. Well, maybe that’s overstating things…but the world was most definitely slightly different for me, as Bleach would go on to be the first contemporary anime I’d follow regularly, and at one point, religiously.
Like another popular animated series, Bleach went on too long, and I watched too long; in hindsight I’d have retired from the show at the conclusion of its third season after a total of 63 episodes. After that came the first of many excrutiating “anime-original” arcs that, also in hindsight, weren’t worth my precious time (or yours). That was a perfectly respectable three seasons.
Bleach’s best years happened long before RABUJOI was a glimmer in its reclusive founder’s eye, so on the tenth anniversary of its premiere airing, I thought it would be fun to give it a standard RABUJOI review, as if I were picking it up for the new Fall 2004 Season (Mind you, I won’t write it as my ten-years-younger self; that wouldn’t be good for anyone.) Enjoy!
A gloomy, colorless dimension: two black objects shoot up out of a larger mass. Cut to the real world at night. We have no form, therefore we fear it. Two objects fall onto a sidewalk; their faces show for a moment. And because we are formless, we revere it. Then cut to a solitary girl in a black perched on a telephone pole, admiring the full moon before bounding over the town. Thus we are slain. Striking images, striking words (displayed, not spoken). An enticing prologue overall. So far so good!
Cut to a punkish-looking kid beating up other punks. Turns out he’s mad over them knocking over the flowers left for a recently-deceased girl, so he’s a punk with a heart as gold as his head, which looks bleached. The dead girl thanks him: she’s a ghost, but Kurosaki Ichigo can see ghosts. At home, above the clinic his dad runs, dad ambushes Ichigo, and a heated battle commences as his more mature little sisters tuck in to dinner. Ichigo isn’t hungry, so goes to bed. Nice looking family; worth fighting for.
The next morning is eventful and strange, with Ichigo running into the ghost girl again, who is on the run from a ferocious monster with a very distinctive, Godzilla-esque roar. As the brute bears down, the girl cloaked in black gives it a taste of her katana, then another, and it’s gone. Then she’s gone, and the color and sound of the world returns. Increased ghost sightings, now monsters? Ichigo is troubled.
That night the girl in black breaks into his room and ignores him as if he’s not there, earning her a kick in the ass, killing the dark, serious mood in the best way. The girl is amazed he can see her, but identifies herself as a shinigami, charged with killing monsters like the one he saw that morning, as well as sending more docile ghosts to Soul Society, i.e. heaven. Ichigo voices his disbelief and calls her a stupid brat, and for that gets hit with a kido binding spell. The shinigami explains the particulars of the system: plus good, hollow bad, soul burial good. It’s an infodump, but efficiently delivered with a dash of comedy, thanks to her silly drawings.
The mood becomes dark again when hollows invade Ichigo’s house, and they don’t fuck around, going straight for Ichigo’s beloved little sisters. The shinigami springs into action without unbinding him, but he breaks the magic with sheer shounen will…and yelling. He jumps out in front of the hollow to make it drop Karin, and the shinigami has to come between them to save them, gravely wounding herself in the process.
The hollow is stunned but not dead, so the bloodied shinigami gets a crazy idea, based upon all the unheard-of-for-a-human abilities Ichigo has thus far exhibited. She’ll lend him, say, half of her shinigami powers so he can finish the hollow and save them all, telling him her name in the process: Kuchiki Rukia. But Ichigo isn’t a halfway kinda guy, and ends up taking all her powers. Donning the same black-and-white garb as her and wielding a Freakin’ Huge Sword, Ichigo takes care of business, easily dispatching his first hollow in the first moments of his new job as Substitute Shinigami.
On the whole, this was the kind of episode that mercilessly tempts you to watch on. It lays out a lot, and gets a little talky at times, but still leaves so much up in the air that I can’t help but want to tune in to see what comes next. While Ichigo initially comes off as a bit of a dick for stealing all of Rukia’s powers, he doesn’t do it intentionally, and did it out of a desire to protect his family. It struck a nice balance of action, comedy, and supernatural elements wrapped in a stylish package, somewhat rough animation aside, with a memorable soundtrack to boot. I think this show could go far!