Bleach: Volume 1

Serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump is the popular series Bleach which follows high school student Ichigo Kurosaki and his tumultuous life as a substitute Soul Reaper. Locked into a role he didn’t want, Ichigo takes on the evil spirits known as Hollows while Rukia, a true Soul Reaper from the Soul Society, assists until her powers return to her. But saving souls is going to take a true commitment if the pair are to be successful. Viz Media brings us the first look into the life of Ichigo Kurosaki and his ability to see spirits with Bleach: Volume 1

DVD: Bleach: Volume 1
Release Date: 11/28/2006
Release Studio: Viz Media
ADR Production: Studiopolis, Inc.

MSRP: $24.98
Audio: English 2.0 DD, Japanese 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English
Episodes: 4
Runtime: 100mins
Extras: Clean Ending, Production Art, Collector’s Art Stickers, Manga Preview, Trailers

Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product.

Since he was young, Ichigo has always been able to see spirits. But while some may consider this a troublesome curse to ignore, Ichigo tries to assist those wandering souls that need assistance in crossing over to the other side. Unfortunately, those who can see souls moving in the living world can also see something else that isn’t as common of a sight: Hollows. A Hollow attacks a wandering soul downtown, but no one around him seems to be able to see the monster other than one girl dressed in black samurai garb. She quickly dispenses with the evil spirit and vanishes just as fast. Ichigo is confused, but wanders back home to think about what he’s witnessed. That night in his room the same mystery samurai appears in search of something, but she still hasn’t noticed that he can see her.

Episode one introduces us to the life of Ichigo Kurosaki and his colorful family. His mother passed away several years ago, leaving behind a crazy husband who runs a clinic, two daughters, and Ichigo. The family has managed to stay together and assume the roles needed to keep the family moving forward. Well, maybe everyone but the wacky father who likes to go a bit overboard on any subject. Ichigo’s younger sisters, Yuzu and Karin, assist in the home and in the clinic. Yuzu has taken up the motherly role of cooking and cleaning while Karin is more jaded towards everything in life, including the fact that she can see spirits just like her older brother. But as a family unit, they pull together whenever an important task needs to be done.

Ichigo meets a Soul Reaper thanks to an unusual encounter with a Hollow downtown. That night, when she appears in his room, he starts to ask her questions. However, Rukia hasn’t realized that Ichigo can see her as she moves around the room. A quick boot to her backside changes this detail and Rukia decides to fill in the unusual person who can see her spirit body. As a member of the Soul Society, it’s Rukia’s job to send souls to the other side and do battle with evil spirits known as Hollows. As she explains the background of the Soul Reapers, a Hollow attacks Ichigo’s home because it’s trying to track him. Ichigo confronts the demon only to see Rukia injured while attempting to protect him. Now, with the Soul Reaper injured, Ichigo must borrow some of Rukia’s powers so he can defeat the monster before it kills them.

Episode two and three follow Ichigo’s first days as a Soul Reaper and as a high school student. With all of Rukia’s powers transferred into Ichigo, she has moved her soul into a gigai (a temporary human body) in order to recover until she can regain her powers from the substitute Soul Reaper. Stuck as a mortal, Rukia takes on the role of a transfer high school student so she can stay close to Ichigo. The Soul Society sends her a mission to carry out and Rukia is determined to drag Ichigo into doing some good whether he wants to risk his life or not. With the point having been made, Ichigo begins to learn about the darker side of the Hollows as one of them preys upon his classmate and friend Orihime Inoue. The job has just gotten a little tougher when you know that Hollows are former souls and the one attacking is Orihime’s deceased brother.

Our final episode lets us meet Ichigo’s kind-hearted friend Chad. Yasutora “Chad” Sado is a half-Hispanic, half-Japanese high school student who towers over all his friends. With a body that could probably sustain a hit from a Mack truck, Chad takes up watching over a cursed talking parakeet whose owners have mysteriously died each time the pet was adopted. Soon trouble is following Chad as well, but he isn’t giving up on the little bird that carries an unusual soul. Ichigo becomes concerned as worse and worse things keep happening. Rukia senses a Hollow is following Chad and the parakeet by the smell of a large wound on Chad’s back. The pair begin to search for Chad when Ichigo’s sister Karin comes running. Karin had a dream about the human soul within the bird and the torture of seeing his mother murdered. Rukia tells Ichigo to take her home and that she’ll try to assist Chad with the Hollow chasing after him until Ichigo can make it.

Bleach is just one of several ghost genre series in anime and one that has a good chance of developing into something very interesting as it moves along. The manga and anime series are still going in Japan, which means this is going to be a fairly long series with, hopefully, many story arcs to keep the viewer entertained. The series airs on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim so there is no doubt that there is already a loyal following of fans who know more of the story than those of us just catching up with the DVD release. The show has definite possibilities of becoming something great even if the first handful of episodes seem a little slow in moving us along in the storyline. Casting in Bleach is fairly well-done, with Masakazu Morita bringing lots of enthusiasm to his performance as Ichigo Kurosaki. On the other hand, Fumiko Orikasa’s Rukia can be a tad dry, but so is the character’s personality. The English dub by Studiopolis can be a mixed bag thanks to some slight dialogue changes and under-performances by supporting characters. Some of the casting leans more on voice matching the Japanese seiyuu rather than trying to find someone who can give a better performance, which ultimately has dragged down the show’s dub to be nothing better than “OK” with this volume. Leading the cast is Johnny Yong Bosch as Ichigo, who matches fairly well with both his seiyuu counterpart’s voice and giving a good performance. Michelle Ruff pulls out her deeper voice for Rukia, but I would say she pulls it off better than Fumiko for these first four episodes. Overall, the show’s dub has a chance to become something better if the kinks can be worked out as it continues along.

Bleach: Volume 1 gives a good look into the world around Ichigo Kurosaki and has some some real possibilites after these background/introduction episodes are finished. The video unfortunately contains some hardsub translations for onscreen items that were done for the Cartoon Network broadcasts. Rukia’s cutesy drawings are often the main culprit. The subtitle and audio tracks are error-free, so other than hardsubs there are no issues with this volume. Viz has put in some extra effort to include a unique bonus with this volume in the form of stickers that duplicate the DVD cover and episode slates. While hardsubs annoy me to no end, the DVD as a whole is worth checking out. Episode four ends on a cliffhanger so be ready to go looking for the next volume.