A standalone feature that introduces a new character sets the stage for the first theatrical Bleach feature.
What They Say
After unidentified beings known as "Blanks" start popping up, they are soon followed by a Soul Reaper named Senna who makes them disappear. Puzzled by these unknown beings and the even more mysterious girl, Ichigo and Rukia set out to learn more, but uncover an evil plot when a menacing clan tries to kidnap Senna. Banished from the Soul Society long ago, the clan's leader is sending the World of the Living and the Soul Society on a collision course, and Senna seems to be the key to his diabolical plot for revenge. Can Ichigo and his fellow Soul Reapers save the two worlds from annihilation?
Viz Media has a decent set of audio mixes for the release though I think they provided too many options in the wrong way. The Japanese and English language tracks are both done with 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, with the 2.0 mix done at 224kbps and the 5.1 mixes at 384kbps. While multiple mixes like this were preferred way back in the early days of DVD because of bad downmixing in players and receivers, doing them these days is fairly pointless and it limits the 5.1 mix instead of maxing each of them out at 448kbps. The 5.1 mixes come across pretty well here, enough so that you really want a full lossless mix, as there is a good amount of directionality in a lot of scenes and some rather pleasing bass moments as well. It’s certainly far more expressive than the TV series and it holds its own as a solid theatrical presentation in this regard.
Originally out in 2006, the first Bleach movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The TV series in general is a rather solid looking experience and Viz Media has done a very good job on presenting that on DVD. The first theatrical feature has even better animation and the presentation here is just as solid, though it’s coming up against some limits at times because of the format and the multiple audio tracks that take up around a megabit of bandwidth. The strong animation quality looks quite good here throughout, though the problems come into play here and there with some background noise and blocking during some of the backgrounds where there’s basic (and expected) banding. These aren’t deal breakers, but with larger setups, the fast motion material doesn’t hold up quite as well. Beyond that however, the visual presentation is solid and very enjoyable.
With their standalone movies, Viz Media likes to make them stand out a bit, though they did more with the Naruto one by giving it a hardcover case. The Bleach movie is done up in a standard digipak that folds out with a single plastic slot in the middle section to hold the two discs. The digipak is kept “secure” by having a clear plastic slipcover over it that has the movie name on one side while the back side has the logo. It’s actually nicely done but these kinds of digipaks still bother me since they’re not that secure in the long run. The actual artwork is nicely done for the exterior with a big group shot of the main characters that get screen time here while the back cover has a very simple background shot of the city in the evening with a close-up from one of the fights. Add in the production credits and a very weak technical grid – one that doesn’t even talk about the languages or special features on the release, and you realize they’re marketing it solely by name power alone.
The interior of the digipak has a really nice three panel approach with the main good guys all along in a row in their standard outfits which is also set against the sunset sky background. The designs are simple and effective and the colors are quite eye-catching. What really works the best is that there’s a full color booklet included for the feature. The booklet is one that looks like it was translated completely from a Japanese booklet and has some strong production values to it, with lots of information as an illustrated guide to the world of Bleach and details on the movie itself. It’s certainly one of the better booklets I’ve seen from Viz Media to be sure.
The menu design for the film is rather similar to how the Naruto movies are being done in that there’s a brief bit of lead-in animation, this time leaves, which swirl across the screen and leave you with the final static menu. The layout is nicely done with some fall colors for the exterior border while the interior has artwork from the show. Navigation selections along the bottom are quick and easy to utilize, though the extras tag is clearly mislabeled, and overall it’s pretty seamless and problem free. Viz’s menus generally aren’t bad, though often they’re mediocre at best when they’re not dealing with standalone features like this. This menu is pretty solid and one of their better ones both visually and design wise.
The extras for this release are decent, though I’m not sure it really merited a second disc outside of marketing purposes. On the main disc, outside of the commentary track, the extras that are accessible from the main menu are actually mislabeled. They’re not extras, they’re simply ten minutes or so of trailers for other anime and video game properties.
The second disc is better as it uses the same menu design as the first disc but has a static rundown along the right with all the extras that are available. The primary extra is a twenty-two minute feature that has the English language adaptation side being covered with the voice actors and the production folks talking about it. This is another really nicely produced piece that lets them shine quite a lot and deal with some solid self promotion. While there are obviously moments where it’s beyond dorky (act yer age!), it’s really no different than what the Japanese extras are like at times. On the flip side, we get a new ten minute interview piece with the Japanese production staff and director talking about what they wanted to achieve with the film and how they approached it which was rather interesting. Beyond that, it’s mostly standard material with a line artwork gallery, a section of storyboards and then a number of trailers from different venues, such as the TV trailers for the film to the theatrical variations and the US theatrical trailer.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When a Shonen Jump TV series graduates to a movie, just like most anime series that do so, they try to make it in a way that is accessible to new fans while still pleasing the die hards that have supported them all this time. Director Noriyuki Abe talks about this in the extras where he wanted to reach out to a larger audience and bring them into something they could connect with, going so far as to say the intent was to make them cry. I can’t speak for the general audiences he was reaching for, especially in Japan, but he certainly did make me cry. I had hoped dearly that they would avoid the reset button problem that plagues so many movies of this nature, but alas, that was not to be the case.
Bleach: Memories of Nobody is an original story, one that series creator Tite Kubo was excited about since it was seeing his characters in a new setting on the big screen. The feature fits in somewhere after the Soul Society arc (which has not completed DVD release yet as of this writing) and that makes it somewhat awkward as characters that are “currently” the bad guys are now friends, “spoiling” some of what’s to come there. In this time of the series, Ichigo is doing pretty well for himself and has earned some measure of respect from the Soul Society and is continuing on with his life and dispatching Hollows as they come about on Earth.
Where the feature wants to go is in expanding some of the basic mythology of the series by tackling the realm that separates the Soul Society realm and that of the world of the living. We’d seen it previously when Ichigo and the others crossed over and the way that it’s oppressive and can essentially crush anything that strays even slightly from the path, a dangerous path even without that aspect of it. As it turns out, souls that aren’t able to cross over eventually come together and form a larger connection which in turn has created a new realm between called the Valley of Screams. It’s within this realm that the “Blanks” thrive and where an older group of Soul Society “dissidents” known as the Dark Ones operate. The longstanding grudge they have against the Soul Society is about to take on a new level as they’ve located the Shinenju that can give them the power they need to win.
As this is all discovered through incidents occurring in the realm of the living as the Blanks arrive in mass form, the Soul Society has decided that their best bet to handle all of this is to point a massive cannon at the Valley of Screams and obliterate it. Since if they leave it free to grow, it’ll crush the barrier between the two main realms and destroy everything. This is nice and epic, as is fitting for Bleach at this stage and being a theatrical feature. The personal side of it is in the introduction of a mysterious new Soul Reaper named Senna that nobody seems to know. She’s spunky and lively and quite good at what she does, but the twist is that she seems to have fragments of memories from her life before becoming a Soul Reaper. Ichigo is drawn strongly to her because of her situation and the pairing of the two becomes the main focal point of the series when it’s not delving into the big action set pieces. Along the way, many of the thirteen captains show up to help out and there are cameos by others, but by and large this is kept to a simpler character piece with few key players. Noriyuki Abe talks about this in the extras as well about how it’s easier for the audience to connect, but it also pushes out some of the core audience who like characters beyond Ichigo. The diversity of the cast, like many series of this nature, is one of its biggest draws.
The entire downside to this, though it isn’t unexpected, as that at the end of everything nothing is different. The giant reset button of doom is pressed and everything that happens here, while positive and saves the universe, is completely forgotten by all. Most theatrical features for ongoing series are like this – both in anime and in Hollywood – but it continues to be a very disappointing thing since it doesn’t exactly enamor you to watch it for the actual plot or story. What you watch it for in the end is for the pretty visuals and high cel count action sequences.
And Bleach: Memories of Nobody fits the bill perfectly there. The set design for the feature is strong as expected with a lot of detail paid to it. Bleach has had strong real world designs from the start when it spent time in the world of the living so there wasn’t much surprise here. When they delve into the Valley of Screams, there isn’t anything all that original here but it has that barren apocalyptic look that fits very well and is allowed to be torn up beautifully during the big action moments. What drew me the most to the feature though was the designs for the Blanks. They’re obviously done in a simple manner, but the creepy factor is high and they honestly reminded me at times of childhood memories of the martians from the live action Martian Chronicles series. The white and red with the large angled heads is simply creepy and they fit perfectly with the use of CG in their movements and the sheer number of them in some scenes.
With high production values, a solid if predictable script and some really neat designs, Bleach: Memories of Nobody is exactly what I expected from the first entry in the theatrical part of the series. That said, it also contains the weaknesses that are inherent in it in that it doesn’t really matter or affect anything. You go to this for the eye candy, to enjoy the experience and watch it unfold in front of you. You’re not really here for the character growth, the new revelations that will change how things work in the series or alter the fundamentals of the Bleach universe. You’re here for an intriguing quasi-popcorn anime film and this delivers it handily. It’s certainly accessible for new fans but I can see it being slightly frustrating for those watching the DVDs as they come out right now.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.