Bleach Vol. #01 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Viz Media
  • MSRP: 24.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Bleach

Bleach Vol. #01

By Chris Beveridge     November 15, 2006
Release Date: November 28, 2006


Bleach Vol. #01
© Viz Media


What They Say
Fifteen-year-old Ichigo Kurosaki never asked for the ability to see ghosts - he was born with the gift. When his family is attacked by a Hollow - a malevolent lost soul - Ichigo encounters a Soul Reaper and absorbs her powers. Now, he's dedicating his life to protecting the innocent and helping tortured souls find peace.

The Review!
When a Soul Reaper enters Ichigo's life, the spiritual level of a lot of people around him starts to rise.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. With a lot of action to it as well as some exaggerated dialogue sequences, Bleach has a fairly decent stereo mix that has some nice directionality to it but nothing that really sets it out as a truly strong piece. The opening and closing sequences have some solid use but overall the mix is straightforward and competent. In listening to both language tracks, we didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Being a recent show, the transfer for it is in very clean and solid shape and is for the most part generally a good looking release. Colors are solid without any really noticeable bleeding, though some of the red items sometime seem like there's a touch of it. Cross coloration is absent and aliasing is very minimal. Probably more out of expectation, the show does seem a bit soft in how it's presented. This isn't the effects used for the Hollows or their other dimensional moments, but rather just a feeling of how the show looks in general. Part of it comes from the way so many shows are just so clean and vibrant looking, that something of this nature doesn't feel quite right " especially for something of this pedigree. Backgrounds do exhibit some noise and there are a few very noticeable areas of mosquito noise as well, but by and large this is a good looking release.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork and design for the most part of the Japanese cover, the first volume kicks off with a solid illustration of Ichigo in his Soul Reaper outfit against a white background. This looks to be a slightly zoomed out version of the Japanese one, based on images I've seen, in that we get to see more of Ichigo on it. The look of it with the white background works very well and this is nicely accented by the silver foil used in the domestic version of the series logo. The Japanese version is done with a simple Arial font but this release uses the Shonen Jump branding, for obvious reasons, and the more stylized approach for the title itself. I can see the appeal in the original but I rather like the domestic one more. The back cover uses the rest of the image which is mostly the off white color and a bit of the lengthy blade that he uses. There's a lot of empty space here but the layout works well as it provides the series name in the Arial font in silver along with the volume and episode numbers. The summary is a bit brief but standard for Viz releases. They also include a few shots from the show and a technical grid that completely misses the point. The useful information that you want in the grid, like languages and runtime, are below the summary. The grid for this, though welcome, is basically just filled with logos. The insert is a black piece with the title from the back cover on it along with chapter stops. A nice little extra inclusion is a sticker sheet that has the front cover and four smaller stickers for each episode number.

Menu:
The menu design is one of the better ones from Viz in recent memory as it uses the blocking movements from the opening sequence to showcase scenes from the show. Kept to an all black background, the visuals slide in and out along with lines of color all set to a brief bit of instrumental music. The navigation strip is along the bottom with quick access times to submenus and starting the show. Viz continues to avoid direction episode navigation from the top level but they're not the only ones to still do that. While this is a simple approach, it's done well and is a definite change from how Viz has done things in the past. On the downside, the disc did not correctly read our players' language presets and defaulted to English only for audio and no subtitles " which is unfortunate since there isn't a sign/song subtitle track so you initially believe the songs are not subtitled.

Extras:
A few extras have made their way on to the first volume. A selection of production art covers the basics of characters and the like while we also get a clean version of the closing sequence. An interesting inclusion is a preview of the manga. This is a video piece where it brings in a number of pages from the first volume of the book and "reads" it the proper way while zooming into each of the pages so you can read it clearly. For those that read manga, it'll feel very slow. But it is a good way to get a feel for a book and to see how closely it matches the anime.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Bleach is a bit of an oddity for me in how I cam to it. Unlike most shows that I manage to go into with little knowledge, I ended up reading a portion of the series in its manga form prior to release. I had actually avoided the manga for awhile since I assumed it would be picked up in anime form, but I wound up with a copy of the fifth volume of the manga and nothing else to read. It ended up being more enjoyable than I suspected it would be and promptly got the rest I was missing and have been going through it ever since. Seeing it in its slightly more polished form compared to the early episodes, it has me anticipating things a bit more than I would with other shows.

In a lot of ways, Bleach isn't terribly original. The basic premise is one that you have likely seen in any number of Shonen Jump series before. Centered around fifteen year old Ichigo, he's a young man who has spent a good deal of his life seeing ghosts. It's been stronger in the last few years where he's now able to interact with them in some ways, such as the opening sequence where he rights a fallen bottle of flowers where a young girl died, telling her directly that she should now truly move on to the afterlife. His family runs a small doctors office in the city so there are plenty of things going on in the area that he's aware of that would relate to ghosts. He lives with his two sisters, one of which is sensitive to the ghosts while the other doesn't believe they exist, and his overly extroverted father who is the actual doctor. It's a fairly standard quirky family but what really makes this show, and the manga, is the excellent cast of secondary characters that grow up around Ichigo.

Like any series of this nature, an event happens that changes Ichigo's life forever. While he's normally seen ghosts for awhile, the times are changing as some really massive and ugly looking beasts are now visible to him. If not for the intervention of a young woman named Rukia, he would have ended up a tasty morsel for one of these beasts. Rukia's actually surprised that Ichigo can see her as she's something called a Soul Reaper. Coming from the Soul Society, she's one of a group of people who deal with problematic spirits that haven't made the transition to the afterlife yet. Some simply linger on over time, and you can see visible chains to them to emphasize this. This wouldn't be a bad thing but there are things called Hollows (as opposed to the Whole's that spirits are) that feed on them. Their objectives are unknown but Rukia's apparently been dealing with them for centuries.

Ichigo's spiritual sensitivity has him aware of all of this now but it's also made him a very tasty treat for the Hollows and it's not long before one particular nasty hunts him down at home and starts by going after his sisters. Rukia attempts to intervene but it's a situation that goes badly and she's wounded. Using a gamble, she tells him that he can absorb some of her powers and become a "deputized" Soul Reaper of sorts to help take down this Hollow. To her surprise though, the process actually has Ichigo absorbing all of her powers and transforming him into a very powerful Soul Reaper. This is all just the basic setup for the series itself, the jumping point from which everything else flows.

As you can expect, Ichigo now takes on the role of a Soul Reaper and has to help Rukia with her mission until she's powered back up. The plot points are obvious and you can imagine how the first several episodes will play out. Thankfully, this isn't quite so. Ichigo, while not exactly eager to take on the role, avoids the usual pitfalls of truly fighting against it. Or fighting against the pseudo moral dilemma of having to send ghosts off to the afterlife. In fact, Ichigo rather takes to the role of a Soul Reaper and excels at it. There's no awkward moments of handling a sword, using his abilities or dealing with the monsters. He's more like a fifteen year old who has seen some grisly things in his life and knows the world isn't easy or ready to cater to him.

Where Bleach succeeds for me is in the quirky and amusing characters that will grow during these early episodes. Ichigo has plenty of school related things to deal with, but more of it takes place outside of the school than inside. There's a girl who has some attraction to him, Rukia takes up residence locally and attends with him and there are friends of friends that get involved. One of my favorite moments was an early scene, when Rukia introduces herself in the school, and you have a wide shot of her standing next to the already tall Ichigo. But next to him is the much taller Chad, a man with little words, whose head is actually partially out of the picture. Something about the disparity between their sizes was just amusing. But it's these kinds of characters that harbor secrets that will slowly be discovered during the course of Ichigo's entry into this larger world.

This first volume from Viz is pretty solid though not entirely problem free. I was very annoyed that within the third or fourth line of the subtitles of the first episode, they make a mistake by spelling Spirit as Sprit. I can understand something being missed further into an episode or volume depending on how their quality checks are going, but the beginning of an episode is just sloppy. It also appears that we're getting the source that was used for the TV broadcast. This doesn't mean we're getting an edited version; I have no idea what edits if any are made for that. What they have done though is to add certainly overlays to it so that it can be viewed without subtitles (and then the broadcast makes further edits for time or content as necessary, a nonissue here). The one that stood out that I caught here is during Rukia's introduction as she wrote something on her hand to show Ichigo. The original Japanese text is retained and below that on her hand is the English scrawl. It's quick and looks decent but it does have some jaggedness to it, like if you wrote text with a pencil in photoshop instead of the text button. I haven't seen Bleach on TV but I've been told that these exist every now and then throughout it and aren't intrusive. Which is all well and fine for broadcast but that should not happen on the home video version. I don't include opening/closing credits changes as an alteration to the video but this I do. It's a blemish on an otherwise mostly solid release.

In Summary:
With over a hundred episodes aired so far and no sign of stopping, Bleach is certainly a solid franchise. Unlike Naruto, it's something that appeals to me since it doesn't feel quite so childish. The Japanese releases have been broken up into groupings, something I hope Viz does as well since it gives each new major arc a chance to "reboot" the audience, but even if they don't they've done a pretty good job here overall. Beyond a couple of mis-steps, Bleach is showing that continual change that Viz Media is going through as they find themselves now having to really step up to the plate for their anime releases. With their parent company channeling more shows to them directly, they can't keep doing things like they have. Every new "wave" of titles from them in the last few years has shown solid growth and they're very close now to being like most other distributors. Bleach is a solid entry into their Shonen Jump video line and one that they'll be doing for quite some time. Though it's partially based on where I know the series will go, this is a very easy recommendation to make if you're looking for something in this genre.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Closing,Production Gallery,Manga Preview

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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