Bleach Box Set 1 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 30, 2007
What They Say
For as long as he can remember, Ichigo Kurosaki has been able to see ghosts. But when he meets Rukia, a Soul Reaper who battles evil spirits known as Hollows, he finds his life is changed forever. Now, with a newfound wealth of spiritual energy, Ichigo discovers his true calling: to protect the living and the dead from evil. And when he vows to defend Rukia from the ruthless justice of the Soul Society, he and his friends must cross over and do battle in the spirit world...
Includes a "Chain of Fate" Wallet Chain!
The untapped power of Ichigo comes to life when a Soul Reaper gets involved during a battle which opens up a whole new world to him.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The two stereo mixes that are included with this release are pretty good with an encoding of 224 kbps which gives it slightly more depth than the 192 kbps standards we usually hear. 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.
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.
The single volume releases of Bleach were quite appealing as they used the character art against a white background which I felt let it all stand out well. Viz has decided to do the same with the box set while also making sure those who enjoyed the single volume releases will be happy. The thin cardboard box has a good image of Ichigo and Rukia together in street clothes with the standard logos and the series name in gray across part of it. It's got a bit of silver foil on it which helps it to shine a bit but overall it's somewhat subdued yet appealing with its starkness. The back cover has the logo in full while also providing a brief summary of the premise and basic technical and production information. It actually avoids any sort of character artwork or shots from the show which is a bit of a surprise. Inside the box is a foldout poster of Ichigo in full Soul Reaper mode on one side while the other has an array of conceptual artwork shots with untranslated notes about them.
The digipak inside the box is made up with good ideas but poor materials for making it work well in the long run. Like many digipaks, I just have a fear that this won't last long if you watch it often or manhandle it the wrong way. The front cover features the same artwork as the front of the box while the back side has just the series logo on it. The interior has the standard flap on it along with a listing of the discs and what episodes are on what discs. The digipak portion itself is a single connected plastic piece that has pages for each of the discs. Behind the discs is a bit of simple black text on white with various sayings and thoughts that the characters have. Opposite of that is the original cover artwork for all of the volumes except the first, which is what the poster is of. Where the packaging is a problem is that sometimes the pages shift slightly and it's very tentative in trying to get them back into place so it can close. The fear of breaking it keeps you from just shoving it how it needs to and then makes you really be careful with the package as a whole afterwards.
This release does come with a rather interesting extra, though I admit that I'd rather they made it optional and provided a cheaper release as well. A large metal wallet chain called the "Chain of Fate" is attached to the box in a separate package. It's a standard wallet chain and it certainly has a good look and some heft to it, but it's completely useless for a lot of folks in terms of actual use and I think it'd be awkward to display without a bit of work. It's a great item overall but I wonder if they could have shaved some of the box set cost off overall by offering two versions.
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 discs 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.
A few extras are on the discs here and spread out across all of them. Each disc has a selection of production art pieces which 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. The fifth volume has a Behind the Scenes feature which runs just under twenty minutes. Its focus is entirely on the US voice actor side and has several of the leads talking about their characters before shifting into showing them at work during recording sessions.
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 are 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.
Over the course of the twenty episodes that are presented here, Bleach really works well to win you over as it introduces a fairly good cast of characters. While there is the inevitable issue of having people Ichigo has known all his life suddenly revealing that they have powers they might have been aware about or suddenly coming into their own with something, there is something more to it in that these guys do feel like friends but ones that aren't terribly close yet. Rukia is quite the catalyst as her arrival sparks quite a lot going on here. Ichigo takes the brunt of it and we see their relationship progress but the real interest for me is in seeing how the supporting characters change into stronger personalities and interact more at the front of the story.
While I don't know if you could call these twenty episodes a season per se, it does encompass a rather sizeable chunk of storyline and sets the stage well. Everything takes place in the human world outside of a few key scenes as it wants to focus on getting Ichigo to understand who he is and what his potential may really be. It has some rather big moments, notably when Ishida lets loose with some Hollow bait, but it's all designed to move Ichigo forward as a Soul Reaper while playing with some of the events that tie him to things even more. His past isn't a huge focus but it is well connected to where he is now. And not unlike other group based shonen shows, his growth is tied to everyone else's and they all work just as hard as he does. A lot of it can be summed up with the way youth inspires, but Bleach simply comes together surprisingly well in its style and execution of what is fairly standard material.
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.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Production Artwork,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Behind the Scenes Feature
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.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: C+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
Running time: 440
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2