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Retro Review: The Bleach Live-Action Movie Is A Great Primer For The Anime Series

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BY April 13, 2020
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The Bleach live-action movie is a wonderful introduction into the world of Bleach. The renowned manga series became an anime that fans worldwide love. With news of the Bleach anime returning for a new season, I plan on getting back into the world of Soul Reapers. But before that, I figured it’s time to check out the Bleach live-action movie first. A movie that I’d previously missed, because I assumed it wouldn’t be good. An assumption based on a historical pattern of live-action anime adaptations not living up to the mark. But I’m glad to say that 2018’s Bleach is actually not that bad of a live-action reboot of a classic anime property. 

Bleach Live-Action Movie Adapted Directly From The Anime

Bleach live-action movie the anime.

The Bleach live-action movie is a complete reboot of the Bleach manga, but set in the real world. For fans of Bleach, turning the story into live-action felt daunting, to say the least. It’s a story about Soul Reapers protecting lost souls, and fighting the evil ones. With many more otherworldly concepts and creatures. So a live-action adaptation of such a story was definitely a challenge. But surprisingly, the movie works.

The Bleach manga is one of the best mangas worldwide. It has a lot of love from fans and many awards to boot. The anime was just as beloved, being a great story told with even better visuals. The action-adventure story features a lot of heart and depth, which is tricky. Making a live-action adaptation of that manga is even more so. Many such adaptations have fallen flat on their faces. The Dragonball live-action adaptation in Dragonball: Evolution is an example of exactly that. The Bleach live-action movie works because it stays true to the anime, in ways that matter the most. And changes things up in other ways that aren’t really feasible in the live-action format. 

The Story Of A Boy Become A Soul Reaper

Bleach live-action movie training scene. Image via Warner Bros.

Bleach is story of a young boy who can see elements beyond the mortal realm. Which includes souls of people who die, and creatures that are otherworldly. Long story short; he sees dead people. The boy is Ichigo (Sota Fukishi), a fun-loving teenager who lives life large. Ichigo could see the souls of the departed ever since a childhood incident saw him witness the death of his mom. One night, he encounters a Soul Reaper (Hana Sugisaki), who is as surprised to see him as he is her. 

The Reaper is chasing a Hollow, an evil soul, who ends up kidnapping Ichigo’s sister. As Ichigo and the Reaper fight the Hollow, the Reaper becomes injured. To save themselves, the Reaper transfers her powers to Ichigo. But the end result was shocking, even for her. Ichigo seemingly has so much raw power on his own, that he took all her powers. With it, he defeats the Hollow easily. Unable to take back her powers from him so soon after the transfer, the Reaper has to wait for Ichigo to get stronger. During this time, she pretends to be a teenager in order to train Ichigo, to accelarate this process. The plan is to return her powers to her, once Ichigo is at full strength.

The Premise Of The Live-Action Bleach Is Familiar

Bleach live-action movie the Hollow. Image via Warner Bros.

The Bleach live-action movie is a Japanese film distributed by Warner Bros and Netflix. It’s originally in Japanese, with English subtitles and an English dub of the movie as well. The voice actor of Ichigo in anime, Johnny Kong Bosch, reprises his role for the English version. It’s a story that feels like we’ve seen before. An accidental hero. An experienced but powerless veteran who has to train the hero. On top of which, the hero is a teenage boy with friendships, responsibilities and past traumas. It’s superhero origin staples. But Bleach does it in fun and innovative ways that build the world beyond the insular story. 

On top of having to remain a mortal to train Ichigo, the Reaper, Rukia, also has to deal with her bosses. Rukia later reveals that she works for the Soul Society. She’s part of an organization that all Reapers work for. They forbid transferring Soul Reaper powers to humans, under the punishment of death. When the Society commands Rukia to take back her powers, killing Ichigo, she refuses. This act of compassion motivates the once reluctant Ichigo. He begins to train hard and defeat one of the evilest Hollows, to prove his worth to Soul Society. Rukia saved his life, and now Ichigo has the opportunity to repay the favor. Especially when that evil Hollow also happens to be the one that killed his mother. 

Bleach Works Because Of Its Characters And Cast

Rukia. Image via Warner Bros.

Bleach deals with monsters, the supernatural and insanely crazy fight sequences.  But at its core, it’s a simple story. The characters and their relationships are really what makes the story stand out. Ichigo and Rukia’s simple but heartwarming friendship is the basis of the movie. She sacrifices everything she knew to save his life, and prevent his death afterwards. This brings out the hero in him. The climax is a pure superhero ending that sees Ichigo protect innocents and his friends. I would have loved to get more backstory about Rukia herself though. Her moments with the leaders of the Soul Society are intriguing. She seemingly owes them a lot, but it’s never expanded upon. Her story took a backseat to Ichigo’s, which was the only underdeveloped aspect of Bleach. 

The supporting cast is just as interesting, and never feel forced. Most Hollywood productions of smaller superhero films try to shoehorn in such staples. They put in comic relief, love interests and rivals just for the sake of it. Basically trying to create a paint-by-numbers superhero story. The supporting cast here enhances the story, but never becomes distractions. If anything, I want to see more of Orihime (Erina Mano), the girl who crushes on Ichigo. Or the quiet and silent friend Yasutora (Yu Koyanagi).

Bleach Live Action Movie’s Climax Is Visually Incredible

The fight sequence. Image via Warner Bros.

The climax is a breathtaking sequence that blends supernatural CGI  with martial arts. Ichigo taking on the massive Hollow through the streets of his city is incredible. Even more so because humans cannot see Soul Reapers or Hollows. So while Ichigo and the Hollow tear through the city, people only see destruction. It’s fun and exciting, not to mention tense edge of your seat entertainment. The movie even has a second climax that sees a cool sword fight that ends unexpectedly.  

The Bleach live-action movie is far from perfect. There are characterizations that feel cliched and formulaic. But the honesty of the actors’ performances, especially Futushi’s, won me over. I became invested in the storyline and the stakes. I totally bought into the emotional motivation of each character. The Bleach live-action movie is great for audiences wanting to get into the anime, or the manga even. It’s a contained story that is accessible to all. And if you want more, there are two mediums in which the story continues. The movie currently holds a 67% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes, but a higher audience score. 

Bleach is currently streaming on Netflix. 

What did you think of the live-action Bleach movie? Let us know win the comments below. 

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Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.

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