Over the last few weeks, we decided to read Bleach, written and illustrated by Noriaki "Tite" Kubo, which is one of the most popular mangas in both the US and Japan. Bleach revolves around the adventures of student Ichigo Kurosaki after he obtains spirit powers of a Soul Reaper from another Soul Reaper, Rukia Kuchiki. The Soul Reapers’ duties include defending humans from evil spirits, known as Hollows, and guiding good spirits to the afterlife. After Ichigo obtains his new powers, some of his friends develop similar “spirit powers” and help him fight the increasing number of Hollows.
In Bleach, souls reside in an extra-dimensional place called Soul Society of which Soul Reapers are the military and police force. The Soul Reapers are led by the Gotei 13, a group 13 captains who have immense power. The main antagonist, Sōsuke Aizen was a part of the Gotei 13 before he betrayed the Soul Reapers and sided with the Hollows. He obtains an object, the Hōgyoku, which has the power to make the desires of the user come true. The last story arc of Bleach, which we read, covers Ichigo and his friends’ attempt to stop Aizen and save Soul Society. The arc begins with Ichigo and the other captains of the Gotei 13 confronting Aizen and his army of Hollows. While the captains defeat the hollows, they are effortlessly dispatched by Aizen. This leaves Ichigo to confront Aizen alone, resulting in a climatic battle. At the conclusion of the battle, Ichigo sacrifices his Soul Reaper powers in order to deliver a final, powerful strike to Aizen which results in the villain’s defeat.
Kubo utilizes a realistic art style that seeks to place the reader at the scenes of the many battles in Bleach. Some of the techniques Kubo heavily relies on are shading and action lines. Kubo’s realistic style allows the reader to get absorbed into the various fights in Bleach without having to worry about the details. Along with Kubo’s generous use of realistic shading, he often shades half of a panel to show moments of surprise and turning points in the plot. However, Bleach contains many solid color backgrounds too. These solid color backgrounds allow the reader to concentrate on the foreground image, which usually consists of characters or text bubbles, that are often a key part of the current scene. When shading is used like this, Kubo seeks to convey that feeling of surprise to the reader. Because battles in Bleach move so fast, action lines are often used to convey the commotion of battles and allow the reader to truly feel the speed of certain scenes.
The borders of panels in Bleach are sometimes ill-defined and images will spill into one another. This aspect of Kubo’s art style once again complements the disorder of battles and attempts to convey a sense of disarray to the reader. Bleach uses onomatopoeia often and are drawn across whole pages sometimes. The onomatopoeia are also stretched and distorted to accommodate the sound effects that they were intended to make. Speech bubbles are also often spiked and the text within them are bolded when the character is screaming, which contrasts with the smaller text when the characters are whispering or mumbling to themselves. These different ways of drawing the text allow the reader to almost hear the dialogue and gives the manga a more realistic feeling overall.
The overall artistic style that Kubo utilizes seeks to bride the gap between fantasy and the real world. His application of human features on the Shinigami and abstract designs of Hollow masks accomplishes the feat and gives the reader a sense of a seemingly possible world. Because Bleach’s artistic style is so realistic, it doesn’t seek to place the reader in the shoes of Ichigo. Instead, the art allows the reader to enjoy the battles from an observer viewpoint.
Bleach is an action-packed and fast-paced manga. After introducing the main characters and their abilities, the story quickly launches into an all-out adventure as Ichigo develops as a person and as a fighter. The fast quality of the plot allows for plenty of sword-swinging action and nail-biting suspense.
However, although this fast—paced characteristic makes Bleach an exciting and enjoyable manga, the plot moves somewhat too quickly and is somewhat disconnected. Bleach is comprised mostly of fighting scenes, leaving very little time for dialogue and serious plot development. Therefore, Bleach is not for those who enjoy reading complex dialogue and character thoughts. This extreme speed also interferes with the continuity of the plot. Because Kubo pushes the story forward so quickly, the transitioning between story arcs is rough and poorly done. For example, after Rukia was rescued at the conclusion of the first arc, a short period of peace acted as a bridge to the next arc. Nothing important occurred during this transition and the plot quickly moved on to the next arc as Orihime was kidnapped.
In general, Bleach could be more organized by adding more dialogue and thought as opposed to pure action. This would allow the manga to appeal to a larger audience as well as improve its overall quality. Furthermore, more time should be spent to allow the story to effectively flow between story arcs.
We think that Bleach moves quickly and is suitable for readers that enjoy combat scenes and many turning points. The realistic artwork does a good job of immersing us into the scenes of the battles and help convey various emotions during intense moments. Overall, we recommend Bleach, but it might not be for readers looking for a more slow-paced dialogue-centric manga.