In the world of Shonen Jump (a Japanese comics anthology series aimed at teenage boys), Tite Kubo’s now-defunct manga Bleach once ranked near the top — and then it’s worldwide popularity suddenly plummeted, about a year prior to an abrupt discontinuation in 2016. (The anime adaptation of the franchise ended even earlier than that.) It’s hard, then, to understand why a live-action film version has appeared now, dumped onto American streaming services about two months after its Japanese theatrical release. This Bleach is about eight years too late to capitalize on any of the goodwill for the misadventures of the OG Kids See Ghosts: Teenager Ichigo Kurosaki and his ever-expanding band of friends, who fight off evil spirits that haven’t been properly exorcised. The film also carries the heavy burden of covering the first mini-arc of the franchise’s narrative, condensing what amounted to over 100 hours of content in the anime series. For director Shinsuke Sato, this means another bungled attempt at adapting an established anime: Sato approaches Kubo’s work in much the same way he did the ultra-violent Gantz and sophomorically nihilistic Death Note (no, not the American Netflix release), giving no thought to an intended audience and plowing through emotionally vacant action sequences.
Unless you come to [Bleach] with a healthy amount of knowledge of who everyone is and what their motivations are, you’re in for a total head-scratcher of a viewing experience.
Bleach revolves around Ichigo (Sota Fukushi), the orange-haired, high school-aged seer of the dead who becomes a “Soul Reaper” (essentially a more imposing Ghostbuster) and hunts evil spirits that take the shape of cheap-looking CGI monsters. He’s tasked with slaying the Grand Fisher, a “Hollow” (the term for what these souls turn into if not taken care of in time) who took the life of Ichigo’s mother 15 years ago. And if that sounds like a lot of plot, it is: There’s an insane amount of ground that needs to be covered for this story to even make sense, yet Sato still insists on including non-sequitur storylines and introductions to secondary personalities that distract from basic narrative foundation-building. The thinking here is obviously just to throw in as many recognizable figures as possible to please hardcore fans. But while the eccentric trainer Kisuke Urahara (Seiichi Tanabe) and Ichigo’s long-term rival, Renji Abarai (Taichi Saotome), are both major characters in the Bleach anime and manga, here their only purpose is fan service. And that means that unless you come to Sato’s film with a healthy amount of knowledge of who everyone is and what their motivations are, you’re in for a total head-scratcher of a viewing experience. Even the battle scenes (only three to count, two lasting less than five minutes) are cut to pieces in the editing, with no clear spatial relation between Ichigo and whatever special effects behemoths he’s battling — which just enforces the notion that this film is for diehards, people who have previously consumed the particulars of this story and are here to watch it play out in a slightly different form. But if that’s the case, then why does Sato devote the first 25 minutes of the runtime to needless exposition — as if we didn’t already know who most of these characters are? It’s because Bleach isn’t actually for anyone; it’s both too immensely tedious for diehards and too confusing for newcomers.
You can currently stream Shinsuke Sato’s Bleach on Netflix.