Literally, for the first time in many, many moths, I’ve added a new top level category to this blog. I rarely even add subcategories these days because I’ve covered so many different bases over the last year and two months, and it had been ages since there was a new high level category. Well, I’m finally covering completely new ground for this blog by reviewing my first manga series. It’s not the first manga that I’ve ever read. That award goes to Death Note, and I’ve read bits and pieces of others since that one, but it’s the first one that I’ve read in the time that I’ve had this blog, so new steps are constantly being taken I guess. I’m kind of embarrassed that I’m reading this particular manga because Bleach is a pretty ridiculously popular manga/anime and it has a very vocal hatedom that it’s just your stereotypical/conventional shonen fighting manga. I’m lazy and thinking that I may just stop italicizing manga and anime every time I write them even though I’m supposed to because they are foreign words. Anyways, this series is notable for being around for a long time (over ten years) and for having story arcs that tend to drag a bit (like Dragon Ball Z!), but I love me some anime and manga, and I can’t really call myself an otaku if I don’t really know much about one of the most popular franchises out there. So, without further ado, Bleach, a series that starts out well enough and is enjoyable in a shonen way with a unique aesthetic/identity and a cool premise.

Ichigo Kurosaki is a 15 year old Japanese high school student with decent skills in martial arts and one supernatural gift. He can see ghosts. One day (and I apologize if I accidentally mix in details from the anime which I was going to watch instead until it was randomly taken off of Netflix with no warning), after helping a troubled young ghost deal with her passing by scaring away bullies who were vandalizing her spirit’s resting place, Ichigo is visited by a young woman in a kimono named Rukia Kuchiki who claims to be a type of spirit known as a shinigami, or Soul Reaper. Her job is to help good spirits, known as “wholes” move on by sending them, and to defeat evil spirits, known as “hollows” in battle, before they can devour wholes or attack living humans. Rukia sensed great Spirit Energy at Ichigo’s house, which is a sure indication of an impending hollow attack, and during their conversation, one attacks Ichigo’s home and nearly kills his two sisters (one of which, Karin, can also see ghosts). After showing immense personal strength by breaking a Soul Reaper spell that Rukia had cast on him, Ichigo is given Rukia’s powers when she nearly dies protecting Ichigo from the rampaging hollow. This awakens Ichigo’s natural strengths and he handily defeats the Hollow where even Rukia, the seasoned shinigami had failed.

The next day, no one else in Ichigo’s family can remember the attack, but a completely human (sort of) Rukia shows up at Ichigo’s high school as a new student. It seems that while she had intended on only transferring half of her powers to Ichigo, he took all of them, and she’s stuck in her current human form (called a gigai) until her power returns. She now expects Ichigo to take up the mantle of a Soul Reaper until she can return to duty. While he bristles at the work and responsibility at first, he quickly changes his mind when he sees a spirit of a young boy nearly being devoured by a Hollow (whose ass he proceeds to briskly kick). Ichigo’s first real challenge arrives though when a school friend, the shy and truly bizarre orphan Orihime Inoue is attacked by the Hollow of her long-dead brother who had refused to pass to the other side because he wanted to look after her. However, by staying behind, he was devoured by a Hollow and subsequently turned into one himself. Ichigo doesn’t actually defeat this Hollow, but instead it voluntarily sends itself, when it realizes it nearly killed its own sister. The first volume of the manga ends with the introduction of another of Ichigo’s friends, a gentle and quiet giant of a teen named Yasutora “Chad” Sado, who has adopted a baby parakeet which Rukia and Ichigo recognize as a whole that is being targeted by a very malicious Hollow.

So far, I don’t understand the hatedom, but I also know that the general consensus towards the series is that it starts out promising but then it slowly starts to nose-dive with arcs that never end and plot twists that don’t make any sense so I’m probably just not at the point where it gets bad yet. Honestly though, I definitely enjoy it. I mean, I’ll always have a soft spot for anime and manga, and I think Bleach has a really neat premise. Here’s this kid who could see ghosts (so that’s cool) and he was a good fighter but not super natural about it. But then he gets his powers from another supernatural being and has to learn how to do her job. It’s got elements of urban fantasy as well as some of the more superhero tropes of your typical shonen manga. I think the characters are genuinely likeable. At this point, Ichigo seems like a relateable high school student who suddenly has all sorts of new responsibility heaped on him which is an archetypal trait of many young superheroes. I also just really enjoy the whole urban aesthetic of the series which abandons some of the more obviously feudal Japan/science fiction things that are really common in a lot of the most popular manga franchises. Do I think this is remotely as good as Fullmetal Alchemist or Death Note? Hell no, but so far, I enjoy it.

This series has been running for like over a decade now so I hope it’s obvious that I’m not going to just read it straight through. I would be burned out and then some especially if I come to agreed about the considerable arc fatigue this series is rumored to regularly suffer from. I left all of my books in WV… literally all of them so I have pretty slim pickings on what to read while I’m up here. I’m going to try and find places on the internet where I can read manga for free (like what I’m doing with Bleach) without having to illegally download anything as well as try and find things for comic books so that maybe I can go back and actually start reading more of The Walking Dead cause I still don’t know why I had stopped reading that as regularly as I was last semester. It was just starting to get good. Anyways, if you’re looking for a good introduction to manga, I think that you could do a lot worse than Bleach and I look forward to seeing how this series progresses. I’ve seen the first story arc on DVD ( so the first 2o episodes) so I think I actually know where the story will be going for a while.

Final Score: B