It’s been a long wait for fans of Tite Kubo’s Bleach who’ve been waiting for a live action adaptation since one was announced all the way back in around 2010. Whilst that initial Hollywood adaptation was eventually killed when Kubo decided to take back the rights, reportedly unhappy with how things were progressing, Warner Bros Japan did eventually secure his co-operation and brought Bleach into live action. Now, a mere 2 months after the Japanese theatrical release, Bleach has hit Netflix so that everyone can get in on the action!
For anyone not familiar with the original manga or the anime it spawned, Bleach follows Ichigo Kurosaki, a teenager who possesses the ability to see spirits. Unfortunately they can also see him which eventually leads him into the middle of an ongoing battle between vicious evil spirits known as Hollows and the Soul Reapers, a force of powerful warrior spirits who fight them to protect the world. Ichigo encounters Rukia, a young Soul Reaper who is staggered that Ichigo can see her and is eventually wounded trying to defend him from a Hollow that tries to take one of Ichigo’s young sisters. Seeing no other option Rukia transfers her powers to Ichigo allowing him to become a Soul Reaper and save the day. The thing is that Rukia can’t seem to get her powers back again. Given that Ichigo has no real inclination to do her job for her and the fact that some people looking for her won’t be too happy when they find out the reason she hasn’t come home…Frankly, she’s in a bit of a bind and Ichigo might just have to try and become a hero after all.
Whilst live action adaptations of anime tend to have a bit of a bad reputation, there are a fair few good examples and happily Bleach just about manages to join them. It’s a close thing though given that the plot is a bit all over the place in a bizarre attempt to shoe-horn in almost the entirety of the first 7 volumes of the manga. To its credit though it does manage to pull it off by paring most of the exposition and side characters back to the bare minimum and allowing the main plot to get from A to B as quickly as possible.
This is helped along massively by the sheer charisma of its two leads. Former Kamen Rider Sota Fukushi takes the lead as Ichigo and pulls off exactly the right balance of emotion needed by the character swapping easily between big action sequences and more delicate emotional moments – no easy feat given the level of visual effects involved in the film including the fact that you have to assume his whole sword is likely CGI from the hilt up otherwise he’d never be able to swing the thing! Meanwhile Hana Sugisaki (who, like Sota appeared in last year's Blade of the Immortal live action adaptation), has the harder job of playing Rukia as the exasperated but largely powerless figure who must drag him through his hero's journey. Given how little she gets to do here, especially in light of how much the exposition has been pared down, she still does an excellent job. In particular it’s great to see her in the training sequences whether she’s looking like a very competent swords woman or gleefully firing baseballs at Ichigo’s head.
Elsewhere the visual effects involved are largely very impressive and almost everything looks real and solid with some great texture work being done although some corners have clearly been cut here and there. Ironically the VFX is at its worst in the more simplistic one-on-one sword fights than it ever is in the giant monster sequences but the break-neck pacing of the film ensures that you never get the chance to spend too much time looking at the bits that don’t quite work (a shame that some of this week's other film releases don’t learn this lesson like a certain sequel to a popular Schwarzenegger film about aliens…).
The soundtrack is the black sheep of the film though, particularly from the standpoint of anyone who’s seen the anime. Whilst there's nothing objectively wrong with it it’s definitely a missed opportunity not to use at least some of the original music (which was one of the best parts of the anime after all).
If you happen to be sitting on a Netflix account right now then I’d definitely recommend giving Bleach a shot. If you're a pre-existing fan then you’ll get a chance to see just what this world and its inhabitants look like in a real world setting and newcomers will get to enjoy a brisk fun action movie that might persuade them to give the rest of the franchise a try.