So, first things first… Happy New Year, everyone! It’s a pleasure for me to be here, taking full advantage of this serendipitous cosmic event! I mean, it couldn’t be an accident, right? We’re now in the glorious year of 2020, a leap year at that, which means that it will a run a full… count it… 366 days. It also so happens that the iconic ‘Big Three’ shonen Bleach ran for… you guessed it… 366 episodes before its tragic cancellation. Not one to pass up golden opportunities, one of my major goals for this year (you may even call it a new year’s resolution) is to watch and review a new episode for each and every day of 2020! I welcome anyone who would like to accompany me along for the ride.
Let me just get a couple things out of the way. I have watched this series before, this will actually be my second watch-through, and YES, I am watching the ENTIRE thing, even all the considerable filler that the series is somewhat infamous for (hey, some of it’s even good). The first time I watched it in its entirety dubbed. This time, I’ll be watching with subtitles for a more authentic experience. So, as they say, without further ado…
I’d forgotten how much I like the first OP of this series, it’s catchy, colorful, high energy and very distinctive, and the first of many outstanding OPs from this series. But for some reason, this one seems to be the one that gave the series its distinct identity.
"And so fell the sword of fate…"
The first figure we see in this epic tale is a mysterious silhouette against the backdrop of a full moon, wearing what appears to be samurai garb, and with a penchant for high places, surveying some unnamed city below. The figure is revealed to be a… cute girl? There’s also a black butterfly fluttering about at night for some reason, perhaps a harbinger of her impending presence. She mentions something about sensing strong ‘spirit energy’, and flies off into the night…
The first time we see our main character, Ichigo Kurosaki, we can immediately discern some things about him; at the age of fifteen he’s already a badass, but has a strong sense of righteousness to accompany it. He’s taking some ruffians to task for disturbing the vase of flowers set up in memory of a recently deceased little girl. After a thorough beatdown, they scurry away, and Ichigo apologizes to the girl on behalf of the wrongdoers… wait, what? Isn’t she supposed to be dead? Well, it just so happens that Ichigo, as the famous movie quote goes, can see dead people. He seems to have never given much thought to it, dismissing the probable reason as the fact that his family owns a medical clinic, and they all therefore have a passing familiarity with death. This trait also runs in his family, but is conspicuously absent in the case of his father.
On arriving home, he is suddenly attacked by a wild, middle-aged man… who happens to be his father. Apparently, this is a ‘thing’ in his family, where his dad constantly attempts to spar with him, often without warning. Could his father possibly be doing this to prepare him for something? Training for the future of some sort (hint, hint)?
We’re also introduced to his two younger sisters. One of them, Yuzu, seems to be sweet-natured, the other, Karin, seems to be aloof and unconcerned, even about the ghosts roaming her house; as far as she’s concerned, if she ignores them, they don’t exist. A large picture of someone who is presumably their mother hangs on the wall. We can safely guess that she is no longer with them, and that this a single parent household.
The following day, we see news bulletins on the TV reporting occurrences of inexplicable explosions and destructive events at the hands of some invisible unseen force. However, the dead girl we saw earlier can see it; it’s some sort of supernatural giant monster. Ichigo sees her and tries to get her out of the way of the destruction, but the monster lunges straight for both of them. The mysterious samurai girl appears out of nowhere, and quickly slays the monster with her katana, which then dissipates into nothingness. Ichigo is dumbstruck by this turn of events.
Later that night, Ichigo is in his bedroom ruminating on the events of the day, when the same mysterious girl enters unceremoniously through the window. In a pretty atypical reaction for a teenage boy, Ichigo is alarmed by the presence of a cute girl in his bedroom, and confronts her, with a kick in the behind for good measure. She is surprised that he can see her, since she cannot be seen by humans, and declares herself a shinigami (soul reaper). Ichigo doesn’t believe her. They start bickering like an old married couple, the first of many instances in this show.
There’s a ghost lingering in his bedroom, a middle-aged man. The girl, enacting some sort of ritual (Konso, we find out later), rests the hilt of her sword onto the ghost’s semi-transparent forehead, and sends him off to the “Soul Society”, which is apparently a “restful place”, as opposed to some other place where the dead go, which is presumably not that restful. She then tries to explain her purpose as a shinigami to Ichigo, and about the different kinds of spirits (“wholes” and “hollows”) she has to deal with, with a series of terrible drawings, which becomes a running joke in the series. Apparently, the giant monster from earlier in the day is a “hollow”, a malevolent spirit that eats people’s souls.
The strangely punctual hollow arrives at Ichigo’s house right on time, in search of a ‘tasty soul’, and attacks his sister Karin. Ichigo tries to fight the hollow, but the shinigami renders him immobile with a binding spell, saying that he’s over his head in this situation. She is shocked again when he breaks out of her spell, unheard of for a regular human being. It’s then that she comes to the realization that the extraordinarily strong spirit energy she detected earlier was none other than Ichigo’s, and this is what is also attracting the hollow. She tries to fend off the hollow but is gravely injured, and rendered unable to defend herself or the others. In a last ditch effort, she offers to lend Ichigo half of her shinigami powers, as it’s the only way to save his family. She tells him to impale himself upon her sword (which she calls a zanpakuto), but before this pivotal moment she finally tells him her name: Rukia Kuchiki.
In a flash of light and energy, he is magically revealed to be donning the shinigami uniform, along with a sword of his own, which he uses to slice the hollow in half and dispatch of it easily. It disappears into the ether. Instead of Rukia giving him half of her powers, it appears that he has taken all of it.
Ichigo is now a shinigami.
Bleach‘s first episode does exactly what it needs to; introduce us to the central characters and its basic premise, then set the story in motion, which it does with a pretty slick cliffhanger. That’s it for the first episode. The action is only just beginning, so I hope you tune in for my thoughts on Episode 2 tomorrow.
P.S. Bleach has a really gentle ED for such a manic show. I think I just may love it as much as the OP.