Yes, it’s another bildungsroman with supernatural overtones, but how often do coming-of-age stories crib simultaneously from Ghostbusters, The Sixth Sense, andInternal Affairs? Bleach is a heady brew, more than the sum of its formidable parts, elevated to modern classic status by creator Tite Kubo’s witty characters, corkscrew plotting, and vivid, sometimes grisly artwork.
Bleach’s basic premise finds hero Ichigo “Strawberry” Kurosaki, born with the ability to see ghosts, suffering the loss of his family at the hands of a Hollow, an evil lost soul. As a result of Strawberry’s tragic loss, and a surprising deal he makes with a friendly female ghost, he vows to protect the innocent and help tortured spirits find peace. Oh, yeah, he also gets to carry one of the coolest (and most gigantic) swords in all of pop culture. In the series’ first narrative arc, Strawberry must infiltrate the base camp of the Hollows, the malevolent souls.
While the plot points themselves are fairly straightforward, even occasionally derivative, Kubo’s flair for the macabre, the grotesque, and his penchant for hitting emotional grace notes elevates the material. Also, the monster-slaying --- ghost-busting, actually --- is frequently exciting, oftentimes giddily gory. More successful is the series’ second arc, which takes the “trust no one” dogma of "The X-Files" and multiplies it by infinity. Strawberry’s heartbreak, losses, and ultimate renaissance in this conspiracy-laden world where nothing is what it seems --- not life, death, nor friends and allies --- is galvanizing and exhilarating, rich with kinetic action, tight plotting, comedic pit stops, and the trenchant ache of adolescence.
Kubo’s Japanese ghost world often resembles the criminal underworlds of Mafia stories, rich as it is with espionage, power struggles, corruption, double-crosses, and intrigue. Kubo has also created an attractive ensemble of supporting characters that alternately provide comic relief and effectively deepen the stakes of Strawberry’s quest, usually by dying. Bleach’s dialogue, too, reads like a master class in hardboiled patois, the kind of brass-knuckled verbiage of Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler. If there is a bone to pick with Bleach, it’s Kubo’s predilection for endless --- and we mean this almost literally --- battle sequences, some of which span several chapters. Though vividly, graphically, and creatively drawn, we’re not in Bleach for blood, but for the white-hot power of its storytelling.
Overall, Bleach is the real deal: a great read for manga fans over 13 or 14 years of age.
Reviewed by J. Rentilly on October 18, 2011
Bleach, Volume 25