By Tite Kubo
200 pages, black and white
Published by Viz
Sometimes it takes the silliest things to get me to pick up a comic. Take Bleach Vol. 1, by Tite Kubo. In this case, it was a combination of the sharp figure drawing on the front surrounded by pure white and… the title. It just sounded cool to me. What can I say? Sometimes a book really can get sold on the cover and the title. Of course, what’s inside, that’s an entirely different story.
Ichigo Kurosaki sees dead people. Specifically, ghosts, and he sees them everywhere. It’s a gift, and he uses it to help spirits have a little bit of peace in their lives. The stakes get much higher when he meets Rukia Kuchiki, though. She’s a Soul Reaper, someone who hunts down evil Hollows, spirits that try to steal people’s souls. Now Ichigo’s got Rukia’s Soul Reaper powers, but there’s only one problem: he doesn’t want them.
When I started reading Bleach, what immediately struck me is that Ichigo’s neither a typical hero nor an anti-hero. He’s got powers, sure. He’s a genuinely nice person who does help others on a regular basis. He just knows his limitations and doesn’t want to go above and beyond, something that being a Soul Reaper would definitely do. I really appreciated how Kubo keeps Ichigo sympathetic even as he tries to turn down Rukia; it’s a fine line that Kubo treads, keeping Ichigo intriguing without coming across like a jerk. It’s not a surprise that in the end Ichigo comes through for Rukia, but a sign of good writing on Kubo’s part that it doesn’t feel contrived or easy. Ichigo’s beginning of his journey towards being a hero really began before Bleach Vol. 1 takes place, but what we’ve got here is an important step down that path. He’s definitely the kind of protagonist that you want to read more about. My only complaint with the writing is Ichigo’s “wacky father”, but I’m hoping he fades into the background pretty quickly. He seems out of place in this book filled with Hollows and adrift souls, in a book that’s pretty serious about the rest of its cast.
I really like Kubo’s art for Bleach as well. It’s got a nice angular sort of feel to it, with harsh edges on people’s faces giving everyone a slightly sinister look. Kubo’s got a good design sense, and that certainly shows up in the Hollows, with creepy looking patterns and designs decorating their misshapen bodies. The Hollows and Ichigo’s fighting them lets Kubo really cut loose; I was amused when we learned that the Zanpaku-Tô sword changes shape and grows based on the user’s power, thinking it was just an excuse to not have to worry about consistency. I have to admit that Kubo proved me wrong, though, with the drawings of Ichigo using the massively huge sword looking suitably dramatic, as well as being a plot point about Ichigo’s abilities. In the end, the interiors are just as slick as the cover, and considering how much it grabbed me, that’s a good thing.
I’m really pleased with the SHONEN JUMP graphic novel line from Viz; they’ve had great books like One Piece, Hikaru No Go, Naruto, Sand Land, YuYu Hakusho, and Dragon Ball come from it—and now, Bleach which fits in quite nicely to that lineup of high quality books. People worrying that Bleach might be short-lived should take comfort in knowing that it began serialization in Japan back in 2001 and is still running, so we should have lots of fun in our future. Best of all, like the other SHONEN JUMP graphic novels, Bleach is bargain-priced at just $7.95. How can I possibly resist Volume 2? More importantly, how can you pass up giving Bleach a try? Great, great fun.