Bleach first look review Fantasia 2018: can the live-action movie live up to the manga?

Beloved manga and anime Bleach gets the live-action treatment

Based on one of the most internationally acclaimed manga and anime series, the live-action adaptation of Bleach, directed by Shinsuke Sato keeps things simple. A basic origin story about high school student Ichigo (Sôta Fukushi) who becomes a Soul Reaper to protect his town from powerful Hollows, spiritual boogeymen who eat souls, the film is a succinct genre-bending hero’s journey. While clearly made for a dedicated fanbase, unlike some more recent anime live-action adaptations, one of the greatest assets of Bleach is how cohesively it outlines its mythology for the uninitiated.

With a likeable cast and impressive production design, it’s difficult not to be swept away by the film’s spectacle. In the tradition of blockbuster cinema, the film blends light comedy, moral lessons and impressive set-pieces. Actress Hana Sugisaki, from Blade Of The Immortal, completely steals the show as Rukia – the Soul Reaper who gives up her powers and reluctantly trains Ichigo in the hopes he will gain enough strength to transfer his new Reaper powers back to her. She not only has some of the best comic moments but is a great physical actor, stealing away nearly all of the film’s best moments.

While narratively more accessible to anime laymen than something like Takashi Miike’s recent JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure adaptation, it also lacks some of the flairs that someone like Miike brings to the screen. Beyond some impressive creature designs for the Hollows, the film has a sleek uniformity that is indistinguishable from any other generic crowd-pleaser. Considering the rich style of the anime, this feels a bit like a missed opportunity and does hold the film back. Unable to replicate the pace and tone of animation, overall Bleach makes for a pleasant diversion but lacks the audiovisual punch to be a truly memorable experience. Yet, in spite of this flaw, as the film sets up a possible sequel in its final moments, its hard not to look forward to more adventures with Ichigo and Rukia.

Bleach was seen and reviewed at Fantasia 2018.