Ichigo Kurosaki (voice by Johnny Yong Bosch), the hero of
the supernatural adventure Bleach
(2004), is a high school misfit who has the unsettling ability to see the
spirits of the dead who can’t rest in peace. This ability leads him to Rukia
(Michelle Ruff), a Soul Reaper charged with destroying the soul-devouring
monsters called Hollows, and ensuring
the deceased find repose through the Soul Society. When she’s injured in
battle, Rukia transfers her sword and much of her power to Ichigo.


Although his spiritual powers make him a redoubtable Substitute
Soul Reaper, the orange-haired Ichigo has an even more formidable ability to
attract audiences worldwide. Created by Noriaki Kubo,
who draws manga under the name Tite Kubo, Bleach
has sold tens of millions of books. The animated series aired on Adult Swim in
America, showed in Canada, Europe and Latin America, and continues to rack up
impressive sales on disc. Bleach has
also been adapted to four theatrical features, a rock musical and a number of
video games


Initially, Ichigo wasn’t much interested in the position of
Substitute Soul Reaper; it posed too many risks and moral dilemmas. Then his
friends got involved: Chad (Jamieson K. Price), a
soft-spoken, muscular giant—and a rare example of a Mexican anime character;
Orihime (Stephanie Sheh), whose powers involve healing and protection;
and Ishida (Derek Stephen Prince), who is a Quincy, a
descendant of a clan of Hollow-hunters who despise Soul Reapers. Ichigo also learns
that his family is at risk and that Soul Society is planning to execute Rukia
for sharing her powers with a mortal.


Like many anime heroes, Ichigo embarks on a furious training
program spurred by his determination to grow stronger to protect the people he
cares about. He wins the respect and affection of the nutty but powerful
captains and lieutenants of the Soul Society as he learns to fight with their magical
weapon, the Zanpakuto
sword. The swords of the various warriors assume exotic forms, from a
serpent-like whipsaw to a shower of razor-edged petals.


During its 16-season run, the plot
of Bleach took many twists and turns.
Several times, the filmmakers had to create animation-only sub-adventures to
give Kubo time to advance the main narrative in the manga. But most of story
built to the epic conflict with renegade Soul Reaper Captain Aizen, whom Ichigo
finally defeated in Episodes #308-309. (Some fans felt the series should have
ended with that battle.)

  The final season–“The Lost
Substitute Shinigami” story arc–opens a year after Ichigo lost his
supernatural powers. He’s back in high school trying to adjust to his new, more
normal life. But life never stays normal (or even calm) in Karakura Town.


Ichigo is
approached by Ginjo, the leader of the mysterious
and sinister Fullbrings. Attacked as infants by Hollows, Fullbrings possess
supernatural powers linked to a special object. Ginjo wears a pendant that
turns into a sword; Yukio can control an alternate dimension through his video
game console. To achieve their quest to lead regular lives, the Fullbrings need
Ichigo to regain his powers as a Soul Reaper.


As he did in the longer storyline
involving Aizen, Kubo uses shifting loyalties, betrayals and uncertainties to
keep both his characters and his viewers off-balance. When his friends are
menaced by Tsukishima, a powerful Fullbring with the ability to alter people’s
memories, Ichigo once again throws himself into a grueling program of training
and fighting—which is exactly what Bleach
fans want to see. As he trains, the Battle Pass that the officers of the Soul
Society awarded him becomes focus of his nascent Fullbring abilities as well as
his returning Soul Reaper powers.


These episodes are entertaining, but
they have a familiar feel: Everyone has already seen Ichigo train fervently.
The many flashback sequences give several episodes a padded feel. The
Fullbrings hardly rank among Kubo’s most compelling characters, and the viewer
feels like cheering when Rukia and several of the best-loved officers of the
Soul Society return to aid Ichigo in a conflict that’s rapidly spiraling out of
control. Their assistance enables Ichigo to triumph in a spectacular duel with
his newest foe.


Once again, director Noriyuke Abe
juggles dynamic swordfights, emotional scenes and slapstick comedy. Ichigo may
act like a jerk at times, but the filmmakers and Bosch imbue the character with
a depth and complexity that’s difficult to resist.


Bleach concludes with
a grinning Ichigo ready to defend the people he loves against all would-be
attackers. That closing leaves open the possibility of further adventures, but
even fans who’ve loyally followed the series through hundreds of hours of
screen time will agree it’s time to bid Ichigo Kurosaki a fond farewell.

Bleach: DVD Set 25, episodes 343-354

Funimation: $44.82, 2 discs

Bleach: DVD Set 26, episodes 355-366

Funimation:  $44.82, 2 discs

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