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In Association with
Bleach: Memories Of Nobody (2006)
Bleach: The DiamondDust Rebellion (2007)
Bleach: Fade To Black (2008)
Director: Noriyuki Abe

reviews by Sarah Ash

Bleach fans have been waiting a while for the third movie, Bleach: Fade to Black (2008) to be released in the UK and now, as a bonus to celebrate its appearance, the earlier two movies are also being brought out by Manga on blu-ray and DVD. Tite Kubo's shounen manga series - triumphantly converted into a popular and long-running TV series - is said to be ending soon in Japan. It deals with the adventures of ginger-haired high-schooler Ichigo Kurosaki (Masakazu Morita/ Johnny Yong Bosch) who leads a double life, moving between his home town in contemporary Japan and the world of the Soul Society or Seireitei, after a destiny-changing encounter with a young girl Soul Reaper, Rukia Kuchiki (Fumiko Orikasa/ Michelle Ruff).

In Memories Of Nobody, the action takes place on Earth, in Ichigo's home town of Karakura. The mysterious appearance of a young girl, Senna (Chiwa Saito/ Gina Bowes) claiming to be a Soul Reaper, sparks off a series of potentially disastrous events that soon draw the Soul Society's attention. A group calling themselves the Dark Ones, led by embittered Ganryu (Masashi Ebara/ Troy Baker) are cast-outs from the Soul Society and bent on revenge - and it is up to Ichigo, now a substitute Soul Reaper, to use his unique blend of superhuman fighting skills and human compassion to try to protect Senna - and prevent the Dark Ones from causing a devastating catastrophe.

The DiamondDust Rebellion focuses on the youngest captain of the tenth court guard squad, Toshiro Hitsugaya. When the Ouin (a powerful magical artefact under his guard) is stolen, he is held responsible, and his capture and execution is ordered. Fleeing to Karakura in search of the mysterious masked thief, he encounters Ichigo and his gang, who are soon drawn into the conflict. A name from Hitsugaya's past is mentioned, that of his friend Kousaka - but it turns out not only that Kousaka is dead, but that his untimely and unjust death still haunts Hitsugaya. Caught between the prospect of execution at the hands of his colleagues and his determination to discover the true identity of the masked thief, the proud Hitsugaya is forced to confront unresolved issues from his past - and to allow Ichigo to help him clear his name before the justice of the Soul Society catches up with him.

Fade To Black begins with the ghoulishly eccentric Captain Mayuru Kurotsuchi of the sinister Shinigami Research Institute at work in his laboratory - when intruders strike and cause a reiatsu (spiritual particle) explosion that creates havoc in the Soul Society. At the same time, Rukia Kuchiki loses her memory and is abducted by two mysterious strangers. But when Ichigo arrives (with Kon) in the Soul Society, he is challenged as an intruder; his Soul Reaper companions have no memory of who he - or Rukia - is. Even Renji Abarai, Rukia's oldest friend has no recollection of either of them. Ichigo, desperate to find what's become of the missing Rukia, finds himself a wanted man, under suspicion of causing the disaster. Meanwhile, Rukia's two abductors reveal themselves to her as a young brother and sister (Hiroshi Kamiya/ Richard Cansino and Aya Horano/ Laura Bailey) whom she befriended before she became a Soul Reaper. They have vowed to avenge themselves on the Soul Society, but in order to keep her from interfering, they steal her memories. So that, even if Ichigo tracks Rukia down, she will have no recollection of who he is - or how much he means to her - and will reject him. Ichigo is caught in a desperate race against time to reclaim Rukia and prevent the sister and brother from destroying the Soul Society.

The Bleach films are, in so many ways, extended filler episodes as they occur between story-arcs of the original manga. But that's not to say that they aren't enjoyable in their own right; unlike TV filler episodes, more resources have been injected into them, resulting in a much higher quality of design and animation, which is further enhanced in the blu-ray versions. However, the opportunity to tell a more complex story over three TV episodes' length is never completely successfully realised, and, intriguingly, the same basic plot underlies each three films: an object of magical power is stolen and someone who has links to a central character - and who is thought to have died - reappears, with devastating consequences. The integrity of the Soul Society and/ or Earth is threatened and Ichigo - the outsider - must save the day.

Now, there's nothing wrong with creating Bleach-themed variations on this classic revenge/ quest theme and Tite Kubo's creation of the 13 court guard squads and the Soul Society is an imaginative and likable reinterpretation of the afterlife. However, there are so many colourful Soul Reapers (not to mention Ichigo's school friends who have also been gifted with exceptional powers) that each film tries to cram too many in, resulting in an endless sequence of cameo performances to satisfy the fans but not delivering nearly enough depth when exploring the characters at the heart of the central conflict. Or am I asking too much? This is, after all, a fighting fantasy at heart; perhaps it's best just to switch off the critical faculties and just enjoy one hell of a ride!

Then there's romantic love, or the total absence of it. Ichigo and Rukia are 'very close friends'. Bleach unashamedly demonstrates its shounen virtues of unshakable loyalty to friends and family and stoical endurance in the face of unimaginable hardships - but even though Ichigo selflessly goes to Rukia's rescue time and again, they show their mutual affection by bickering and arguing, more like siblings than boyfriend and girlfriend. Mushy scenes would probably alienate the true target audience of teenage boys - but the absence of any great emotional depth in the interactions between the main protagonists leaves more mature viewers feeling that there's something distinctly lacking.

Rukia even shares Ichigo's bedroom when she's in Karakura, for heaven's sake! - but she sleeps very chastely in the wardrobe (it has sliding doors). There's a genuine chemistry between Ichigo and Senna in Memories Of Nobody, resulting in an affecting and surprising dénouement once the fighting is over. Some more touching emotional moments occur in Fade To Black as Rukia is reminded of her past by the brother and sister she once befriended when they were all poor street children together in the Rukon district - but again, the feelings evoked are those of friendship and 'family' loyalty.

Tite Kubo's striking character artwork is expertly brought to life for anime by Masashi Kudo (who adds a little extra something of his own to the character designs). In fact, the character designs are seen at their most detailed and appealing in the second movie The DiamondDust Rebellion; however there's a distinct falling off of quality in Fade To Black, with some characters so sketchily - and oddly - drawn that certain scenes feel like cheap filler. The score is provided by Shiro Sagisu, the composer for the TV series, and even though many of the themes he's already created are re-used here, he's such an inventive orchestrator that the soundtrack is never dull and his ingenious mixing of electronic techniques with instrumental and choral sounds enhances and intensifies the drama.

The US dub is sound, with the voice actors having really settled into their roles during the long-running TV series; especial mention should go here to Hiroshi Kamiya/ Richard Cansino and Aya Horano/ Laura Bailey, the actors playing Rukia's 'brother and sister' in Fade To Black, who bring an unexpected poignancy (in both Japanese and English versions) to the last few scenes. All three movies look crisp and clear in these new blu-ray editions, but only Memories Of Nobody has extras: pre-production sketches; an interview with director Noriyuke Abe, character designer Masashi Kudo, and producer Ken Hagino; the official Japanese trailer, and storyboards.

Bleach fans and completists won't want to be without these three films; others curious about the series might find themselves confused by the wealth of characters, even asking, what's all the fuss about? However, what's best about Bleach is showcased here to good effect: larger-than-life characters; humour; dazzling duels and a tremendous sense of energy.

Bleach: Memories of Nobody

Bleach: The Diamond Dust Rebellion

Bleach: Fade to Black

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