I’ve said Tite Kubo is an artist who expertly renders a few seconds at a time. It means that when you ask him to try and create a splash page you’re going to get characters full of personality and aesthetic expression and maybe you’ll even get a vague hint of how those characters are strange to one another.
Ask him to resolve a plot and you’re going to get something that feels it got punched out of a template. And honestly, good. I don’t think he should have to try and pull of what he can’t do.
Know where this guy’s abilities excel?
They excel in media forms where you can depict maybe a split second of motion, a sense of character without necessary dialogue and maybe a single phrase or background image. Bleach is an entire anime universe constructed for AMVs, and you can tell, because of the opening and endings that already basically are.
I’ve already spoken about Shojo S, Asterisk, Alones, and Houki Boushi last time I did this, but the good news is that Bleach had forty five openings and endings, split unevently between either, so it’s not like I’m running out of material for this any time soon. I did do a stupid thing by mentioning Houki Boushi first because that ending kills and there are also thirteen versions of the ending, and if I put together a list of ‘all of the Bleach songs in order of best to worst’ Houki Boshi would fill an embarassingly high number of the top twenty.
Here then are another five.
If you ever needed another testament to the complete cluelessness of this series, of the not knowing anything at all about what it was going to be, but being very sure about the methodologies of the story, behold the second opening. The song here is about being sad and tormented, but refusing to give up. It kind of frames the story it’s showing you as about a quest to go rescue Rukia as you fell into this world of strange and extremely cool characters who you are at odds with (but look how hot they are except the big fat one and weird puppet dude).
What we see is a montage of characters who are of varying importance to the plot overall (I mean, hi Chad, sorry Chad, hi Ganju, goodbye forever Ganju, jesus christ), but it still introduced you to a large chunk of the Gotei 13 characters that you wanted to know about. It didn’t do much to tell you about who they really were, but you did get some hints – like the way the opening shows you Hitsugaya dealing with being under Generic Attack from Ishida before trying to kill you, the viewer. I liked the way it showed a connection between Soi Fon and Yoruichi, with Soi Fon just trying to take Chad’s head off and Yoruichi wrecking her by taking the tip of her sword.
When you remember that sword is Soi Fon’s soul
You know what, let’s move on.
4. Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
A filler arc would normally be a perfect place to drop a mediocre opening, and you can sort of notice the way this opening saves its budget by using reused footage, still images, slow pans, empty spectacle, and an annoying focus on the god damn puppets. It also shows off a collection of Bounts, which are like slightly paper-jammed photocopies of designs you’ve kind of seen before elsewhere in the series.
This opening also has the bumper framing of Rukia jolting Ichigo into motion and then being his point of rest, at a picnic, together, where they fall asleep, because they are Good Friends, and Not Romantic Partners.
Man this series had no clue where it was trying to go.
Still, this is kind of how I feel like Anime Openings want to be, with this sort of smash-cut sequences of one or two actual things that happen in this story that are important to the story, and a chunk of character expression in a few short heartbeats. What really sets it apart is this song, by the Beat Crusaders fucking rules.
Apparently Phil Collins covered it at some point? Weird.
3. Rolling Star
The story is still in filler space, and that kind of shows in the way this opening shows you all the top-polling characters and almost nothing of the enemies this story is about dealing with – they’re represented just by bleak shadows and shimmering shapes. There’s some hint of Gin (remember Gin?), Aizen, and Hollow Ichigo, but make no mistake, this opening was rolled out while theywere still in the filler turf of the Bount arc. The opening is a sort of ‘hey, remember the cool stuff?’ that you could use in a filler spot to get people to look forward to the thing you’re definitely not giving them yet.
It does mean you get a sort of platonic ideal of Bleach at this point; cool characters in casual gear, looking great (I mean, how cool is Hitsugaya’s outfit here), and lots of symbolism and imagery that absolutely does not and will not happen as suggested, but crucially, which kinda feels like it would.
That’s the thing that honestly feels like the biggest cheat: The story presented in this opening is a story I want to see more of, and we don’t even get that.
Complicating this further is that the song is excellent, a sort of ascending punch to Houki Boshi‘s crashing descent.
Mmm, can you taste that declining budget?
This opening is composed of a large number of still shots and the animation is stuff like dramatic fluttering of robes, which is one of the easiest kinds of animations to do. You don’t have to track the movement of the objects, you don’t have to be sure that they make sense in a single shot, because what matters is that they look about right in aggregate. There’s a lot to forgive in reusing frames, too!
The opening is also a testament to how this series just has no earthly clue about what, in it, is going to be important. It does spare a moment to give you a massive shot of Nemu’s thigh, which is something, I suppose, but there’s this direct flow from Unohana into Kenpachi – and imagine if you’d known ahead of time that those characters had literally anything to do with one another.
The song kicks ass, which is why it’s in this list, but it’s a symptom of how this show has no idea of where it’s going or what matters. There’s a suite of characters presented at the end, who, by the way, rule, and their character designs are great, expressed in that single last moment, but that’s all you get. More time is spent focusing on Ginryusai’s bloody eyebrows.
First of all, I think this song rules, I like it a lot.
I also think that this opening is a sign of just how utterly far Bleach has come from having the faintest clue about what it was going to be about or where the story was going, and this came with the knowledge there were two more plot arcs and seventy episodes remaining for the show.
The opening is full of these wonderful signs of stylistically rendered completely confusing nothing. Why are we seeing Ichigo flying in a trenchcoat against a sky of crows? Why are we seeing it in these long paced out sections? Why did Orihime say change?
By the way, this is one of those things Bleach does to its immense detriment: Orihime and Rukia both get Kairi’d real hard. They’re characters with nothing to do but to sit still and be emperilled so the plot can advance up to them, and that’s it, it doesn’t change the nature of what’s going to happen when the rest of the heroes get there. Also, note that because Orihime was the one being Kairi’d most recently at the end of the story, she’s the one who wound up ‘winning’ Ichigo, despite having three other potential love interests, two of whom were women. You’ve heard of ‘First Girl Wins?’ This is the sadder defaulting finale of that, a sort of musical chairs of Wrap It Up when the budget runs out.
Then, you get a glimpse of what’s going to happen next: Ulquiorra and Ichigo are going to fight and Ulqiorra’s going to look awesome. And
that’s all this vision of the future can give you.
The Vizard are in this! They look cool! They have cool masks and personality! Just show us them flipping out!
Compare this to the opening of the Soul Society arc; you got glimpses of characters, there was action, they were shown interacting, there were hints of who they would be even if the anime wasn’t sure. Characters were shown expressing the way they would be in potential spaces. Song’s great, no lies, but it’s an example of how Bleach wound up being: Impressively crafted, clueless nothing.