Conventionally, I open discussion of media for the Story Pile in a pattern. It’s literally a template – I have it laid out in front of me right now. Here, the segment is titled introduction and that’s where I put something that snappily sets the tone for the whole thing, but,
Just how do you introduce this? There’s the technical – Bleach (2018) is a live-action movie based on the anime Bleach, based on the manga Bleach. Great, that’s a start. It’s also really useless.
There are, right now, five basic ways to know of Bleach, a sort of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Weebs. You have the absolute bottom tier, where you have no idea what Bleach is. You are the majority of the world, blissfully safe and ignorant of this strange story. This is the outer realms.
Then there are those who know Bleach primarily as a punchline. Then there are those who know it, and who wish to tell themselves – falsley – that Bleach is good, has always been good, and any complaints from people disliking it is a sign of an inadequate anime fan. Then, there are those who know Bleach, who were there for Bleach, who were part of Bleach and when Bleach failed them, they were angry. They speak of Bleach as if it was never good, and they are mad.
Finally, there is the top tier. Those of us who know Bleach, and know how Bleach is bad. We know that Bleach failed, but know that at the same time, Bleach was failed.
What’s it about then? To speak of Bleach (2018) just as a movie, it’s a story about a teenage boy who has the inexplicable ability to see ghosts, who sees a particularly weird ghost, and that draws in a soul reaper (‘death god’ sort of, or psychopomp if you’re fancy), who shows him another weird ghost, then he has to use the soul reaper’s powers and then she uses him as her personal day-to-day job slave (because she can’t get the powers back) until he discovers that his mother was taken by a super-weird ghost, and resolves to train with her to fight that super-weird ghost, which he defeats, with the help of a classmate who also has weird powers and then once that’s dealt with, the soul reaper’s soul reaper brother and ex show up and there’s this whole thing about the teenage boy getting beaten up but not dying, and then
and then the Soul Reaper leaves, her fate uncertain.
It’s a mess.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that this movie (that I liked) is in any way a single, coherent story that will introduce you to Bleach and give you the running head start you want to enjoy. It’s sure as hell not likely to result in a sequel, even though the story is absolutely incomplete.
If you want to talk about what Bleach (2018) is about, fact is, the story the movie tells is not a story about something, about a story as we normally see it – you’re left with this choppy list of things that really should be the culminating ‘point’ of the story. You can conventionally list a plot as a series of events, and the story about what gives those events meaning. And the only story that can give this movie meaning is, well…
Bleach (2018) is a movie about the first major story arc the Bleach manga.
This means it’s fundamentally hard for me to judge this movie based on what it does or doesn’t do. I can’t approach Bleach (2018) as a piece of media without the context of someone who liked Bleach. It’s definitely better. It cuts a lot of fat and doesn’t spend time on characters who they know won’t be important later (sorry Chizuru, sorry Tatsuki). It pulls a plot thread that was kept going way too long in the original series and uses it to form the central story of this ‘first’ movie, too. It also renews a focus on cool things from the first major story arc that the manga (and anime) lost track of.
That improvement over a sloppy, badly handled, sad corpse of a story that I once loved and now mourn, though, isn’t really hard. It’s not like this movie does anything that’s particularly challenging, beyond give good actors good characters to inhabit and some neat (but not amazing) things to do. It doesn’t fix the weird metaphysics of trying to hide vast godzilla-ass ghost dragons in a world with smartphones. Ishida just comes out of nowhere in this series and Chad has nothing to do, beyond exist, Be Chad.
And yet, when it shows the cool godzilla-ass dragon ghosts, they look great. The Hollows aren’t handled cheaply, they’re not embarassing, and they move with a real weight and impact. There are only a few of them, and they do not make any sense in the greater world, but when you’re seeing them, they look cool and they do cool things, and they give our heroes cool things to oppose.
And… is that enough?
No it’s not enough. Because to really capture the thing about Bleach I loved, it needed to have that moment, that cheesy ridiculousness, that self-indulgent, self-aware willingness to play a power ballad of awesome righteous rage, Number One when our hero got going.
It doesn’t have that.
But it has something that’s almost as good.
This movie is pretty rubbish. But it’s rubbish that reminds me of something I love and it’s worth checking out.