Bleach (ブリーチ Burīchi) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Tite Kubo. Bleach follows the adventures of Ichigo Kurosaki after he obtains the powers of a Soul Reaper (死神 Shinigami, literally, "Death God") —a death personification similar to the Grim Reaper—from another Soul Reaper, Rukia Kuchiki. His newfound powers force him to take on the duties of defending humans from evil spirits and guiding departed souls to the afterlife.
Bleach has been serialized in the Japanese manga anthology Weekly Shōnen Jump since August 2001, and has been collected into 63 tankōbon volumes as of May 2014. Since its publication, Bleach has spawned a media franchise that includes an animated television series that was produced by Studio Pierrot in Japan from 2004 to 2012, two original video animations, four animated feature films, ten rock musicals, and numerous video games, as well as many types of Bleach-related merchandise.
Viz Media obtained foreign television and home video distribution rights to the Bleach anime on March 15, 2006. Cartoon Network's Adult Swim began airing Bleach in the United States on September 9, 2006. Viz Media has licensed the manga for English-language publication in the United States and Canada, and has released 60 bound volumes as of April 2014 as well as published chapters of Bleach in its Shonen Jump magazine since November 2007. Viz Media released the first Bleach film, Bleach: Memories of Nobody, on DVD in North America on October 14, 2008. The second film, Bleach: The DiamondDust Rebellion, was released on September 15, 2009. The third film, Bleach: Fade to Black, was released on November 15, 2011. The fourth film, Bleach: Hell Verse, was released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 4, 2012 in North America. In addition, Hulu released subtitled versions of the anime a week after each episode aired in Japan.
Bleach has sold more than 82 million copies in Japan, and is one of the best-selling manga in North America. The anime adaptation has been similarly received; it was rated as the fourth most popular anime television series in Japan in 2006 and held a position amongst the top ten anime in the United States from 2006 to 2008. The series received the Shogakukan Manga Award for the shōnen demographic in 2005, and is among the best-selling manga in both Japan and the United States.
Ichigo Kurosaki is a teenager in Karakura Town who is gifted with the ability to see spirits and has his life changed by the sudden appearance of a girl named Rukia Kuchiki, a Soul Reaper—one of many entrusted with the preservation of flow of souls between the World of the Living and the Soul Society (尸魂界（ソウル·ソサエティ） Sōru Sosaeti) from where she originates from by fighting Hollows, dangerous lost souls who consume other souls. When she is severely wounded defending Ichigo from a Hollow she is pursuing, Rukia transfers a part of her Spirit Pressure (霊圧 Reiatsu) energy to enable Ichigo to fight in her stead as a substitute Soul Reaper while she is forced to remain in the World of Living until she can recover her strength. As some time passes, she and Ichigo meet a Quincy named Uryū Ishida who attends the latter's school, Rukia finds herself being taken by her Soul Reaper superiors back to the Soul Society and sentenced to death for the illegal act of transferring her powers into a human.
Although he is unable to stop Rukia's departure to the Soul Society, Ichigo resolves to rescue her with the aid of Uryū and several of his other spiritually aware classmates Orihime Inoue and Yasutora "Chad" Sado. Prior to reaching the Soul Society, Ichigo meets ex-Soul Reapers Yoruichi Shihōin and Kisuke Urahara, with the latter enabling Ichigo to become a full Soul Reaper. As Ichigo and his friends faced them, dissension occurs among the Soul Reaper captains over both the incident as well as Rukia's sentence and the death of a high-ranking Soul Reaper captain named Sōsuke Aizen. But in reality, having faked his death, the events were all staged by Aizen to obtain an item called the Hōgyoku from Rukia. Once having the Hōgyoku, Aizen and his conspirators leave for Hueco Mundo, the Hollow World, to enact his scheme by recruiting humanized Hollows called Arrancars to serve him.
From there, the Soul Society recognizes Ichigo and his friends as allies when they find themselves attacked by Aizen's elite Arrancar servants, the Espadas. By then, Aizen's scheme is revealed to create the Oken and use it to reach the Soul King and kill him. At this point, Ichigo learns his transformation into a Soul Reaper also created an inner Hollow that attempts to take over his body. With that knowledge, Ichigo receives the means to control his Hollow powers with the aid of the Visards, Soul Reapers who were nearly turned into Hollows by Aizen. When Aizen kidnaps Orihime, Ichigo and his friends pursue. However, though he lost a majority of his Espadas, Aizen reveals Orihime's abduction was a lure to cripple resistance from stopping him from turning the souls of Karakura's Town residents into an Oken.
Though the strongest of his forces are defeated, Aizen reveals he absorbed the Hōgyoku and uses its power to transform and defeat the Soul Reaper captains. As Aizen enters Karakura Town after revealing that his tribulations were his doing, Ichigo undergoes intense training with his father Isshin, revealed to be former Soul Reaper, and becomes an equal to Aizen. Eventually, the battle ends with Aizen defeated and imprisoned after being weakened by Ichigo's final attack. But the attack has a side effect with Ichigo eventually becoming a normal human. However, seventeen months later, Ichigo regains his Soul Reaper powers after encountering Xcution, a group of humans possessing "Fullbring" powers like Sado who serve a former Substitute Soul Reaper named Kūgo Ginjō. Helping the Soul Society defeat Xcution, Ichigo then regains his title as the Substitute Soul Reaper.
Following these events, a group of Quincies called the Wandenreich declares war on the Soul Society. Ichigo once again ventures to Hueco Mundo, which has also been invaded by the Wandenreich; at the same time, the captains in the Soul Society battle the Wandenreich's elite "Sternritter" generals. During the invasion, several Soul Reapers are killed; with Head Captain Yamamoto killed off by the Wandenreich's leader Yhwach, an ancient Quincy revived in the present. During the aftermath of the invasion, the Royal Guard arrive to take Ichigo and several of his comrades to the Spirit Palace where they begin recuperation and training for the next fight against the Wandenreich. During the Soul Society's recovery, Ichigo learns about his heritage from his father and that his mother was a Quincy whose death was caused by Yhwach's revival. Meanwhile, Yhwach recruits Ishida to be his successor and prepares for the final war.
Soon, Yhwach causes Soul Society to disappear and replace it with the Wandenreich's kingdom, and commences his last assault on the Shinigami. It is revealed that the sole reason Yhwach is waging war is to keep himself alive. The Shinigami Captains who had their Bankai stolen were able to fight off their foes after Kisuke Urahara sends them a pill that temporarily hollowfies their Bankai, theorizing that the powers of a hollow are considered poison to Quincies, therefore causing the Bankais to return to their former owners.
Bleach was first conceived from Tite Kubo's desire to draw a Shinigami in a kimono, which formed the basis for the design of the Soul Reapers in the series and the conception of Rukia Kuchiki. The original story concept was submitted to Weekly Shōnen Jump shortly after the cancellation of Kubo's previous manga, Zombiepowder, but was at first rejected. Manga artist Akira Toriyama saw the story and wrote a letter of encouragement to Kubo. Bleach was accepted for publication a short time later in 2001, and was initially intended to be a shorter series, with a maximum serialization length of five years. Early plans for the story did not include the hierarchical structure of the Soul Society, but did include some characters and elements that were not introduced into the plot until the Arrancar arc, such as Ichigo's Soul Reaper heritage. The series was originally meant to be named "Black" due to the color of the Soul Reapers' clothes, but Kubo thought the title was too generic. He later tried the name of "White," but came to like "Bleach" more for its association with the color white and that he did not find it too obvious.
Kubo has cited influences for elements of Bleach ranging from other manga series to music, foreign language, architecture, and film. He attributes his interest in drawing the supernatural and monsters to Shigeru Mizuki's GeGeGe no Kitaro and Bleach's focus on interesting weaponry and battle scenes to Masami Kurumada's Saint Seiya, manga that Kubo enjoyed as a boy. The action style and storytelling found in Bleach are inspired by cinema, though Kubo has not revealed any specific movie as being an influence for fight scenes. When pressed, he told interviewers that he liked Snatch but did not use it as a model. Kubo has also stated that he wishes to make Bleach an experience that can only be found by reading manga, and dismissed ideas of creating any live-action film adaptations of the series.
Bleach's creative process is focused around character design. When writing plotlines or having difficulties generating new material, Kubo begins by thinking of new characters, often en masse, and rereading previous volumes of Bleach. Kubo has said that he likes creating characters that have outward appearances that do not match their true nature—an element that can be found in many Bleach characters—as he is "attracted to people with that seeming contradiction" and finds an "urge to draw people like that" when he works. The terminology used in Bleach has a variety of inspirations, with each category of characters bearing a different linguistic theme. Many of the names for swords and spells used by Soul Reapers were inspired by ancient Japanese literature. Hollows and Arrancars are often associated with Spanish terms because the language sounded "bewitching and mellow" to him. As for Fullbringers, their Fullbring is associated with the English vocabulary when either releasing or already have released their Fullbring. Finally, both Quincy and Bounts have been known to associate with the German language, making Kubo's world of characters diverse in race and language as well.
Religious and CultureEdit
Von Feigenblatt describes Bleach as being culturally and religiously aware. Bleach's plot incorporates the traditional Japanese belief of spirits coexisting with humans and their nature, good or evil, depends on the circumstances. An example is Orihime's backstory, who was raised from the age of three by her brother Sora, and prayed for his soul's peace after he died in a car accident. As time went on, she prayed less and Sora became jealous and turned into a Hollow and attacked Orihime. Drazen says this is a reminder to the audience to not abandon the old ways or risk the spirits taking offense and causing problems in the world. Bleach also incorporates Shinto themes of purification of "evil spirits through charms, scrolls, incantations, and other rituals." The manga also draws upon Christianity and Caribbean Santería. Spanish terms are prevalent throughout the realm of Hueco Mundo, meaning abyss world, and its officers are the Espada, literally "sword" in Spanish. Kubo says he chose the terms because they sounded "bewitching and mellow" to him.
Both Quincy and Bounts have been known to associate with the German language, making Kubo's world of characters diverse in race and language as well. Von Feigenblatt notes that the Quincy "are clearly inspired by the Christian Orders of Knighthood such as the Sovereign Order of Malta and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher whose influence is shown in terms of the uniform worn by the Quincy as well as by the symbolism of the cross." Many of the names for swords and spells used by Soul Reapers were inspired by ancient Japanese literature.
Kubo likes creating characters that have outward appearances that do not match their true nature.
The character Orihime is a complex character who has been both praised and criticized for her appearances. Her role has developed from a "big-breasted bimbo" throughout the story, but the way in which she uses her power has been deemed as stereotypical.
Rukia was initially set to be the protagonist of the series, but the early development of her character resulted in it being changed. Kubo drew Rukia based on his concepts of a Shinigami and wanted her to have an appropriate Shinigami sounding name. Kubo's choice of the name is deliberate, eventually decided upon the last name "Kuchiki" (朽木, lit. "rotten wood") and chose her first name based on the Latin name for cosmos, which in Latin means "light". Kubo sees her as "a ray of light for Ichigo." Rukia's English voice actress, found Rukia to be a "survivor", due to how lonely she initially was and how she has been developed through the anime series as she had to start trusting people. Melissa Harper notes that Rukia is not a stereotypical shōnen heroine, noting Rukia's loss of her powers and subsequent dependence on Ichigo were "a great source of both drama and comedy in the show." Carlos Alexandre noted that she is "less of a foil to Ichigo and more like the other side of the same coin".
As of 2013, Bleach had sold a total of 82 million copies sold, ranking as the sixth best-selling series from Weekly Shōnen Jump. In 2005, Bleach was awarded the Shogakukan Manga Award in the shōnen category. During 2008, volume 34 of the manga sold 874,153 copies in Japan, becoming the 12th best-seller comics from the year. Volumes 33 and 35 have also ranked 17 and 18, respectively. In total the manga has sold 3,161,825 copies in Japan during 2008, becoming the year's 5th best selling series. In the first half from 2009, Bleach ranked as the 2nd best-selling manga in Japan, having sold 3.5 million copies. Having sold 927,610 copies, Volume 36 ranked 7th. Volume 37 was 8th with 907,714 sold copies, and volume 38 at 10th with 822,238 copies.
North American sales of the manga have also been high, with each volume having sold over 1.2 million copies. Volume 16 placing in the top 10 graphic novel sales in December 2006 and volume 17 being the best-selling manga volume for the month of February 2007. In a 2010 interview, Gonzalo Ferreyra, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Viz, listed Bleach as one of six Viz titles that continue to exceed expectations in spite of the harshening manga market. The English version of the manga was nominated for the "best manga" and "best theme" awards at the 2006 and 2007 American Anime Awards, but did not win either category.
Deb Aoki from About.com considered the series as the Best Continuing Shōnen Manga of 2007, along with Eyeshield 21, praising the "compelling stories, dazzling action sequences and great character development". She also placed the title on her list of "Top 10 Shōnen Manga Must-Reads". The artwork and the character designs received positive response by IGN's A.E. Sparrow. He also commented on the several storylines going on in the series at the same time due to the large number of supporting characters which make the manga appealing in response to fans' claims about a "lack of a story" in Bleach. Leroy Douresseaux from ComicBookBin agreed with Sparrow in the number of storylines, but also praised the fighting scenes finding them comparable to the ones of popular films. On the other hand, Mania reviewer Jarred Pine criticized the series as being plagued with stereotypes from the genre. He felt it was a rough start for the series with unimpressive battles, overused gags, and a bad introduction for central character Ichigo that causes him to come across "as a frowning punk" whose one good trait is his desire to protect. Despite this, Pine notes that he loves the series, particularly its quirky, lovable characters.