Upon its initial release, the Bleach anime was one of the more-popular series on the market where it rivalled hits such as Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and the other relatively new anime series at the time, Naruto. While the Naruto franchise managed to maintain its popularity though, and even continues to be a powerhouse to this day, interest in Bleach began to peak very early in its lifespan and it quickly spiralled, resulting in the cancellation of the anime series well before the Bleach manga (Japanese comic book), its source material, was done.
It’s been 12 years since the Bleach anime first began airing on Japanese television and 10 since it received an English language adaption in North America by Viz Media. It would be logical to assume that this special re-release of the series is part of some sort of celebration for the franchise but in reality it’s likely the result of the final DVD having shipped in late 2015 and the parties involved wanting to sell more Bleach product to the loyal fans who had stuck with for the past decade.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as a series as long-running as the Bleach anime is bound to have a large number of fans who had jumped on board several years after it had begun and had never had a chance to see earlier episodes, let alone own them on home media. There would also be heaps of long-time fans who would be interested in upgrading their collection to Blu-ray and would appreciate a slightly superior version of the show they already own. Re-releasing the Bleach anime on Blu-ray makes sense from both a financial and fan point of view.
The first 27 episodes of the Bleach anime series contained in this set feature the entire Agent of the Shinigami story arc (episodes one through 20) and the first part of the Soul Society: The Sneak Entry arc (episode 21 onwards). This split is an unusual choice as the final episode of the set ends on a rather random shot that doesn’t really tease future episodes or provide a sense of closure. This won’t be so much of an issue when viewing the following set immediately afterwards once it’s released but it makes for a very uncomfortable ending for this collection of episodes as is.
The premiere arc provides the perfect introduction to the series protagonist, Ichigo, and the world he lives in while the beginning of the second arc shifts gears, ups the action quotient, and begins to pay off all of the character development that occurred previously. This is where Bleach really began to come into its own with a good balance of humour, action, character moments, and reasonably paced plot progression. In fact, it’s amusing to compare these earlier episodes with the series’ latter ones which were universally panned for their slow pace and filler episodes. There are still some filler episodes to be seen here but overall everything happens much faster. One example of just how different the pacing is can be seen with Uryu and Orihime’s training sessions which are done almost entirely off-camera. Similar training sessions in later seasons literally took several whole episodes to complete.
These earlier anime episodes aren’t entirely flawless though. The character designs are nowhere near as refined as they would eventually become and the pre-widescreen animation can’t help but look old and, at times, even boring. Something else worth acknowledging is the fact that many fans will be over a decade older than they were when they first saw these episodes and may no longer find Bleach’s sexual and violent humour as amusing as it once was. Rewatching this anime series could provide an opportunity for some genuinely interesting introspection for viewers… or they could just be happy to watch Ichigo kick arse.
Blu-ray and Special Features
There’s been a resurgence recently with older anime series receiving Blu-ray re-releases in the West. Some of them, like Ranma ½, are created from newly available Japanese HD digital sources, while others use upscaled HD visuals created from an old DVD or TV master (like the classic Sailor Moon anime series). This new release of the Bleach anime series uses the latter method and, while the end result isn’t as crystal clear as a direct HD digital transfer would have been, its image quality is noticeably clearer than the existing DVDs of these earlier episodes with sharper lines and slightly more detail visible within the background artwork.
The image aspect ratio is 4×3, the same scale the anime series originally aired in. This approach to the re-release will appeal to the hardcore purists who want minimal changes to their anime series but it could also disappoint those who were expecting a full widescreen remaster as was done with the impressive Dragon Ball Z Blu-ray sets from FUNimation.
The sound is clear and does its job well in both the English and Japanese audio tracks but it is a shame that both remain in their original 2.0 stereo formats with no 5.1 option being made available. A 5.1 remix of the English language dub should be theoretically possible if Viz Media still has all of the original audio material from a decade ago. However, a likely reason for the lack of a 5.1 audio option is probably due to the extra expense the production of an extra audio track would have cost. Viz Media doesn’t normally do 5.1 audio on their releases and it’s unlikely they would start with a series that has decreased so much in popularity as Bleach has. The cost wouldn’t be justified.
In addition to several image galleries and creditless endings, this first set of the Bleach anime on Blu-ray also comes with an old behind-the-scenes documentary that was originally released with the series on DVD. This special provides some great insight into the production of the English language version of Bleach with several entertaining interviews with the voice actors and production staff.
Who Should Watch the Bleach Anime?
This Blu-ray release of the Bleach anime is a must-buy for fans of the franchise that missed out on this first story arc when it was first released on DVD back in the early 2000s. The set also holds appeal for those looking to clear out some collection shelf space by replacing their numerous old DVDs with this new single Blu-ray release. The image quality may not be that much of an improvement over the DVDs but the case looks a lot better on the shelf and takes up way less space than the alternative.
The Bleach anime series itself is very much a series for older teenagers. The blood and violence level is way too high for those under 15 years old and the juvenile boob jokes and objectification of the female characters will either bore or frustrate most adult viewers, especially those who have seen a lot of different anime series in their time and are over the sort of sexual humour used here.
Regardless of how quickly the Bleach anime series’ popularity has dipped in recent years, there’s no denying how popular it was when it first began and these first 27 episodes are a reminder of just why so many fans latched onto it the way they did.
Bleach Set 1 is a great way to experience the early days of the Bleach anime for those that may have missed it the first time around and a good quality purchase for long-time fans looking to perfect their collection (or begin a new one).
Zone B Blu-ray Available From: TBA