‘BLEACH’ Review: Finally, Live-Action Anime Done Right

One of anime's biggest franchises enters the live-action arena with Shinsuke Sato's BLEACH, offering one of the best anime adaptations to date.

Anime properties haven’t had the best luck when it comes to live-action adaptations. It’s a curious thing. These properties have tons of source material to pull from. So, why has it been so difficult to make a satisfying live-action feature? Attack on Titan probably had the worst go of it. Despite some solid action, the film adaptation failed to capture the source material’s compelling storytelling. BLEACH is one of the most popular franchises in all of anime and there was a lot of pressure to get things right for its live-action debut. Luckily, under the direction of Shinsuke Sato, the adventures of Ichigo Kurosaki are as thrilling as fans of the series could hope.

The first act of BLEACH sticks very close to the source material. What you will notice right away in these opening moments is that this adaptation is unashamed of its anime origins. The tropes of its genre are all present, for better or worse. These moments could have easily steered into the unwatchable were it not for the strength of its cast. Sota Fukushi, who plays Ichigo, does an excellent job of conveying the protagonist’s rage and fish-out-of-water confusion.  However, it is his chemistry with Hana Sugisaki, who plays Rukia Kuchiki, that brings this film to life. The two play off each other perfectly and create a palpably emotional friendship over the course of the film’s brisk run time. Sadly, much of the supporting cast fail to be quite so magnetic.

All of Ichigo’s buddies are present here: Orihime, Chad, Tatsuki, etc. Though in the source material many of these characters receive powers of their own, they are sidelined for most of the action. Literally, it’s as if these characters are only present to comment on what’s happening. They add little to the plot itself and could have been removed entirely. Still, there are some exceptions to this. The use of Uryu Ishida, played by Ryo Yoshizawa, is pitch perfect. It was unclear just how he would tie into the central conflict between Ichigo and Renji, but he becomes a relevant and interesting character in the third act despite some shallow characterization.

You may be surprised to know that BLEACH shines most when dealing with the Kurosaki family’s bizarre relationship. Specifically, Yosuke Eguchi offers the most charismatic and charming performance in the film as Ichigo’s combative father. Through Eguchi, we are able to connect with the Kurosaki family, allowing us to care more deeply for Ichigo, who can be a tad one-note at points.

There is no need to worry, though; Sato has a keen eye for action and delivers some great fight sequences. When Ichigo battles a hollow or another Shinigami, Sato’s kinetic direction allows for coherent action that moves with lightning-fast, anime-inspired style. It’s in these sequences that Sato may have found the key to a satisfying anime adaptation: a combination of the genre’s tropes with classic Hollywood sensibilities. Unfortunately, most of these scenes are marred by the film’s poor visual effects. One could only hope that a potential sequel would receive a much a higher budget and allow for more convincing CG images.

In all, BLEACH is a solid, well-structured film. Despite some plot holes and a few extraneous characters, the film manages to be satisfying for long-time fans as well as newcomers. Adapting the anime’s first story arc, BLEACH leaves things open for a sequel while still offering a definitive ending. It may not be perfect, but Sato and his amazing cast will have audiences begging to see what’s next.

Final Score: 7/10