Think of “Bleach” as the Harry Potter of manga, the epic Japanese illustrated books (comics) that inspire many an anime outing.
It’s a fantastical struggle between good and many faces of evil waged by teenagers who could hold second jobs as models on Instagram idols.
And boy, do the Japanese have down Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” down cold.
Consider — a little boy and his mother are walking home through the rain. Ichigo takes her hand and says “I’ll protect you.” Then he breaks free, runs ahead to offer him umbrella to a strange little girl standing beside a lake. Mom dies, and the boy carries the guilt with him the rest of his life.
In Karakura Town, a fictive present day of strange sinkholes and mysterious calamities is just everyday life for the school kids, including pop idol hunky Ichigo (Sôta Fukushi), an androgynous dreamboat with flaming hair and a special power.
He can see ghosts. Disrespect a roadside shrine for, say, a little boy who died after being hit by a car, and you have to answer to Ichigo. Bullies kowtow before his mad martial arts skillz.
“Don’t hang around here,” he lectures the child only he can see. “Go to heaven.”
That sort of thing will get you noticed by the supernatural powers that be. When his family is menaced by this giant birdlike masked monster, he’s gutsy enough to fight to rescue his sister.
But it is this samurai-clad badass named Rukia (Hana Sugisaki) who saves the day. She is handy with a sword and quick to wield whatever it takes to hold a fellow teenager’s attention.
“BINDING SPELL!” she shouts (in Japanese, with English subtitles). He’s tied up with strands of psychotronic electricity to hold him still while she explains she is a “Soul Reaper.” What attacked him and his family was a Hollow. He can fight the beast all he wants, “but only a Soul Reaper can destroy a Hollow.”
There’s this Grand Fisher of the Hollows who threatens humanity, this race of wiped-out spirit warriors called Quincy (M.E.?) and a power struggle within the Soul Reapers about the rules and what not.
Which Rukia flouts as she passes her powers on to Ichigo. she will train him, use this “Ghost” style bit of shoving to bring out his inner warrior — and use pitching machines to train his reflexes.
The kid gets a REALLY big sword in the bargain.
It’s all cheesy, good-natured fun — even the occasional impaling. The Hollows, who like The Grinch have this big hole where their hearts should be (Awwww) are fanciful creations, animals in nature Kabuki-converted into monsters — tentacles, spiders with spear-pointed legs, etc.
There is noble sacrifice and second chances to be the hero mixed in with epic swordfights, colorful settings and like any good Godzilla movie — a lot of destruction of private property.
Director Shinsuke Sato of “The Library Wars” movies (got your attention there) ladles out effects with care, giving us an action fantasy that tosses cars and buses around, turns swordfighters into twirling tops and uh, uses canned smoke when needed.
It’s not to be taken seriously, though movies like this one can make for an amusing window into the soul of a culture.
Which is to say, I’m not familiar with the bats of Japan, but I know they must have them. Every now and then they give the world something that can only be described as “bat-s— crazy.” Like “Bleach.”
MPAA Rating: unrated
Credits:Directed by Shinsuke Sato script by Daisuke Habara, base on the manga by Tite Kubo. A Warner Brothers/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:48