While it was less than a week ago that I watched this movie for the first time, despite having an incredibly hectic work week I forced a second watching. For a movie I wasn’t dreading the release of, but was fairly nervous about how it would end up looking, the Bleach live action movie that landed on Netflix certainly managed to get my attention. My review a few days ago was fairly glowing and I’m standing by that review even after a second watch through.
While I will admit the movie is hardly a modern masterpiece and a lot of the enjoyment came from being a fan of the franchise, what has been delivered by Bleach is perhaps the surest sign that writers and directors are starting to learn from the many failed adaptations of the past (or maybe they just lucked out this time). However, while there are certainly negative reviews to be found if you look for them, the majority of posts I’ve read covering this movie have been surprised in tone and largely positive of the choices made in adapting it.
I’m normally not one for scoring shows or movies, but I was curious how this was playing out on popular sites like IMBD and Rotten Tomatoes so decided to take a quick peek at the scores Bleach had compared to other recent adaptations.
The break-down looked more or less like this:
Bleach: IMBD = 6.8 Rotten Tomatoes = 84% liked it
Full Metal Alchemist: IMBD = 5.9 Rotten Tomatoes = 75% liked it
Death Note: IMBD = 4.6 Rotten Tomatoes = 24%
Now it may not be fair to compare them given audience expectations, fans of the franchise, and all the other factors that are going to play into the end result that really have nothing to do with the quality of the movie at all, but it seems like at least most people agree that the Bleach movie is all right and likewise most people seem to agree the Death Note movie missed its mark as an adaptation (I still think it is perfectly fine as a movie in its own right – not great but fine – however it isn’t Death Note as anyone knows it or wanted it).
So I started wondering what Bleach did that seemed to work in its favour as a live action adaptation compared to some other adaptations that have fared less well and I came up with a few points that worked in Bleach’s favour.
01: The amount of content chosen wasn’t too ambitious.
We get that when adapting an anime or manga into a movie the time is getting cut down. A lot of things have to go. And it is tempting to try to adapt a lot of content. It makes perfect sense. Fans want to see such and such a scene and will be disappointed if X gets cut out. Cram it in and just keep cramming. You have to appeal to everyone.
Well, no, you don’t. You have to make a decent movie. One with pacing and a clear narrative in its own right. You don’t have time to shove every single plot point that might ever exist into your story and you certainly don’t have time to give the vast cast that probably exists all their shining moment.
Where Bleach worked beautifully was it chose one arc to tell in its movie. A simple story with a beginning and an ending. Then it cut almost every superfluous point from the source material that didn’t help that arc progress out.
I say almost every point because there are certainly characters and ideas that exist only for the sake of allowing a sequel to be made and to make sense. But these are minimised and given the barest of attentions. Fans of Orihime or Chad will probably be appalled at the way the characters were side-lined and there are certainly entire swathes of characters who were just completely ditched from the story altogether. And Kon? Gone entirely and who can tell if that is ultimately a good choice or not because the idea of a live action plush lion wandering around with a perverted attitude kind of amuses me but somehow I’m just not sure it would have added anything of value to the movie here.
02: They weren’t slaves to the source material.
I actually argued in a feature I wrote after the Death Note movie that the biggest issue with it wasn’t that it changed the source material. No, the bigger issue was they didn’t commit to changing the source material and made changes but wouldn’t cut out particular points making a movie that ended up as an unsatisfying compromise between a new vision for Death Note and a slave to fan expectations.
In my Full Metal Alchemist review I pointed out that while the costume design was gloriously similar to the anime (and I assume the manga) the end result was a not-so-real feeling like the world was inhabited by very sophisticated cosplayers.
In both of these cases the movies were bogged down by trying to reproduce source material in a different medium and they didn’t pull it off. Ghost in the Shell also suffered from the need to recreate sequences that didn’t fit into the new context and while fans of the original may have squealed with delight at these overall they don’t make for a better movie unless they are well integrated.
Bleach didn’t suffer from this. As with the content selection where ruthless and sensible cuts and changes were made, with character designs and the world they undeniably created Bleach in a way that fans could recognise it but at the same time they weren’t laboriously simply trying to bring drawings to life. They seemed to really think about how to make the characters come to life without losing the sense of who they were. For the most part they largely succeeded with both character and world design.
03: They understood what makes Bleach popular.
I think this is where Death Note really lost its viewers. The anime is a slow build with some interesting mind games between two intelligent human beings who both like to keep their hands hidden until the last moment. The movie abandoned this atmosphere making Light far less intelligent and more brazen in his need to gather attention and L far less patient and contemplative. The end result was that a lot of fans felt like the core of what made Death Note had been ripped out and trampled on.
Bleach is a long running series (not the longest but certainly one where the episode count becomes daunting to newcomers) and it blends some fairly stupid slap-stick humour with some intense drama and action. The first season introduced Ichigo to a world of Hollows and Soul Reapers and a lot of it is spent balancing Ichigo’s everyday high school life with the new responsibilities thrust on him. That balance of normal and supernatural, some moments of light hearted humour, and some moments of life threatening danger is what draws a lot of fans into the world that is Bleach (okay, the soundtrack as well but the movie can’t have everything) and as much as later seasons of the show become increasingly bloated and filled with overly long fight sequences, season one is where the show’s heart is and where the core of the story is crafted.
The movie did an excellent job of replicating the supernatural side and that turmoil in Ichigo’s life as he’s forced from high schooler who can see ghosts into the role of a shinigami and there was enough humour and light hearted moments between Ichigo and Rukia during training montages for it not to become too much of a drama. The fight sequences were intense and there was definitely a sense of danger in them and while we missed out on Ichigo’s normally copious buckets of blood pouring from wounds, the movie once again favoured some sort of realism over staying slavishly true to the source.
Wrapping It Up
So, great choices in content, in how to adapt characters and settings, as well as capturing the spirit of the story even while making necessary changes seem to be helping Bleach stay a little ahead of the pack of recent anime movie adaptations. Does that mean Bleach made no mistakes? Of course not. There’s plenty that could still be improved upon. Still, I kind of feel like Bleach is my light at the end of the tunnel and the possibility that I won’t be defending anime movies with the ‘it could be worse’ statement into the future.
That said, my inquiring minds question that I’m answering tomorrow also focuses on Live Action adaptations so I’d love to know your thoughts on them and if you’ve seen the Bleach movie, what did you think?
Thanks for reading.
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