Friday’s Feature: 3 Lessons To Be Learned From Bleach Movie Adaptation

Netflix Live Action Bleach

When the Bleach movie adaptation came out I instantly watched it and less than a week later (despite being pretty busy), I watched it again.

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 was fairly glowing and I’m standing by that review even after a second watch through.

All of this kind of makes me hope that future adaptations, such as the upcoming Cowboy Bebop (which I know is a series not a movie) might actually be at least decent.

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. Though, since more time has passed now, really this movie just kind of faded out of discussions (which is at least better than being hater forever such as the Dragon Ball Evolution movie).

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%

Death Note Live Action Movie

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.

So what can we learn from the Bleach Movie Adaptation?

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.

Bleach movie adaptation - Orihime
I’m fairly certain that people who have never read the source or watched the anime probably have no idea that Orihime is actually supposed to be important.

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.

Fullmetal Alchemist Live Action - Edward

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.

Bleach Movie Training.jpg

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.

I’d love to know your thoughts on live action adaptations and if you’ve seen the Bleach movie, what did you think?

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

23 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature: 3 Lessons To Be Learned From Bleach Movie Adaptation

  1. I think your first point is the most important, and seems to be the rule upon which many a live action (or other form) adaption comes undone. For me, the prime example of this is both the live and the anime adaption of Ursula Le Guin’s (original) “Earthsea” trilogy. Both tried to cram three books’ worth of material into one feature film, and both made a ghastly hash of it. Peter Jackson’s adaption of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, however, worked because he gave each book its due, and also cut out a lot of the “filler” (yes, I’m looking at you, Tom Bombadil!) with which Tolkien padded out the story (which made his subsequent inflated adaption of “The Hobbit” all the more disappointing).

  2. Now this is How to Adapt Anime to Live Action 101 for chumps. Not sure if it’s the director or the writers that’s making these adaptations bad, but Bleach really stood out.

    1. It’s be nice if they just thought about how to make something work as a movie before just throwing content at an audience and hoping they’ll squeal just because it has a particular name attached to it. Still, I really had to think about why I liked the Bleach movie so much more than other adaptations and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just biased being a massive Bleach fan so I’m glad I worked on this post as it really made it clear to me that the Bleach movie was just a pretty good adaptation.

      1. It’s a hard job to both please the fans and make a movie that is able to stand on its own.
        The reasons came out as rather objective, so you did a good job.

  3. Well, you already know my thoughts on the film😊 But that said I think I do have to wonder very often why make a live action adaptation in the first place. People that tend to love anime just like it because it’s anime. And as fun as ” normal” movies/shows are, I watch anime because it’s different and I like the fact that it’s animated. As cool as Bleach was, it will never be better than the anime. And I don’t think any live action film ever will be better. But for future movies to work, they had best stick to the fomula this movie did (or in the way Rurouni Kenshin/ the Japanese versions of Deathnote did things). All of these are examples of good adaptations😊

    1. I don’t really mind adaptations. We’ve always done it turning plays or poems into novels or the other way around. Certainly novels into movies and so on. I have no issue with transforming a story into different forms giving a different take on it or appealing to a different audience. I just kind of wish that if you were going to go to all the effort of adapting a story you would at least work at doing a good job of it.

      1. Oh I don’t mind them either, but looking back at the succes rate they have had so far, it’s not that they are particularly popular. But that said, that’s pretty much the main problem you pointed out right there, they just don’t seem to be doing a good job at it. Still this one did, and I’m hoping to see more of these kinds of adaptations in the upcoming years 😊😊

  4. This live action adaptation made me see some of the appeal Bleach had to offer. I did notice some of the characters were just sidelined doing nothing important in the movie, but since they weren’t in it too much I didn’t feel it brought it down. For me, Rurouni Kenshin, and Edge of Tomorrow are still the high standard for me when it comes to live action adaptations, but Bleach makes me more optimistic about them in the future. I’m hoping future live action anime adaptations follow what Bleach did in order to work in another medium.

    1. I think that is the best thing about this. Is it does give reason to be optimistic about adaptations in the future. That said, we’ll probably still see some fairly terrible ones being made but hopefully they learn and get better.

  5. Haven’t seen this one (or any Bleach, for that matter), but I think your three points could also be applied to the Rurouni Kenshin live action movies, which I did see and which I enjoyed very much (and bringing in IMDB ratings, all three of those are rated 7.6 or 7.7 – so generally very well-received). Maybe the staff behind the Bleach movies watched those movies and took notes. The makers of the RuroKen movies were also careful not to cram in too much too stuff, and they weren’t afraid to compress timelines or even combine elements from multiple arcs in order to tell stories that would actually work in a 2-hour movie format. My friends and I had lengthy discussions when we saw them about the changes and concessions they had to make in adapting those to live action, but most of our so-called disappointments that I remember were just minor quibbles. “I wish they’d had the time to include this scene,” or “I wish they could’ve given more screentime to that character.” For the material they kept and the key scenes that absolutely had to be included, I don’t think any of us in my little group had much to complain about. Even more encouraging is that some of the people at our viewing parties were not anime fans and not familiar with the original RuroKen, and they generally enjoyed the movies just as much as us longtimers did.

    1. I think that’s where these movies need to aim. Making a competent movie that doesn’t rely on attachment to the source to be entertaining. I get they want fans to enjoy it, but making a poor movie isn’t a good way to achieve that no matter how many great scenes or moments they cram in.

  6. “01: The amount of content chosen wasn’t too ambitious.” This is where the FMA adaptation failed the hardest. They adapted all the most iconic scenes with barely a thread to hold them together.

    1. Totally agree. They tried to please too many people by stuffing too many key scenes in, but the length of the movie didn’t allow it and they didn’t condense any of the story to make it work.

  7. I watched the Bleach movie last night. Generally, I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a striahgt adaption, but it did what it did well. There were some things i wasn’t as fond of, but i’ll get to those when I review it. The ami nthing is that they didn’t stop me enjoying the voerall presentation.

    1. Yeah, there were some things the movie could have done better that weren’t great. But when you consider how this could have turned out, I’m still pretty thrilled by this movie. And I know I’m still judging anime movies by the ‘could be worse’ standard, but still. I really didn’t think they’d pull this adaptation of and I’m pretty impressed with what they’ve done.

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