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Bleach (ブリーチ Burīchi?, Romanized as BLEACH in Japan) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Noriaki "Tite" Kubo. Bleach follows the adventures of Ichigo Kurosaki after he obtains the powers of a Soul Reaper (死神 Shinigami?, literally, "Death God") - a death personification similar to the Grim Reaper - from Rukia Kuchiki. His newfound powers force him to take on the duties of defending humans from evil spirits and guiding departed souls to the afterlife.

Bleach has been serialized in the Japanese manga anthology Weekly Shōnen Jump since August 2001, and has been collected into 47 tankōbon volumes as of October 2010. Since its publication, Bleach has spawned a substantial media franchise that includes an ongoing animated television series that is produced by Studio Pierrot in Japan, two original video animations, three animated feature films, seven rock musicals, and numerous video games, as well as many types of Bleach-related merchandise.

Viz Media obtained foreign television and home video distribution rights to the Bleach anime on March 15, 2006.[1] Cartoon Network began airing Bleach in the United States as part of its Adult Swim block on September 9, 2006. Viz Media has licensed the manga for English-language publication in the United States and Canada, and has released 32 bound volumes as of September 2010 as well as published chapters of Bleach in its Shonen Jump magazine since November 2007. Viz Media released the first Bleach film, Bleach: Memories of Nobody, on DVD in North America on October 14, 2008. The second film, Bleach: The DiamondDust Rebellion, was released on September 15, 2009.

Volumes of the manga have sold over 61 million copies in Japan, and have reached the top of manga sales in the United States.[citation needed] The anime adaptation has been similarly received; it was rated as the fourth most popular anime television series in Japan in 2006 and held a position amongst the top ten anime in the United States from 2006 to 2008. The series received the Shogakukan Manga Award for the shōnen demographic in 2005, and is among the best-selling manga properties in both Japan and the United States.

Plot

Ichigo Kurosaki is a teenager gifted with the ability to see spirits. His life is drastically changed by the sudden appearance of a Soul Reaper - one who governs the flow of souls between the human world and the afterlife - named Rukia Kuchiki, who arrives in search of a Hollow, a dangerous lost soul. When Rukia is severely wounded while trying to defeat the Hollow, she attempts to transfer half of her reiatsu (霊圧?, literally, "spiritual pressure") energy to Ichigo so that he can defeat the Hollow. However, Ichigo takes almost all of her energy, transforming into a Soul Reaper and allowing him to defeat the Hollow with ease. With her powers diminished, Rukia is left stranded in the human world until she can recover her strength. In the meantime, Ichigo must take over Rukia's role as a Soul Reaper, battling Hollows and guiding souls to the afterlife realm known as the Soul Society (尸魂界 (ソウル·ソサエティ) Sōru Sosaeti?).

As time passes and Rukia has yet to return to the Soul Society, her Soul Reaper superiors learn about her whereabouts and actions and sentence her to death for performing the illegal act of transferring her powers. Although he is unable to stop Rukia's departure to the Soul Society, Ichigo resolves to rescue her with the aid of several of his spiritually aware classmates, Yoruichi Shihōin, and ex-Soul Reaper Kisuke Urahara. Once at the Soul Society, Ichigo and company battle against the elites of the Soul Reaper military and strive to reach Rukia before her execution.

It is revealed that both Rukia's execution and Ichigo's rescue attempt were manipulated by Sōsuke Aizen, a high-ranking Soul Reaper previously believed to have been murdered, as part of a far-reaching plot to take control of the Soul Society. Aizen betrays his fellow Soul Reapers and allies himself with the strongest of the Hollows, the Espadas - the elite few of the Arrancars. Aizen thus becomes the main antagonist of the series and the Soul Reapers form an alliance with Ichigo. At this point, Bleach chronicles the war between the Soul Reapers and Aizen, who intends to garner souls from Ichigo's hometown in order to create the Ôken, a device able to open a portal to the location of the king of the Soul Society. After the Espadas's defeat, Ichigo battles Aizen alone. When he manages to weaken him, Urahara seals Aizen, leaving Soul Society to imprison him. However, as a result of using all his Soul Reaper powers to fight Aizen, Ichigo loses his reiatsu, becoming a normal human.

Production

Bleach was first conceived from a desire on Tite Kubo's part to draw Shinigami in kimono, which formed the basis for the design of the Soul Reapers in the series and the conception of Rukia Kuchiki.[2][3] The original story concept was submitted to Weekly Shōnen Jump shortly after the cancellation of Tite Kubo's previous manga, Zombiepowder., but was rejected. Manga artist Akira Toriyama saw the story and wrote a letter of encouragement to Kubo.[3] Bleach was accepted for publication a short time later in 2001, and was initially intended to be a shorter series, with a maximum serialization length of five years.[3] Early plans for the story did not include the hierarchical structure of the Soul Society, but did include some characters and elements that were not introduced into the plot until the Arrancar arc, such as Ichigo's Soul Reaper heritage.[2] The series was originally meant to be named "Black" due to the color of the Soul Reapers' clothes, but Kubo thought the title was too generic. He later tried the name of "White," but came to like "Bleach" more for its association with the color white and that he did not find it too obvious.[4]

Tite Kubo has cited influences for elements of Bleach, ranging from other manga series to music, foreign language, architecture, and film. He attributes his interest in drawing the supernatural and monsters to Shigeru Mizuki's GeGeGe no Kitaro and Bleach's focus on interesting weaponry and battle scenes to Masami Kurumada's Saint Seiya, manga that Kubo enjoyed as a boy.[2] The action style and storytelling found in Bleach are inspired by cinema, though Kubo has not revealed any specific movie as being an influence for fight scenes. When pressed, he told interviewers that he liked Snatch but did not use it as a model.[5] Kubo has also stated that he wishes to make Bleach an experience that can only be found by reading manga, and dismissed ideas of creating any live-action film adaptations of the series.[3]

Bleach's creative process is focused around character design. When writing plotlines or having difficulties generating new material, Kubo begins by thinking of new characters, often en masse, and rereading previous volumes of Bleach.[2][6] Kubo has said that he likes creating characters that have outward appearances that do not match their true nature - an element that can be found in many Bleach characters - as he is "attracted to people with that seeming contradiction" and finds an "urge to draw people like that" when he works.[7] The terminology used in Bleach has a variety of inspirations, with each category of characters bearing a different linguistic theme. Many of the names for swords and spells used by Soul Reapers were inspired by ancient Japanese literature. Hollows and Arrancars are often associated with Spanish terms because the language sounded "bewitching and mellow" to him.[7]

Media

Manga

The chapters of the Bleach manga are written and illustrated by Tite Kubo. In Japan, they have been published in Shueisha's Weekly Shōnen Jump since 2001,[8] with individual chapters collected in a series of tankōbon volumes, each of which includes a poem based on the cover character. The first volume was released on January 5, 2002, and as of October 2010, 47 volumes have been released.[9][10]

North American licensor Viz Media has been serializing the individual chapters in Shonen Jump in North America since November 2007.[11] As of September 2010, 32 volumes have been released, the first of which was released on June 1, 2004.[12][13] On August 5, 2008, the company released a hardcover "collector's edition" of the first volume that came with a dust jacket, followed by a box set that was released on September 2, 2008, containing the first 21 volumes, a poster, and a booklet about the series.[14][15]

Since Bleach's premiere, over 400 chapters have been released in Japan. Most chapter names are written in English and have katakana above them to indicate how they are read in Japanese, similar to the usage of furigana ruby characters with advanced kanji characters. In addition to the main series chapters, some chapters are published with a negative chapter number. These "negative" chapters are side stories that involve events that precede the main plot of the series.[16]

Anime

The episodes of the Bleach anime series are directed by Noriyuki Abe and produced by TV Tokyo, Dentsu, and Studio Pierrot.[17] The episodes have aired on TV Tokyo in Japan since October 5, 2004.[18] Viz Media obtained the foreign television, home video, and merchandising rights to the Bleach anime from TV Tokyo Corporation and Shueisha on March 15, 2006.[1] Subsequently, Viz Media contracted Studiopolis to create the English adaptation of the anime,[citation needed] and has since licensed its individual Bleach merchandising rights to several different companies.[19]

The English adaptation of the Bleach anime premiered on Canada's YTV channel in the Bionix programming block on September 8, 2006. Cartoon Network began airing Bleach the following evening as part of its Adult Swim block.[20] Adult Swim stopped broadcasting new episodes of the English adaptation on October 20, 2007 after airing the first 52 episodes of the series. It was replaced with another Viz Media series, Death Note, to provide Studiopolis more time to dub additional episodes of Bleach. The series began airing again on March 2, 2008,[21] but went back on hiatus on November 21, 2009, after the airing of its 167th episode. The series returned from hiatus on August 28, 2010, on Adult Swim. In the United Kingdom, Bleach premiered on AnimeCentral on September 13, 2007, with new episodes airing weekly.

As of August 2009, 49 DVD compilations have been released by Aniplex in Japan.[22][23] Viz Media has released 22 DVD compilations of the English adaptation of the anime,[24][25] along with three DVD collection boxes that contain the first, second, and third seasons of the anime, respectively.[26][27] On July 29, 2009, Aniplex released a "TV Animation Bleach 5th Anniversary Box" that includes 15 DVDs and three bonus discs.[28]

CDs

Produced by Shirō Sagisu, 11 CD soundtracks have been released for the Bleach anime series and movies. Bleach Original Soundtrack 1 was released on May 18, 2005 and contains 25 tracks, including the first opening and ending themes in their original television lengths.[29] Bleach Original Soundtrack 2 followed on August 2, 2006 with an additional 23 instrumental tracks.[30] Bleach Original Soundtrack 3 later followed on November 5, 2008 with 27 instrumental tracks.[31] Bleach Original Soundtrack 4 was released on December 16, 2009 with 30 instrumental tracks.[32] Bleach: Memories of Nobody Original Soundtrack was released with 25 tracks from the Bleach: Memories of Nobody film. A soundtrack was also released for the Bleach: The DiamondDust Rebellion film, with nearly 30 tracks from the movie, followed by a third one for the Bleach: Fade to Black, I Call Your Name film, with 29 tracks.[33][34][35] Bleach: The Best contains 12 of the opening and ending themes from the series in their full length versions, later followed by Bleach: Best Tunes, which contains 12 more opening and ending themes.[36][37]

Three Radio DJCD Bleach 'B' Station season CD sets, each containing six volumes, have been released in Japan.[38] The third season is still ongoing in Japan.[39] Eight drama CDs have been produced for the series as well, featuring the original voice actors from the series; these drama CDs have only been included as part of the DVD releases.[40]

The Bleach Beat Collections is an ongoing set of CDs published by Sony Music featuring recordings by the original Japanese voice actors that provide a look at the personalities of the characters they play, as well as the voice actors themselves. The first CD was released on June 22, 2005, and as of March 2009, 21 volumes have been released across four named sets called Sessions.[41]

Films

There are three feature films based on the Bleach series, all of which are directed by Noriyuki Abe, director of the Bleach anime series. The films have been released in December of each year starting in 2006. Each movie features an original plotline along with original characters designed by Tite Kubo, which is contrary to the normal practice for anime-based films, as the original author usually has little creative involvement.[42]

The first film, Bleach: Memories of Nobody, was released in Japan on December 16, 2006 and had a limited release in American theaters in June 2008.[43][44] The movie is centered around the activities of the "Dark Ones," who were banished from the Soul Society and are subsequently trying to destroy both the Soul Society and the World of the Living. Memories of Nobody was released in North America on Region 1 DVD by Viz Media on October 14, 2008.[45]

The second film, Bleach: The DiamondDust Rebellion, was released to Japanese theaters on December 22, 2007.[46] Its plot focuses on 10th Division captain Tōshirō Hitsugaya's efforts to clear his name after an artifact belonging to Soul Society's king is stolen while under his care. The DiamondDust Rebellion was released in North America on Region 1 DVD by Viz Media on September 8, 2009.[47]

The third film, Bleach: Fade to Black, I Call Your Name, was released in Japan on December 13, 2008. In the film, members of Soul Society are struck with amnesia, causing them to lose their memories of Ichigo and Rukia. When he goes to the Soul Society to investigate, Ichigo discovers that Rukia has not only forgotten him, but has forgotten her own identity as well.[48] The film was released on DVD on September 30, 2009.[49]

The fourth movie, Bleach: Hell Chapter, is scheduled to be released on December 4, 2010.[50] In a teaser trailer, Ichigo is seen heading into the Gates of Hell, which is where Hollows who had committed evil during their lives as humans are sent. Tite Kubo will be overseeing production of the film.[51]

In March 2010, Warner Bros. (USA/Canada/International) and Regency Enterprises confirmed that it is in talks to create a live action movie adaptation of the series. Peter Segal, Arnon Milchan and Michael Ewing have been lined up to produce the movie.[52]

Musical

Bleach has been adapted into a series of rock musicals, jointly produced by Studio Pierrot and Nelke Planning. There have been five musicals produced which covered portions of the Substitute and Soul Society arcs, as well as three additional performances known as "Live Bankai Shows" which did not follow the Bleach plotline. The initial performance run of the Bleach musical was from August 17-28, 2005 at the Space Zero Tokyo center in Shinjuku.[53][54][55]

The musicals are directed by Takuya Hiramitsu, with a script adaptation by Naoshi Okumura and music composed by playwright Shoichi Tama. The songs are completely original and not taken from the anime soundtrack. Key actors in the series include Tatsuya Isaka, who plays Ichigo Kurosaki, Miki Satō, who plays Rukia Kuchiki, and Eiji Moriyama, who plays Renji Abarai.[56]

Trading card game

Two collectible card games (CCG) based on the Bleach series have been produced. Bleach Soul Card Battle, produced by Bandai, was introduced in Japan in 2004.[57] As of October 2008, seventeen named sets have been released for the series.[58]

Bleach TCG was introduced in the United States by Score Entertainment in May 2007,[59] but ceased publication April 2009, just before the planned launch of its seventh expansion, Bleach Infiltration.[60] This cancellation was attributed to the ongoing recession, which has heavily affected TCG sales.[60] Designed by Aik Tongtharadol, the TCG is a two-player game in which each player starts with at least 61 cards: a "Guardian" card, a 60-card "main deck," and an optional 20-card "side deck." A player loses if his or her power, as dictated by the Guardian card, is reduced to zero, or if he or she is unable to draw or discard a card from his or her deck.[61] The cards for the game have been released in named sets with each set released in three formats: a 72-card pre-constructed box set containing a starter deck and two booster packs, a 10-card booster pack, and a 12-pack booster box. As of December 2008, six named sets have been released.[62]

Video games

The first video game to be released from the Bleach series was Bleach: Heat the Soul, which debuted on March 24, 2005 for the Sony PlayStation Portable.[63] Currently, the majority of the games have only been released in Japan, though Sega has localized the first three Nintendo DS games and the first Wii game for North America.[64] So far, all dedicated Bleach games released for Sony's consoles have been developed and published by SCEI, whereas the games for Nintendo consoles are developed and published by Sega, and the Nintendo DS games are developed by Treasure Co. Ltd..[65][66]

Other

A single Bleach artbook, All Colour But The Black, has been released in Japan, the United States, and Europe. The artbook compiles a selection of color spreads from the first 19 volumes of the series, as well as some original art and author commentary.[67][68]

Four databooks have also been released about the series. The first two, Bleach: Official Character Book SOULs. and Bleach: Official Animation Book VIBEs., were released on February 3, 2006.[69][70] Bleach: Official Character Book SOULs. was later released in English by Viz Media on November 18, 2008.[71] The third databook, Bleach Official Bootleg: KaraBuri+ (BLEACH OFFICIAL BOOTLEG カラブリ プラス?), was released on August 3, 2007. In addition to character guides and articles on other fictional aspects of the series, it compiles the various short comics, Tedious Everyday Tales Colorful Bleach (徒然日常絵詞 カラフル ブリーチ Tsuredure Nichijou Ekotoba Karafuru Buriichi?), that were published in V Jump. The omake-style panels are similar to those included in the main series, but reveal more of the daily lives of characters.[72] The fourth book, Bleach: Official Character Book 2: MASKED, was released on August 4, 2010.[73] This book covers details about characters that appear 100 years prior to the story, such as former captains and lieutenants, along with the Arrancars and Visoreds. It should be noted that while it was released on the same day as Volume 46, Back From Blind, the book only covers material up to Volume 37, Beauty Is So Solitary.

Tite Kubo and Makoto Matsubara have co-authored two novelizations of the Bleach series, which were published by Shueisha under its Jump Books label. The first volume, BLEACH-letters from the other side: The Death and The Strawberry, was published on December 15, 2004, and the second, BLEACH: The Honey Dish Rhapsody, was published in October 30, 2006.[74][75]

Reception

The manga series has sold over 1.2 million copies in North America, and the original Japanese version of the manga series as a whole has sold over 50 million copies.[76][77] In 2005, Bleach was awarded the Shogakukan Manga Award in the shōnen category.[78][79] As of May 2007, the manga has sold a total of 40 million copies, ranking as the 14th bestseller series from Weekly Shonen Jump.[80] During 2008, volume 34 of the manga sold 874,153 copies in Japan, becoming the 12th best-seller comics from the year. Volumes 33 and 35 have also ranked 17 and 18, respectively.[81] In total the manga has sold 3,161,825 copies in Japan during 2008, becoming the year's 5th best selling series.[82] In the first half from 2009, Bleach ranked as the 2nd best-selling manga in Japan, having sold 3.5 million copies.[83] Having sold 927,610 copies, Volume 36 ranked 7th. Volume 37 was 8th with 907,714 sold copies, and volume 38 at 10th with 822,238 copies.[84] North American sales of the manga have also been high, with Volume 16 placing in the top 10 graphic novel sales in December 2006[85] and Volume 17 being the best-selling manga volume for the month of February 2007.[86][87] In a 2010 interview, Gonzalo Ferreyra, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Viz, listed Bleach as one of six Viz titles that continue to exceed expectations in spite of the harshening manga market.[88] The English version of the manga was nominated for the "best manga" and "best theme" awards at the 2006 and 2007 American Anime Awards, but did not win either category.[89][90]

Deb Aoki from About.com considered the series as the Best Continuing Shōnen Manga of 2007, along with Eyeshield 21, praising the "compelling stories, dazzling action sequences and great character development".[91] She also placed the title on her list of "Top 10 Shōnen Manga Must-Reads".[92] The artwork and the character designs received positive response by IGN's A.E. Sparrow. He also commented on the several storylines going on in the series at the same time due to the large number of supporting character which make the manga appealing in response to fans' claims about a "lack of a story" in Bleach.[93] Leroy Douresseaux from ComicBookBin agreed with Sparrow in the number of storylines, but also praised the fighting scenes finding them comparable to the ones of popular films.[94][95] On the other hand, Mania reviewer Jarred Pine criticized the series as being plagued with stereotypes from the genre. He felt it was a rough start for the series with unimpressive battles, overused gags, and a bad introduction for central character Ichigo that causes him to come across "as a frowning punk" whose one good trait is his desire to protect. Despite this, Pine notes that he loves the series, particularly its quirky, lovable characters.[96]

The anime has been featured various times in the top ten from the Japanese TV Ranking.[97][98] DVDs have also had good sales having commonly appeared in the Japanese DVD Ranking.[99][100] The anime was nominated in the 2007 America Anime Awards in the fields of "best manga", "best actor", "best DVD package design", and "best theme", but failed to win any awards.[101][102] In a 2006 Internet poll by TV Asahi, Bleach was ranked as Japan's seventh-favorite anime program.[103] The previous year, it was ranked as the twenty-seventh favorite program.[104] During February 2009, Bleach ranked as the 9th most viewed animated show from Hulu.[105]

Anime News Network's Carlos Santos praised the anime adaptation, describing it as "...one incredibly entertaining anime that will grab you and refuse to let go."[106] Animefringe's Maria Lin liked the varied and distinct characters, and how well they handle the responsibilities increasing powers give them. She also complimented the series for its attention to details, well paced script, and balance of seriousness and comedy. In summary, she notes "Bleach the anime deserves its popularity. It has something for everyone: the supernatural, comedy, action and a little bit of romance, all tied together with excellent animation and a very enthusiastic sounding bunch of voice actors."[107] Adam Arseneau of DVD Verdict, felt Bleach was a "show that only gets better with age" and was "surprisingly well-rounded and appealing" with well developed characters and pacing.[108] Active Anime's Holly Ellingwood praising the anime for perfectly capturing "the excitement, the caustic humour and supernatural intrigue" of the original manga.[109] She felt that the series "does a wonderful job of building on its continuity to provide increasingly tense and layered episodes involving not only Ichigo and Rukia, but the secondary characters as well".[110] She also praised the series for its striking visual effects, intriguing plot and its "brilliant blend of action, off the wall comedy."[111][112] In reviewing the series for DVD Talk, Don Houston felt the characters surpassed the usual shōnen anime stereotypes and liked "the mixture of darker material with the comedic".[113] Another Fellow reviewer John Sinnott felt series starts out as a boring "monster-of-the-week program" that becomes more engaging as the stories build and the characters are fleshed out.[114] Otaku USA''s Joseph Luster wrote that "the storylines are consistently dramatic without hammering it home too heavily, the characters manage comic relief that's not as eye rolling as one would expect, and the action (in classic fighting series form) has only gotten more ridiculous over the years; in a good way, of course".[115] Mania.com's Bryce Coulter praised the series for its plot twists and "the quirky and amusing characters".[116][117] In comparing the series with Naruto, Mania.com's Chris Beveridge felt Bleach was less childish and "simply comes together surprisingly well in its style and execution of what is fairly standard material".[118]

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