Bleach Blanched Part One
My current favorite anime, Bleach, has it all. This ongoing series about supernaturally-gifted humans caught up in a war between powerful forces in the spirit world has cool and likeable characters, exciting fight scenes, humor, drama, a bit of horror, a bit of romance, dashes of intrigue. What it doesn't have, however, is a clear reason WHY THE HECK IT'S CALLED 'BLEACH'. Well, there have been many speculations. One is that 'bleach' refers to the bright orange-colored hair of lead hero Ichigo Kurosaki. One of my favorite notions that the title actually means 'Breach' (Japanese don't have L's), which makes sense since this series is all about travelling through dimensions. But, in the end, the reason behind the title seems to be a pretty silly one. Apparently, manga-ka Tite Kubo noted in one interview that he is a big fan of the band Nirvana, and thus named the series after his idols' first album (and then later made up the thing about it all being about Ichigo's hair). So there. GYAH!
Anyway, moving on. One of the most important factors for me liking anime is, of course, characters. Bleach, to put it lightly, has plenty. There are, of course, the main heroes- Ichigo Kurosaki and Rukia Kuchiki.
Ichigo Kurosaki is the bad-ass, tough-talking, brawling hero. He's got a couple of standout features- one, his orange hair (which is natural, and which gets him often into fights with arseholes), and another, his ability to see ghosts (think, the Sixth Sense). There's a third feature- which isn't a standout- and that's his selfless kindness- something not everyone sees past Ichigo's often scowling face. But nope, Ichigo isn't just a warfreak- he's a warfreak with a heart of gold, always ready to go out of his way to defend anyone getting bullied, or to give a lonely ghost an offering of flowers. That coupled with a will that can break swords makes him the perfect warrior.
Scratch that- he's not at all perfect with his bonafide stubborn streak, but then who is? The fact is, Ichigo's a cool bad-ass and a great hero to follow through this series. Whatever doesn't kill Ichigo only makes him stronger- frighteningly stronger. And it doesn't look like he'll be kicking the bucket anytime soon.
Rukia Kuchiki is the lead heroine, and Ichigo's partner. A slim, petite girl with dark, moody eyes and trademark bangs running across her face, Rukia has a 'Goth' girl attitude which is a refreshing break from the usual genki anime heroine. She's most often serious and bossy, which is a natural fit to reign in the stubborn Ichigo. But aside from the wise and experienced shinigami (death god) warrior, there are goofy sides to Rukia- such as her affinity for cute things, and her insistence on explaining the workings of the spirit world using (badly-drawn) sketches of bunnies and teddy bears (Ichigo's reactions to Rukia's 'art' is a running gag in the series).
Contrary to most anime pair-ups, Rukia and Ichigo aren't romantically connected... at least, not yet. From the very beginning, it wasn't love at first sight (Ichigo's first act toward Rukia is kicking her in the butt). But as they become linked by fate and forced to fight together against the evil spirits of the afterlife, respect and a deep understanding of the other develops; and both are willing to die for the other because of that bond. Whenever one or the other is in a funk or a deep pit of despair, they can always rely on the other to headbutt, kick and slap them back to their senses. Now if that isn't a great partnership, I don't know what is.
Sado Yasutora or 'Chad' is a gentle giant from Mexico. Chad is physically impressive (able to walk away from being hit by a falling STEEL GIRDER), but is inversely as kind as a saint. Chad was taught by his beloved, late grandfather to use his strength to protect others, and he does so- even if it means getting hurt himself. Ichigo and Chad promised to watch each others' backs, and have been best friends ever since. Like Ichigo, he has supernatural powers which manifest themselves early in the series thanks to his continual contact with Ichigo and the growing number of evil spirits in the area. These powers take the form of a cool armored arm which can shoot energy blasts- a nifty power to have when battling evil Hollows.
Orihime Inoue fills in the slot for the upbeat, beautiful but ditzy heroine. Her odd imagination and taste in food are running gags in the show, but this lovely, kind girl is tempered by tragedy in her past. While initialy repelled by Ichigo's tough looks, something deeper evolves as her encounters with him and Rukia continue. Eventually, she gains her own powers- making her a bit of a magical heroine herself. While more of a healer and protector than a fighter thanks to her gentle demeanor, her will and inner strength would do any warrior proud. And damn, does she have a great rack. Heh.
Finally, there's Uryu Ishida, a snobbish intellectual who quickly reveals himself to be a Quincy, a race of humans who battle evil spirits and a rival to the shinigami. While at first at odds with Ichigo, he soon becomes a firm ally even if he is probably unwilling to admit it. Like everyone else, he has his serious side, that of a calm, calculating spirit-archer, and his goofy side- being the odd guy in the craft club who wields a damn fine needle and thread.
This is the main cast of Bleach, and you'll quickly grow to love each and every one of these guys and girls. Aside from them, there's a literal army of supporting characters whom you'll get to know in this addicting series, like Ichigo's oddball family and friends in Karakura High School, the weird crew at the Uruhara Shop and of course, the many Captains, Lieutenants and Warriors of the shinigami Gotei 13- easily the most diverse collection of bad-ass samurai death gods around. So try to get yourselves episodes from your favorite anime shop and get ready for action-packed, humor-sprinkled sword-slashing, ghost-fighting action.