I know it's been a few months since my last Bleach review, but I was in the mood for some monster fighting action---so...here we go!
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Tite Kubo – Bleach Volume 3 (2001 / 2004)
Let me just get this out of the way, if I didn’t already KNOW what Bleach was, that it’s a comic about monsters and ghosts and magic, I would probably not pick this book up based on the cover. The book LOOKS like, maybe, a teen romance (or something worse) if you’re just looking at the sort of bondage-esque pic of Orihime presented here. (She's one of the recurring characters in the book---although she's not really featured in this story), and mysteriously, there’s really nothing about this cover that indicates that, by opening this book, the reader is about to be thrust into a world of spirits and monsters and vicious battles against soul eating beasties… Luckily, I’d already the first two issues when I went to buy volume three, or I probably wouldn't have touched it.
With that said, this volume (which isn’t about romance AT ALL) is primarily the story of how Ichigo (the primary character, a 15-year-old high school student who can see ghosts) and his family commemorate the anniversary of the day Ichigo’s mother was killed. It’s a somber book with some touching moments in it---but because this is a comic about monsters and “soul reapers,” who fight against monsters and protect humanity, we eventually run into a rather brutal creature that attacks Ichigo's sisters, and we soon discover that this particular monster has been stalking humans for over 50 years…and Ichigo realizes that this is probably the creature that murdered his mother six years before.
I like Tite Kubo’s art style, which combines simplified, childlike scrawls in some scenes with extremely detailed, almost naturalistic backgrounds in other moments (like the trees and grave markers in the cemetery scenes, or when Ichigo is walking in the rain with his mom in flashbacks.) The contrast is striking, and the use of “action lines” during the battle scenes, in which movement is represented by a profusion of flowing, curved lines (it’s a pretty common technique in Japanese comics, but used well in Bleach,) gives the fighting sequences a lot of energy.
This book has some humor in it, too, but not as much as the two previous volumes, as the tone is kept mostly somber because of the dark subject matter. The two exceptions to this general mood are Kon, an artificial “soul” introduced in the previous volume who is now stuck in the body of a teddy-bear, and Ichigo’s father, Isshen, who is always an over-the-top buffoon---although in this story, which essentially revolves around the death of his wife, he does get a nice touching scene (for once) before returning to his rude, boorish, violent ways. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to or not, but I always like the Falstaffian characters in most stories, especially in such a dark book as this is, where the little bits of humor are necessary to keep the tale from being completely depressing.
As far as stories go, this one is pretty good. I’m not a huge fan of sentiment, but the humor elements keep it from being too depressing, and the monster is straight-up wicked, which helps, too. The story here moves a bit slower than the last two books, but again, I think that’s to preserve the overall tone. We also get a hint, towards the end of the book, at the Hollow society---(Hollows are the soul eating monsters that Ichigo and the other Soul Reapers fight.) The idea that the Hollows are organized in any way seems counter-intuitive to me, because it's weird to think that a social group for monsters would even exist. I always assume that monsters are beasts, barely in control of their urges (if in control at all) just flailing around, destroying---basically just hunger machines. At the end of this volume, Tite Kubo seems to suggest something different, as if he's moving the Hollows in a different direction, although it doesn’t do much more than HINT at what that direction might be!
I probably wouldn’t start the series with this book, if you are a new reader, although it wouldn’t be the WORST place to pick up the storyline. You’d miss quite a bit, but I suppose, if this was the first story you read in the Bleach universe, it might be intriguing enough to make you want to read more. Again, though, I have to say that I’m not a big fan of the cover---not because it’s not well drawn, it just doesn’t have anything to do with what’s actually happening in the book!
And that’s my review of Bleach Volume 3. It’s a bit violent, a bit somber, and has a few sort of yucky bits in it, (safe for a teen / Y.A. audience, I'd say,) and the story is well told, overall. The art is an enjoyable mix of cartoony and naturalistic styles, and the monster that’s featured in this one is seriously nasty, which means he fits into the Bleach universe, perfectly. If you’re a fan of sword-fighting, ghost-hunting, magic spell-casting, monster-killing action comics, with quite a few silly moments to help break up the action, then you’ll probably enjoy Bleach. It’s not as epic as Inu Yasha or as over-the-top goofy as Ranma ½, but it’s an entertaining series, in my opinion, and worth the couple of bucks you’ll have to pay for each book, (especially if you can find them used!)
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
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