So, in a state of work-induced brain-death, I ended up watching all of the extant episodes of Bleach (1-76, plus two OVAs) over the past two weeks.
While it's not the most original or fabulously well-written series I've ever seen, I have to say that I'm enjoying it very much. The basic storyline revolves around a 15-year-old boy named Ichigo, who has been able to see and hear ghosts ever since he can remember.
He's one of those stock anime adolescents who's almost thug-like on the outside, and very sweet and gentle on the inside. In fact, in his introductory sequence, we see him beating the crap out of a group of guys in an alley...because they vandalized a small shrine Ichigo built to comfort the ghost of a young girl he's been in contact with. He's also shown bringing fresh flowers every day to the shrine...
His interactions with the ghost (or maybe it's just a side effect of puberty) strengthen his immense spiritual powers, and he begins to attract soul-devouring demons (known as Hollows). In response to his dilemma, a Shinigami (a Death God or demonslayer sent from the afterlife) named Rukia appears to protect Ichigo and his family. When a powerful Hollow attacks Ichigo's home and targets his two younger sisters, injuring them and also disabling Rukia, Ichigo agrees to a risky transfer of her powers and becomes a substitute Shinigami.
Rukia loses her supernatural powers as a result of the transfer, and forms an uneasy alliance with a reluctant Ichigo--she's the strategist and fount of demonslaying knowledge, and he's the brawn with the actual ability to banish Hollows.
This arrangement leads to the usual complications, best seen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of balancing homework and demon-slaying---but there's a futher complication because transfer of powers is a capital crime for a Shinigami, and eventually Shinigami law enforcement catches up to Rukia...
The longer story arcs in the series suffer from a bit of too-many-flashbacks-for-minor-character-backstories and too-many-fights-between-secondary-characters bloat (this is especially true of the huge Soul Society story arc that ends around episode 60-something), but the series has been consistently entertaining, and I like the characters.
The themes and story arcs are very reminiscent in flavor of Naruto, especially the progression of acquisition of powers on the part of the hero. And the big fights are a bit predictable...they all sort of go like this:
1. our hero gets his ass kicked by Big Opponent.
2. Hero goes off and acquires amazing new skill or power.
3. Meets up with Big Opponent for a return match, uses new skill, appears to be winning when Big Opponent proceeds to draw his ace out of his sleeve
4. All is lost moment
5. Eventual triumph of our hero, battered but victorious. [/list]
Then it's on to the next battle, with a bigger and nastier villain who requires that our hero go out and acquire yet another superpower.
Our orange-haired hero Ichigo, despite his gruff manner and foul mouth, is quite a sweetheart and really a nice guy, very much in the tradition of Inuyasha.. He's very protective of his friends and his two younger sisters. But Ichigo *can* be very polite, when he sees a good reason to. And, when circumstances warrant it, he has the common sense to choose "run like hell in the opposite direction" as a battle tactic.
And the secondary characters are a lot of fun, too, and surprisingly well-rounded. This series also has a number of kick-ass female characters, which is refreshing in a shounen series. Even the obligatory sweet-girl-with-big-breasts turns out to be a lot tougher and more interesting than her introduction would warrant.
Like Naruto, there are some nagging inconsistencies with the world-building. With Naruto, the economy of a place that doesn't appear to have any industries, paved roads or even delivery trucks but has grocery stores, TVs, and computers is bothersome; with Bleach, it's the concept of an afterlife where you can still kill people. Er, if Soul Society is the place where non-damned souls go after death, then what happens when those souls are killed? As of yet, they haven't addressed that question, and it's a huge logical inconsistency.
Overall grade: B+