28 September 2008
Bleach, the story of teenage Substitute Shinigami Ichigo Kurosaki, is another one of those painfully long-running Shonen Jump series filled with stronger-than-the-last man battles. Frustratingly, despite its relative simplicity and lowest common denominator appeal, you find yourself unable to stop watching it. This appears to be a relatively widespread problem, as Bleach recently had its third movie tie-in announced.
Before the third movie comes out at the end of the year, however, let's take a look at the second one: The Diamond Dust Rebellion.
There are no Diamonds, actually. The title is pretty, but doesn't have much of anything to do with the story. It's probably just a fancy way of describing Hitsugaya's Bankai, Hyouinmaru. You remember Hitsugaya, right? Of course you do.
In any case, this movie is very clearly cashing in on Hitsugaya's popularity, as it's pretty much just about him, with Ichigo performing requisite protagonist duties in his usual fashion. This actually turns out to be a terrible tease, as the minute any fan saw the trailer, the reaction was more or less: 'Hell yes we get to see which one would win in a fight'. After all, Ichigo's taken on a good chunk of Seireitei's people of interest, but he's never fought Hitsugaya.
Prepare for disappointment. Oh, there is briefly fighting between the two, but it doesn't even reach the Shikai level. I do not think I am incorrect in stating that what everybody really wanted was to see Ichigo and Hitsugaya go for it in an all-out Bankai brawl. Instead what we got was a bit like Spiderman and Batman meeting up to fight, only Spidey doesn't use his web-shooters and Batman doesn't use any gadgets. And the fight lasts thirty seconds with no clear victor.
That disappointment aside, how does the story hold up? It's a bit mediocre, actually. Sure, it's cut together well and fulfils its duty efficiently, but there were a few too many holes for me to forgive. The reason as to WHY two Hyouinmarus even came into existence is never explained, just for starters. You can't just say 'it's never happened before', and then not give an explanation as to HOW it happened that time. Fire and lightning maybe-Arrancar sidekicks are never explained, which would be fine if they didn't introduce that question. Seireitei is quick to jump on the 'let's kill everyone' bandwagon too, and despite the fact that several members of the cast question this, it's never justified, leaving the cynical viewer thinking that it's just convenient stupidity in order to up the ante and increase the drama.
Speaking of the cast, that was another mildly irritating issue. With its enormous cast Bleach had to find an excuse to have all of them do something, no matter how ultimately trite and pointless it was. You pretty much got to see just about every Shikai and Bankai ever released in the series, most of which are utilised in ways that shouldn't be that effective. Oh sure, a lot of it was awesome, but in the end they probably should have kept it a little more centralised and just ignored a few of the support characters instead of allocating screen time allotments based on character popularity surveys.
A nice piece of trivia: In Bleach, Kuchiki Byakuya is voiced by the same actor who voices Tezuka Kunimitsu from Prince of Tennis, whose catch phrase is 'Don't get careless'. Can you guess what the first thing out of Byakuya's mouth is when he turns up on the field of battle?
Shonen Jump is getting INCESTUOUS.
All of that said, the story isn't really that bad. It's a nice little tale with a glimpse into Hitsugaya's time at the academy, and there was some amusing character interaction that we wouldn't get to otherwise see. If anything, it is actually more of a character study wrapped up in a whole lot of excuses for some cool fights. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but they probably should have answered a few more questions and thrown in an extra minute or so of justification for motives and the like.
The soundtrack, fortunately, is enough to sell the movie alone. Shiro Sagisu - who also does the music for the television series - really outdid himself and created some truly awesome and atmospheric pieces. The sound effects are suped up a little as well - Bleach already has a well-established audio style, but the extra shine added to a mix created for the cinema really makes it stand out. The distinctive whoosh of Ichigo's Heaven Slice and the crackling ice of Rukia's Shikai sound really nice in Diamond Dust.
In line with the rest of the upgrades Bleach enjoyed in its transition to movie format, the animation took it up several notches as well. It's positively eye-popping in parts. You expect that in the jump to the big screen, but it wasn't just extra keyframes or more detailed backgrounds - the lighting and depth of field in particular were noticeably better, and the colours felt a lot richer. Unlike the previous Bleach film, Diamond Dust FELT like had real production values. That alone makes it worth its while for Bleach fans.
If you're not a Bleach fan, however - probably best to skip it. The whole movie is more or less an exercise in fanservice, and you probably won't be able to overlook the sketchy plot without that fondness.
On the other hand, the improvement since the last movie bodes well for the third one. Fingers crossed.
Overall score: 713,010/1,000,000