So I've been watching Bleach on Adult Swim for a while now and I figured that since this is an ongoing series (122-episodes in Japan so far) I'm going to need to review it incrementally. I'm not exactly sure where one season ends and the next begins, so I'm just going to use the opening animation to judge where to cut-off my reviews. And since episode 26 started a new (and in my opinion inferior) OP, I'm going to be reviewing episodes 1-25 here. So here goes...
First I'll start out with the traditional obligatory plot description: Ichigo Kudasaki can see dead people; and as he eventually learns, the spirits of the dead can come in many forms. First you have your ordinary spirits that wander around with a broken chain sticking out their chests; then you have the giant, masked, soul-eating "Hollows"; and finally you have the Soul Reapers who are responsible for fighting the Hollows and eventually sending them to their final destination in the after-life. When Ichigo gets caught in the middle of a battle between a Hollow and a Soul Reaper named Rukia, he ends up putting his own life in danger in order to save his family. Ichigo is seriously wounded during the fight, so Rukia, in an effort to save Ichigo, decides to give him a small portion of her spirit energy. But Rukia gets more than she bargained for when Ichigo unexpectedly absorbs almost all her spirit energy and inherits her Soul Reaper powers. So now Ichigo himself is a Soul Reaper and has to take Rukia's place purifying the misguided Hollows of the world. But with Rukia's actions come drastic consequences; and when the "Soul Society" discovers what she's done, they intend for her to face the penalty for breaking their rules. But Ichigo isn't about to let the girl who saved his life be sacrificed, so, with the help of a few friends, he hatches a plan to bust into the Soul Society and break Rukia out.
That plot may sound kind of wacky, but the actual execution of the anime makes it a lot more fun and interesting to watch than that description alone might imply. And although this show has a lot going for it, for me it boils down to two general elements: balance and development. Allow to expound ... (ahem) ...
First off, like a lot of successful anime, Bleach does a great job of balancing the action, comedy, and drama. That's not always an easy job because too much action can seem shallow, while over-emphasis on drama can seem heavy-handed, and poorly timed comedy can ruin otherwise engrossing drama or action. Bleach spreads these elements out skillfully, making it fun to watch while maintaining a sense of depth in the characters and story.
While I'm on the subject of balance, the characters themselves are pretty well balanced too. It has a well-rounded cast of characters, but very few of them have polarized personalities. So there are hardly any purely evil villains or purely virtuous goody-two-shoes heroes. Most characters have multi-dimensional personalities that you can empathize with. Ichigo is probably the best example because even though he's rough around the edges, he has strong ties to his family and a strong sense of repaying his debts.
The second thing I like about Bleach is how the world gradually unfolds over the course of the series, but always maintains a certain level of mystery. As a result, I am always left anticipating the next episode because I want to learn more about the characters and the rules that govern the world. For instance, when Rukia first talks about the "Soul Society" it just seems like some mysterious concept, but gradually more and more is revealed about it until eventually you get to see the place itself. And even then there are all kind of characters and concepts to learn about that have not yet been explained. And the more I learn, the more engrossing the story becomes.
Along those same lines, I like how the characters themselves develop. Characters in episode 25 are very different people form when they were introduced back in episode 1. Characters get more powerful and mature as the story progresses. I always enjoy watching characters grow like that and it also makes me wonder how much more they are going to develop over the next 25 episodes.
The artwork and animation in are also fun to watch. I love the character designs, especially the Soul Society squad captains. I also love how each Soul Reaper has an original design and functionality to their Zanbakto sword. So whenever I see a new Soul Reaper I can't help but wonder what his his/her Zanbakto is going to be like.
The music for the show thus far is cool. The opening animation for these 25-episodes was sweet. And the soundtrack in the show itself gives the show an edgy vibe.
Now, although I like this show and it's hugely popular in the anime community, I don't think this is the kind of thing that will get non-anime fans any more thrilled about the medium. This is not a realistic drama with deep themes. Non-fans may be surprised by the depth of characterization or the level of action, but it's still essentially a fantasy adventure story and as such probably won't gain much credit from the those who prefer more plausibility in their story lines.
Nay-sayers aside though, I've been enjoying this show so far. It's fast-moving and is developing at a steady pace. Hopefully it will keep that up in the following episodes. I'm looking forward to what's going to come next.