DVD Info (To be released October 2008)
Story = C-
Video = B
Audio = C
In Karakura Town, there has been a sudden outbreak of unidentifiable spirits called "blanks" (vacant souls) while in the skies of Soul Society, the real world has been reflected. A mysterious female shinigami called Senna has appeared before Ichigo along with a man named Ganryu, leading a group called the "Dark Ones". (Source: ANN)I'm watching the Bleach TV series on Adult Swim, and right now I'm into the first set of filler episodes (ie, original stories unrelated to the manga). So I'm starting to get accustomed to the idea of story arcs that don't advance the overall plot or the characters' powers. But even given that, this first Bleach movie -- which is essentially a 2-hour filler episode -- has such an uneven distribution of character development, plot development, and action that it was hard to get into; but almost makes up for it in the end by showing all the regular-series' characters at their best.
I'd read online that the movie takes place around the point where I am in the TV series (episode 67) so it shouldn't have any spoilers. And for the most part that's correct save for two things: First, when the movie starts, Ichigo and Rukia are chasing after a hollow in the World of the Living. But the last time I checked, Rukia was still in the Soul Society, and Ichigo and Renji were the only Soul Reapers hanging out on earth; so how Rukia got there I have no idea. The second thing is that near the end, during the show's climax, Rukia show's her Bankia technique which I haven't yet seen in the series.
Other than that though, everything is original to the movie. The story revolves around a plot by the villain -- an original character named Ganryu -- to destroy both the living world and the Soul Society by making the two world collide.
This is where my first issue with the movie comes into play.... The method by which this massive destruction takes place is way more complex than it needs to be. The pseudo-logic used to explain the events is clear enough to get a general understanding, but there is a ton of detail and terminology thrown at you in a short amount of time, and it seems like it is way too complicated for a simple villain-destroys-the-world story. There's an attempt to make light of this overly-complex explanation by way of some comically bad illustrations by Urahara (something that was originally done much more effectively early in the series) but I couldn't laugh too much because I was focused so much on trying to understand the explanation.
The other issue I had is with the character development. Almost all of the movie except for the final climactic battle involves Ichigo and the other new character, Senna, developing their friendship. As a result there is little action, and even less development of the other characters. The villain Ganryu is hardly ever seen until the end, and almost no time is spent on developing his personality or motivation. So even though he's the key to the events in the movie, by the end he seems like a minor character, which makes the fight between him, his minions, and the Soul Reapers not nearly as dramatic as it could have been.
The one thing that does make this movie worth watching is the grand finale, which is a non-stop Bankai-fest as each Soul Reaper displays their most powerful fighting techniques. This was especially cool when watching the movie in a theatre crowded with other Bleach fans, because as each character made their entrance, everyone in the theatre would erupt with applause.
As for the visuals and music, they were about on par with the TV series. The animation was more smooth and a bit more dynamic, but the artwork wasn't much different. And much of the music was recycled from the series.
One thing that I was especially disappointed with was that the theatre I watched it in didn't seem to have the stereo sound on, so all the sound was coming from the front. So at times you couldn't hear what the characters were saying and some of the sound effects were barely audible when they should have shaken the seats. I'm guessing that had more to do with the theatre than the movie itself, but even so, it did have a big effect on the viewing experience.
So in the end, I'd say that this isn't the greatest anime movie, and certainly isn't as good as the original TV series, but was still fun to watch in a theatre full of anime fans, and is especially crowd pleasing in it's climactic final battle scene.