Tite Kubo’s Bleach Volume 1: Strawberry and the Soul Reapers

Tite Kubo’s Bleach is a wildly popular manga and anime series (which was initially rejected when Kubo offered it to his publisher) that went on for 74 volumes of the collected manga and 300 episodes of the anime before Kubo finally called it quits. It’s also one of the most imaginative series I’ve seen.

Ichigo Kurosaki sees ghosts. He’s always been able to, but it hasn’t really affected his life much. Then he meets Rukia Kuchiki, a Soul Reaper, who’s looking for a Hollow, a lost soul who eats the souls of the newly dead and the living. Rukia’s having some trouble, though — somewhere there’s a very strong source of spirit energy that’s blocking the traces of the Hollow. And then the Hollow becomes very obvious: it’s attacking Ichigo’s family. It seems Hollows are attracted by sources of spirit energy, and the strongest source of spirit energy around is — you guessed it — Ichigo. In the ensuing battle, Rukia is injured and tries to give Ichigo some of her powers to continue the fight. He takes all of them: Ichigo is, like it or not, now a Soul Reaper.

This is flat-out shounen manga (“manga for boys”), action adventure almost from the first page. In fact, the action does start on the first page, as Ichigo takes out a group of delinquents who have knocked over an offering he left on the street to the ghost of a child. It’s quite obvious that even though Ichigo is a skinny fifteen-year-old, he’s not someone you want to mess with. And this scene also gives a good insight into the kind of guy Ichigo is: he’s a tough kid, spiky and confrontational, with a streak of compassion a mile wide. Ironically, one of his major conflicts in this first volume is accepting the idea that he has to deal with all ghosts, both Hollows and Wholes, now that he has a Soul Reaper’s power. (As a point of information, Wholes are just normal ghosts, whom Soul Reapers help to pass on to the Soul Society — call it the “Otherworld.”)

We also meet Ichigo’s friends, some of whom are going to become players as the series progresses. There’s Orihime, one of those over-developed school girls who is also something of an airhead and has a passion for sweet bean paste. And Chad, a great hulk of a boy who likes cute things — in one story, he adopts a parakeet that happens to hold the soul of a little boy. And of course, there’s Ichigo’s family: his father, who is somewhat off the wall, and his sisters Yuzu and Karin, both of whom can see ghosts, sort of, although Karin insists that if she just sticks with deep denial, they’ll go away.

As you might expect with a cast like this, dialogue is sharp and snappy, and the stories move along pretty quickly. The drawing and layouts are pretty much straight shounen, frame follows frame, but they maintain the narrative flow quite nicely. Action sequences — and there are many — are relatively clear. Characters are quite clearly differentiated, very individual, quirky, and engaging. Oddly enough for shounen manga, which tends to concentrate on the adventure, this one is carried by the characters — they are sharp, highly individual, and engaging. And some of them are downright weird.

Fair warning: this volume will suck you right in, and as I mentioned, it ran to 74 before Kubo ended it. Be perpared for the long haul.

You might also want to check out the anime series and the feature films based on the manga series, of which Memories of Nobody is the first.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the title — “Ichigo” can be translated as “strawberry”, a reference to Ichigo’s hair.

(VIZ Media, 2004)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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