Kubo, Tite. Bleach. VIZ Media LLC, 2008. 191 pages. Tr. $19.99, ISBN: 978-1421525761
Plot: Ichigo Kurosaki, a.k.a. “Strawberry” for his naturally red hair, is just an average 16-year-old kid whose father runs a local clinic, except he can see ghosts. He sometimes avenges their deaths by going after their murderers. Rough and wild yet soft-hearted down deep, Ichigo lives with his father and siblings; his mother died years ago. One night, Ichigo spies a girl in his house wearing a kimono and carrying a long sword. No one else can see her because she is a soul reaper, a spirit who releases “Hollows” by killing them and setting their souls free. Hollows are hideous monsters, the deformed lost souls who attack ghosts and humans and devour them to become whole. Ichigo and the soul reaper/girl, Rukia Kuchiki, barely introduce themselves before Ichigo’s family is attacked, drawing him into a very dangerous world when Rukia tries to give him some of her powers and ends up giving him almost all of them. Now, killing the Hollows is his responsibility and Rukia acts as his guide.
Ichigo saves a ghost child and the girl who has a crush on him from “Hollows,” and each battle becomes more and more emotionally complex, as he realizes that the Hollows are real people who have died and not just monsters.
Critical Evaluation: This collection of seven installments of the series is visually arresting and full of action. Kubo is a highly skilled artist, but he has some interesting quirks, such as an occasionally shifting visual style and post-modern comments on the form – such as the final page revealing a girl sitting in a chair, making a comment about waiting for a character, with an arrow and the words “how clichéd.” Also, Rukia bones up on human culture by reading a horror comic and Ichigo mocks her for it. These sly takes add a different dimension to the stories. The care and artistry that goes into each panel is obvious; Kubo plays with negative space and angles in very interesting ways. The characters have an ornery depth to them, with Ichigo’s tough exterior housing a good heart, Rukia is a tough warrior, and the back and forth banter between the two is always amusing. Ichigo hit gold with Bleach, and it’s not a surprise. The monsters are terrifying, the drawings are visceral yet elegant, and the story pits a prescient teen against some very powerful cosmic forces. Comic book and graphic novel fans will be hooked immediately, but this series might draw in first-time comic book readers and make them serious fans.
Reader’s Annotation: Ichigo sees ghosts all the time, but when he sees a gorgeous girl in a kimono wielding a long sword, he is drawn into a world of soul-eating monsters who attack humans and innocent ghosts alike. Will he take on the tasks put before him?
Author bio: Hiroshima native Noriaki “Tite” Kubo is one of the most famous manga artists in the world. He grew up in Hiroshima, Japan, reading Masami Kurumada’s “Saint Seiya” manga series and never looked back.
His career began when he submitted his work to Shonen Jump in 1996. Initially, the editors passed on Bleach, but then they changed their minds and decided to publish it. Now, Kubo is an international manga star. He focuses on character when he is doing his work, and he lets that dictate the plot. When he made an appearance at the 2008 Comic-Con, he was treated like a celebrity.
Genre: Manga – comic book.
Curriculum Ties: N/A
Focus on the artwork, perhaps use a visual to show the graphics. Do a projection; don’t try to use the book.
Discuss Ichigo’s confusion as he steps into a very important role that he never wanted to have. You can do a little teaser about the love triangle in the book, which is always fun! The “rival” girls are opposites: one is sweet and ditzy and has a serious crush on him, the other is serious and a killer and she’s always arguing or baiting Ichigo.
Focus on Ichigo’s character: tough yet sensitive, a monster-killer with morals that sometimes get in the way of his effectiveness.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+
Challenge Issues: There is definitely the possibility of a challenge with these – it’s got profanity, sexual content, and violence.
You could talk about the deeper content of the book, which is about a moral code and a character compelled to help people and try to protect them. It was one of YALSA’s popular paperbacks for young adults in 2009 and the series has been positively reviewed in the School Library Journal.
Why Included: My manga-loving students consider it one of the very best and I loved the cover artwork.