Review for Bleach The Movie 3: Fade To Black
And so we come to our feature presentation in this grand week of Bleach Blu-rays. For the first time in the UK, the third Bleach feature film, Fade To Black is being released on both Blu-ray and DVD. At a time in the series that the storyline has fallen back on the shonen anime tropes to such a degree that character and storyline become exceedingly hard to discern, I look on the feature films as a welcome release. They are short, sharp doses of Bleach action where the story and character suddenly becomes more important than waving a sword around and announcing your latest special move at the top of your lungs. Like all the other Bleach Blu-rays this week, Fade to Black is a Kazé disc, and has already seen a Blu-ray release in Europe. Unlike those other two films however, the European release lacked English subtitles to go with the Japanese audio, which you may have noticed if you were an early importer. For this UK release then, Kazé have remastered the film for the UK market, and it now has English and Japanese audio options, although it has none of the other European options if you wanted to go exploring for other language extra features.
You'd think that a teenager's life would be complicated enough if he could speak to ghosts. But that was only the beginning for Ichigo Kurosaki. When he literally bumped into a Shinigami named Rukia Kuchiki, he was introduced to a whole new world. The Shinigami's mission is to guide forlorn spirits known as Wholes to the Soul Society, and protect them and the living from Hollows, perverted spirits that have become monsters that prey on other souls, living or dead. They are not supposed to let the living know about this supernatural world, but not only did Ichigo see Rukia, circumstances forced her to give him her powers, and train him to be a Shinigami.
Rukia's gone back to the Soul Society and left Ichigo a cryptic note. Not only can he not decipher it, but he can't even remember her, much to Kon's consternation. For while Rukia has been in the other realm, all hell has broken loose there. One of Mayuri's research projects has been subverted by a mysterious pair of siblings, who attacked him and unleashed a flood of spiritual energy that has destroyed half the Seireitei, and spread through the Soul Society, petrifying all who are caught in its path. Under cover of this, the mysterious boy and girl have attacked Rukia and captured her, erasing her memory and erasing her existence from the memories of everyone who once held her dear.
That's except for Ichigo, whose dreams give him a stark reminder of the oddball girl who saved his life, and started him on the path of becoming a Soul Reaper. The next day he and Kon pay a visit to Uruhara's shop, first to remind him of Rukia, and to ask his help in finding out what has happened to her. That means going back to the Soul Society. What Ichigo finds there is complete mayhem. The Soul Reapers are trying to respond to the unprovoked attack on them, and what's more, none of them remembers Rukia, or the Substitute Soul Reaper she recruited. In fact, they see Ichigo, his Captain level powers, and his Visored form as the very enemy that was responsible for the attack. So not only must Ichigo find Rukia, he has to stay free of the other Soul Reapers who are trying to capture him long enough to do so. Meanwhile, the siblings have plans for Rukia, and a deep abiding hatred of the Shinigami which is yet to unleash its final fury on the Soul Society.
Bleach the Movie 3: Fade to Black gets the best video transfer of all three Bleach films released on Blu-ray this week. The 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer is just as you would expect for a theatrical feature, while the animation gets a theatrical quality upgrade. The character designs get a sharper, better defined, and starker visual look to them, making them a lot more atmospheric and appealing than the television animation, and indeed the previous film. There's just a touch of Redline to the feel of the character designs this time around, which certainly draws the attention. Also the world designs and backgrounds offer more that take advantage of the higher resolution. Finally, the animation itself is a lot more fluid and expressive, living up to the film's theatrical status. It's certainly an improvement over the second feature, which disappointed in this regard.
On this disc, the audio options are for DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Japanese, with player locked translated subtitles or a signs only track, depending on which language option you choose. You can change the audio through the popup menu, but there's no way of turning the subtitles off completely, or selecting English subtitles with the English dub if you are hard of hearing and prefer English audio. That's the usual Kazé complaint out of the way, otherwise the audio is very robust, an excellent surround track that enhances the action sequences in this film no end, and makes full use of the soundstage. Just the dynamism of the audio during Ichigo's dream sequence is evidence enough of that. Also, Fade to Black's music is sufficiently epic in feel for the theatrical scope, and you really appreciate the emotion of the storyline as a result.
The film gets presented with a nice animated menu, but is otherwise free of extra features. The US Blu-ray only got an image gallery, so it doesn't seem like a significant loss.
Why are the Bleach movies so good? It's cause for a lot of head scratching for me, as I've become increasingly jaded with the ongoing television series. Yet with all the issues I have with that, none of those feelings are ever assigned to the movies, which, as mere spin-offs from the show, you'd expect would be quick cash-ins to extend the merchandising, much in the same way that the Naruto movies have turned out to be. But on the contrary, the thought and effort that goes into the Bleach movies far outweighs that spent on the television series, or indeed the original manga. The first film, Memories of Nobody, is one of my favourite anime movies full stop, while the second film, while not as satisfying in terms of narrative, certainly had an epic and character focused scope to it. With the third movie, Fade to Black, the Bleach movies kick back up a gear, to deliver an engaging and emotionally involving theatrical experience that makes you care about the characters once more. In that respect it approaches the experience delivered by the first feature film. I have to say that Fade to Black is one of the more appealing anime features released in recent years, certainly when you think of films that are spun-off existing franchises as happens more and more often these days.
This time Bleach takes a leaf from It's A Wonderful Life as its starting point, positing a world where Rukia in effect never existed. Of course the emotional links she has to people are a little fewer, and this isn't about looking at the world significantly altered by her absence, rather than the effect her absence has on others. Fade to Black offers the idea that the bonds of memory are as nothing compared to the bonds of the soul, and that Ichigo will do whatever it takes to find Rukia again. The film also lets us take a fresh look at the Soul Society, as without Rukia's presence, no one recognises Ichigo either, and he has to once again face the various Captains and Lieutenants of the Soul Society anew, to convince them he's a friend, and convince them that Rukia really exists. This is also the first movie where Kon, the little substitute soul inhabiting a teddy bear gets a significant role, although he's the only one of the regular Living World cast regulars that does. There's no Orihime, Chad or Uryu in this movie. The byplay between Ichigo and Kon adds a lot of humour to the film, and balances the more tragic storyline.
That's the storyline of Rukia's past, and how it relates to the siblings that have abducted her. If there is a weak spot to the film, it's the nameless brother and sister that spark off all the mayhem. It's by the very nature of the film's storyline that they don't have a back story, and their characters don't grow much beyond the quiet scythe wielding brother, and vengeful sister, at least not until the film's bittersweet ending. Of course knowing who they are prior to that would spoil the film, but the downside of that is that they never get the same development that Senna got in the first film, and we as the audience just can't relate to them. Fortunately this film is more about reaffirming the relationship between Ichigo and Rukia, and as such that is where the strength of the film's emotional arc focuses. Still, it's hard not to get a lump in the throat at the conclusion of the story, when all is finally revealed.
I know it's never going to happen, but I wish that the Bleach series would take a leaf from the Bleach movies in the way that it tells its story and develops its characters. Fade to Black is an entertaining and engaging entry into the Bleach canon. Not only does it have more action and excitement than you can wave an unfeasibly large sword at, but it tells a neat and concise story in its 93 minute runtime, and it makes you care about, and empathise with the characters in a way that the series never does. If you're a Bleach fan, you have to get this movie, which on Blu-ray is the best looking of the three films released this week. If you're not a fan, then Bleach the Movie 3: Fade to Black works well enough as a standalone effort to make it worth a rent at least.