‘Bleach: The Diamond Dust Rebellion’: The Trials of Toushiro and Why I Watch
Being a Philosopher, I see Philosophy everywhere and talk
about it all the time. But sometimes I am surprised by where I find it and in
what abundance. And rarely do I find in one body of work ideals that cover Aristotle’s
thoughts on friendship and justice (Nicomachean
Ethics), Confucius’ ideas of Right Association (Great Learning), Kant’s Deontological Ethics (law, duty, rules) of
the Categorical Imperative (universal laws without exceptions), and the Rule
Utilitarianism perpetuated by Sidgwick (merciful exceptions in extraordinary
circumstances) and embedded in our seminal national documents via Jefferson and
his cohorts, and even Plato’s The Republic.
Plus there are the metaphysical ideas such as how does memory define and/or
reveal us (a la Locke, Hume —
respectively) and how do the dead live on? Amazingly enough, it’s all in this cartoon
The Japanese franchise that is Bleach is vast: 40+ volumes of manga, 2 character books (Souls translated, Vibe not), one art book (All
Colour But the Black), 249+ episodes of anime, 2 OVAs, 3 movies, 4 rock
musicals and 2 Live Bankai shows, many
soundtrack and character CDs, 3+ video games for the Nintendo DS and Sony Wii,
and more merchandise than you can shake a Zanpakutou
at. And it is now a bonafide phenomenon in the US, as well, with 167 dubbed
episodes aired and 109 episodes, up to the first half of season 4: The Bounts,
released in deluxe DVD boxed sets, thanks to the folks at Cartoon Network and
Funimation, with 29 volumes of Tite Kubo’s (story and art) manga in English
from Viz Media and Shonen Jump where
it is serialized and translated, and 2 of the 3 movies now out on DVD here in
On a holiday break from new episodes since Thanksgiving
between seasons 8 and 9, CN gave the US premiere of the 2nd movie: The Diamond Dust Rebellion (2007) on Adult
Swim on 12/5, and the 2-disc DVD with subbed and dubbed versions and some cute
little extras (including original trailers, behind-the-scenes, and an English
version of the Japanese movie premiere program booklet) was released in
September here in the States. It has not had any screenings in US theatres,
unlike the 1st movie, Memories
of Nobody (2006), which had special NY screenings of the dubbed and subbed
versions 6/11-12/08. The 3rd movie, Fade to Black, I Call Your Name, which premiered in Japan last
December, is not yet available legally in the States, dubbed, subbed, or
otherwise. The story told in DDR takes place after episode 167. The various
anime writers’ attention to detail and continuities in this vast and ever-expanding
universe is amazing. You will see tiny important details from this movie’s
story played out in later episodes that involve these characters. The Soul
Society is a busy place, full of conflict, most of the time being caused by
choices from its past coming back to haunt it.
Aristotle says that everything is relational and that all relationships are friendships of one kind or another, from your mother to your merchant, and that our relationships build and reveal our character. This is paralleled by Confucius’ instructions for gentlemen. Good friends build good society. This story begins and continues with friendship. My friends had taken me, uninitiated, to the screening event of the first movie and I did, indeed, enjoy it. It intrigued me, this notion of a high school Scooby Gang with some emerging special powers, all of whom had suffered some great trauma and loss (usually in the form of dead parents or other elders, as we see in many Western fairy tales and Disney movies), but who uphold and each other. They encounter dead souls who are sort of samurai exorcists, maintaining the balance of souls between the World of the Living and the Soul Society (world of the dead, quasi-Edo Japan, the Tokugawa era, 1603-1868) vs. the Hollows of Hueco Mundo (devouring souls), along with the ethical questions of good and evil and justice-restitution-vengeance, plus the ontological questions of life and death and what makes a person a person. Shiro Sagisu’s score is an engaging mix of rock and classical, the character design interesting and not cloyingly kawaii (cute), the action more than just about sword fights and monsters, appealing voice actors giving great performances in both the Japanese and English versions, nice scenery design and direction, and good storytelling that has really deep characterization in a compact space (the movies are 90 min., most episodes are about 20, about 15-20 episodes per season).
But I wasn’t really sucked in until I started watching season 6 on CN this past year, after the Bounts filler arc (not in the manga). The storyteller in me was getting annoyed with my knowledge gaps, so I went online to watch the streamed episodes of the whole run of the series thus far (www.hulu.com, www.animelime.com, www.one-bleach.blogspot.com). And they had me. And then I discovered a whole community of Bleach fans everywhere I went. Wear a chibi pin of one of the 13 Court Guards Squad Captains or their Lieutenants on your jacket and perfect strangers will just talk to you. Quite remarkable. Relationships born.
Why do I watch? Because this show is so unabashedly human. All the characters, of all ages – alive, dead, good, evil, and in-between, born or created – are characters of the heart. Relational. We know them. We are them. And they speak on iconic and fundamental levels head-on and unflinchingly about things like death, loss, suffering, struggle, self, family, friendship, feelings, traditions, right and wrong, law and order, and what matters, with this unrelenting, gritty hope.
Kurosaki Ichigo could see dead people as long as he can recall and, though a top freshman at Karakura Town High School (typical Tokyo suburb), he tended to get into a lot of fights. But his innate passion for justice does not allow him to say “no” to anyone in trouble – and he inspires others to do likewise. He is a leader. His mom died protecting him from a Hollow when he was 5 and he blames himself because he could not protect her, leaving his dad (Isshin, a doctor) and younger twin sisters (Karin, Yuzu) to continue on without this cheerful glue that held the family together. When one day another Hollow shows up near his home, along with a young woman he’d never met before, Kuchiki Rukia, a Soul Reaper (shinigami) from the Soul Society, she gives him her powers to save both of them when she’s injured in the battle and can’t continue – a violation punishable by death in her world. But she couldn’t leave him to be devoured and he wouldn’t leave her or his family. Sometimes, reasonably, compassion and necessity outweigh rules (Sidgwick). And so their fates become forever intertwined in this totentanz that is always about life. Kurosaki saves both of them and resolves to get stronger in order to protect everyone he loves, including his “precious” friends. And so, through many battles, he becomes a substitute shinigamiwhilst still living and, with the help of all his precious friends and the eventual cooperation and respect of the captains and cohorts, helps to rescue Rukia from execution and save the Soul Society from the first of many major crises, including the defection of 3 captains lead by their 5th Squad Captain, the best bad guy ever, Aizen Sosuke. Aizen is a true Lucifer in all his glory, who vows to go to Hueco Mundo, build an invincible army of Hollows with shinigami powers, destroy the Soul Society, and “stand in Heaven” to fill the gap there – even the bad guys do nothing alone. He was their best of the best – gentle, tall, beautiful, powerful, brilliant, talented, a perfect gentleman, loved and admired by all – and utterly deceitful and manipulative and cool from the git-go (he had me fooled! – like his lieutenant, Hinamori, Toushiro’s adopted sister). Along with his perfect henchmen, the prodigy 3rd Squad Captain Ichimaru Gin (the foxy-faced smiling one) and the blind justice-via-path-of-least-blood seeking 9th Squad Captain Tosen Kaname, they wreak havoc – old vows and relationships are broken for new ones on both sides, one forsaking love for power, one seeking justice. Ichigo even wrestles with his wild powers that combine those of the shinigami and the Hollows, pushing his human self to near madness, and gains his full powers from his bankai Zanpakutou (soul slayer sword, manifestation of his own soul) – Zangetsu – in 3 days (instead of 10 years), with the help of his friends, and still tries to lead a normal life, for justice, family, friendship. And, in Aristotelian fashion, we see every sort of friendship possible in this world – from those between equals to those in hierarchy, based upon love and common goals and values. Aristotle says that if all bring their best to the table, then a friendship is, in that sense, equal, even if it’s between a king and a peasant, and so entirely possible. Aristotle and Plato were no fans of democracy as we know it, their ideal being the educated, gifted, and generous philosopher-king ruling for the sake of the people, for the best Good of all. His shadow side is the tyrant, who uses people for their own ends, instead of serving them. We see both in Bleach – Yamamoto vs. Aizen.
To be continued…The Academy and its Legacy.