I’ve had a couple of reviews out at Manga Recon over the past couple of days. First of all, I wrote a full review of the first volume of Yen Press’ Pig Bride which I enjoyed quite a bit, though I’m not at all sure where it’s headed. I look forward to reading the second volume.
My colleague at Manga Recon, Isaac Hale, wrote a review of volumes 24 & 25, pointing out several of the series’ major flaws, all of which I actually agree with, at least one some level. Yet even some of those things inspire contradictory emotions in me when I really consider them.
Yes, the series is formulaic–so much so that I no longer have a shred of fear that any of my favorite characters could actually *die*, and I know that even when they’ve lost a fight, they’ll come back after they’ve powered up and defeat the enemy in the end. I even know that there’s no point in truly hating any enemy, because eventually I’ll be given their backstory and be swayed to change my mind. Still, the story is well-told enough that I want to watch these things play out. I want to go through the angst-filled battles, endless training sessions, and monologues about the importance of protecting one’s friends, because somewhere there is still a dramatic payoff that I’ve experienced before and I’m desperate to reach again–an area in which the series has never failed me so far.
Yes, the series is sexist. Women are portrayed as strong subordinates but are rarely in command, and the fanservice is fairly blatant (though no more so than in most shonen series). Yet, one of the biggest draws of the series for me is its women. Orihime and Rukia are easily my favorite characters, and one of the greatest pleasures of the series for me has been watching their personal stories unfold. They are both strong, well-developed characters, neither of whom is defined solely (or even primarily) by her relationships with men, despite the fact that they are both potential love interests for the series’ male lead. Has Rukia been played as the damsel in distress? Yes. But she’s also been the rescuer on plenty of occasions, and has kicked some serious ass. And Orihime, well, I think her role is so much richer than damsel or hero, and the story has only begun to explore her extraordinary worth. It’s easy to look at Soul Reaper politics (or even just Matsumoto’s character design) and cry “sexism!” and you wouldn’t be wrong, but the depth and complexity given to the story’s primary female characters is actually pretty fantastic. I’d go so far as to say that I think Orihime is the best-written character in the series, which is surprising to me in this kind of story.
At the end of his review, Isaac said, “Even though I have big problems with Bleach as you can see, I still recommend the series,” and I suppose I’m just saying the same thing, though perhaps with a bit more conviction. I think I’d add, too, that the potential problems I might have with Bleach are products of the genre more than anything else, and I think the crossover appeal of the series suggests that Bleach provides more than what is necessarily expected. After all, a shonen battle manga is not written for me by any stretch of the imagination, and yet I’ve been hooked on its story from the beginning and still am, 27 volumes in. No, I don’t follow the series with the same rabid love as I do NANA, xxxHolic, or even another shonen series, Fullmetal Alchemist, and I don’t go into it expecting to find the same depth as I would in Mushishi, Pluto, Solanin, or even Detroit Metal City. Yet I keep on reading and keep on enjoying. Surely that’s worth something.