Bleach 01: The Substitute features the first four episodes of the anime and covers the origin of its main characters, Ichigo Kurosaki and Rukia, as well as setting up many of the elements that build up the show’s general plot.
Ichigo is your typical 15-year old boy whose only outstanding features are his unusual orange hair and ability to see ghosts. Though Ichigo comes off as a gruff anti-hero, his soft side is apparent from the beginning and ties into his motivation when carrying on with a job he doesn’t particularly want.
In the first episode, an evil spirit known as a Hollow threatens Ichigo’s family, leading him to “borrow” power from a Soul Reaper named Rukia. He ends up taking more power than Rukia intended to give him, saddling him with Rukia’s job of destroying Hollows and helping spirits move on to the Soul Society. In the second episode, Ichigo makes it clear that he doesn’t want the power or responsibilities that go with it, but at the same time he can’t ignore people who are in trouble. The final two episodes are part of a story arc where Ichigo must finally come to terms with his duties when someone close to him is threatened by a Hollow whose identity hits a little too close to home.
Again, Bleach comes off as just another action cartoon. What helps to make the show so appealing, at least for me, is the dynamic created by its characters. Though it has its serious side, the show still knows when to poke fun at itself, such as a running-gag involving Rukia using childish drawings to explain all things spirit related. Even more appealing is that all of the characters come off as normal and have real problems. Ichigo is a normal kid who is forced to take on a responsibility he really doesn’t want. At the same time, Rukia is used to being strong and self-reliant, but is placed in the role of cheerleader while Ichigo does her job for her.
Both the English and Japanese voice tracks are included, though there isn’t much difference between the two. When it comes to dubs, most actors seem to overplay the role or at least miss what makes that character unique. Both tracks are spot on and come off with the same sense of energy.
When it comes to extras, Bleach features previews of other Viz productions as well as a preview of the Bleach manga, an art gallery and version of the ending without the credits.
One of the few flaws with the set is that it only contains four episodes, making it feel more like a sampler than a full volume. Thankfully, Viz has been good about putting new volumes out every two months. Still, including the first eight episodes from the first minor story arc would have been ideal since they really give you a sense of what the show is about.
Regardless of episode count, if you’re up for a fun, action-oriented anime with characters that matter, Bleach 01: The Substitute is worth a look.