Like most shonen animes, Bleach had feature film spinoffs during its run. Most film spinoffs of anime aren’t really well thought of. For shonen, it’s mainly seen as a cash-grab, offering up a chance to see the characters you already know and are invested in partake in a self-contained adventure that, in the series proper, will never be mentioned again. Add to that, a lot of shonen films are produced rather fast and tend not to run that long. For example, most Dragon Ball Z movies tend to be about an hour because they were produced as part of a double feature for kids released in summer in Japan and came out on a yearly basis.
If not stand-alone adventures, then most tie-in anime films tend to be side stories, like the two movies made for both versions of FullMetal Alchemist. The first Bleach film, Memories of Nobody, is a little bit of both. Released in 2006, it’s stand-alone, with the end making it clear that this won’t affect the show. It’s also a side story, as it clearly takes place at some point after the Soul Society arc. (I’m not going to try and slot this into the series’ timeline because that would be nuts.) With those qualifications, it’s still an engaging story in its own right.
In the Research and Development Institute in Soul Society, a lieutenant in the 12th Division enters and asks a technician what the status is of the space that’s developed between the human world and the world of Soul Society. The technician replies that the space–another dimension–is about to be investigated by troops from the Onmitsukido, the military branch of Soul Society. One of the troops then signals the Institute, saying the exit from the Dangai–the dangerous dimension that allows travel between worlds–has been sealed. The Institute says that they’ll send backup, but as they prepare to do so, the troops start screaming and, as the technicians listen in horror, are all killed by some unseen force.
Meanwhile in the human world, at a park on a beautiful fall day, a ghost runs through the trees, followed by a giant Hollow that the humans around can, of course, hear but not see. Ichigo (Masakazu Morita) and Rukia (Fumiko Orikasa), with Kon (Mitsuaki Madono) in tow, run up. Ichigo changes into his Soul Reaper film and dispatches the Hollow pretty easily. More than anything, this is a showcase for the improved, feature-length budget animation. This fight scene is awesome; the look is stunning, the action is crisp and it’s propulsive, which carries over to the rest of the film.
After the ghost is purified and sent to Soul Society and a good gag where Ichigo’s careless discarding of his body while in Soul Reaper form leads to paramedics performing CPR on his seemingly lifeless corpse, Rukia receives a message from Soul Society about what seems to be a huge infestation of Hollows. They head to the location and switch to Soul Reaper mode, but see nothing but mysterious white creatures roaming around.
Ichigo tries to purify one but it doesn’t work and the creatures start swarming him and Rukia. Just then, a mysterious girl appears, changes into a Soul Reaper and starts cutting down the creatures left and right. Kon, meanwhile, is in Ichigo’s body trying to avoid the creatures when he suddenly sees a strange man in armor. The girl finishes off the creatures by rising into the air in a tornado and unleashing her Zanpakuto, lands, then turns into a human and prepares to leave.
Ichigo and Rukia stop her, confused as to who she is. If she’s a Soul Reaper, Rukia wonders why she hasn’t seen her before. The girl (Chiwa Saito) simply says that she’s a Reaper, says her name is Senna and dashes off. Meanwhile in Soul Society, a large portal appears in the sky showing the human world, something that’s not supposed to happen.
Who is Senna? What are those white things? Who did Kon see? And how does this all tie back to the space between worlds? Memories of Nobody answers all these questions in a perfunctory, crisp fashion–the better to get to the fighting–but it doesn’t skip out on making sure all threads are connected.
The amount of new characters and information introduced could easily have filled an arc of the show. To his credit, writer makes it all understandable, mostly thanks to a helpful, funny montage from Urahara, and coherent. Additionally, the relationship that develops between Ichigo and Senna over the course of the film is pretty special, and what ultimately happens to Senna at the end of the film is touching and effective. Bleach creator Tite Kubo actually wrote the story for this and all the other Bleach films–a rarity with anime adaptations of manga in general, let alone movie spinoffs–and his presence and weight is felt in the way things come together.
Series director Noriyuki Abe knows he has a bigger budget here and he uses it. The characters pop with life, the animation gets stunning at moments, and the Bankai and Shikai attacks are amazing, particularly Hitsugaya’s (Romi Park). Rukia even unleashes her Zanpakuto during the final fight here and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it at all; it’s a welcome addition.
Shiro Sagisu’s musical score, however, is a bit of a disappointment. Most of it is recycled straight from the show and what new portions of the score there are are weird. There’s an operatic theme, complete with soprano, that plays during a scene with Ichigo and Senna and it’s very ill-fitting and out of place.
The cast continues to sell it, with Morita, Orikasa and the rest doing excellent work as usual. But it’s Saito who makes the strongest impression here. Making a viewer of an established series care about a new character over all the other ones, particularly in a movie that won’t have any effect on the show proper, is really hard to do and she pulls it off with a mix of quirk and pathos. I observed while watching this film with a friend that, essentially, Senna is a Manic Pixie Soul Reaper, and he agreed. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself and the way Senna is pulled off here is good.
So despite the weak music, this film is good overall. If you’re a Bleach fan, you’re gonna find something to enjoy. I know I did. Even if this is ultimately disposable, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a good time while watching it.
(All images courtesy of Bleach Wiki.)