Book Review: Bleach Volume 55 by Tite Kubo

Book Review: Bleach Volume 55 by Tite Kubo

PERSONAL NOTE: My new graphic novel Hazel is out right now, and I’d be honored if you considered picking up a copy!

Spoiler free summary: In Volume 55 of Bleach by Tite Kubo, things seem pretty peaceful until the Soul Society personnel start going missing. Whatever is going on, it’s starting to affect Ichigo and his friends.

Character: Already we see these characters starting to flesh out much more than in the last arc. There’s more compelling mystery and more emotional context that while equally sudden from the last arc, is still somehow more powerful because we have a deeper connection to the history of the arc.

Exposition: This is hard to gauge for me because this whole arc bleeds together. There are some blocks here that explain the previously mentioned context, but I don’t honestly know which volume had those blocks. While noticeable, the exposition wasn’t exactly offensive.

Worldbuilding: This volume sets up a deeper history of Soul Society and finally connects to information teased in the much more popular Aizen arc. At this point, we’re only getting set up data, but it promises rewards that are far more satisfying than the previous arc.

Dialogue: I think most of the dialogue in Bleach is more about “Behold my super ability!” than anything that develops character. At its best, Bleach has truly touching lines that make it easy to bond with the characters. At its worst, the series (and this volume) is full of data dumping that at least sets up the threat of the upcoming arc.

Description: As far as set-up volumes go, the art in this volume is better than some. The settings really give the Soul Society a sense of depth that activates the imagination. No, there aren’t a lot of cool fight scenes, but there are several great spreads of art that reveal the technology and culture of that world.

Overall: I honestly felt like I earned the right to read this arc because I soldiered through the previous one. This means I was so excited to start this arc that my self-hype could possibly elevate my opinion. However, I was far more invested in the history and lore of Soul Society than that of Fullbringers. It may have been clunky, but this volume sets up a wonderfully action-packed saga (even if it’s undercut a bit by some of the things that happen).

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Bleach Volume 54 by Tite Kubo

Book Review: Bleach Volume 54 by Tite Kubo

PERSONAL NOTE: My new graphic novel Hazel is out right now, and I’d be honored if you considered picking up a copy!

Spoiler free summary: In Volume 54 of Bleach by Tite Kubo, Ichigo has his powers back, but the looming secret behind Kugo’s past and the role of a substitute soul reaper present a test that might lead him to doubt the soul society.

Character: I think the author was trying to establish Ichigo as one who stands by his convictions and beliefs. The problem is, we already knew that about him. So the story lost interest for me because there was this “shocking” plot reveal, and Ichigo kind of shrugged at it. Yeah, it’s cool seeing Ichigo say he’s all in no matter what, but given there was not even any sort of doubt or real apparent test of his philosophy, it fell short.

Exposition: I don’t really remember any exposition here. The dialogue covered most of the data (more on that below). Here, the dialogue and action carried this volume.

Worldbuilding: I mentioned this plot reveal last week. It closed a gap that we saw happen very early in the series, but it wasn’t the real question mark I was looking for. Sure, it expanded the world of the series, but it at least gave us something.

Dialogue: While it’s true that the dialogue was the plot device used to drive this story, it wasn’t unnatural even though it was unsatisfying. To me, this felt like, “I am your father.” Only this time, Luke shrugged and said, “Maybe, but I’m still fighting for the rebellion.” So I’m divided on my feelings in this matter. It wasn’t bad dialogue, but it was probably not great writing.

Description: This is the end of this arc. The fight scenes are good. The art is good. The visuals are satisfying. The cool fight scenes really drive an arc that was essentially thrown in to get Ichigo back in the fight.

Overall: I think I hit the nail on the head in the last section. This arc felt very forced to me. Everything was driven at getting Ichigo back at it, and every interesting plot element was literally slashed aside by Ichigo. It does the job in that it gets Ichigo in position, but that’s literally all it does.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Bleach Volume 53 by Tite Kubo

Book Review: Bleach Volume 53 by Tite Kubo

PERSONAL NOTE: My new graphic novel Hazel is out right now, and I’d be honored if you considered picking up a copy!

Spoiler free summary: In Volume 53 of Bleach by Tite Kubo, Ichigo has reached his lowest point, but some old friends return to hel out. They also bring with him a true return to the fight, which was brought by scheming and betrayal. Does he still have the will to win?

Character: So the character and worldbuilding sort of tie together in this volume. Also, a few of my favorite characters are back, and they easily make this volume fun to read. If the payment for the action in this volume is the redundant story arc from the previous ones, I’m at least willing (if begrudgingly) to pay. The character development belongs to the Fullbringers though. We learn a lot about them through these fights.

Exposition: There is probably less in this volume than in the others, which is true of action volumes (volumes that are more about the fight than plot). There’s the usual explanation of, “Look at see why my ability is so horrifying!” However, that’s about the long and short of it.

Worldbuilding: Here, as we learn about the Fullbringers and their pasts, we also learn about the lore of the Soul Society and some history about substitute soul reapers. This is the interesting part about the arc and it helps set the stage for the final arc of the series. It’s great that the world is deeper; it really is, but that depth comes with little context, and that diminishes the impact of the revelations in this and future volumes. One on hand, I think, “That’s pretty cool,” but I don’t have an emotional connection to the world and these particular characters, so it’s cool, but not emotionally valuable.

Dialogue: This is pretty much on par with the other volumes. Ichigo: “We fight to protect, and I’m on team Soul Society!” Bad guys: “Soul Society is bad, and we support this cause! Behold my ultimate power.” Ichigo shrugs and goes ultra mode. Conversation over. Butt-whooping to commence.

Description: The fight scenes are well rendered. The action sequences here would translate better to anime. I keep hearing that these are being adapted to animation, but I don’t really know. If these are coming, would you let me know. The plot isn’t as wonderful, but the fight scenes should be entertaining to watch.

Overall: If your favorite things about Bleach are the fights, this volume gives you what you’ve been waiting for. What we have in some 40-something volumes of buildup for Aizen’s arc, we get some 10 volumes that lead to a reasonable plot twist that lacks any sense of danger. However, if you’re just here for the cool fighting, then sit down and enjoy!

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Bleach Volume 51 by Tite Kubo

Book Review: Bleach Volume 51 by Tite Kubo

Spoiler free summary: In Volume 51 of Bleach by Tite Kubo, Ichigo Kurosaki is quickly getting the hang of his Fullbring powers, but it’s a race against time as Tsukishima is targeting Ichigo. He’s apparently attacked at least two of his friends, so Ichigo needs to gain more power quickly before he’s too late.

Character: If you can get past the fact that this feels very much like Ichigo’s training as a Visard, you get to know these characters. Yes, the formula is yawn-worthy familiar, but at least you’re getting to know knew people and what drives them. I will say you get to connect with them, and that’s something to this volume’s credit.

Exposition: This was better than the last volume. There’s more action (not in terms of a fight, but in terms of training). So the conversations add to the context, but it’s just about what it would be with any manga, so one has to let that sort of thing go.

Worldbuilding: So we start to understand Fullbring a bit more. Because this feels so much like the Visard arc, even though we’re understanding a different ability, it doesn’t feel unique at all.

Dialogue: There’s some cute dialogue here and there. The characters are unique, but this is generally a strength of the series (even with the exception of the last issue). All manga tend to have those occasional volumes where one character or another explains pretty much the plot of the entire arc. This volume is more witty banter between punches, which is fun if not really content adding.

Description: The art here is cool. It’s not as sweepingly majestic as Demon Slayer, but it is pretty cool to watch. A lot of the moves are more effective for black and white, and that says something for the series.

Overall: This volume is sort of more on track with what I said about the arc overall. Like I mentioned in the character setting, this sequence of events was so formulaically like the Visard arc, it buried what might be great characters. In future arcs, there were some changes and plot development that, even if it is still true to the basic anime patter, give the events an original feel. Not so with this volume. It’s cool in a way, but it’s unoriginal.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Bleach Volume 50 by Tite Kubo

Book Review: Bleach Volume 50 by Tite Kubo

Spoiler free summary: In Volume 50 of Bleach by Tite Kubo, Ichigo Kurosaki is trying to adjust to life without his Soul Reaper powers. Things seem to be reaching a pretty normal (at least for Ichigo) rotuine when a man named Kugo Ginjo comes to town, promising Ichigo a way to get his powers back. But why is he doing it?

Character: If you’re not in love with Ichigo and his friends by Volume 50, I’m not sure why you’re reading this review or the series in question. What stands out to me is that Volumes 1-49 comprise a beautiful, complete storyline. So The future arcs really seem out of place given everything was wrapped up nicely. Sure, this Fullbring arc does connect to the history of Soul Society and Ichigo’s past, but it’s not so unique that I felt it demanded publication. However, I think if you loved Bleach the way I love, say, Mistborn, then more is something you’ll like. These new characters bring new dynamics into the worldbuilding that may not be as interesting as the previous arc, but it’s still cool. For Ichigo, the more interesting arc would have been to force him not to be the hero. I get why this arc exists, but it just feels like they did this to pump out more content, and that content only advanced one aspect of storytelling (see below).

Exposition: This is a manga, so get ready for several “the exposition boxes were solid.” I will say there is far more exposition in Bleach than Demon Slayer. Some is hidden in dialogue, but given how obvious it is, it can get pretty annoying.

Worldbuilding: So this is where the rubber meets the metaphorical road in these future volumes. If the politics and history of Soul Society are interesting to you, then this is your volume. If you want to understand the origins of substitute shinigamis and power activations in normal humans, this is for you. I’m just not one of those. But that’s not a bad thing. Mistborn fascinates me. I’m going to read all the eras because that world does interest me. However, Dragonriders is my favorite series every, but I only read the main arc. I’m not saying I never will, it just doesn’t interest me nearly as much as Jaxom and Ruth. So that’s what everything rests on (with the exception of fights, see below).

Dialogue: This is probably the weakest. Almost every conversation I can remember was basically the characters explaining the plot to me, and that annoyed me. It wasn’t the clever cat and mouse stuff from the previous volumes. There was almost no attention paid to the actual characters and their everyday motivations. Instead, the monologued about whatever info dump the author wanted to pour down the reader’s throat. The one character who acts and speaks like a normal character is brushed aside when the fighting starts.

Description: Here again is a point of emphasis for fans of anime and manga. What makes it good? If you think good manga is cool fight scenes with epic OP battle moments, this gives you what you want. But if you’re looking to connect more with new characters and new stories, I’m sorry. You’re going to be disappointed. You might get a brief, “trust me, I’ve had it rough” speech from some character here or there, but we don’t get time to know the character and bond with them, so these speeches fall short of the mark.

Overall: I have to say that I have a bias that might be unfair. I thought the end of the battle against Aizen was a perfect ending to a perfect story. I feel much the same way about this as I did about Season 5 of Supernatural. The most important thing any storyteller can do for his story is to let it finish, and none of these volumes did justice to the ones before them. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read them. If you like epic fights, this is for you. If you are fascinated by the history of Soul Society, this is for you. This arc already puts an odd barrier between the heroes that I didn’t understand. It doesn’t address it or improve on it. It almost starts over in an odd way, and it’s not nearly as powerful as the first version. I leave you the right to decide for yourselves. Did I hate it? Honestly, no. It was OK, but it was just OK when before it was awesome, and that’s the reason some of this seems negative.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

The Anime Formula

The Anime Formula

Greetings all,

So I wanted to do a case study today, and I’ve been thinking a lot about anime and how it works. To be fair, I probably haven’t seen as much anime as a lot of other people. What anime I watch, I watch all of, but I’ve seen about ten anime series, and they’re just about the same, but in a good way. How is it anime can be so formulaic and still be entertaining? Sure, the magic system or fighting system is unique. The characters are sort of unique. But if you’ve watched Dragonball Z, you’ve seen Naruto, Bleach, and a host of others. Again, I don’t mean that as an insult. I love all of those shows, but they all follow a pretty basic formula, and I’m going to go over that today.

Step 1: Isolated hero seeks to be accepted/respected/befriended or the rogue hero who stands up because “someone must.”

Ichigo and Naruto are isolated people who either form small groups or seek small groups of friends. They either earn those friendships quickly or must fight doggedly to earn them. In either case, they’ll risk everything to save their friends. This is where they’ll risk their lives to protect others.

In either case, these bonds are the catalysts for the first arc. The bulk of the first arc is all about the development of the friendships or the establishment of the lengths the hero will go to in order to protect those friendships.

Step 2: Enter powerful antagonist 1.

When this person arrives, there is immediate dislike. There is rivalry. This new arrival has (at the very least) a leg up on our hero.

Step 3: The fight.

This fight either ends with one winning, and therefore winning over the antagonist, creating a new friendship or ends with a more frightening opponent arriving, forcing the original combatants to join forces.

Step 4: Enter even more powerful antagonist.

This villain walks in and wipes out pretty much the entirety of the original cast, and they do it with ease. This butt whoop’n either establishes the larger arc or teases it before the next phase (or both). The heroes somehow survive (or die and maintain the ability to do the next phase).

Step 5: The training arc.

This is where our heroes get down to business. They usually meet a mysterious mentor around here who beats them until they reach the next stage of their abilities. Our heroes are often given some sort of “uber level” attack or state of being they must reach within a deadline that is impossible. But somehow, they pull it off. Sometimes the writer makes us wait to see if the move works or not, but the training is the bulk of this stage.

Step 6: The underling or main event.

Our hero either takes on the current big bad or starts his way up the chain. The fight is close, but our hero reveals his/her new ability and wipes out the current challenger. But then an even stronger foe arises, who beats up our heroes, who barely survive and find somewhere to train.

That’s right folks. Hero wins. Go back to step 4. Rinse repeat until the ultimate of ultimate level 80 villain is vanquished.

All the while the previously defeated foes become fast friends and members of the metaphorical Scooby Gang.

To be honest, I don’t know why it works (on me every time), but it does. I love Dragonball Z. I love Naruto. I love Bleach. I love Jujutsu Kaisen. I love Demon Slayer. All of those shows follow the same template. The moves have to be cool. The fight scenes have to be epic.

This image was taken from bleach.fandom.com for review and study purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Most importantly, even though everyone who’s been watching anime since Goku was a baby knows the hero is going to win (at least in the end), the writer has to make the fight seem impossible. The hero must get beaten and battered to such a degree that the reader says, “Wait, is he really gonna lose?” That’s the magic part.

Some anime throws in a twist.

Twist angle: Hero has some indwelling creature who offers great power at a great cost. This indwelling creature is another antagonist, but the relationship is literally symbolic. In this case, the hero reaches his Epic Tier when the hero converts his indwelling pest into a true ally. Then the hero does that last step mentioned above.

So there it is. This is the only genre I’ve ever seen that never gets old for some reason. Interestingly, I haven’t seen it used that much in books, which is why I want to give it a try at some point.

Did I miss a step? I will say I understand that there are other anime that don’t remotely follow this formula. There may even be the great majority of anime that don’t. But if the hero is a plucky fighter of some kind, I promise I know what’s going to happen. The excitement for me is to see what the “next level” ability or move looks like.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

What Anime gets right: Characters

What Anime gets right: Characters

Note: (Featured image from Anime Planet.)

Greetings all,

I Heart Anime
Image from RPGWatch.

It’s been a few weeks since I had a good ‘ol fashioned writing-based post, and since I’m in the middle of a few projects, and I don’t have any official news yet, I have the chance to take a look at what I feel is the most important part of any story …

Character.

If anyone interested in writing wants my humble advice, watch anime. It’s awesome for one. The other reason is that they always deliver a multitude of characters viewers love. Now I could go in a lot of directions, and I might actually do more than one post on this robust topic, but for now, I’m just going to focus on the general idea of what anime does with characters.

  1. Deep, complex backgrounds: When I watch anime, I genuinely feel like the creators sat down for every character and wrote a story just for them. Any one of them could be the main character if they just got a bit more screen time. As if that’s not enough, the episodes use those complicated backgrounds to advance their MCs. This allows fans to grow closer to an

    Naruto_vs._Neji
    Image taken from Fear-World.

    other cast member while still being connected to the hero. It’s honestly brilliant. Naruto does this best. Some may argue they go to this well too many times, and I’d have to agree, but inevitably, as Naruto interacts with characters, we learn more about both of them. This happens both in fights (Naruto VS Neji Hyuga and with team-ups (Sai’s arc). As they fight or work together, we learn more about the side characters, and as Naruto works with them he learns more, and we grow closer to him.

  2. Clear motivations: Every character in anime has motivations and obstructions to those motivations. Good or evil, those characters strive for something. Sometimes they build conflict and suspense. Sometimes the motivations build sympathy. Both are essential.  Let’s take a look at Mikasa Ackerman. She’s a fascinating character. She could want any number of things, but all she truly cares about is protecting Eren. This motivation is clear. So when Eren is in danger or pain, we know this causes Mikasa stress (sympathy). When people seek to harm or even just belittle Eren, we know this will create conflict.
  3. Ryuk
    Image taken from Star City Tees.

    Sympathy: One of my favorite things to do when talking anime with anyone is to talk about their favorite characters. My favorite books have that same feeling, but I can’t always do that with books. I can always do it with anime. The main reason for this is how sympathetic anime characters are. Anime does a fantastic job of making viewers feel for them. They do it through humor. (Ryuk. Sure, he’s evil, but people like him because he amuses them. Why else do people always think of him and apples?) They do it through conflict (Ichigo). They do it through relationships (Ed Elric). The writers use a variety of situationally dramatic settings to allow the viewer to grow sympathetic toward the characters.

So I’ve only scratched the surface on this topic, and I’m probably going to harp on a lot of this when I don’t have any news about my writing to offer. However, this is a good place to start.

When developing your characters, look for opportunities to consider these topics and how anime uses them to get those fans cosplaying. If you do, you might just see a few cosplay people pick one of your characters? (I’d love to see a Grimm or a Caden cosplay!)

Thanks for reading,

Matt