ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:11 - 17th April 2013, by NEO Staff

Bleach: The Movie 4

Any studio turning an epic manga into anime must choose which stories to tell on the big screen, and which to tell on the small. On TV, you can have a much longer running time, spacing the action out, and giving every character time to breathe. However, your budget will be spread thinly, and you won't have much time to make it look fancy. If you do a movie, you can make it far more explosive and spectacular, but at the cost of much of the story's depth. The fourth Bleach movie has Ichigo going to hell, which is a big idea and could have filled a whole season of exciting TV episodes. Bleach's makers, though, have plumped for big-screen bombast.

How do you get Ichigo to visit hell? Easy peasy - kidnap one of his sisters and threaten to make her a permanent resident, unless our favourite Death Reaper takes a trip Down Under. A band of monstrous condemned souls escape from hell and hit Karakura town, keeping Ichigo and his friends occupied long enough to snatch young Yuzu. Unexpectedly, another escapee from hell appears, a laconic stranger who offers to help Ichigo get his sister back. The stranger's name is Kokuto, which might be a sly nod to Jean Cocteau, the poetic French director who made a modern version of the Orpheus legend.

Not that there's any Cocteau poetry in Hell Verse! The film is pretty much all fight, fight, fight. The character's attack moves predictably get far better workouts than their personalities. Except for a bit of goofing at the start, Hell Verse is a humourless film (hey, even hell can be funny!), that goes through exactly the sort of plot turns you could time with a stopwatch.

There's no convincing personal centre to the story - neither from the true villain when he finally shows himself, nor the kidnapped damsel Yuzu who spends the whole action unconscious. Given the threat is to Yuzu, it would have made sense to have her (and Ichigo's) dad Isshin involved in saving her. However, the good doctor bustles out of town in the opening minutes, playing no part in the film.

Anime has portrayed hell memorably, often in X-rated anime. The hell at the end of the TV Berserk was especially cool and gruesome, soon to be revisited in the third of the new Berserk films. The Hell Verse version isn't in that league. There are some awesome early moments, with giant skulls appearing out of tears in the sky, and screaming prisoners in webs of chains. When we actually get into hell, though, it's more like a Tron-style videogame (leap those giant skeletons!). It's also not above cheating. At one point, a character looks in a very bad state, only for it suddenly to turn out that, um, no, it's not so bad. Perhaps the film-makers decided the movie was too long and slashed out a few storyboards.

It's on the simple fight-fight level that Hell Vers delivers, often spectacularly, if never excitingly. One adversary is a plump, cackling chap with multiple mouths, who's surely a cousin of Gluttony in Fullmetal Alchemist. As for Ichigo... well, he's a really powerful lad these days (the film takes place around the 14th TV season). Without giving too much away, the action centres around Ichigo having to keep control of himself or destroy everything. It's an ancient theme, but the way the film visualises Ichigo in the thrall of great power to be used for good or evil is always striking to watch, especially in the film's last battle, which otherwise consists of the usual: frantic running, flying, and explosions.

Let's not be harsh on Hell Verse, which does what an anime spinoff film is meant to do. However, as this may be Ichigo's last cinema outing (at least until the live-action film!), it's a shame it's so average. Far from Ichigo's greatest adventure, it's worth watching if you're in the mood to see Ichigo and his friends looking slicker and prettier than usual.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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