Bleach The Movie 4: Hell Verse (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze) Running time: 94 minutes approx.
AC/DC once sang “Hell Ain’t Bad Place To be” – Ichigo Kurosaki is about to find out if this true for himself. While Ichigo and friends Uryū Ishida, Orihime Inoue and Yasutora “Chad” Sado are busying defending Karakura Town from a pair of powerful masked invaders, Soul Reapers Rukia Kuchiki and Renji Abarai are embroiled in a battle of their own outside Kurosaki Clinic, the home of Ichigo, where one of the interlopers has captured Ichigo’s sisters Karin and Yuzu.
Fortunately help is on hand in the form of another stranger, Kokuto who frees Karin but is unable to save Yuzu. Kokuto explains that these beings were Unforgiven, dwellers of Hell who are unable to pass onto the Soul Society due to the crimes they committed in life. In order to rescue Yuzu, Ichigo must travel to Hell itself.
It’s another feature length outing for everyone’s favourite orange haired substitute Soul Reaper and his equally supernaturally gifted friends. While this is a standalone story it fits into the Bleach universe somewhere after the end of the Hueco Mondo Arc (which is still occurring in the current UK release of the TV series) but nothing from that part of the saga is spoiled as a result so this can be viewed at will.
At the risk of sounding jaded, the initial plotline for Hell Verse doesn’t sound particularly original: someone close to Ichigo is kidnapped, he must travel to an unknown world to save them, he gains a new power/Hollow form in the process, saves the day, everyone lives happily ever after. In fact, this idea has been recycled at least three times during the TV show in both original arcs from creator Tite Kubo and the infamous filler arcs. But, don’t be fooled by the simplistic premise – Hell Verse is not only the most intense of the four Bleach films to date but easily the best looking with the highest production values thus far afforded to the big screen productions. Viewers with Bluray capabilities are in for visual treat!
The Unforgiven haven’t shown up in the Living World on a whim – they are on a mission and judging by the way they targeted Ichigo it seems his reputation is legendary even in the underworld! During the fight, one of the asked men loses his mask yielding an unexpected result: a gate appears in the sky and a humungous and gruesome figure appears – a Kushanada, guardian of Hell – which impales the unmasked man and drags him back to hell.
With the other Unforgiven having retreated with Yuzu, Kokuto explains the fate of the Unforgiven, in Hell: as souls of those who have sinned they are tortured by the Kushanada who consume them, then are reborn only to be tortured and reborn ad infinitum until their spirits are finally crushed. Hands up if this sounds your work place!!
Kokuto encourages Ichigo to invade Hell to rescue his sister, taking Rukia, Renji and Ishida as back up. Upon arrival Ichigo’s hollow mask begins to appear of its own accord, prompting a warning from Kokuto that the Kushanada can sense his Hollow self and that any soul killed in hell becomes an Unforgiven themselves.
The team is soon split in two, with Rukia, Renji and Ishida left to resume their battle with the Unforgiven who invaded Karakura Town while Ichigo and Kokuto continue on to the lower levels of Hell to where they believe Yuzu is being held captive. However, this isn’t going to be a quick “in then out” visit as Ichigo is about to discover.
While the story is familiar fare, the creativity seems to have been reserved for the visuals and conceptual set pieces of Hell. For most of us, our idea of the underworld is that of a fiery domain of molten lakes, looming stalactites and armies of horned demons torturing the souls of the damned with trident forks. Not this version. The one conceived by director Noriyuki Abe and his crew is far more modern in structure yet still foreboding and torturous with the ever palpable absence of hope for the lost souls, who run in desperation, lamenting the endless circle of suffering they are to endure.
The top layer has a bizarre warehouse feel to it with mundane and colourless floors and platforms on which the Kushanada roam for fleeing souls. Beyond this is an open air wasteland, at the bottom of which is a great expanse of water that acts as a barrier for the underground levels, which are one step above the bowels of Hell where Yuzu is trapped inside a cage suspended over the bubbling pool of red hot lava.
But Hell Verse just doesn’t look good on the artwork. The animation is noticeably superior to what we have seen before in the Bleach canon, especially in the battle sequences, which rank as some of the most intense, fluidly and spectacularly constructed clashes not just for this franchise but in all of anime.
But the coup de grace has to be the new Hollow form Ichigo is pushed to transforming into in the film’s climactic battle, a contradictory combination of horrific splendour if such a thing is possible. It seems like sacrilege to suggest that Tite Kubo could learn from these supplementary outings of his hugely successful franchise but one cannot help but marvel at some of the ideas presented in this film which breathe new life into and offer up prospective delights for the future for what is become a somewhat stale series.
Don’t be put off by the paint by numbers storyline, Hell Verse the most effective and enjoyable of the Bleach movies thus far as well as the most visually stunning, giving hope for the future of the franchise beyond the now defunct TV series.
Rating – ****
Man In Black