Anyone who's read "Bleach" knows that Tite Kubo has a pretty distinct art style, and that he's as likely to have fun with it as to strike a pose.
Turns out it's even more amazing in brilliant, vibrant colours than in the usual black-and-white of a manga. "The Art of Bleach" showcases a number of Kubo's artwork, ranging from dramatic promotional work to fun little doodles of female characters with little wings, along with plenty of pictures of protagonist Ichigo in a variety of poses.
In fact, most of the pictures here center on/feature Ichigo -- our hero even gets a two-page spread of him slashing with his sword, smiling cheerfully, looking grumpy, making faces, and so on. And there are plenty of vibrantly coloured pictures with him posing with a sword -- as well as with Rukia, his little sister, and even a posteresque picture of him and Renji attacking one another (with close-ups of their faces).
But though most of the pictures are about Ichigo (unsurprising, since he is the hero), Kubo doesn't neglect the rest of the cast. The captains are all given individual illustrations, and some of them such as Byakuya (seen looking sadly at Rukia) and Zaraki (seen in mad-grin mode, both with and without blood spatters) get extra illustrations. And though the lieutenants and villains tend to get less focus, we get to see Renji, Kira and Momo as students.
There's also a lot of main cast pictures -- usually slumping around in urban punkywear and tracksuits (including a bandana that completely covers Renji's face). Kubo does manage to soup it up with some funny twists, such as showing Ichigo, Kon, Renji and Rukia on the tops of three CDs.
Kubo also includes some of the color pictures from the manga (such as Rukia's abortive execution and Ichigo's flying rescue), and the final few pages are devoted to his take on each picture. In a short paragraph or two, he describes the origins and intent of each picture, and what the receptions to some of them were.
"The Art of Bleach" shows it all stages -- the relatively rough earlier stuff, the more polished later illustrations, and even some funny little side-pictures like Santa Kon, or Orihime dressed as a frolicking Valentine's Day angel with a giant chocolate heart. There's little more to this book than Kubo's pictures, but those pictures are beautifully done.
Kubo's art has always been unique, full of long thin limbs, angular bodies, strong-boned faces with wide mouths (not to mention prominent Adam's apples for the boys), and complicated slouchy clothes. It's interesting at the best of times, but the bright colours and odd layouts add a whole other dimension to his artwork. And there's some humor to some of these pictures, such as a rather PG-13 picture of the bikini-clad girls of "Bleach" enjoying the beach, and Ichigo and Orihime playing at kung-fu in suitable costumes.
If there's a flaw in this art book, it's that the supporting cast is rather sidelined -- Ichigo's sisters and friends, most of the captains and lieutenants are sparsely represented. But we do get some nice Ganju Shiba pictures.
It's a relatively small flaw in an otherwise lovely "Art of Bleach" book, where Kubo's relaxed, eccentric approach to his action manga keeps things colorful.