‘Bleach: The Soul Reaper Agent Arc’ is a movie adaptation of the ‘Bleach’ manga series, featuring soul reapers who guide ‘souls’ in the afterlife. Not ‘Death’ itself, they are guides of the deceased. Adhering to a reaper code of ‘precepts’, they somewhat function like Bodhisattvas, who aim to treat all beings with equanimity. If attracted to humans, they will weaken, which makes sense, as having partial attachment lessens fair decisions and actions. The film shows their conduct checked by a soul reaper lieutenant, who reports to a soul reaper captain, who is no Buddha. Being ineffective and ‘mentors’, their verbal and physical threats for those who flout rules seem way too harsh.
The depiction of what happens after death is vague, with the Soul Society being where the reapers guide souls to. Basically, it is where they are await for rebirth. It somewhat mirrors, but is better than the human world, yet still not perfect. Not exactly either extreme of a heavenly heaven or a hellish hell, it is perhaps a general placeholder for anywhere in between two human rebirths?
The other task of reapers is to kill hollows, monstrous beings who eat souls. As there was no depiction of them being redeemed, we wonder if they have redeemable souls, and what happens to the souls they devour. So much on souls, Buddhism teaches that there are no ‘souls’, as like our bodies, even our consciousnesses undergo constant change – which is how we transform for better or worse. With reapers’ fights with hollows being invisible, what experienced by humans are bizarre storms and tremors. This is an interesting take on what is ‘behind the scenes’ of Japan’s frequent and unpredictable (super)natural disasters.
There is also the extra powerful hollow called the Grand Fisher, who might remind Buddhists of Mara, the Evil One who rules over maras, his minions. Being attracted to those with strong spiritual power as worthy opponents, this is reminiscent of Mara, who most strongly confronted the Buddha-to-be, just before he attained Buddhahood. Of course, Mara failed. Like Mara, the Grand Fisher is also able to manifest as the small and ‘innocent’ to trick. This perhaps represents any of the unenlightened, who can become Mara-like!