Bleach Series 02 Part 01 Review
If you thought Season One of Bleach was a pretty fun ride, then it’s time to strap yourself in one more time and get ready for Season Two, where Ichigo and his team of highschool spirit warriors venture into soul society and take on everything the Shinigami world can throw at them. Episode 21 kicks off where last season ended, with Ichigo’s group charging between the living world and Soul Society and ending up on the other side in Rukongai: the dusty, lower class residential area that surrounds Seireitei – the lavish palatial city where the Shinigami swell. Everything looks like Edo-era Japan, with the large class divide between the populace and the state, and the team discover that Seireitei is closed off and protected from Rukongai by a huge spiritual barrier that slams down whenever anyone approaches the outskirts of the city. Scattered around the barrier are 4 large gates, but each one is guarded by a suitably imposing guard, and the team are unlucky enough to run into perhaps the most formidable guard of them all: Jidanbō, a huge giant who will not let anyone pass without a permit unless they can beat him in single combat. Naturally, Ichigo is eager to take on the challenge, but Jidanbō has been on guard for 300 years and has never been defeated! This is a pretty fun start to the series, Jidanbō’s an amusing character and his duel with Ichigo is short, but it emphasises the brute force Ichigo possesses. Also, fans of Rurouni Kenshin will be happy to see the heavy influence of that series on this confrontation – Kenshin’s influence can also be felt in further episodes in this season.
After Jidanbō raises the gate for Ichigo, he runs into another barrier that’s even more difficult to surpass in the shape of Ichimaru Gin: The Captain of the 3rd of the 13 Shinigami squads. Luckily for our hero, Gin is not there to kill the would-be invaders, just stop them from entering the city – which he does by viciously wounding Jidanbō and blasting him and Ichigo back into Rukongai with a powerful Zanpakuto technique. Now the team have to find an alternative way into Seireitei, but by standing up for Jidanbō while he was being attacked they have become heroes in the eyes of the people of Rukongai, and so the team have a welcome place to rest for the night and devise a new plan. Meanwhile Chad is reunited with Shibata, the child who had possessed a Parakeet that came into Chad’s possession in season one. Episode 22 is devoted to establishing the Rukongai district and the low class environment where the vast majority of the populace of Rukongai live while the Shinigami live in relative luxury. As mentioned before the model for this society is Edo-era Japan, with souls in Rukongai forming surrogate families because it is extremely difficult to locate blood relatives who passed on at different times of their lives. The other important development in this episode is the introduction of Ganju, a loud mouthed hoodlum with a heart of gold who loathes Shinigami with a passion and rides around on a huge boar named Bonnie. As you can guess he’s a comedy foil for Ichigo to clash personalities and hard-headedness with, which gives Bleach creator Tite Kubo free reign to indulge in his favourite “shouting match” style of light relief. Many of the laughs in Season Two come from the interaction between Ichigo and Ganju.
In Episode 23 Yoruichi takes the team in search of Shiba Kūkaku, who supposedly can get the team past Seireitei’s spirit barrier. There’s not much plot progression in this episode as it’s essentially just a prolonged introduction for Kūkaku, but as ever there is a lot of comic relief thrown at the viewer to keep this little jaunt as entertaining as possible – and we also get introduced briefly to a new Captain: Aizen Sōsuke, Captain of the 5th squad. He seems to think that there is a conspiracy afoot in Serireitei to get Rukia executed as quickly as possible. Episode 24 commences with Kūkaku’s revelation that she’s the top pyrotechnic in Rukongai and she’ll be firing Ichigo’s team into Seireitei via a huge cannon! But first they have to master how to focus their spirit energy so that they can use a ball-like device that takes their energy and creates a spherical force-field that will protect them from the forces of the cannon blast, the spirit barrier surrounding Seireitei, and the freefall landing. Chad, Inoue and Uryū have no problem learning this, but Ichigo is completely stumped, the training spills over into Episode 25, where Ichigo finds an unlikely companion in Shiba Ganju (who turned out to be Kūkaku’s younger brother), who joins them on their mission to rescue Rukia so he can gather information on the Shinigami and maybe shed some light on his older brother’s death. Meanwhile we’re introduced to almost the entire Shinigami 13 Squadron Captains when Ichimaru Gin is brought before the council over his reluctance to kill the invaders who bested Jidanbo. Here we get a brief hint of the politics driving the Shinigami capital. The Captain’s meet is brought to a premature end when Ichgo’s team succeed in breaking into Seireitei, but as they break through the barrier their force field ruptures and they are split apart, scattering all over the city as they land.
Episode 26 is what I call the “in the groove” episode. I have this theory that every long-running Shōnen serial takes a good 20-30 episodes to really hit its stride. Bleach has had a better start than most series, but as soon as Ichigo and company break into Seireitei, this is where Bleach’s storyline starts opening up and really comes into its own. Team Ichigo is separated into the pairing of Ichigo and Ganju, Inoue and Uryū, with Chad and Yoruichi operating on their own and each of them frantically scouring Seireitei for each over and to figure out the location of Rukia, there’s a sense of urgency to the plot that ramps up the excitement and the stage is also set for a very long sequence of high-impact battles, with the action barely letting up for more than an episode at a time! By the end of this arc the primary antagonist will be revealed and the overarching storyline will be laid out before us. As ever, there’s also a glut of comic relief mixed in to ensure the laughs come even more frequently and thicker than the action. One of the greatest source of laughs in this season is the ultra-tough and bloodthirsty Captain of the 11th Squad: Zaraki Kenpachi – whose appearance could be described as like Tange Sazen on steroids – and his ultra cute Vice-Captain: Kusajishi Yachiru, a tiny girl with pink hair and a hilarious penchant for referring to everyone by her own made up nicknames – which usually mock the appearance of whoever she’s addressing. Throught the first half of the season Kenpachi tuns around Seireitei with Yachiru on his shoulder sleading him in all manner of wrong directions as they try to pinpoint the location of the strongest invader – i.e: Ichigo. Tite Kubo has a talent for creating strong comedy double-acts and peppers Bleach with many of them, Kenpachi/Yachiru are easily the funniest based on appearances only!
Speaking of great double acts, Ichigo and Ganju crash into Seireitei together and immediately come face to face with a pair of Shinigami with somewhat eccentric personalities: The bald-headed hot-blooded Madarame Ikkaku and Ayasegawa Yumichika, a camp fancy haired snob. They occupt the 3rd and 4th seats in the 11th squad respectively (making them the 3rd and 4th strongest), and Ganju instantly senses their strength and makes a run for it. Yumichika goes in pursuit, while Ichigo stands his ground and faces off against Ikkaku. Ichigo’s fight with Ikkaku runs through Episode 27 and has the honourable distinction of being the first proper duel Ichigo has since he awakened his own Shinigami powers. Mostly the fight is a return to the rather straight forward sword exchanges we saw in Ichigo’s fight with Abarai Renji at the end of Season One, while the extended chase sequence between Ganju and Yumichika offers a refreshing alternative to a conventional fight without impeding the momentum of the action, it also provides plenty of laughs.
After the Ikkaku fight is played Ichigo goes in search of Ganju, who’s still being pursued by Ganju, and then we essentially have a huge free for all with the whole team basically running around the labyrinthine streets of Seireitei while the various Shinigami squadrons are deployed with a vengeance. Episode 28 proves a lot of fun as the comedy scouring ensues and we really start to get a feel for the varying collective personalities of the different squadrons. For instance we can clearly see that Kenpachi’s people, the 11th Squad are known as the number one attack squad and are made up pretty much entirely of inarticulate delinquents – what the Japanese refer to as Yanki – all sporting dodgy hairstyles and spend half their time smoking fags and gambling in closed off alleyways. Ichigo seems to have a unique talent for ferreting them out as well, managing to gather up a frightening crowd of vulgar pursuers! On the flipside, there’s the 4th Squad, a bunch of subservient do-gooders whose primary daily tasks are city maintenance and medical aid – and naturally the battle-hungry Squad 11 members think that the 4th Squad people are all a bunch of namby-pamby hippies, which makes for some very amusing exchanges between the 2 groups; particularly in Episode 29 when Ichigo and Ganju take 4th Squad member: Yamada Hanatarō hostage in order to escape from a bunch of 11th Squad goons.
Hanatarō leads Ichigo and Ganju closer to Rukia’s prison cell in the final three episodes of this Series 02 Part 01 set, but their path is blocked by the arrival of Abarai Renji, who still blames Ichigo for the plight that has befallen Rukia and intends to finish the duel they started back in Season One. Needless to say, the fight between Ichigo and Renji is by a long way, the main action sequence in this box set. The big difference this time is that Renji is not limited to 20% of his total power, making for a much more forceful match that takes on a more tactical stance, in keeping with the Shōnen fight archetype. The action is interjected by scenes that reveal the extent of Ichigo’s training with Urahara Kisuke, so in a way you’re being treated to two fights for the price of one. At the conclusion to the fight we are also treated to a long flashback that reveals and fleshes out Rukia and Renji’s childhood in Rukongai and early says in the Shinigami academy. A strong conclusion to another batch of really great episodes, and with the next batch promising a confrontation between Ichigo and Zaraki Kenpachi, things are only going to get better and better.
PresentationThe episodes in this boxset are presented to exactly the same standards as in the first box set, so I will simply repeat my A/V review of the previous release here:
Presented in the original 4:3 broadcast ratio, Bleach’s transfer generally looks quite pleasing: The print is in pristine condition and colours are crisp, bold and exhibit little to no noise or bleeding. Contrast and brightness levels are excellent and the image is about as sharp and detailed as you’d expect from the show’s varying production methods – plus there’s no noticeable Edge Enhancements either. However, there are two factors that let the transfer down a little: The usual NTSC-PAL standards conversion and the amount of Mosquito Noise in the image, pretty much every frame on these DVDs exhibits some form of Mosquito Noise!
Eschewing their recent trend of slapping on DTS and DD5.1 tracks to their releases, MangaUK have decided to just stick with the original Japanese DD2.0 track and an English DD2.0 track for the fans who like their American dubs. For the purposes of this review I sat down and listened to both tracks and can confirm they are both pretty equal in terms of quality. So with that being said I’ll just talk about both audio tracks as one singular track. The DD2.0 surround audio is of suitably high quality, handling the loud destructive action sequences with plenty of verve – thanks mostly to the punchy bass, good dynamics and some genuinely effective use of the rear channel. Dialogue too remains very clear and audible with no tearing when voices are raised; solid bass lends the voices a nice resonance as well.
Optional English subtitles are provided with no spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall
ExtrasThere are two Textless Closing sequeces and three Production Art Gallery spread across the three discs, and a bunch of Manga UK trailers on disc 03, which you can see listed in the Special Features section to the right of this review.
OverallThe setting switches from the human realm to Soul Society with the commencement of Season Two of Bleach, and with it comes a new story arc that is much longer, has far more action and comedy and stronger characterisation than the season that preceded it. As far as the DVD side of things to go, this new release is at the exact same standard as the previous releases.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 23:18:56