Bleach Series 02 Part 02 Review
Renji has been defeated and humbly begs Ichigo to rescue Rukia from the edicts of Soul Society as the concluding part of Series 02 kicks off, but Ichigo’s mission becomes immensely more difficult when the Captains of the Gotei 13 are given free reign to use their powers within Seireitei, and Zaraki Kenpachi finally catches up to our plucky hero.
However, it is not in Soul Society that the opening episode, Episode 33 is set, instead completely bizarrely Noriyuki Abe decides that the heavy dramatics of Renji’s crushing defeat are best followed by a wacky comedy filler episode. So instead of continuing the Soul Society storyline we switch back to Karakura town, where Karin and Yuzu bump into Jinta and Ururu, and all four youngsters team up with Don Kanonji in battle with a horde of hollows that are after the deceased spirit of a stray cat Yuzu has befriended. This is a relatively inoffensive filler that lampoons Super Sentai shows rather nicely, but is nevertheless a victim of extremely inappropriate placing within the series, so you end up just wishing they’d just get back to the Soul Society plot thread.
Things get back on track in Episode 34 with Ichigo and Ganju hiding out while Hanataro tends to Ichigo’s severe wounds, while the discovery of Renji’s battered body sends shockwaves through the fellow Vice Captains. Soul Society now realises that the invaders are a serious threat and Head Captain Yamamoto issues a wartime order that all Captains be allowed to unleash their Zanpakuto within the boundaries of Seireitei. This means the big boys are gate crashing Ichigo’s party, and Zaraki Kenpachi is hot on his heels. This episode mostly advances the plot on the Gotei 13 side of things from the perspective of Vice Captain Hinamori. There’s a nice short flashback that fleshes out the friendship between Hinamori, Renji, and Kira, providing a little introduction to these lesser known Vice Captains and building up towards the second act of the Soul Society story arc.
Which commences proper in Episode 35 when Hinamori discovers the murdered body of her Captain, Aizen Sōsuke, the man who tried to warn Renji of suspicious activity behind the scenes in Soul Society, and the man who confronted Ichimaru Gin in Series 2 Part 1. Recalling Hitsugaya’s warning about Ichimaru Gin, Hinamori launches an attack purely on instinct, causing conflict between herself and Gin’s Vice Captain, Kira. Episode 35 really mixes things up and gives the Soul Society arc a nice change of pace. Up until now the intrigue in Seireitei has been a relatively minor background element of the plot, but now things swiftly ramp up into murder-mystery mode. Ichigo and Chad also make it to the Shinrakyu complex where Rukia is being held, but they’re walking into confrontations with very powerful Captains.
And, as Episode 36 commences, Zaraki Kenpachi has finally caught up to Ichigo and the sheer force of his Spirit Pressure is enough to overwhelm Ganju and Hanataro. Now Ichigo must face his first Captain-level battle. Zaraki’s introduction to Ichigo remains one of my favourite moments in Bleach. All Shōnen action serials go to absurd lengths to hype up a newly revealed uber-opponent, sometimes to the point that it becomes impossible to live up to, but few writers can pull hype off like Tite Kubo and Zaraki Kenpachi is arguably the coolest character he has created. As Rukia, sensing Kenpachi’s spirit pressure, laments “There are things here that defy the logic of the living world, Ichigo”, the object of her worries is hit with Kenpachi’s immense spirit pressure and killing intent like a sledge hammer.
The fight between Ichigo and Zaraki Kenpachi takes up most of the screen time in Episodes 36-40, and it’s a match not of fighting technique, but pure blunt force, as two men with immense wells of spirit energy ram into each other at full speed. The big difference between Ichigo and Kenpachi is that Kenpachi is aware of his spirit power and wields it expertly, whereas Ichigo hasn’t fully comprehended his – and it’s this fight that is going to force him into comprehension. Bleach partially eschews the more typical Shōnen pattern of having the hero train between bouts in order to learn new techniques or augment existing ones. Instead it favours fewer training arcs and less time between Ichigo’s fights. This forces him to learn through the process of fighting, and the fight with Kenpachi is a little unique in that it mixes elements of a training arc within an epic battle.
The impetus for Ichigo’s internal training is Zaraki Kenpachi’s twisted personality. He may be slightly psychotic, but he does have morals and a strong sense of honour, but by far his primary motivation during a fight is to prolong the feeling as much as possible. Thus, by constantly holding back he essentially puts Ichigo onto “training wheels”, giving him time to adapt to such a huge leap in the power of his new opponent. It may seem a stretch after seeing Ichigo struggle so much against Renji, to see him go toe-to-toe against a bloodthirsty Captain just a day or so later, but Kubo handles the development rather delicately; showing the potential left untapped within Ichigo is vast and incendiary. And it’s Zangetsu who is the medium through which Ichigo can tap into that potential, introducing one of the best characters in Bleach into this fight, ensuring it is by far the most iconic and entertaining battle to date.
While the fight between Ichigo and Kenpachi dominates Series 02 Part 02, in Episode 37 Chad has the misfortune of running into Kyōraku Shunsui, the Captain of the 8th Division. Shunsui is a fantastic character, an incorrigible loafer who’d prefer to drink with his opponents rather than fight them. He provides excellent comic relief whenever he turns up in the story, thanks to a personality that is unencumbered by feelings of ill intent, or motivation. He’s also one of the oldest Captain’s after Yamamoto, which means he’s probably one of the strongest, as Chad discovers in an unpredictably one-sided fight that neatly fleshes out Chad’s reason to fight besides Ichigo, and the back story of their friendship.
When the Kenpachi fight concludes in Episode 40, there’s a big reveal about Yoruichi that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face, and Ganju and Hanataro end up facing down Byakuya in a gripping finale to an excellent batch of episodes.
PresentationBleach Series 02 Part 02 is presented to exactly the same standards as in the Series 01 Part 01 set, so I will simply repeat my A/V review of that 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