Bleach Series 03 Part 01 Review
Ganju and Hanataro liberated Rukia from the walls of senzaikyu, but immediately ran into Byakuya; which means death is almost certain for them. Fortunately a severely injured Ichigo arrives on the scene with Yoruichi in tow. Now, as series three commences Yoruichi faces off for a second against Byakuya in order to whisk Ichigo away from danger, and she leaves Byakuya with an ominous warning: “In 3 days I’ll make this boy stronger than you!” So the stage is set for both Rukia’s execution and an inevitable showdown between Ichigo and the prodigious Byakuya Kuchiki.
Ichigo’s not the only one person on a countdown to fight a captain though, in Episode 42 we meet up with Ishida and Orihime who are still searching seireitei for Rukia’s location. They are being observed by a form lurking in the shadows, which we see is Kurotsuchi Mayuri: Captain of the 12th division. When we switch back to Ichigo it’s to introduce a new training arc, where he will learn the final released form of his Zanpakuto called the Bankai. This will grant Ichigo the power to take on captain-level opponents without getting cut down like he was against Kenpachi.
Episodes 43 and 44 maintain the focus on Ishida when Kurotsuchi makes his presence known and demands Ishida and Orihime’s surrender, which naturally leads to Ishida taking him on alone. All the captains of the Gotei 13 are impressively designed and feature unique fighting styles and attributes, but perhaps the most unique of the lot is Kurotsuchi who fights a bit like Shishio Makoto from Rurouni Kenshin. Dirty tricks are his game and he’ll do anything to win, even if it means rigging his subordinates up with bombs and blowing them up! He’s a completely amoral character with a morbid curiosity of anything new and his character design reflects this insidious nature. Looking like an evil puppet, Kurotsuchi’s original body has been replaced by artificial modifications that heighten his attack and defensive abilities.
The concept of a character who will send a teammate forwards to hold an enemy fighter in place then cut down their comrade in order to land a blow on his enemy has a lot of twisted appeal to me, but Kubo – with his usual subtlety – follows up this tactic with reams of exposition to emphasize how cruel Kurotsuchi is, and this really disrupts the flow of the fight. Still, this is pretty much the main complaint I have with the Ishida-Kurotsuchi fight, as for the most part it’s quite an engaging battle with a few neat surprises. It’s also the first time we see a bankai in action, which in Kurotsuchi’s case looks like something extracted straight from the mind of Katsuhiro Otomo.
For Ishida the fight is a chance to reveal more of his backstory and reveal the story behind his fancy new glove that his grandfather left him. With a certain application of the glove we see the true powers that a genius Quincy can amass in the exciting finale that certainly delivers on attack spectacle.
It’s time for Ichigo to start his intensive bankai training in Episode 45, what bankai does is allow the user to materialise their Zanpakuto’s true form into the user’s world as opposed to the user going into the Zanpakuto’s world, like Ichigo did in the fight against Zaraki Kenpachi. The training method is simple: Materialise Zangetsu into Sul Society and then subjugate him, but it’s Zangetsu who is setting the rules of this duel and he’s not going to go easy on Ichigo.
This training arc is a little bittersweet for a repeat viewer of Bleach as it’s the last one to feature Zangetsu extensively. One of my main bugbears of Tite Kubo’s manga is that he should never have sidelined a character as beautifully realised as Zangetsu so extensively after the completion of the bankai training arc. Alas, Japanese readers are never on the same page as westerners when it comes to choosing favourite characters, so there always seems to be a number of supporting characters in Shounen serials that western fans are crying out to be included more.
In Episode 46 the focus switches to the vice-captain trio of Renji, Kira, and Hinamori, as well as Rukia, who have all been drawn into the centre of the intrigue within seireitei and all recently imprisoned to boot. This is a flash back to their early days within the shinigami academy, we’ve been here before but this is a much more in-depth look into their collective history; also just as important are brief glimpses into the past of captains: Hitsugaya, Aizen, and Gin as well. I always like independent flashbacks like this in Bleach as the narrative can get very formulaic in jumping from one battle after another, with comic interjections and a flashback occurring every time a character falls in battle that will reveal their true motivations. Stand alone flashbacks have a higher chance of being less melodramatic whilst fleshing out the characters just as effectively.
One of the main goals of Episode 46 is to establish Hinamori’s idolisation of Aizen, which is behind her prison breakout in Episode 47, where she goes in search of Aizen’s killer who is named in the letter her wrote directly before his death. And so, while Ichigo battles away with Zengetsu, we finally return to the political machinations that are leading Rukia to her death. Eventually lines will be drawn between Aizen’s death and Rukia’s execution, but for now it’s steady development and little hints here and brief flashbacks there that reveal deep bonds between certain characters – not least of which are those between Rangiku and Gin. Bleach’s narrative fabours action quite heavily over plot, but Kubo can skillfully weave an intriguing twisty-turny plotline when he wants to.
Proceedings return to the action in Episode 48 when Hitsugaya faces off against Gin in potentially one of the best fights so far in Bleach. The animation team bring their A game to this all-too-brief encounter, creating a fluidity to the pre-shikai sword exchanges that we’ve not yet seen in the series. Sadly the arrival of Rangiku cuts the fight short, but now Hitsugaya has evidence linking Rukia’s execution to Aizen’s assassin, and a plot to harness the power of the soukyaku to destroy seireitei. With this, Hitsugaya becomes the 2nd captain to switch towards the same goals as Ichigo.
Just when it looks like he story is settling into a predictable direction, Kubo throws another flashback into the mix in Episode 49 that doesn’t advance the plot one iota, but instead provides essential exposition on a central character. This time it is what happened between Rukia and Kaien Shiba that led to one killing the other. I can’t say this flashback fleshes out Rukia’s character that much more than what we’ve already gathered about her, so the real meat lies in meeting Kaien and developing his character a little, and the impact he had on Rukia’s life.
Somewhat bizarrely the “next week” segment at the end of Episode 49 shows footage from Episode 51, and instead Episode 50 delivers another filler comedy episode set in the real world, where Ichigo’s sisters are once again dragged into another mission with don Kanonji. This filler is just as misplaced as the one back when Ichigo had defeated Renji, but Noriyuki Abe must’ve been pleased enough with that to repeat the formula here. This is a trite episode which features some mild amusement, thanks to the presence of Kon.
Back to the main plot strand in Episode 51 and it’s the day of Rukia’s execution, Zaraki’s team and Orihime break Ishida, Ganju, and Chad out of prison and we catch up with all the captains of the gotei 13 as they make their preparations for the execution. It’s great seeing all the captains again, they’re the strongest supporting players in Bleach and this episode provides a lot of comic before the drama of the main event begins.
The in-fighting within serireitei commences in full in the second act of Episode 51, which places Zaraki Kenpachi on a collision course with the captains of the 9th and 7th divisions: Tousen Kaname and Komamura Sajin, while Ikakku and Yumichika take on Tetsuzaemon Iba amd Hisagi Shuuhei. When Renji challenges Byakuya in Episode 52, we have a bunch of excellent confrontations that ensure Series 03 Part 01 finishes in true style!
PresentationBleach Series 03 Part 01 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