Bleach Series 03 Part 02 Review
The moment of Rukia’s execution is upon us, and while Zaraki faces off against 7th division captain: Sajin Komamura and Renji nurses the wounds of defeat to Byakuya, Rukia’s main hope now resides in whether Ichigo has completed his Bankai training or not. Little does she know that Ichigo is not the only ally plotting to free her from the lethal blade of the Soukyoku.
Episode 54 is a great episode for Ichigo, his appearance to rescue Rukia is for me the single most iconic moment in Bleach. Dressed in a long flowing cape it’s heavily reminiscent of the moment Guts’ eventually reunites with Caska in Berserk, but the coolest moment comes at the end of the episode when Ichigo takes down three vice-captains in the blink of an eye without using his zanpakuto that is truly the most kickass thing Ichigo has ever done in the story to date. It’s the perfect build up for the Ichigo – Byakuya fight that the whole Soul Society arc has been building towards, which kicks off in Episode 55, but the details of that battle has to wait as Episode 55 is more about establishing the three major confrontations that come as a result of Rukia’s rescue. Kyouraku and Ukitake face the considerable wrath of the chief captain, Yamamoto-Genryūsai Shigekuni, for their act of rebellion, and Yoruichi takes on her former pupil: 2nd division captain Soi Fon.
Kyouraku and Ukitake’s fight takes up the lion’s share of this episode. We learn that they were the first captain’s to graduate from Yamamoto’s shinigami academy, which potentially could mean they are the strongest captains of the Gotei 13 after their old master, yet both men have to team up to handle Yamamoto, such is the crazy hyping of his power. It’s just a damn shame that we never get to see any significant actions in this fight, but at least we do get Yamamoto’s quite fantastic sword release in this episode. Of course, from a narrative viewpoint this fight is one monumental contrivance, as Yamamoto doesn’t stop for a second to enquire as to Kyouraku/Ukitake’s motives, despite stating that they’re his oldest and dearest pupils who have the strongest sense of justice.
We see Kyouraku and Ukitake’s niftily designed sword releases in Episode 56, but the focus is mostly on Yoruichi fighting Soi Fon, which is more of a speed/hand to hand technique duel rather than the elemental powerhousing of the Yamamoto fight. This is a pretty cool confrontation, but I’ve always considered Soi Fon to be the most boring captain in the Gotei 13, with the poorest sword release. An extremely close range zanpakuto that doles out instant death if you hit the same spot twice seems to me to be a weapon that takes one hit too many considering you have to be at point blank range to effectively use it. Soi Fon’s flashback heralds the end of her fight with Yoruichi early on in Episode 57, this flashback fleshes out a character that at first seems quite cruel and arrogant, as well as offering glimpses into Yoruichi’s past – plus it’s heavily laced with rather unsubtle homoerotic fan service. This isn’t the greatest flashback we’ve seen in the series so far, but it does an effective enough job of making Soi Fon a more sympathetic character.
The focus finally switches back to Ichigo Vs. Byakuya in Episodes 58-59, which commences with some elucidation of Ichigo’s shikai state powers, which up until has only been a reactionary manifestation in the heat of battle, but now he can use the powers at will. Despite Ichigo’s increase in skill at the shikai level, it’s not long before both fighters are duking it out in bankai mode, which we’ve already seen Byakuya in before and know both how deadly it is, being very similar to Gaara’s sand techniques in Naruto. For Ichigo’s bankai is a whole new entity, and I think it’s a masterclass of character design. We’ve seen from Renji that going bankai can give a shinigami a new appearance based on their zanpakuto’s inner spirit, so in Ichigo’s case he takes on a costume based on Zangetsu’s ultra fashionable outfit and a black sword with a manji hilt that gives Ichigo one of the best character designs in the series.
The changes to Ichigo’s powers when going bankai are surprisingly understated, there’s no ostentatious display of scale like a 60ft snake or giant golden baby, instead it turns Ichigo into a speed demon, which is quite an ironic and fitting upgrade considering his fighting style to date has been more about charging forward wrecklessly and powering his way to victory. Now he can outmanoeuvre almost anyone when in bankai and having peak condition - an ability that Tite Kubo conveniently forgets about when hyping some of the opponents Ichigo will face later on in the story.
This fight isn’t all about Ichigo though; Byakuya still has a few unseen tricks up his sleeve and really impresses with the range of abilities he uses against Ichigo. Of all the fighters we’ve seen in Bleach so far, he exhibits the most versatility in battle. He can attack and defend at the same time, and he combines superior sword technique with lethal skill in kido, which makes him an extremely engaging and unpredictable fighter. He certainly gives Ichigo a lot of trouble, and there’s a major twist near the end of this duel that I suppose many viewers will be expecting, which gives some intriguing foreshadowing of Ichigo’s burgeoning power.
After the end of the Ichigo/Byakuya fight we switch back to the mysterious goings on behind the scenes in Seireitei that Hitsugaya and Rangiku have been investigating. In Episode 60 they discover that all 46 members of the central government have been slaughtered at their posts. Not long after the real primary antagonist of the series finally makes himself known and all the open plot points fall into place, namely what happened to Aizen, who set Rukia up and for what purpose, in an appropriately sensational conclusion to the Soul Society arc. The big bad villain turns out to be a Shinigami of such power that it becomes obvious Ichigo will have to go through a period of tremendous growth in power before he can finally take him down.
The Soul Society arc has really been the golden era of Tite Kubo’s manga, and has been flawlessly adapted into anime form by Noriyuki Abe and his team. Unfortunately the anime follows up this excellent story arc with a year’s worth of filler plotlines that really test the patience of even the hardest of Bleach fanatics. When the story does go back to the manga’s plotline it soon descends into another long arc that is practically a mirror image of the Soul Society arc, which quickly feels like Kubo is treading water. So enjoy this volume of Bleach while it’s new, because Bleach isn’t going to be this good for a long, long time!
PresentationBleach Series 03 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