Bleach Series 04 Part 01 Review
The Soul Society arc is over and with it Tite Kubo’s manga is pushed aside for about a year’s worth of filler episodes, commencing in Episode 64 which re-acquaints us with the characters left behind in Karakura Town whilst Ichigo and company were off adventuring in Soul Society. Orihime spends much of this episode moping around trying to come to terms with her relative ineffectiveness during the mission to rescue Rukia, and Renji finds himself stationed to the town to keep an eye on Ichigo’s team due to their unusually high spirit pressure being a problematic source of attraction to hollows. For the most part this episode captures the feel of the series in the early stages before the Soul Society Arc kicked off so it offers a not unwelcome change of pace, but when Orihime is spirited away by three strange looking characters at the end of the episode, a new rescue arc has begun!
Orihime’s friends return to school the morning after her abduction in Episode 65, only to find everyone’s memory of Orihime has been erased. This gives the team their first indication that the abductors have set a specific plan in motion, and it’s not long before the team receives a phone call from a young girl who claims to be one of the kidnappers and has a mission for them to run around town answering a series of phone calls she’s making to various public phones. Obviously this episode has been inspired by Dirty Harry with it putting the heroes through a series of distance running challenges by a gloating abductor, only this naturally has a more comical spin on the format. There’s not really a tremendous amount of plot progression until the very end of the episode, but it passes the time reasonably well.
Ichigo’s problems are multiplied in Episode 66 when Chad becomes the next abducted good-guy and with it the perpetrators finally introduce themselves as Kurodo, Noba, and Lirin. Later they order Ichigo, Renji, and Ishida to go and continue their game at Karakura Museum, and take part in a hide and seek challenge that is made complicated by their challenger’s ability to create powerful optical illusions. There’s even less plot progression in this episode, focussing instead on the team’s attempts to figure out the illusionary riddle, but as with the previous episode this is all inoffensive entertainment. We at least learn that the antagonists are in fact mod souls like Kon.
In Episode 67 Lirin challenges the team to another game, this time giving the command that they have to discover which member of their team is in fact an imposter. We gradually start learning more about the abilities of these mod-souls, and the more I learnt the more I began to question the writers’ sanity as they’re completely ignoring the established rules of the Bleach universe. Mod souls are not suppose to have esoteric kido-esque abilities, they are simply capable of augmenting a single physical attribute of the body they inhabit, but these new mod souls can create illusions, shape shift and teleport, it’s ridiculous.
The games finally come to an end in Episode 68 when the whole team is sucked into an alternate dimension for an all out fight to rescue Chad. This episode makes a mockery of Bleach; it’s bad enough the writers have given their mod soul antagonists completely overblown powers, but it’s another to make them capable of fighting high class shinigamis like Ichigo and Renji without being pushed overly hard. In fact, Lirin, Kurodo and Noba hold their own so well that the good guys don’t even win the day, the bad guys simply decide to give up!
With the game over, the overriding story arc kicks into gear in Episodes 69-71. I’ll discuss this arc in the next volume and will conclude here by commenting on the end of the kidnapping game story arc, the purpose of which Urahara reveals was to train Ichigo’s team for the challenges ahead – a completely vapid reason if ever there was one, as we never see any of the training conducted in this arc implemented in any future battles. The most insulting revelation is that one of the main reasons Urahara resorted to such antagonistic training methods was that Ichigo can no longer use his Bankai. This has got to be one of the most obvious and convenient contrivances I’ve yet to witness in a fictional work, and I don’t think they even bother to offer up a decently thought out explanation for this sudden neutering of the lead character.
This sort of sloppy, groan-inducing contrivance is endemic of the long story arc to follow. At the time of its broadcast I very nearly gave up on the Bleach anime as I just found the whole storyline interminably annoying. I look forward to the next boxset of Bleach like I look forward to a punch in the face from Mike Tyson.
PresentationBleach Series 04 Part 01 has a slight change over previous volumes in that the aspect ratio is now in a slightly wider 1.4:1 ratio, which would suggest either some cropping or opening up has been applied. Otherwise this disc set presents Bleach to exactly the same standards as the previous releases, so I will simply repeat my A/V review from the first set here:
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 other than a strange tendency to spell Ukitake’s name as: Ukitaki.