Bleach Series 04 Part 02 Review
Welcome to the Bount Arc! Yes, after the shenanigans with Urahara Kisuke’s mod souls in the previous volume we now start Series 04 Part 02 a few episodes into a story arc that will run until Episode 108, so this one is going to cover a few volumes yet. The basic idea behind the Bount is that they’re a tribe of humans like the Quincy who have special powers, but whereas the Quincy devote themselves to fighting hollows, the Bount feed on human souls to sustain an eternal life. That’s right, vampires have been written into Bleach and cut price ones at that, as most of the Bount have rather dull, generic character design and similarly flat and insipid fighting styles that stem from their ability to use what’s called a “doll”, which is kind of like a summonable mannequin that has powers/attributes and personalities that are uniquely linked to its users.
This means most Bount fights tend to be similar in execution to the puppet ninjutsu fights in Naruto, only without any deftness in their execution, which you never feel so badly as in the early confrontations with various weaker Bount that occur at the start of this arc. For instance we’ve seen Ichigo go up against the female Bount: Yoshino Soma, whose humanoid doll controls fire, and smug butler lookalike: Udagawa, who controls a snake doll that can turn whatever objects it strikes into snakes, and in both skirmishes Ichigo has been downgraded to a figher who can do little more than run slowly from place to place, slash once or twice, then run to another position and repeat. We know he’s lost the ability to use his Bankai for some mysterious reason, but that doesn’t mean he can’t use the other potent skills in his arsenal that saw him go toe-to-toe with Zaraki Kenpachi and also defeat three vice captains in less than 10seconds with his bare hands! This has to represent one of the most insulting depowering and de-evolving of a central character I’ve yet to witness in a filler storyline in any Anime series, and it’s incredibly frustrating to watch.
Ichigo continues to be a limp, useless force in Episodes 72-73 when Ishida is admitted to hospital overnight due to the injuries he sustained at the hands of Udagawa, it seems that not only has Ichigo forgotten how to fight but the rest of Team Ichigo have also forgotten that Orihime could heal a wound like this in a few minutes, but still this monumental contrivance gives us the setting for the next Bount battle when identical twins: Ban and Ho come looking to steal Ishida away into the night. Naturally, Team Ichigo are guarding Ishida’s hospital room so Ichigo, Rukia, Chad, Renji, Orihime, and the Mod Souls go up against a Bount duo whose dolls can control water and combine to create a bigger more powerful water creature. That’s basically 8 against 2 if you don’t count Kon, 4 against 2 f you ignore Orihime and the Mod Souls, but either way you cut it two low ranked Bount shouldn’t be able to decimate this team of high level reiatsu users, and yet the writers see fit to turn Ban and Ho into seemingly untouchable opponents when fighting in the pouring rain thanks to an interminably stupid amount of standing and staring from the heroes. The conclusion to the fight is equally baffling because it’s over in an instant when Ganju arrives out of nowhere and uses a fairly simplistic weapon.
The rest of the episodes in this volume (Episodes 74-79) follow the same formula of Bounts targeting Ishida and Ishida acting like an idiot and running around after Yoshino who is attempting to thwart the plans of the Bount’s leader: Jin Kariya. The fact neither we nor she knows what exactly Kariya’s goals are and exactly how the use of a Quincy factors into it is neither here nor there, but we gradually learn that it has something to do with consuming enough live human souls to give the Bount the power to open a portal between two worlds: like Hueco Mundo and the Human World. Along the way we are introduced to all the Bounts that are working under enigmatic (read: boringly vague) leader Jin Kariya, most of whom look like your typical disposable filler villains; but two stand out: A huge man named Koga who uses a female doll that controls metal, and Maki Ichinose, an exiled shinigami who abandoned Soul Society when Zaraki Kenpachi became captain of Squad 11 by killing the previous captain whom Maki idolised. With Maki’s involvement the writers have a plot device to keep them switching back to Seireitei where news of Bount activity and Maki Ichinose’s involvement reach the captains and Kurotsuchi Mayuri discovers that someone has sneaked into Soul Society and wiped all his data on the Bount.
Series 04 Part 02 culminates in Ishida finally being successfully abducted by Koga and the usual team crashing the Bount mansion to rescue him in Episode 76. This leads to a one-on-one between Ichigo and Udagawa where our hero finally remembers that he can use Shunpo and fire energy beams from his Zanpakuto! It’s only took him 4 fights to remember as well! Aside from having the satisfaction of seeing Ichigo bust a special move out, the dual with Udagawa continues the trend for boring Bount fights, but it segues into a brief tussle between Ichigo and Maki Ichinose that is much more reminiscent of the kind of battles we saw in the Soul Society Arc. Sadly this action setpiece is ruined when Jin Kariya gatecrashes the party and we go instantly back to the godlike villain/chumplike hero formula of one-sided beatings. To say progress is slow throughout this volume would be an understatement, eight episodes feel more like 16 and I don’t recall the Bount Arc significantly improving any time soon either!
PresentationThere’s some strangeness going on with the aspect ratio of this release. Bleach Series 04 Part 01 saw a switch to a new wider aspect ratio of 1.40:1 and Series 04 Part 02 starts off in more or less the same ratio at 1.39:1, but later episodes become slightly less wide at 1.36:1. I’m not sure why this is, but otherwise this 2-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.