Bleach Series 05 Part 01 Review
Kariya and Koga arrive in the middle of Seireitei in Series 5 Part 1 of Bleach and immediately curb-stomp a couple of Shinigami Vice Captains to prove their power, which is all thanks to Ishida's ingenious decision to help the Bount open a portal to Soul Society because his Quincy powers are stronger there, which is a massive case of self-delusion considering the Bount are clearly massively more powerful in a world made up entirely of the Reishi that they feed on! This twist sets the level of intelligence for the writing pretty much entirely across this volume of Bleach, where any minor progress made in terms of action and narrative development is drowned out by a glut of stupid contrivances.
A good example occurs right away almost in Episode 91 when Ichigo's team follow the Bount into Soul Society and immediately go visit Kukaku for no apparent reason other than this is what they did last time they arrived in Soul Society. Yoruichi appeared out of nowhere at the end of the last volume and she's here now to explain that they need to find both the remaining Bount and their creator: an exiled shinigami named RanTao responsible for starting this mess over a thousand years ago. Lots of aimless searching pads out this arc, interrupted by the occasional limp fight sequence, like in Episode 92 when Rukia and Ririn are confronted by Yoshi and the blandest fighters on both sides of the war go head-to-head in the unappealing setting of Rukongai's empty, dusty streets. - Well I say head-to-head, more like Rukia throws a few Kido powerballs at Yoshi and runs about a bit trying to hide.
Byakuya arrives to save his sister and takes her back to the Kuchiki residence for some TLC while Yoshi presumably has made her escape seeing as she's not mentioned again by anyone in Episode 93. Instead we focus more on Kariya and Koga who are now off the beaten track trying to recruit allies against Seireitei in the rough Kusajishi district of Rukongai (where Kenpachi found Yachiru), which no longer looks all that rough to be honest! Ichigo on the other hand is stuck in comedy time-filler hell back at Kukaku's joint before heading out for some more of the same generic aimless searching with that seems to have taken up about 90% of the episodes in this arc to date. You've got to give the writers credit for managing to finally change the setting from Earth to Soul Society and then immediately settling into the same old routine! They're nothing if not consistent.
Episodes 94-95 at least moves things in the right direction when Byakuya makes a mockery of Team Ichigo's searching abilities by walking right into Rukongai and immediately running into Jin Kariya, who's looking for a fight with a revered shinigami captain to put a little fear into his enemy's hearts. It's not saying much, but this is probably the best fight sequence in the entire Bount Arc so far with proper give-and-take exchanges which are interrupted swiftly by Ichigo and the fight becomes a three-way dance with Ichigo and Byakuya's inability to work together acting as the reason why they both can't just destroy Kariya there and then, which is certainly far from the worst contrivance we've had this arc.
The action concludes when RanTao finally makes an appearance, signalling Kariya's retreat, but it's good to finally see him taken out of his comfort zone and forced on the back foot, plus RanTao's explanation of the Bount's origins manages to humanise his character a little bit. Further exposition on those origins come in Episode 96 back at RanTao's underground shack with the scientist explaining to Ichigo and Ishida how the Bount's dolls are derived from shinigami Zanpakuto, most of which pisses all over established continuity later on in Kubo's manga so you would do well to ignore all of this once the arc is over! There's some more plot progression when Kariya finally attacks Seireitei but for now the main focus is switched to Maki Ichinose and his inevitable duel with Kenpachi, which finally kicks off in Episode 97 and proves a disappointment. Maki's rainbow light zanpakuto ensures pretty visuals and interesting designs but the dramatics and action are a very derivative amalgam of Kenpachi's prior fights with Ichigo and Tousen.
We're soon back to astonishingly dense plotting in Episode 98 when the volume concludes with Kariya and his Kusajishi army using a giant wooden contraption to very slowly pry the enormous Sekkiseki West Gate open after making swift work of Jidanbo. As soon as that is done there's a cunning twist when the Bount turn on their Rukongai allies revealing that they were just using them to gain access to SeiReiTei! So basically Kariya and Koga arrived in the middle of SeiReiTei at the start of this volume then buggered off to the furthest district away from the place to raise an army purely so they can get back IN to the city! In a moment of epic irony when realising they've been betrayed, the Kusajishi lackeys scream out "we can't back down now, charge!!!" despite there being no Shinigami witnesses or the fact they haven't actually entered nor attacked SeiReiTei yet. Obviously that "When Best to Retreat for Dummies" book never made it to the outskirts of Rukongai!
Even more hilarious is that the Bount have used the exact same gate that Ichigo used to invade SeiReiTei over 60episodes ago, and despite the entire city being on high alert since they arrived in Soul Society all that is guarding this crucial gate is about 12 no-rank fodder shinigami. The farce continues when poor old Hitsugaya gets demoted as head of the anti-Bount Taskforce despite the fact he was one of only two captains who were outside of SeiReiTei when Kariya invaded and hence actually had an excuse for not defending the damn West Gate! Kyoraku tries to console him by pointing out that nothing could have been done to stop the Bount invading and he may have had a point - It's not like the city has only 4 entrances and 13 highly powered Shinigami captains that could have been guarding each of them is it?
Honestly you could lock one monkey in a room with a type writer for one minute and he could come up with something less nonsensical than this drivel. The one plus side to all this is that the volume does at least end on an unintentionally comic highpoint. It's perhaps the only fun I've had this entire arc, but for all the wrong reasons!.
PresentationManga have given the DVD cover, menus and title cards a slight tweak for Series 5 Part 1, eschewing the stark white backgrounds for a more colourful, shaded and darker scheme. They've also fractionally altered the aspect ratio yet again, but at least it remains consistent across all episodes in this volume at 1.34:1. As for presentation, it's business as usual 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.