Shifting the story to the Soul Society, Bleach hits up the action on a regular basis as Ichigo faces tougher and tougher opponents.
What They Say
Ichigo and his friends make the erilous journey to the Soul Society and are promptly set upon by the
guardians of the spirit world. As they dodge one foe after another, they gradually draw nearer their goal: to rescue Rukia from the tower cell where she awaits her death sentence. But their presence threatens the very order of the Soul Society itself, and they must face the ultimate opponents--the captains of the guard squads whose Spiritual Pressure is unmatched, even by Ichigo himself!
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The two stereo mixes that are included with this release are pretty good with an encoding of 224 kbps which gives it slightly more depth than the 192 kbps standards we usually hear. With a lot of action to it as well as some exaggerated dialogue sequences, Bleach has a fairly decent stereo mix that has some nice directionality to it but nothing that really sets it out as a truly strong piece. The opening and closing sequences have some solid use but overall the mix is straightforward and competent. In listening to both language tracks, we didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Being a recent show, the transfer for it is in very clean and solid shape and is for the most part generally a good looking release. Colors are solid without any really noticeable bleeding, though some of the red items sometime seem like there's a touch of it. Cross coloration is absent and aliasing is very minimal. Probably more out of expectation, the show does seem a bit soft in how it's presented. Part of it comes from the way so many shows are just so clean and vibrant looking, that something of this nature doesn't feel quite right – especially for something of this pedigree. Backgrounds do exhibit some noise and there are a few very noticeable areas of mosquito noise as well, but by and large this is a good looking release.
The single volume releases of Bleach were quite appealing as they used the character art against a white background which I felt let it all stand out well. Viz has decided to do the same with the box set while also making sure those who enjoyed the single volume releases will be happy. The thin cardboard box has a good image of Ichigo and Renji in their Soul Reaper outfits going against each other with a bit of glee along with the standard logos and the series name. The silver foil part of the first box is gone however and the change from white to red isn’t what I hoped for, both for consistency and because it doesn’t let the characters stand out as much as they should. The back cover has the logo in full while also providing a brief summary of the premise and basic technical and production information. It actually avoids any sort of character artwork or shots from the show which is a bit of a surprise. Inside the box is a foldout poster of Ichigo in full Soul Reaper mode on one side while the other has an array of conceptual artwork shots with untranslated notes about them.
The digipak inside the box is made up with good ideas but poor materials for making it work well in the long run. Like many digipaks, I just have a fear that this won't last long if you watch it often or manhandle it the wrong way. The front cover features the same artwork as the front of the box while the back side has just the series logo on it. The interior has the standard flap on it along with a listing of the discs and what episodes are on what discs. The digipak portion itself is a single connected plastic piece that has pages for each of the discs. Behind the discs is a bit of simple black text on white with various sayings and thoughts that the characters have. Opposite of that is the original cover artwork for all of the volumes except the first, which is where the poster is. Where the packaging is a problem is that sometimes the pages shift slightly and it's very tentative in trying to get them back into place so it can close. The fear of breaking it keeps you from just shoving it how it needs to and then makes you really be careful with the package as a whole afterwards.
The menu design is one of the better ones from Viz in recent memory as it uses the blocking movements from the opening sequence to showcase scenes from the show. Kept to an all black background, the visuals slide in and out along with lines of color all set to a brief bit of instrumental music. The navigation strip is along the bottom with quick access times to submenus and starting the show. Viz continues to avoid direction episode navigation from the top level but they're not the only ones to still do that. While this is a simple approach, it's done well and is a definite change from how Viz has done things in the past. On the downside, the discs did not correctly read our players' language presets and defaulted to English only for audio and no subtitles – which is unfortunate since there isn't a sign/song subtitle track so you initially believe the songs are not subtitled.
A few extras are on the discs here and spread out across all of them. Each disc has a selection of production art pieces which covers the basics of characters and the like while we also get a clean version of the closing sequence. An interesting inclusion is a preview of the manga. This is a video piece where it brings in a number of pages from the first volume of the book and "reads" it the proper way while zooming into each of the pages so you can read it clearly. For those that read manga, it'll feel very slow. But it is a good way to get a feel for a book and to see how closely it matches the anime. The fifth volume has a Behind the Scenes feature which runs just under twenty minutes. Its focus is entirely on the US voice actor side and has several of the leads talking about their characters before shifting into showing them at work during recording sessions.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first Bleach box set, which ran for twenty episodes, contained a lot of standard shonen action material but did it in such a way that made it feel fresh and engaging. It had a certain kind of fun to it even as it played in some relatively dark material revolving around death, souls and the afterlife. When that set ended and the story began to shift to that of the Soul Society, I had a fear that it would lose some of that magic because of all the various character interactions that had come up and that the bulk of the cast obviously wasn’t going to go.
Thankfully, those fears proved unfounded.
The gang’s arrival in the Soul Society is one that really doesn’t allow for some of what made the first set so much fun. The laid back moments, the school bits and the initial relationship material as Ichigo and Rukia learned about each other obviously isn’t here. What this set focuses on for the most part is an exploration of what the Soul Society is like, the kinds of customs that have come up and how it all impacts what they need to do, which is saving Rukia. That means getting into the main city of Seireitei and finding her and rescuing her. With people like Ichigo however, it’s not going to happen quietly and it’s not going to happen without a lot of fighting. And this could be a real down part for some series if it doesn’t manage the execution well as it devolves into just fighting and the continual strengthening aspect.
Bleach does manage to execute this well however and it keeps it going with a solid pace. In fact, much to my surprise, it avoids doing much of any real flashback material for what seems like the first half of the disc, focusing more on the here and now before providing moments that help illuminate what’s gone on during the ten days of training that everyone went through. The focus on the present is quite a positive for me since the narrative is done in a way that keeps you from feeling like you’re falling into filler material. Not that the background and flashback pieces are that, at least outside of the one episode involving Don Kanonji, as they do help to show how each of the characters have arrived at a particular conclusion or raised a particular skill set that hasn’t been talked about. It’s a bit of a cheap way of doing it and it gives away exactly what’s about to happen, but the flashbacks are generally solidly done and they don’t detract from the show but rather enhance it or at the least carry it all through.
With the group that has come through to the Soul Society to rescue Rukia, it doesn’t take long before they’re split into smaller groups and have to deal with a wider variety of things. The initial stage does have them all together as Yourichi does his best to get them to someone who can help. That does introduce the outgoing and brash Ganju, a man who clashes instantly with Ichigo because the two of them are so alike. It’s little surprise that they eventually spend a good bit of time together split off from everyone else as they go through the streets of Seireitei. Some of the character makes out better than others which is to be expected. Ishida and Orihime have some really solid scenes to them as they pair up to make their way to where Rukia is, but their overall screentime is relatively minimal. Chad is much the same as he’s kept to himself for much of this but his personality shines through well as he tries to catch up with everyone else and even finds a fascinating connection to events in the first set here which helps to explain how the Soul Society is really set up for the souls that arrive here.
Naturally, a large chunk of the story revolves around Ichigo and who he has to fight along the way. His meetings in the first set have certainly paved the way for a few rematches, what with Renji and Rukia’s brother being there. These matches come in varying degrees, along with a few others, since Seireitei is pretty damn large and is designed like a maze. The matches are all surprisingly engaging as Ichigo gets more of a handle on his innate power as well as coming to grips with what kind of mindset he really needs. The flashbacks to his training helps to flesh all of this out a bit more but it really does click in a way that makes sense, even if it is somewhat predictable in that “Shonen Jump” kind of way. The fight with Renji in particular really highlights his growth and changes since first introduced and the way he’s handled things since coming to the Soul Society.
What a lot of this set hinges on, especially in the last segment of it, is the build up towards something big. The ending certainly has that, but it’s what comes before it that really provides the biggest payoff for this set. From early on, Ichigo learns about one of the Captain’s that he’ll likely face, a man named Kenpachi Zaraki. Immortal on some level and one of the most powerful fighters of the Soul Society, he’s been told to avoid him on sight. Zaraki for his part is intrigued by Ichigo from what he hears of him and views him as a possible playmate he can have some fun with as so few really give him a run for his money. When these two finally meet, it opens up a really strong fight sequence stretched over a couple of episodes that also energizes each man in a new way. This is the kind of fight scene that can only come from really good characters and stories being told about them. Zaraki alone is fun to watch because of the way he’s acted beforehand as he’s raced around the city looking for Ichigo alongside his Lieutenant.
While Bleach is at its core a straightforward action show based on a Shonen Jump manga, it’s one that has so much to it that it could spin off any number of series from what’s given here. The Soul Society arc had me fearing what it could do to the cast since it cut it down in size from who we met in the first set but it handled the introduction of the new cast members very well. The world that these characters inhabit is obviously very different from where Ichigo is from but it has some fascinating leanings to it, plenty of political and social intrigue and a whole lot more. The core is still the fight scenes which are wonderfully choreographed and play out with a real energy, but it’s made all the more exciting because of the solid background given to all of it, the life that’s really breathed into it all. The first set wowed me and this one had me cautiously optimistic before I saw it. Now I’m a firm believer and can’t wait to see more.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.