The rescue arc draws to a close but not without quite a lot of fighting and some striking revelations.
What They Say
The day of Rukia's execution draws ever closer, and to save her, Ichigo and his loyal comrades must navigate the madness of a Soul Society on the brink of collapse. Ichigo and Renji face the most difficult training of their Soul Reaper careers as they struggle to achieve bankai, without which they have no hope against the most powerful captain of the Seireitei: Byakuya Kuchiki.
While all the players converge at the site of Rukia's imminent execution, in the background, a group of Soul Reapers slowly uncover an unimaginable betrayal at the hands of one of their own - a betrayal that will shake the Soul Society to its very core.
Contains episodes 42-63.
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.
After a white box and then a red box, obviously the next color in line is a blue box. That does make me wonder what color they’ll use next since we now have all the logo colors used. The thin cardboard box has a good image of Ichigo and Hitsugaya in their Soul Reaper outfits with a serious and deadly expression that works well with the color combinations around them along with the standard logos and the series name. The silver foil part of the first box is gone once again but I do now find myself liking the box color choices overall, though part of me does wish they were all white since it was so striking. 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 pair of postcards with Hitsugaya on one and Ichigo on the other.
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 Japanese text on white. 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. 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. Also included is the cute specially made US extra entitled “Kon’s U.S. Tour” that simply needs to be seen if you’re a fan of Kon at all.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Bleach runs through another twenty-two episodes with this run and takes us through the remainder of the Rescue arc as it deals with, well, rescuing Rukia from certain death at the hands of the Soul Society. There are times when the whole set really feels like they’re starting to drag things out more than it needs to be as there’s only so much background I want on some of these Captains and their subordinates, but it never quite crosses that line since they do provide enough in the way of connections to the fight at hand and old rivalries. But the flip side to it is that even though it doesn’t really drag, it becomes so convoluted and complicated to follow because of how old some of them are that you start to not care. And that’s just as bad.
With this many episodes, there are bound to be lulls of course, or time spent with characters you don’t care about, but what really irks is that the core storyline ends up seeming like it takes longer to really get accomplished. Thankfully, the smaller stories done here are pretty well done and you like seeing the evolution of the core group of characters as they figure out what they’re really capable of in here. The first main side storyline that I liked involved Ishida as he does his best to protect Orihime as they make their way to the meeting place. Ishida has been kind of wishy washy in my eyes as to whether I like him or not, but this time we get the proper background piece with him and his grandfather as he comes full circle with the man who had him killed. Ishida’s had his serious moments, but it’s his fight here that really paves the way for him to be a solid leading character.
What surprised me was that there was a rather engaging story sidetrack given over to tone of the Captains that really kept my attention. I honestly didn’t give much thought to what most of the captains have in their pasts, though Byakuya has some really good moments towards the end. The majority of them at this point are simply faceless people with some neat little quirks to what they can produce with their spirit powers. With so many different Captain’s and all the little political intrigue bits scattered throughout, it felt kind of pointless to really get into it that much. This probably explains why I liked Kenpachi so much, though the bulk of his story was in the previous set. In this one, he ends up tying part of his fortune up with Orihime which is hilarious since she gets to ride on his back for awhile. But he also really gets to shine when he has to deal with other Soul Reapers and we really get an idea of why he stands out among the rest of them, how he gained his position and why he might be the most devilish of them all. His appearance is the most quirky of them all which usually annoys me, but in the end I keep finding Kenpachi to be the most fun for a lot of reasons.
When it comes to the other members of the Ichigo supporting cast, the show doesn’t work too well in their favor at this point. Once Ishida’s story is over, only Orihime gets a few choice moments and they are too few overall. Chad is virtually ignored for a lot of this which is really sad considering how well he was dealt with in the previous set and Ganju is reduced to purely minor comedic relief. On the plus side, appropriately enough, episode fifty takes us back to Earth where get an entire Kon episode. Kon has been one of my favorites of the series so getting to see him dealing with being dressed up in sailor suits and then becoming part of Don’s group of evil fighters was priceless. Yuzu’s fairly ditzy presence in the episode is equally amusing since she can’t tell the different between “Bostov” and Kon when she comes across Kon after getting caught up with Don. This episode came at exactly the right point in the set since it gave us some much needed levity and a little nod to the real world.
Of course, the main attraction in Bleach is that of Ichigo himself. His continual growing in power and ability has been fascinating to watch, though it is one of those story ideas that gives him far too much power too quickly. There are moments early on where this is really a problem, especially when Yoruichi retrieves him from a battle with Byukaya and intends to bring him back in three days time with a new skill that takes most Captains ten years to acquire. Every weapon that a Soul Reaper possesses should have two levels to it, with the shikai and bankai. Ichigo has been using the first – openly at that – but never achieved the second which makes it easy for most of the Captains to dismiss him at first. Many have but many have also fallen to him and his friends for varying reasons. Yoruichi knows he can do it, but he has to face his inner zanpakuto again in order to do it and the risk is naturally great.
In the end, what makes Ichigo so bloody appealing is that he is a very straightforward and honest character about himself. His goal has been to save Rukia, so he can’t understand how her brother can let her die in such an elaborate execution. And with his mindset being one where he will not give up and that he’ll fight until he can’t, it does give him a mental edge against the overpowering spirit pressure applied by those around him. But with his final confrontation with Byukaya, we really start to understand exactly what it is that is within him and that allows him to reach such heights. It’s a story element that I admit I didn’t see coming but it works as a perfect explanation as well as tying into the next major storyline that goes back to Aizen and Ichimaru. Ichigo is a key turning point in the history of the material realm, the Soul Society and the Hollows themselves. Seeing all of this culminate – to a point – in this storyline really made the last several episodes incredibly engaging.
Bleach really runs through a lot of material here but some of it is kind of dicey as it borders on too much considering the size of the cast. With so many Captains and so many members of each squad running around, it’s easy to start forgetting who is who. At the same time, the amount of intrigue and political aspects is really fascinating and it’s the kind of well realized world that you’d want to immerse yourself into in a novelized form to really give it room to grow outside of the action. The Soul Society could carry multiple series on its own I think. Regardless of the minor problems I had with this set, overall it proved to be quite engaging and a whole lot of fun. It’s made me connect to Ichigo even more and want to understand what his true potential is. At the same time, the revelations towards the end of the arc about what was really going on only excites me to a huge degree and I can’t wait to eventually see where all of it will go. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Closings, Production Artwork, Behind the Scenes, Kon's US Tour
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.