With the Soul Society arc behind us, Bleach sets out to find its new direction.
What They Say
Ichigo and his friends return from the Soul Society to the World of the Living and try to resume their normal lives. But when strange abductions start happening, it's up to them to solve the riddle. More Soul Reapers arrive to help uncover the truth behind a mysterious clan known as Bounts. Will these allies be strong enough to stop the Bount leader from stealing human souls and feeding his dangerous ambition?
Contains episodes 64-79.
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. This set contains sixteen episodes spread across four discs with four episodes per disc. 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 three box sets, I’m really surprised to see Viz Media change its approach, though I hope they apply it to all their box sets at some point. Rather than the digipak we’ve had before, we know get a thin cardboard cover that holds four black thinpak cases. The color of choice this time is a light blue for the overall design, in contrast to the deep blue of the previous set, and I really love how this color looks overall. The central focus for the character artwork is that of Ichigo in his Soul Reaper outfit with his zanpakuto drawn out. It’s very simple but highly effective with the serious look and the way the eye is dawn right to the character. There isn’t a lot of text on the front here which works out nicely. The back is designed like previous digipaks but in the shade of blue where it uses the series name and breaks out what it is. The summary is kept to the lower right with white text on the blue that looks good but is pretty minimal overall. The discs production and technical information is all listed underneath that, though I would have liked to have an episode listing/breakdown there as well as the other place it’s found on the back isn’t quickly visible.
Inside the box we get the individual thinpak cases which all utilize the same artwork as was found with the individual disc releases. Though clear might have worked better, these covers are all very appealing with the white background and the strong focus on the character artwork. Of the four volumes, we get Ichigo, Urahaha, Ishida and Rukia each getting time for themselves and looking good if not too terribly detailed. The back covers are all laid out the same with a good bit of open unused space, a brief summary of what the story for that volume is and a listing of the episodes to be found on there. There’s a shot from each episode also provided with each volume and a simple breakdown grid that’s more about the logos and copyrights more than anything else. No show related inserts are included in this release nor are there reversible covers.
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 fourth volume has a Behind the Scenes feature which runs just over ten 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 fourth season of Bleach has a doubly difficult job ahead of it as we go into the first part of the season that this set contains. First, it's following the already long but very engaging Soul Society arc which expanded the cast in a huge way, showed off the Soul Society itself and upped the stakes in terms of where Ichigo can go and how interconnected everything is in the end. The second thing it has to face is that it's not going to please a certain segment of fans because it's not adapted directly from the manga but instead is original because the manga needed more time to get properly ahead so that they could animate it, which is what season six became.
Having not read the manga and having enjoyed the show so far, I am going into this season with a fairly open mind because there are series that have done original arcs of length well that weren't in the original source material. Bleach sets about starting us off in a rather traditional way of getting the cast all back in place and showing us that their lives are where they were before the arc started. Ichigo and the gang is back at school, he's got his official Soul Reaper substitute status and life has gone on nicely enough. There are little Hollows he's dealing with but nothing that's straining him in the slightest. There's an emptiness there with Rukia back in the Soul Society but he felt he accomplished his mission of making sure she wasn't executed. Kon, of course, wants her and her bosom back where he can get at it.
This fairly simple life can't last though and Ichigo knows that for sure when Renji arrives on the scene. His being assigned to this area is a huge red flag for Ichigo and it starts a spiral of events where there are more Hollow sightings that they have to deal with and a curious trio of people that starting causing problems for them as well. They go so far as to start kidnapping some of his friends, such as Orihime at first and then Chad and then threatening to make the entire population of their school disappear. This part of the arc is a bit tiring as it's a cat and mouse game of sorts and the end result of it is mostly just to set up another aspect of the show, one that I admit that I really like but have misgivings about.
One part of the show that has always been appealing is the character of Kon and the kind of comic relief he can bring to it during the few times he's really around. There's a scene where he's turned into a backpack and Ishida stuffs all kinds of useful things in him and it's spot on hilarious and fits within what has come before. When Bleach decides to add three more such creatures to the show, it really does feel like overkill and a true gimmick. But these characters, Lirin, Noba and Kurodo, manage to make it work because they're quirky in a different way and they each make their way to a different patron of sorts. Even Ichigo treats them differently than he does Kon and that keeps them from being purely comedic material. They do make for a great ending sequence though.
This is all setup to the actual story arc of this season, which is really still shrouded in mystery and keeps it from being compelling. Introduced into this season is a limited group of people known as the Bount who walk among the Living. These eternal people have a set of rules governing how they live in this world where they aren't allowed to feed on the souls of the living as that will give them far more power than they should have, which in turn can lead to them opening a pathway to the world of the Hollows. They instead spend their time dealing with the souls of the dead and they all operate independently for the most part. The main thing of these seven that we see that are now working together under Jin Kariya is that they're all male except for one, a woman named Yoshino.
The purpose of these Boutin is really a mystery, and it's something that confounds Ichigo and the others when they start dealing with them head on. The Boutin are trying to bring Ishida into their plans as they apparently need a Quincy for it and he is the last one after all. Their plans also start to catch the attention of the Soul Society as a former member there has appeared within the group and there is a history there that ties things together. With Rukia eventually back in play as well, most of the gang is here again as they struggle to understand what Kariya's master plan is while trying to make sure Ishida is alright. With his powers still gone after the Soul Society arc where he went beyond his limits, he's very vulnerable.
This set is short by a few episodes from where previous ones have been as its only sixteen episodes whereas the others were in the twenties. This does shorten the flow of the set as it feels like it's just starting to get somewhere when it ends. The lack of clarity about the purpose is somewhat frustrating since even in the big long Soul Society arc is boiled down to Ichigo trying to make sure Rukia wasn't executed. And we knew that from very early on as well. The Boutin arc isn't bad, but it doesn't feel like it flows as well narrative wise as the previous seasons have. I like the new Kon-like characters that are introduced but wonder whether they break the feel of the series. The Boutin characters get little play overall with only Yoshino and Kariya really having an impact of any merit. And like before, as the arc goes on, the focus on the secondary characters lessons and it becomes more and more about Ichigo.I think what made me the happiest with this set was having Renji in the world of the living and watching him interact and explore it along with some of the others like Noba and Lirin. This arc doesn't feel like it has any weight to it yet to give it importance, though I'm sure it'll get some of that in the second half of it.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Ending, Production Artwork, Behind the Scenes
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.