The filler comes to a close as the Visored and Arrancars are introduced in order to shape a long running storyline.
What They Say
Back in the World of the Living, Ichigo Kurosaki has been officially recognized as a Substitute Soul Reaper by the Soul Society. Then trouble comes to Karakura Town in the form of Visoreds, a group of ex-Soul Reapers that have crossed over into the realm of the Hollows. As they try to recruit Ichigo to their side, it is revealed that former Captain Sosuke Aizen is attempting to create an army of Hollows with Soul Reaper powers called Arrancars. It will take Ichigo and friends along with a detachment of Soul Reapers to keep them from destroying the town.
Contains episodes 110-121.
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 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This set contains twelve episodes spread across three discs with four episodes per disc. The transfer for Bleach is on part with previous season sets with a very clean look and solid materials. 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.
Bleach shifts things for the packaging for this set as it uses a standard keepcase that holds the three discs inside of it. The keepcase comes with a slipcover that works like a picture frame as it's all white with the die cut center that shows the keepcase artwork underneath. That artwork which shows through really well is that of Ichigo with his Hollow mask screaming outward as his outfit frays along the edges. It's a very good looking cover and I like the way they tied it with the slipcover. The back cover to the slipcover is the same as the keepcase itself which goes back to how we've seen previous season sets. The logo is along the left, vertical, while the right has blank space along the upper half. The bottom half gives the short summary of what the season is about as well as the production information. What's included in the set is there as well as the strip along the bottom that would normally be a technical grid but is instead all about the logos. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release mirrors the front cover with its die cut slipcover design except that it's sideways instead with the framing, and that there are a few other softer gray ones in the background. The foreground one in black allows for clips from the show to play throughout it that are tied to that respective volume and with the music associated, it all has a nice mood setting feeling to it for this season. 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.
The extras for this release are pretty standard as we saw with the single volume discs in that we get the clean ending sequence and more production artwork. The bigger extras that's new here is on the third volume with a fourteen minute video piece that has a static screen to introduce a particular set of villains and then some clips for each of them. It covers the basics of what we've seen so far and isn't terribly informative if you've watched the show up to now, but it's a nice effort at something.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With twelve episodes, Bleach manages to easily surpass far, far, far too many Bount episodes that preceded it. The Bount arc had some interesting ideas to it but it played out across so many episodes with so many fight sequences and one-offs that it did itself in. Some things can be drawn out far too long and that arc did that in spades. So with the sixth season of Bleach, I went in with a mixture of hopes. I wanted to be surprised and have something really engaging and fun to watch, but I figured we'd get another filler arc of some sort.
So color me surprised when we instead get twelve episodes that deal with a storyline that's still running in the latest episodes of the series airing at the end of 2010. With all that has happened with the Bounts, it's good to see Ichigo and the others going through the normal school routine. Kon is glad to have Ichigo back overall since it frees up his time and Ichigo's family is about as normal as you can expect them to be after everything we've seen about them. And into this normality comes a new transfer student into Ichigo's class named Shinji Hirako. The grinning young men is all about cozying up to Ichigo
It actually doesn't take long for things to devolve into a fight, initially because there are a few more Hollows showing up in the area than normal lately, but mostly because Shinji confronts him and tries to take him down, though more just to assess his abilities. As it turns out, Shinji is something called a Visored, Adding a new layer to things, which feels awkward after the Bount arc which gave us another variant of powered beings, Shinji wants to bring Ichigo into this group as he's like them in that they're dealing with their inner Hollowfication, though they're able to master it more whereas Ichigo is still struggling with his inner demons. With all that Ichigo has struggled through in order to earn the title of substitute Soul Reaper, it's no surprise that he's not exactly falling for that. Or that things get deferred a bit to be dealt with later.
Shinji's arrival is prelude to something bigger though, as Aizen's plans are starting to take a bit more shape after he caused so much chaos in the Soul Soeciety before abandoning it completely for Hueco Mundo. With the Hogyoku in his possession, he's begun his plan to gain even more power and is utilizing the resources as there are several layers of powered individuals there under his control. The fear among the Soul Society is that if he gains power over ten of these individuals, he'll be incredibly powerful. So having him in control of far more than that is slowly revealed which raises the threat level even more. The Arrancars as they're come to be known are similar to the Visoreds except they wear their masks far more proudly and approach everything with incredible violence.
Aizen's plans are fairly layered and he has something very definite in mind, though he's careful about it as he at first sends a scout team to see what Ichigo's powers are like before going forward. He continues to view Ichigo as a big potential threat, but won't actively deal with him until he's at that level as opposed to beforehand. That doesn't sit well with some of the Arrancars though and they arrive on Earth from Hueco Mundo for a sizable series of fights by taking out anyone with any amount of spiritual pressure. That leads to a rather good part of this set as there are several of them and a lot of people in the town that have a good bit of pressure that draws their attention.
What makes Bleach as much fun as it is when it works is the characters. Ichigo and the others from the world of the living are all solid here as Ichigo struggles with his inability to deal with what's thrown his way as well as his internal struggles with his hollow side. What's added to this one set of episodes, outside of all the new characters that don't make too strong of an impression overall just yet, is that several of the Soul Society members come to the world of the living to help out as they're getting strong clues as to what's going on. And as good as Ichigo is, he is still a substitute. It's priceless when they go to find him in school while wearing uniforms. Renji and Ikkaku have a good bad boy look to them and Rangiku is positively falling out of her top. So much so that she knows how powerful her assets are and she even tries to unbutton one button in order to get a place to stay while they spend time there.
What really surprised me with this set is the way Ikkaku manages to become a key player in events when the second Arrancar incursion happens. He stands out the best in the opening battle with how he fights and reveals his bankai. His methodology is good and I really liked the intensity he brought to the fight, but he also has an episode that's almost entirely flashback that shows how he ended up as a Soul Reaper and his first encounter with Kenpachi and others. The focus on his mindset and the reasons behind not becoming a captain are all made clear and it really cements him as an interesting character that you want to know even more about. Often these side stories are pretty dull or take you out of what's going on, but this one they managed to tie well to his opponent and his relationship with certain other Soul Reapers.
Bleach really was close to losing me pretty seriously with that Bount arc as each episode just tested my patience more and more. Thankfully, with that arc now behind us and the start of the Arrancar storyline, Bleach starts to push back towards its really great moments and it does so with relative ease. So easily inf act that it's really quite a surprise. The characters act a lot more naturally here, the struggles they have resonate better and the action feels like it has a whole lot more meaning behind it. Ichigo's story is slowly exploring his issues with his demons inside but it's Ikkaku that really steals the show for me. That and Rangiku's massive boobs.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Ending, Production Artwork, Villains of Bleach
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.