While the Bounts see Ishida as a source of power, they have internal problems of their own - some that want that power for themselves, others that want nothing to do with the group's current course of action - and that makes dealing with them tricky for Ichigo and the others. The Soul Society, meanwhile, seems to have a hacker problem...
What They Say
The Bounts target Uryu and bring him before their leader, the megalomaniacal Kariya, despite all efforts to stop them. Kariya's goal is to gain the unique powers of a Quincy and use them for his own diabolical purpose. Members of both the Soul Society and the world of the living gather for a fierce face-off with the Bounts!
Audio is presented in English and Japanese 2.0 stereo. I've been trying to widen my linguistic boundaries lately, so I listed to this release in both English and Japanese. Both tracks are fairly standard stereo mixes, with some effort having been made to properly place dialogue and effects on the soundstage but nothing particularly spectacular past that. There were no obvious dropouts or other problems. As for the English track - I've been becoming more accepting of dubbed anime lately, and Bleach is another series where the quality of the English voice-acting has quite impressed me.
Video's hard to quantify in one way - this is a recent show, so in general the animation is clean and colourful, while the transfer is free of any obvious encoding issues. Where it's strange is that there are scenes dotted throughout the show where the animation has noticeably more detail (both in terms of shading representing lighting, which adds a lot of depth to the animation, and in the amount of work that's gone into portraying the characters) than for the rest of the disc. These scenes really do look good, but they're different enough from the show's usual level of animation that they do jar a bit. I can't really criticise for the extra effort having been made, though.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
The menu is a static screen, with an image of one of the main off to one side (Ishida on Disc One, Rukia on Disc Two). Options are provided for Play All, direct access to each episode, language setup and extras, with Orihime and Rukia featuring on the submenus for all three discs. There are no transition animations, so it's all quick & easy to use.
Each disc (it's a two-disc set) has a creditless version of the show's closing sequence (the ED changes during this set so you get a different version on each disc), and a gallery of production artwork. That's your lot.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
We pick up the story by dealing with the aftermath of last volume's encounters with the Bounts. Ishida's left laid up in hospital while he recovers from his injuries, with Ichigo and the others taking turns to watch over him - with Kariya, the leader of the Bounts, having a clear interest in him, there's no telling when he'll come after Ishida again. Sure enough, the attack soon comes - but from an angle that none of the gang could anticipate, as the hospital's water supply seems to turn against them. With water not exactly being the easiest thing to fight against, Ichigo's attention turns to finding whoever is controlling the attacks - but his time is running out...
Here's hoping the Bounts arc doesn't turn into a never-ending story in the way that the Seireitei story did - at the moment, there's some good stuff being explored here, but I wouldn't want it to go on forever. Still, let's take a look at what we've got. The Bounts, as we already knew, are vampire-like creatures that live off the souls of other - usually the souls of the dead (as they won't miss them), but evidence grows throughout the set that they're now harvesting the souls of the living as well: a far more potent powersource for them. The Soul Society, through their head of research Kurotsuchi, has records of this happening in the past at various times, and it's never been a good thing - but it now seems as though someone has been accessing his records and deleting information on the Bounts, which sets alarm bells ringing within the Soul Society.
If living souls are a potent powersource, though, the soul of a living Quincy is the more powerful of all - and since Ishida's the last remaining Quincy, you can see his importance to Kariya. But since one soul will only power one Bount, that's also the cue for the inevitable power struggle within the Bounts for who that one will be.
That's the excuse for some decent set-piece battles, but for my money that wasn't the highlight of these episodes. Enter Yoshino, the first Bount we met and one who has become ever more disillusioned with her comrades over the course of her long life - a life that she's now seeing as a curse. That may not sound like the most interesting thing to hang a plot thread off, but bear with me - they way her story is presented, both through flashbacks to many years ago and in the way she handles her dealings with the other Bounts now, is the most fascinating piece of this set. It's almost worth watching just for that alone - there's just something about the way her character is built up and developed before going on to essentially self-destruct that makes for some compelling viewing.
Less interesting is the arrival of Ichinose, a former member of the Soul Society who has thrown his lot in with Kariya and the Bounts. The reasons for this are explained in detail, but given that they boil down to "things didn't go the way I wanted them to", I can't say I was ever able to work up much sympathy for him. He sees in Kariya someone who he can trust and work with, and his change in sides seems to be more borne out of a personal (and somewhat misguided) sense of honour. That's all very weel, but he's clearly made a suspect decision there, and I'm just waiting to see his loyalty "repaid" in ways that he's not expecting.
So much for the main storyline. As ever with Bleach, though, there are little diversions along the way - further special training for Ichigo, courtesy of Urahara; a strange little sideline with Ganju and Hana spending some time in the world of the living, working in a convenience store; and a few other distractions that provide little comedy breaks. These are generally a good thing, as they get away from the relentless macho posing and exposition that's a rather annoying feature of pretty much every Shounen Jump series - Bleach would be a lot less enjoyable without them. Although at this stage I'd kill for another Don Kanonji episode.
When Bleach puts its mind to it, it can produce some really good stories that go beyond just fighting and give you characters - even on the fringes - that you can connect to and stories that have a real sense of going there, and this volume delivers nicely on that front. Yes, it's wrapped up in over-long fight scenes - that's just in the show's DNA - but it's done well enough that, even if you're like me and don't usually go for "that sort of thing", there's still enough going on to keep the interest. Worth checking out.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Creditless Endings, Production Art
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.