Another volume of Bleach, and it's all Bounts, all the time, as both Ichigo's group and the Soul Society itself find the remnants of this once proud tribe unexpectedly difficult to deal with. Two reasons for this: they've been drinking heavily from the old power-up juice, and - more importantly - they're being driven not just by a desire to be as badass as possible, but by perhaps the strongest possible motivator: revenge...
What They Say
This third volume from the fourth series of BLEACH follows Ichigo Kurosaki, a teenager who has the ability to see ghosts and fights evil spirits.
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 Soul Society characters off to one side. Options are provided for Play All, direct access to each episode, language setup and extras, with Renji 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 of the set has a gallery of production sketches, and another creditless closing sequence.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
The set begins with Ichigo and the others getting a chance to rethink their tactics against the Bounts, as Kariya and the others retreat to safety for now. It's set to be a brief respite, though, as Kariya moves on to the next stage of his plan by introducing his followers to the benefits of absorbing living human souls - something that had long been taboo to the Bounts, but with the souls bringing with them an immense increase in power for the person who absorbs them and their doll, it's a taboo that most of the Bounts seem eager to cast aside - and Kariya has his own way of dealing with the more reluctant members of his group.
With levels in badass thus acquired, the two groups can join battle again - but in the background of this, other things are afoot: the Soul Society have sent more forces to the world of the living to deal with the Bounts, while back at Seireitei there's suspicion that a traitor may be within their midst, while Kurostuchi's efforts to recover the missing data on the Bounts results in some unexpected discoveries about their origins and their connection to the Quincy - a connection that may give Ishida and Kariya a reason to join forces against the Soul Society. Put it all together, and you've got the foundation for twelve episodes of pretty much non-stop conflict.
It's a foundation that the show is quick to build on - there's not a hell of a lot of time wasted on the niceties of character interaction and development, as the focus of the arc is kept firmly on the fighting, with each battle restricted to an episode or two and a number of surprise pairings thrown into the mix along with the expected Soul Society versus Bount battles. Even Orihime gets in on the act, proving that when applied with a large does of determination and compassion, her own abilities can be used for more than defence when the need arises.
The battles themselves don't need much in the way of explanation, as they're all in the same sort of style that the series has been using since it began: each combatant has their particular ability, there's a fair amount of to'ing and fro'ing from one side to the other before good ultimately triumphs (although not without making you sweat over some of the more minor characters along the way), from where the show quickly moves on to the next battle. All this is accompanied by large doses of swagger and overconfidence, which depending on your mood will either carry you along with the flow or have you yelling at the screen for people to just get on with it - your mileage may vary. It's competently done, and with each stage of battle being kept quite short there's not much chance of getting bored. It's also something that you'll have seen done a hundred times before, and it's not going to set the world alight.
It's the underlying story, what little we get to see of it, that holds the real interest and makes all the fighting worth watching. The true plans of the Bounts are revealed right at the end of the set and are grander than we'd been led to believe so far; Kurotsuchi's predecessors at the Research Division have clearly been up to far more in the way of illicit experimenting than he'd been led to believe, and the consequences of their past work are now about to come back to haunt the Soul Society; and Ishida is still dealing with the aftermath of Yoshino's death and some leftover baggage from his own early training as a Quincy. All of this is pulled together quite well, given how little time is spent on fleshing the details of it out, to leave the set ending on a neat little cliffhanger as one phase of the battle ends and another is set to begin.
Overall, then, while this set doesn't cover a hell of a lot of ground - everyone's too busy fighting to do anything useful - the battles are enjoyable enough to watch, and there are enough plot threads slowly coming together in the background that even those of us who thrive more on story than action won't feel cheated. Bleach is definitely one of the better fight-based shows around at the moment, and this volume keeps up the good work.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Production Artwork, Textless Closing
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.