Eight more episodes of Bleach, that conveniently see the Bount arc brought to an end - and not before time, I reckon. One life-or-death battle in Seireitei looks much like another. But there are at least a few surprises along the way, as it seems that Kariya hasn't been too honest with his colleagues about his intentions...
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.
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 (a rather icy-looking Hitsugaya on disc one, Kariya on disc two). Options are provided for Play All, direct access to each episode, language setup and extras, with Renji and Ishida 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)
Mabashi has used his doll, Ritze, to take control of one of Soifon's squad members, and uses that control to launch a sneak attack on her, scoring a hit with a poisoned dagger. That's just one of many warriors under his control around Seireitei, a development that leaves the Soul Society in the strange position of being unable to know who can and can't be trusted - and soon the Soul Society squads are spending more time fighting amongst themselves than in trying to deal with the Bount incursion. Soifon knows what must be done to get the situation back under control - kill Mabashi - but with the poison spreading through her body, will she have enough time to do that?
Kariya, meanwhile, has gone to ground inside Seireitei - now that he has access to the power of the Jokai Crest, there's no need for him to seek confrontation, he just needs to allow his threat to destroy Seireitei to do his work for him, as it were - the Soul Society can either back down, or come after him - and most likely die trying. But some of the other Bounts aren't as bloodthirsty as Kariya seems to be, and don't agree with what he's now trying to do...
The first half of this set takes a Bount-of-the-Week approach to dealing with Kariya's underlings, with each facing one of the Soul Society before predictably meeting their doom. So much for their highly-vaunted fighting skills. None of these encounters are particularly exciting or entertaining - they're just run-of-the-mill battles of the sort that we've seen Bleach do many times before. The one issue here that could have been used to good effect - the likely terminal failure of Ishida's power-boosting artefact - sadly gets neatly worked around to leave it a non-issue, robbing his battle of any real sense of drama. So much for that, then.
Fortunately, Kariya's battle has a bit more to like. Not only is he aiming large with what he;s trying to do, using the past research of the Soul Society against it in rather dramatic style. If he gets his way, he won't just defeat the Soul Society - payback for the experiments they conducted to create the Bounts in the first place - he'll wipe them out of existence, using their own power against them. This isn't what he'd told his followers he was planning to do though, so there's a small undercurrent of dissent (sadly not really developed as much as it could have been) to what he's planning to do. The main focus of the second half of the set, though, is on finding Kariya and putting a stop to his plans, as Seireitei's inhabitants understandably aren't keen on being blown into oblivion.
The battle is led by Rantao, Ichigo and Ishida, although there are plenty of other appearances as well by other familiar faces, and a good amount of background story is delivered along the way to fill in just how Kariya turned from a cute & harmless young boy (hard to believe, i know) to the man bent on mass slaughter that we have by the end of the arc. It's interesting, up to a point - but the problem I found was that, but the time we got to Kariya's final battle, we'd been through so much inconsequential filler along the way that I'd simply given up caring. The whole Bount arc has been little more than padding, with a bunch of villains who never became 'real' enough for me to even remember who they all were (with the exception of Kariya). Add in that the close of the arc simply took us back to running around Seireitei for a series of set battle again - and remember, we just did all this not that long ago for Rukia's rescue arc - and it all just feels like the same thing, done all over again with a few new faces. Frankly, there are better things to be doing than wasting time watching that, even taking the occasional good point into account.
So, a few good plot points does not a good volume make when the vast majority of what's here has been seen before, just with a few different faces. Bleach seemed to be something different and enjoyable when it first got underway, but now it's as hackneyed as hell, and the Bount arc that this volume concludes was a real chore to watch. The best thing that can be said at this point is: than the maker that's over. Moving quickly onwards...
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Productions 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.