Lord, help me, for I fear I cannot handle much more of the gang's soujourn to Seireitei – yea, it has been 32 episodes now since Ichigo crossed its hallowed doors, and still he can't save one person and my will to live.. .er, watch is faltering. Pray tell me the end is in sight…
What They Say
While trying to evade the pursuing Soul Reapers and rescue Rukia, Orihime and Uryu are confronted by the captain of Squad 12, the despicable Mayuri Kurotsuchi, who plans on using them as guinea pigs for his experiments! Meanwhile, Yoruichi has revealed her true form to the astonishment of Ichigo and the others, and must use all her tricks and skills to keep her fellow intruders from losing everything they've fought for. Lieutenant Momo Hinamori recalls her days in training at the Soul Reaper Academy, where she first met Captain Sosuke Aizen. In the present, the letter Aizen left for her at his death scene leads Momo to believe she has identified his killer... While Ichigo and Renji train with Yoruichi to achieve bankai, Rukia recalls a bit of her own past in a dream that she believes will prepare her to face her execution--which has been moved up to the next day!
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 disc 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 (Ichigo on Disc One, Hitsugaya on Disc Two, Byakuya on Disc Three). 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 three-disc set) has a creditless version of the show's closing sequence (ED4, "Happy People" on discs one and two, and ED5, "Life", on disc three), and a gallery of production artwork. That's your lot.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
So far, the Seireitei arc has (for me) embodied all that is bad about shows based on Shounen Jump stories: an over-emphasis on fighting, far too long taken over battles, nonsensical resolutions to individual fights and a feeling that the flow of time just doesn't behave itself around such things all combine to give me a "please, just let it end" feeling in the pit of my stomach – and with this set (3 discs, 12 episodes) continuing the Seireitei story, there's no improvement to speak of over the previous two sets.
To keep it all short and to-the-point (a skill the series could do with learning), there are a few main arcs to these episodes: Ishida versus Korutsuchi, the Soul Society's head of R&D who was responsible for wiping out the Quincy in the name of "research" (Ishida is their sole survivor – isn't that convenient?); Ichigo's training at the hands of Yoruichi, who is revealed to have the power to transform into a rather cute human female when it suits him & who is determined to see Ichigo reach the point where he can call upon his Bankai, the ultimate technique of a Soul Reaper (and that usually takes a Soul Reaper 12 years to learn – Ichigo has 3 days); Hitsugaya versus Ichimaru over the death of Squad Captain Aizen and the subsequent manipulation of his lieutenant, Hinamori; and Renji versus Byakuya, as Renji fights to reach Rukia before her execution can take places, only to have Byakuya – her own brother – fight to stop him. Running through all this is Rukia's impending execution, which will be carried out using the giant weapon Sokyoku, a blade reputed to have the power of a million zanpakuto, a power that seems to be behind the Soul Society's internal divisions.
That's really all there is to say about the story – the two people involved in each pairing meet, fight, and go their separate ways, and that's pretty much it. The ebb and flow of each battle is much as you would see in any Shounen Jump-based series, with one fighter being beated down, only to find a new reserve of inner strength that allows them to come back fighting and see off their adversary. In some cases the good guy wins, in some cases the bad, but all the battles are simply following the usual patterns. So far, so predictable, so dull.
There are moments of brightness, usually in the flashback scenes that are used to explain the relationships between the various Soul Society characters, which help give them some much-needed depth – there are so many of them that most have been horribly short-changed in that area – while adding a little spice to the battles when they invariably have to face each other. There's also another Don Kanonji / Karakura Superheroes episode, involving some unfortunate gender confusion for poor Kon, that brings some much-needed pure humour to the volume, but the ratio of fun to tedium over these 12 episodes is so heavily tilted in favour of tedium that it's impossible to really get enthused. Doubly frustrating in a series that has already shown that it can do much, much better than this.
Bleach's poor run continues, although the end of the Seireitei arc does now appear to be in sight. Thankfully. If all you want is the fighting, then this set will deliver in spades – if you want anything more than that, though, you're not going to find it here.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Closings, Production Artwork
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.