After 4 releases, 10 discs, and a mere 42 episodes, the mission to rescue Rukia is at an end. There's a phrase I could use to express my feelings at that, but manners forbid me using it here. After all that, just who will be left standing at the end? And how many more surprises is Bleach going to spring on us..?
What they say:
Based on a popular manga, BLEACH is a thrilling anime series about a 15-year-old boy who was born with the ability to see ghosts and who uses his special power to protect the living from 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 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 (Yoruichi in human form on Disc One, Aizen 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, and a gallery of production artwork. That's your lot.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Rukia has arrived at her place of execution, and the end of the line is near. The beginning of the ritual is visible from throughout Seireitei, giving those fighting to prevent it warning that their time is almost up. With several groups amongst the Soul Society also keen to stop the execution, fearing what will happen if the power of the Sokyoku ends up in the wrong hands, there's still a chance of a happy ending - but they'd better get a move on. Meanwhile, there are others within the Soul Society, keeping far from the spotlight, who are watching their plans come to fruition. Will the others realise what's going on around them before it's too late..?
The Seireitei arc is neatly tidied up by the episodes on this set, meaning that we can hopefully get back to normal service with the next release. My views on this arc of the story are no secret – the last few sets have been a real chore to sit through and review – so I'm ever so glad that the end is now here. But that still leaves me with this set to cover. Aaargh.
It's all just so over-the-top, in all the wrong ways. Thankfully, there's some good work done to finally explain what has been going on – how Aizen's death, Rukia's death sentence, and the actions of others within the Soul Society are all part of a greater plan by one of the squad captains to gain nearly unlimited power for himself and his closest allies; and of how Rukia and Ichigo unwittingly became part of that plot, thanks to Urahara, long before they ever travelled to the Soul Society. Once you've seen the end of the arc and the explanations have been played out in front of you, the past 42 episodes finally gain a point, and in some small way seem less of a waste of time – but the fact remains that the whole story could probably have been told in a fifth of the time, or less, with the only loss being a string of fight scenes that really were pointless.
Highlights of the set would be Ichigo getting to show off his new, improved abilities (see, I'm not entirely against fight scenes) – there's just something about the cocky air that he takes into battle with him that makes his scenes more satisfying than almost anyone else in the series – and the revelations around Aizen's death and the scheming that was behind it. That's the area that holds the biggest surprises so far, and while you could criticise the way in which there were no hints at all in the run-up to the revelations being made, it's also hard to deny that the plot is a game-changer as far as the Soul Society is concerned, and leaves all sides with a problem that's going to have to be dealt with (hopefully without so much filler) further down the line.
It's frustrating, in the extreme. I like the characters in Bleach, and many elements of the story from the Seireitei arc would also have been enjoyable if they hadn't been padded out by so much fighting. Even this set indulges in a number of battles that simply weren't necessary to tell the story – Yoruichi versus Soi Fon would be a case in point (the inevitable history-lesson flashback helps to develop both characters, yes, but surely that could have been done without them having to come to blows?), and it's far from being the only example of it. Sadly, it seems that these are failings that you just have to accept when it comes to shows based on Shonen Jump titles – Just wish it weren't so.
This volume is a little better than the others from the Seireitei arc, but it's still some way short of the best that Bleach can produce – if I could have skipped the rest of the arc to pick up again with the next set, I would have happily done it. That said, if the fighting is what you're watching for, you'll get plenty of it here. Me, I'm hoping the next release gets us back to the style of Bleach that I enjoy…
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Creditless Ending, 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.