After rather too long of a spell in Seireitei, Ichigo and the gang are back in the 'real' world – and just as you would expect, more problems are close on their trail…
What They Say
Ichigo Kurosaki is an ordinary 15-year-old boy who happens to be able to see ghosts. His fate takes an extraordinary turn when he meets Rukia Kuchiki, a Soul Reaper who shows up at Ichigo's house on the trail of a Hollow, a malevolent lost soul. Drawn to Ichigo's high level of spiritual energy, the Hollow attacks Ichigo and his family, and Rukia steps in to help but is injured and unable to fight. As a last resort, Rukia decides to transfer part of her Soul Reaper powers to Ichigo...
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, Urahara 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)
Ichigo's finally back in the real world, and thanks to all his training while rescuing Rukia, he's finally able to beat his father's sneak attacks. That's progress, I suppose. A more immediate problem is the new school term - while his sisters both have their holiday assignments done, Ichigo has had other things on his mind. There's another surprise when he finally gets into class: the appearance of Renji, who's been tasked with keeping an eye on the area. While Ichigo's not exactly pleased to see him, he's got good reason for being there - with Ichigo leaking huge amounts of spiritual pressure into the area, he's a magnet for Hollows, and someone's got to fight them. Orihime, meanwhile, is beginning to feel that she was more of a hindrance than a help during Rukia's rescue... Later, a new trio of troublemakers appear for Ichigo and the others to deal with, while vampires also appear to be on the menu…
Well, the Seireitei arc is finally over, which earns Bleach a heartfelt 'amen' from me, as it was the poster child for storylines that went on too long. With that journey over, then, the series can get back to the sort of storylines that so impressed me before the Soul Society took centre-stage, right? Well, yes, they can. This set gives us two discs, eight episodes, and two main storylines to deal with, so as ever we'll start at the beginning.
Renji's initial explanation that Ichigo's excess spiritual pressure has been attracting Hollows turns out to be something of a red herring – the real problem for the gang to deal with comes in the form of a troublesome young girl, Lirin, and her companions Noba and Kurodo. Between them, they possess something that seems very much like a hellgate, and soon take to kidnapping Ichigo's friends and classmates, and setting little challenges for him to solve before he can get them back – and with dire consequences threatened should he fail any of Lirin's challenges.
The main thing with this story is that the challenges aren't physical, they're mental – which means (cue Hallelujah Chorus) that there's no real scope for any of the characters to wave their weapons around in long-winded, inconsequential battles. Instead, we get the unusual sight of Ichigo trying (and failing, until Ishida gets in on the act) to work out mazes, figure out which of his companions is a doppleganger, and other things that tax the grey matter rather than the muscles. It's a surprising (if temporary) change in tone, and to be perfectly honest I thought it was a great way to do something slightly different yet interesting. There's also a lot more to Lirin and her companions than there seems at first, and the way then end up being treated by Ichigo and the others certainly brought a smile to my face.
The second arc of the series is a bit more action-based, but no less enjoyable, as it introduces one of my favourite types of creatures to the series: vampires. Although Bleach doesn't call them that – here, they're known as Bounts, and they come with suitably supernatural powers to make them more of a challenge. One of the more powerful bounts has taken a special interest in Ishida, it seems, and as a result he's about to become the centre of an awful lot of trouble. We get three episodes of the Bounts arc here, enough to set the story up and get things going, with the real story apparently still to come. Given the situation Ishida has been in since returning from Seireitei, though (somewhat depressed at his lack of special abilities, compared to the others in the 'rescue team'), getting him into the centre of the story and having to deal with a threatening situation gives him a real challenge to deal with and works very well.
There are other character-development issues throughout the set, as well. Chad and Orihime are both upset (or concerned, maybe) by how under-powered they are compared to Ichigo and are looking for ways to improve their usefulness – as distinct from the usual shounen "I must get stronger!" plotline – while Urahara has some concerns over Ichigo's development as a fighter, and Kon has some new challenges to deal with in the "lifelike plush toy" department that provided some good comedy moments to the volume.
A little bit of everything in this volume, then, and it hangs together well to gives us eight episodes where you're unlikely to get bored, or yell at the screen over a fight that has gone on far too long. Definitely one of Bleach's better outings.
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.