Review for Bleach: Series 5 Part 2 (2 Discs) (UK)
I have this recurring nightmare where I am forced to watch shonen filler for the rest of my life. Shonen is that anime genre aimed at pre-teen males, with extensive casts, convoluted back stories, cliquish phrases and terminology, lots of levelling up, doing one's best, and succeeding through superior willpower. Filler is that material that anime producers create when the original manga storyline runs out, and the manga creator is lax in writing more. It's of inferior quality, adds nothing to the storyline, and just goes on and on and on and on…
Oh no! It's not a dream. It's Bleach Season 5: Part 2!
You'd think that a teenager's life would be complicated enough if he could speak to ghosts. But that was only the beginning for Ichigo Kurosaki. When he literally bumped into a Shinigami named Rukia Kuchiki, he was introduced to a whole new world. The Shinigami's mission is to guide forlorn spirits known as Wholes to the Soul Society, and protect them and the living from Hollows, perverted spirits that have become monsters that prey on other souls, living or dead. They are not supposed to let the living know about this supernatural world, but not only does Ichigo see Rukia, circumstances force her to give him her powers, and train him to be a Shinigami while she regains her strength. Through their adventures, Ichigo learns that his classmates Orihime and Chad are similarly bestowed with spiritual abilities. He also meets Uryu Ishida, the last Quincy, heir to a tribe of spiritual warriors from the human world that once sought out and destroyed Hollows, before the Shinigami in turn eradicated them for disrupting the balance.
It's been a while since we last saw a Hollow though, enamoured as we are of the Bount arc of filler. The Bounts are a tribe of humans gifted with spiritual powers much like the Quincies. Unlike the Quincies though, they derive their power by sucking the souls of humans, much like vampires, and for that reason they are considered bad. Especially now that under their leader Kariya, they aren't harvesting the recently departed as they used to, instead they are preying on the living. At least they were until they thoroughly kicked the butts of Ichigo and his friends. It was just a means to an end, and that end was the invasion of the Soul Society, where Kariya wants to exact his vengeance. The extended Season 4 saw the end of the Bount arc, and now Season 5 is the Bount vs. Soul Society arc. If you are tiring of filler, and would like to see the back of the Bounts, it may come as some comfort that Season 5 is comparatively short, at just 18 episodes in length.
The Shinigami of the Soul Society are in a heap of trouble when the Bounts invade, for Bounts live and prosper by sucking the energy of souls, the reishi. In the living world that is a finite resource, but the very fabric of the Soul Society itself is pure reishi. Simply by being there the Bounts may as well be invulnerable. Also, there may be something to the Bounts' search for revenge, as it turns out that the Bounts were created in the Soul Society a thousand years ago, by a now ostracised researcher named Rantao. Ichigo and his friends arrive hot on the heels of the Bounts. While they alone have the mod souls that allow them to detect the Bounts in the Soul Society, it's hard to tell what they may be able to do against Kariya and his cohorts.
The final ten episodes of Season 5 are presented on two discs courtesy of Manga Entertainment.
Bleach gets a 4:3 transfer that, other than the usual NTSC-PAL conversion issues, is unproblematic. The image is clear enough, the colours strong and vibrant, and the picture is as sharp as you would expect. It's a fun, colourful animation, heavy on the primary colours, and the character and world designs have universal appeal. Given that it is a long running show, you wouldn't expect a great deal of detail and frippery, but though the animation is simple, it's also very dynamic, especially in the action sequences.
You get a choice of DD 2.0 English or Japanese with a sole translated subtitle track to accompany them. The dialogue is clear, the show has some nice music, and it is all presented as vibrantly and competently as you would expect from stereo soundtracks. I've also noticed that while there is only the single subtitle track, the on screen text continues to be translated, which is an improvement over the first season.
Static menus and a jacket picture for when the disc isn't spinning. Each episode ends in an Illustrated Guide to Soul Reapers Golden comedy sketch.
Disc 1 has a textless closing sequence, along with 11 line-art images in a gallery.
Disc 2 has the closing sequence again, and 13 line-art images in a gallery, as well as trailers for the Bleach the Series, Bleach the Movie 1: Memories of Nobody, and Bleach the Movie 2: Diamond Dust Rebellion.
I have a real problem with Bleach now. It took me twice as long as it ought to have to watch this collection of ten episodes. That isn't because I inflicted the English dub upon myself after watching it in Japanese. It's because I kept falling asleep, necessitating me skipping back and watching again. It was a common process with these ten episodes, to start watching the episode, then drifting off after five or so minutes, only to be jolted awake by the lively, and really quite good Japanese rock and roll theme tune (Rolling Star by Yui if you're wondering), realising that I had missed the episode, and then skipping back to the point where I started snoozing. It took me over an hour to watch one particular episode in this collection, which surely ought to be a sign. Unfortunately, as I have to review this set, it's a sign that I must ignore. Bleach Season 5 Part 2 isn't very good in case you need it spelled out. Some of that is down to the fact that this is filler. Most of it is down to it being Bleach, as I freely admit that the enjoyment I had for the show during Season 1 is a thing of the past. It just never lived up to that initial promise for me.
What we have here are ten episodes of people running around with swords, swinging at each other, interspersed with plenty of standing around analysing said sword-swinging, a multitude of flashback sequences, and some ever so brief comedy interludes. Of course with this being Bleach, anytime that two characters are having a battle, that battle usually results in some sort of nuclear detonation level of damage to their surroundings. The difference comes in the characters involved in the battles, and the various skills and moves that they bring to the encounter. One by one, the various Bount intruders face off against various shinigami, or Ichigo or one of his friends. Said episode will involve a back and forth set of exchanges between the two, with both sides pausing to describe in detail the move that they just executed, before one side will prevail. Seriously, what is it with telling your opponent the special move that you have just performed, or worse, the move that you are about to perform? It's dumb!
And so at the end of these episodes, the Bount misadventure concludes, and as you would expect of filler, none of it impacts on the main storyline, none of it impacts on the characters, and it's all as if it had never happened. We're introduced to a set of characters, we learn of a convoluted back-story, a mission of vengeance, betrayals and counter betrayals, all of which has to be erased by the final episode of the arc. The trouble with the Bleach Bount filler is that it's all too aware of the futility of the arc, indeed its conclusion actually plays on that futility, wallows in it, after delivering the lamest ending to a story arc that I have yet seen. If there is a single ongoing positive to draw from these past two seasons, it's that the trio of mod souls that served as Bount detectors look as if they will to continue in the TV series as they return to the living world with Ichigo. But given that they are a filler creation and not from the manga, I wouldn't be surprised that unless it's more filler, they will only really feature as comic relief.
Just to be certain though, we end this Bount nonsense exactly where we began, with Ichigo and his friends back in the world of the living, Rukia still in the Soul Society, now healing from a new set of injuries, and Uryu Ishida missing his Quincy powers once more. For me, Bleach has been on a downhill curve since it started, as I by far prefer story to people running around swinging swords at each other and talking about it. We started off with story, and then went to sword swinging blather and story, and now we have the Bount arc with just sword swinging blather. The next instalment of Bleach should bring us back to some semblance of story, but I don't kid myself that the sword swinging blather will vanish anytime soon. This is probably the low point of Bleach, until the next batch of filler that is…