Review for Bleach: Series 6 Part 1 (2 Discs) (UK)
It's over! Not Bleach of course, as that keeps on going like the Duracell wabbit. I mean that the filler that we were plagued with for the last two seasons is done and dusted, and with the start of season 6 of Bleach, we can get back to the manga storyline. I wouldn't have thought that I would have been thrilled at the prospect, given that for me, Bleach never lived up to the promise of its first season. It really has been the ponderous epitome of a shonen action show in my eyes, with an extensive cast, convoluted back stories, cliquish phrases and terminology, lots of levelling up, doing one's best, and succeeding through superior willpower. Yet it lacks the quirky individuality that sets something like Naruto apart. But that was before I saw the Bount Filler, and got a full appreciation of just how dull, boring and tedious this show could get. After the Bount filler, even average shonen action is the height of narrative genius. With the return to the manga storyline, and the start of the Arrancar arc, maybe I'm not too ambitious in hoping for some actual character development.
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 almost as if the Bount arc never occurred. We begin season six around the same place as season 4. The gang have all got back from the Soul Society, except Rukia Kuchiki, who is still in the Soul Society recuperating from her injuries. Soul Reaper Captain Sosuke Aizen and his cohorts have been unmasked as traitors and have fled, while Uryu Ishida is still missing his Quincy abilities. We can almost imagine that the Bount arc was just a brief hallucinatory nightmare, except that the Bount detectors, mod souls in cuddly toy guise, have stuck around as comic relief and to occasionally supply exposition, and the main characters do refer to the Bount incident from time to time, not that it has any bearing on the story.
All isn't well for Ichigo Kurosaki though, as his recent adventures have brought his Hollow side ever closer to the surface. It's that masked alter ego that takes over in stressful combat situations, and while it gives him an edge in combat, it also takes him one step closer to losing control, and that is something that terrifies him. It also isn't long after their return that the usual Hollow attacks on the world of the living resume. That isn't good for powerless Uryu Ishida, who when confronted by a Menos Grande is saved by his father Ryuken, who surprises him by revealing that he has Quincy abilities as well. Ryuken offers to restore his son's abilities, on the condition that he never again associates with the Soul Reapers. At school there is a new transfer student, Shinji Hirako who takes a peculiar interest in Ichigo.
But bigger trouble is brewing, as Sosuke Aizen puts his plans into effect. He starts by taking the strongest Hollows, indeed the strongest of the Menos Grande, and begins removing their masks, and equipping them with the Zanpakuto swords and abilities of the Soul Reapers. These are the Arrancars, and they soon come to the living world to wreak havoc. At the same time, it turns out that there is an outlaw group of Soul Reapers, shinigami that have embraced their Hollow natures and strengths, have donned the masks of Hollows and have called themselves Visoreds. That is suspiciously close to what Ichigo is facing, and these Visoreds want to recruit Ichigo to their ranks. The lines between Soul Reaper and Hollow are blurring, and war is coming to the Living World and the Soul Society. And you won't believe what Ichigo's father does in his spare time!
Season 6 Part 1 of Bleach presents the first 11 episodes across 2 discs from Manga Entertainment.
From Season 6 onwards, Bleach goes native PAL. It's a more common sight in anime mastered in Australia now, and gone are the days of ghosting, judder, lower resolution and conversion artefacts, and in comes a 4% PAL speed up. 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. I must say that in this sixth series, the character designs are showing a greater degree of inconsistency, which is a tad disappointing. 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. Bleach looks really splendid now, all except the end credit text scroll, which didn't survive the transfer to PAL as well as the animation did.
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. From this release onwards, the disc count remains low down, but the episode per disc count goes up, as does the R.R.P. Here we have 11 episodes across 2 discs.
The only extras are on Disc 2. This has two of the textless closing sequences, and 43 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 was expecting Bleach to pick up again after the Bount snoozefest. I wasn't expecting to get that Season 1 thrill again, however. Yet there it was, a little charge of entertainment, enjoyment of the story unfolding onscreen, and an immediate desire to find out what happens in the next episode. I shouldn't be surprised though, as the start of the Arrancar arc sees Ichigo and his friends back in the real world, having to deal with real world problems like going to school. It also helps that it was the real world characters that I initially found so appealing, Ichigo's school friends like Tatsuki, his sisters Yuzu and Karin, and God help me, even Don Kanonji, although he doesn't make an appearance here.
I also enjoyed the way that the real world collided with the supernatural, and seeing Hollows in a real world setting, the incongruity of soul reapers unleashing their special moves on everyday city streets is what attracted me to the show in the first place. Not for me the extended sojourns into the Soul Society, where weird stuff was expected to occur. It's the confluence of the mundane and the bizarre, the school setting and the arrival of the Visoreds and the Arrancars that interests me. At one point, the threat of the Arrancars increases sufficiently to prod the Soul Society into action. The action they take is to send a squad of Soul Reapers undercover into the Living World to prepare for an Arrancar attack. Originally, Rukia Kuchiki attended Ichigo's school, and seemed to fit in well enough. When a whole bunch of Soul Reapers show up in class, all dressed in school uniform it raises a few eyebrows and a few chuckles. Ikkaku for instance refuses to forego a sword under any circumstances, although he compromises to keeping a wooden sword, while Rangiku is a little too mature in the cleavage area to pass as a schoolgirl. It's the blending of comedy, drama and action that harks back most to the first season, and it's why I enjoyed the majority of these episodes so much.
That's despite the story heading off into a rather dark direction, with Ichigo's Hollow nature asserting itself sending him into a depression, one that rubs off on both Orihime and Chad. At the same time Uryu Ishida gets an offer from his dad to get his powers restored on the condition that he no longer gets involved with the Soul Reapers. If there is a weak point to this set of episodes, it's that Ishida is absent for most of the runtime. Fortunately there is enough going on to cover for his absence. The Bount Detectors are the only element from the filler to have made it into the main storyline, but as I expected, they have no bearing on the actual story. They only serve as observers, and suppliers of exposition, as well as alternate comic relief when Kon's enthusiasm gets strained. I was surprised to see them actually take part in some of the action sequences, but wasn't too surprised when their contributions were utterly ineffectual. There are also plenty of revelations about the characters in this set of episodes, and it's nice to see the character development that has been practically absent for the last 30 or so shows.
The first six or seven episodes are great, solidly paced, character developing, light and entertaining stuff. It's the sort of story that I've been missing ever since Season 1. And then we get into the nitty-gritty of the Arrancar plot. We've seen the Visored half of the story start when the oddball transfer student Shinji Hirako shows up, and introduces Ichigo to the concept of a Soul Reaper in touch with his inner Hollow. It's a concept outlawed in the Soul Society, but a state that Ichigo has been flirting with ever since he became a Soul Reaper, and which concerns him even more as his power increases. The Arrancars are the mirror images of the Visoreds, Hollows with Soul Reaper abilities. The renegade Soul Reaper Sosuke Aizen created them (remember him from the end of Season 3?), and now they are coming into the Living World to attack all abnormally high sources of spirit energy, and generally wreak havoc. As you would expect in a story such as this, they are a power beyond anything that Ichigo has dealt with so far.
After an initial reconnaissance skirmish, the Arrancars come to the Living World in force to go Soul Reaper hunting, and this stretch of around five episodes is where I find Bleach again hit its rest state of people running around, waving big swords at each other. Of course the whole point of the shonen genre is the extended battle sequences, the edge of death efforts from both sides, and the lengthy pontificating about every last special move about to be delivered. It's where my interest in Season 6 starts to wane. All the Soul Reapers face Arrancars that looks as if they will defeat them, poor Rukia, only recently healed, looks like she's down for the count again, while Ichigo faces the toughest Arrancar of the bunch in Grimmjow. Rangiku faces Nakeem, Toshiro faces Shawlong Qufang, Renji confronts Illfort Grantz, and Ikkaku faces Edrad Liones. If there's one thing I hate about Bleach, it's character overload, and once again we have a bunch of names here that I really care nothing for, and since most of them will depart this mortal coil with some degree of alacrity, I really shouldn't have bothered typing their names out.
Cutting back and forth across the ever more ridiculous battle sequences, my initial enthusiasm vanished, and once again I was reminded of Bleach at its most average. The battle between Ikkaku and Edrad reached a climax at the end of episode 118, and then for episode 119, we had a whole episode of flashback, giving us Ikkaku's past history, and how he became a Soul Reaper, before showing us the end of the fight that cliffhangered over from the previous episode. And as Bleach resumed normal service, I fell asleep. Then I woke up, skipped back to watch the episode through again, and then I skipped back again, as I found I had forgotten the cliffhanger from episode 118, and Ikkaku's finishing move now made no sense.
I enjoyed most of Bleach Season 6 Part 1. It was back to that blend of action, comedy and drama that so attracted me to the show in the first place. And then when the main event between the Soul Reapers and the Arrancars kicked off, I was reminded of just why I have such disdain for this genre. But even I can see that at least this time it is interminable action with a point to it. The story has begun to unfold again. Bleach has returned to the manga storyline, and the Living World is a better place for it. Bleach fans should already be queuing up to place their pre-orders.