Review for Bleach: Series 13 Part 2 (3 Discs) (UK)
Can you blame me for the blatant cut and paste with each subsequent instalment of Bleach? The last volume of 13 episodes offered some 5 hours of anime action in the Bleach universe, and in terms of narrative, two things happened. Two things in five hours! I’ve come to look on this show as a way of indulging my masochistic tendencies, or affirm my sense of self-loathing. It’s gone beyond my idea of balancing out karma, that for every moment of enjoyment I get from reviewing discs for this site, their needs to be a commensurate measure of pain. Or it could be that there still is the chance, still might be the small possibility, that after 270 episodes, this show will suddenly turn out to be as good as it was during the first 20-odd episodes that I reviewed all those years ago. I stopped playing the lottery quicker. One of these days, my review for Bleach will be a simple suicide note. I bet you nobody reads it! That was my introduction for Bleach Season 13 Part 2. It’s only downhill from here...
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.
So where were we? Ichigo and his friends went to Hueco Mundo, the Hispanic land of the Hollows to rescue Orihime, who’d been kidnapped by the Soul Society traitor Aizen. He’s been turning Hollows into human looking Arrancars armed with Zanpakutos of their own. Ichigo has been training to become a Visored, which is like coming at an Arrancar from the other direction. Aizen’s plan becomes clear, he wants to take over the Soul Society, but to do that he has to attack Ichigo’s hometown first in the world of the living. At the end of the previous volume, after delivering a kicking to a major section of the Shinigami, he unveiled his plan, and left Ichigo and his friends trapped in Hueco Mundo to attack Karakura town. To forestall Aizen’s plan, the Shinigami came up with a plan of their own, setting up a mechanism to transfer the real Karakura Town to the Soul Society, and creating a fake town in which to engage Aizen and his minions in battle. But Aizen’s ready for this, as he and his Arrancars face the top Captains of the Soul Society. Meanwhile, Ichigo is heading to Las Noches to rescue Orihime, but the Arrancar Ulquiorra stands in his way.
In the previous collection, Ichigo died, killed Ulquiorra, then came back to life, and following a load of to-ing and fro-ing and waving around of big swords, the Visoreds showed up to get into the fight alongside the Soul Reapers against Aizen and the Arrancars. And if you can remember far enough back, for the Visoreds, this fight is personal.
Anyway, 13 episodes across 3 discs await in Series 13 Part 2, episodes 279-291, subtitled The Downfall of the Arrancars. I bloody well hope so. I’m going grey just waiting for something to happen in this show. Incidentally yes, 13 episodes on 3 discs which most other distributors manage to fit onto two, so you get more disc, twice the packaging to fit on your shelf, and you pay £5 more in RRP.
Bleach has now gone widescreen. It’s now in the modern TV friendly aspect ratio of 1.78:1 anamorphic. And that’s the end of the good news. The last few releases of Bleach via Madman Entertainment had native PAL transfers, 25 frames per second with 4% PAL speedup, but of high resolution and free of any standards conversion artefacts. Not anymore. With Kazé’s release of Bleach, we’re back to the bad old days of NTSC-PAL standards conversions. It’s worse in my opinion, as my limited experience of Kazé output has shown that while their Blu-rays are sweet, and their PAL DVDs are acceptable, their NTSC-PAL conversions leave a lot to be desired, and are the least impressive of any distributor that I have reviewed.
Incidentally Bleach’s 1.78:1 anamorphic image is now one of those few NTSC-PAL conversions that convert by simply repeating every 24th frame to create the 25th PAL frame. That explains the rhythmic judder in pans and scrolls, exactly once a second. On the bright side this means that the ghosting and blended frames that afflicted the earlier Kazé Bleach releases is gone, but the judder is annoying, and the image quality still looks of such low resolution that you’d still think it was a standards conversion.
There are some positives to be had in the audio department. The discs now have the surround flag activated, so you now have DD 2.0 Surround English and Japanese audio. It sounds exactly the same in practice however. More significant is that Kazé provide translated subtitles for the Japanese audio, and a signs only English track for the English audio. This season sees some new theme songs debuted for the series, but unlike the Madman discs, the songs don’t have subtitle translations for the lyrics. These being Kazé discs, you can’t change audio or subtitles on the fly, so Hard of Hearing English dub fans are out of luck.
You’ve probably already heard me whinge about Kazé discs and UPOPs, so consider it whinged again. These discs are locked up tighter than Fort Knox, and I had to guess at the run time for the episodes.
Kazé don’t put separate Bleach trailers on their discs, and neither do they offer a line art gallery. All you get are karaoke versions of the credit sequences, minus the credit text, but with a romanji (Japanese in English script) burnt in subtitle track that insists that you sing along. Disc 1 autoplays with trailers for the Persona 4: The Animation and Bakuman, while disc 2 has trailers for Black Lagoon and the first Berserk movie, while disc 3 has trailers for Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, and Bleach the Movie 4: Hellverse.
Most episodes end with the Illustrated Guide to Soul Reapers Golden comedy sketches.
I stare at this blinking black cursor against a white page and consider what to write about Bleach Series 13 Part 2. Why are you here reading this, a review about a show that I presume you like, written by someone who patently has no love for the show? Why am I reviewing it for that matter? It’s gone beyond a sense of duty or obligation, as I continually keep placing the check discs in my player, and sit for five hours on and off, lamenting yet more of the same dull, tedious and repetitive content. It has to be masochism, on both our parts. You keep reading these paragraphs of whinge, and I keep writing them. It has to be something specifically about Bleach too, after all I had the self awareness to drop Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan after just one collection, and I have on occasion opted not to review titles which I know in advance that I loathe. I’m sure that it must be some lingering hope of redemption, that somewhere Bleach will deliver on what it is capable of, the story will once again appeal, and that the characters will once again engage with the emotions. And once again, in this collection of episodes, Bleach just about reaches that basic minimum of enjoyment, before falling back down into its usual morass of mediocrity.
To the show’s credit, the Arrancars did fall in this collection of episodes. But it’s really just a collection of the usual, a whole lot of sword swinging and posturing, bolstered by recaps, and flashbacks. It looked like the Arrancars had the upper hand, until the Visoreds showed up and tipped the balance. So seven episodes of fighting, and when each of the Arrancars fall, they get a significant flashback to see what they were like before Aizen recruited them to his plan. And in typical anime villain form, the final Arrancar falls when stabbed in the back by Aizen, because he got too tired of waiting to get into the action himself. Such a cliché!
At this point the renegade Soul Reapers start in on the fight, and the balance tips once more, leaving Visored Shinji hoping for Ichigo’s return so that the balance can tip back in their favour. So far so boring, but it’s here we jump back to Hueco Mundo, and Ichigo getting in on the battle between Renji, Chad, Rukia and Yammy. Suddenly I’m interested in the story once more, and not only because I can actually remember the names of these characters. But the fight is fun, it’s interesting and the characters mean something to me. Ichigo doesn’t stay for long, as he’s heading back to the World of the Living to take on Aizen with Front-Braid Shinigami. But Byakuya and Kenpachi show up to take on Yammy and it too is good.
I was all for Ichigo showing up and kicking Aizen’s ass, except what happened next was almost enough for me to take a sledgehammer to my DVD player. An episode of filler, where Ichigo ends up in an Arabian Nights parallel world. It’s only one episode, made to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the manga, but it’s the last thing that I needed, and it kills whatever good feeling I had restored about Bleach. And Ichigo isn’t even in the final three episodes of this set. Instead it focuses on the battle between Dog Face Shinigami, 69, and Stevie Wonder, where Stevie Wonder turns into a giant bug. Yes, it’s back to that point in the show where I neither know the character names, nor do I care.
It’s the same again, as I question just why I continue to watch this show. But it’s like a runaway train now, with enough momentum to keep barrelling through to the end. Fortunately it seems that the Aizen story will be concluded this season, even though the Bleach anime comes to a premature conclusion at episode 366. Just 75 episodes to go, just six more collections before I can escape my own personal Hellverse!