Bleach Series 9 Part 1 (Episodes 168-178) (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 233 minutes approx.
Following Aizen’s treachery towards the Soul Society the Third Division Squad is in need of a new squad captain. Much to everyone’s surprise, the job is given to Shūsuke Amagai, a relative unknown who heads a group that hunts down Hollows. His appointment is not well received by his new squad and his appointment of Makoto Kibune as his third seat is even less welcome.
Meanwhile in the Kakera Town, Ichigo Kurusaki and Rukia Kuchiki sense a huge increase in Hollow presence which coincides with the arrival of Rurichiyo Kasumiōji, a young princess of Soul Society nobility, and her Soul Reaper assistants, the effete Kenryū and the taciturn giant Enryū. While her servants are buying sweets for Rurichiyo the spoilt royal wanders off, attracting a horde of Hollows which in turn brings Ichigo and Rukia out for a spot of Hollow slaying, impressing the newcomers so much that Rurichiyo buys the house next door to Chez Kurusaki and enrols at Ichigo’s school, figuring having local protection would be a bonus. But for what reason, Ichigo is determined to find out.
Yes we are in filler territory with this latest volume of everyone’s favourite Soul Reaping series, but you can’t say we weren’t warned. If you recall at the end of the last volume we were informed that the Arrancar arc would be taking a mid term break to make way for a new adventure and here it is. Actually, as you may have probably realised we get two new stories to fill in the gap while the now traditional “oops, we’ve caught up with the Bleach manga again so we need to buy some time until it’s safely moved ahead” contingency plan that blights many a long running anime series. But, despite the season/ volume carrying the title “The New Captain Shūsuke Amagai” it is the Rurichiyo tale which dominates the ten episodes in this set – with Amagai only featuring in two episodes.
Amagai’s debut as squad captain gets a mixed reaction with his choice of third seat so in order to make him feel welcome, Soul Society’s resident party girl Rangiku Matsumoto organises a party for him. Naturally the sake flows freely but it seems our new squad captain can’t hold his booze, seeing pink elephants after just a sip of Japan’s favourite rice wine tipple. But when an attack of Hollows breaks up the party and a Cleanser shows up uninvited, a tipsy Amagai has a few surprises up his sleeve.
Back in the Living World and Ichigo’s patience is quickly wearing thin with tsundere Lolita Rurichiyo, which is likely to be the similar effect viewers will experience, as she attaches herself to our hero but won’t explain why she is hiding from the Soul Society until an assassin appears and makes an attempt on the little brat’s life. Thankfully Ichigo is again on hand to send the assassin packing, learning that Rurichiyo’s life is under threat from Gyōkaku Kumoi, a caretaker of the Kasumiōji Clan, to which Rurichiyo is the heir. This arc sees the action take place in both Kakera Town and Soul Society and follows the familiar pattern of Ichigo’s friends Yasutora “Chad” Sado, Orihime Inoue and Uryū Ishida leaning a hand in the bad guy battling duties, each one pairing off with one of the villainous assassins for a multi episode clash of the titans.
At the risk of sounding flippant, this is Bleach by the numbers a fact the new non-canon characters and familiar plotlines do little to disguise. By incorporating the Soul Society into the story, these interim stories while the manga adaptation is on hold at least feel more akin to the Bleach universe than the mediocre Bount Arc a few seasons back. Whether the irritating Rurichiyo will win over fans remains to be seen but this reviewer isn’t confident, ranking her up next to drooling Arrancar Nel in the annoying stakes. Despite earning the season heading status, Amagai’s arc is instantly underwhelming and the fact it is cut short almost immediately is an odd decision, presumably due to the lack of Ichigo in the script. However a crossover between the two arcs is hinted on a few occasions so maybe the new squad captain will have more of an opportunity to endear himself to the audience in the next volume.
On the presentation front, with Kaze taking over the reigns, there are a few superficial changes to the artwork and the onscreen DVD menus. However the most noticeable change is that this season was the first to be transmitted in 16:9 widescreen in Japan, so no more fiddling with picture settings on the TV to get the full screen effect. On a slightly negative point, it appears Kaze aren’t fans of the next episode previews and the little post credits skits (or omake as they are called in Japan) as they are not included in this release. Not entirely sure why this but suffice to say, fans of Kon’s little nuggets of wisdom, character education or the jovial little bits of slapstick featuring the main cast are in for a disappointment for the foreseeable future. Perhaps the magic of an internet campaign will persuade Kaze to change their mind and reinstate these often fun little extras?
For hardcore Bleach fans this is an acceptable enough stop gap before the Arrancar arc resumes. By no means bad with potential for an intriguing outcome but it slips into old habits a little too quickly.
Disc 2 Only:
Textless Opening and Closing
Ratings – *** /5
Man In Black