Bleach Series 11 (Episodes 213-229) (Cert 12)
4 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 412 minutes approx.
It’s certainly been a while but finally we return to the Arrancar Arc that first started way back when and was disrupted for a number of filler arcs due, as always, to the anime catching up with the manga. Actually you do have a wait a little longer as the first two episodes in this set are more filler, delivering arguably two of the most nonsensical and frankly abysmal episodes ever to brandish the Bleach name – or should that be tarnish?
Anyway, these alleged comedic affairs aside the bulk of the episodes here sees a return to the long running storyline, which (as I’m sure you’ll need a refresher) revolves around the exiled Soul Reaper Sosuke Aizen who has desires of sacrificing all of the souls of Karakura Town, home of our hero Ichigo Kurosaki and his friends, to create an Oken (special key) to open the dimension inhabited by the Soul King and destroy him once and for all. Aizen knew that the Captain Yamamoto and the Thirteen Court Squads of the Soul Society would try and stop him so Aizen recruits the deadly Arrancar and Esapda to do his bidding, training the most skilled ones to a level where they can defeat the Soul Reapers.
We pick up the action with Yamamoto and crew having just arrived in the World of the Living, with Karakura Town being sealed off under a magical force field and a fake one created for the sake of the battle. Aizen may be trapped inside a cell of fire but he is however one step ahead and sends his minions to attack the four pillars protecting the town while the Arrancar distract the Soul Reapers in battle. Meanwhile our orange haired hero Ichigo is still in Hueco Mundo where he continues his duel with the fiendish Ulquiorra Cifer, who has Orihime Inoue still in his captivity.
Being back to canon material also means a return to the long winded, eked out battle scenes in which verbal diarrhoea is as much a dangerous weapon as any zanpaktou or power spell. And with a number of fights taking place simultaneously that is a lot of talking and lot of sword clashing to sit through. With Ichigo away in Hueco Mundo, this gives many of the supporting characters in the Soul Reaper a rare chance to step into the spotlight and showcase their stuff. Of course being a fantasy series, the appearance of the villains ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, shifting the tone from dramatic to comedic at the drop of a hat.
Unfortunately this only lasts until we reach the fourth disc in this set, where the final three episodes are devoted to another filler arc, leaving the conclusion of the main story to come at a later date. It’s been said before but while it is understandable that Bleach is a cash cow that one would foolish not to milk, one would think that better planning would be the foremost consideration when adapting a series from a manga that continues to run with the end still a dot on the horizon. In other words, don’t start a new arc until you’ve got all or enough the material to ensure an uninterrupted run or – if necessary – take the show off the air and return with the new story arc. This way the risk of diluting the quality and integrity of the show with poor imitation episodes is lessened dramatically. The latter option is likely to be too much of a risk, susceptible to the “out of sight, out of mind” ethos, but if something is that good then the loyal fans will wait for its return. But as it stands, the producers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t, so it is what it is.
That is not to say this is release is a bad one, just an overly familiar one. Much like Naruto and Dragonball Z, Bleach has reached that mythical status where it is almost critic proof and very little new or incisive can be said about it. The formula has been established and the show delivers what is has to in order to keep the fanbase happy. To that end this latest volume is prime Bleach and contains everything we know and love about the show. The chances of new ground being broken are limited, at least in this current arc, but as we know the faithful stick around because the status quo isn’t disturbed; the rest of us just have to put up with or look elsewhere.
In conclusion, within the context of the Bleach universe, this an action packed and enjoyable enough set which benefits from returning to the much disrupted Arrancar Arc, and for the hardcore fans it delivers what we have come to expect from this series. Avoid the filler material and this is a decent enough watch.
Ratings – ***
Man In Black