Bleach Series 13 Part 1 (Episodes 266-278) (Cert 12)
3 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 313 minutes approx.
Let joy be unconfined. Ring out the bells, break open the party poppers, hold a chicken in the air and stick a deckchair up your nose – the Arrancar Arc is finally resuming! After what seems like an eternity – the last time it was featured was in Series 11 – this long running tale of the dreaded servants of former Soul Reaper Aizen and their quest for (dual) world domination continues. Since its been a while, the first episode in this set is a handy recap to get us back up to speed with the events as they stood when we left them. From here on in we dive headlong into the action.
A quick reminder of where we are in the story. Aizen’s plan to destroy the Soul Society and his erstwhile Soul Reaper colleagues by unleashing the Soul King, a powerful and deadly presence trapped inside another dimension. To free the Soul King Aizen needs to create a special key called Oken and that requires the sacrifice of many souls. Where would Aizen find these souls? Rather conveniently in Kakura Town, home of series protagonist Ichigo Kurosaki! Ahead of the game as always, Aizen knew that the Soul Reapers would be there to stop him so he employed the Arrancar to deal with this distraction.
We rejoin the saga as the various division captains and their lieutenants are embroiled in battles with the top ranking Arrancar, none of whom have any intention of being a push over. Meanwhile in Hueco Mondo, home of the Arrancar and the equally deadly Espada, Ichigo is to face off against the ice cold Ulquiorra Cifer, who has captured Orihime Inoue. This is quite the battle, spanning six episodes, pushing both combatants to new levels of intensity and the depths of their supernatural powers.
Both Ichigo and Ulquiorra reveal extreme versions of the many permutations of their alternate power level forms which neither can seemingly control. While Ulquiorra is aware of this fact, his cold hearted demeanour and lack of emotions prevent him from caring as long as he gets the victory and causes as much pain and suffering to his opponent as (in)humanly possible. Ichigo being driven by the desire to use his strength to protect others can’t afford to be so nonchalant but it appears he may not have a choice in the matter, mutating into his scariest and most unstable hollow form yet.
Meanwhile in Kakura Town the Soul Reapers are also being pushed to their limits by their Arrancar foes, with new levels of Bankai being called upon in the quest for that all important victory for their respective sides. Captain Hitsugaya is opposed by Harribel, an Arrancar with the same ability to manipulate ice as their key weapon. Much like Ichigo both are pushed to their limits, having to dig deep to explore hitherto unused aspects of their Bankai with devastating results.
Another eventful battle sees Second Division captain Suì-Fēng and her lieutenant Omaeda who are pitted against Barragan an Arrancar with an utterly chilling ability. During the clash he reveals that the Arrancar each represent a stage of the dying process, with his being the debilitation of age. In his supreme form Barragan can make anyone or anything simply wither and die with a single touch, making the necessary close combat his opponents must engage in extremely difficult as Suì-Fēng finds out first hand – quite literally!
Being back in canon means we are once again caught up in the tired old formula of padded out battle scenes with prolix interruptions of exposition and explanations Dragonball style. However, in a slight change of policy, the action flits between the individual battles to ensure one encounter doesn’t outstay its welcome while giving the viewer a reason to stay glued to the action in anticipation of the climax, if and when it comes.
This admittedly can be infuriating at times as one particular fight is just heating up then we summarily leap across town to where another encounter is in progress, but when one considers that the original intention for these episodes is weekly TV broadcast and not marathon sessions as we are afforded, one can’t really fault the producers too much for wanting to encourage the audience to return the following week.
Something that is also evident about the weekly episodic format of the series and a clear indicator that the pacing needs to be kept constant to avoid another break in this arc, is with the recaps at the start of the episodes. Of late these have become a greater presence in this series when in the early days they would often just leap back into the action but the recaps here are rather long, with some taking up the first five minutes of the episode – excluding the opening titles! So, if you are watching these discs in one go, you may want to have your finger hovering over the fast forward button when you start a new chapter.
There are a few old but little niggles resurfacing with the return to original material – most notably being Orihime largely reduced to simply saying “Kurosaki-kun” at regular intervals – but it seems that Tite Kubo took advantage of the catch up period while the anime went its own way, demonstrated by the expanding arsenals of the Soul Reapers and Arrancar making the return to this long running arc a fresh and exciting experience as opposed to a half hearted sleepwalk towards its conclusion to get it out of the way.
For the first time in a while the Soul Reapers appear to be the ones behind the eight ball, with the prospect of the Arrancar being genuine threat to their existence rather than the usual quickly despatched distraction. And this volume ends on a critical point that guarantees you’ll be back for the next release.
Ladies and gentleman Bleach is back!
Ratings – *** ½
Man In Black