Bleach Series 15 Part 1 (Episodes 317-329) (Cert 12)
3 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 302 minutes approx.
This latest set from one of anime’s most popular franchises marks the beginning of a new story arc for our Soul Reaping heroes. While it is not a creation of Bleach creator Tite Kubo, don’t be disheartened as it’s actually very good for a “filler” arc.
Following on from the events of the Arrancar Arc in which the Soul Society and Karakura Town were temporarily swapped with each, the joining pathway between the two worlds known as the Dangai appears to have suffered a glitch creating a time lapse. Mayuri Kurotsuchi leads a group to investigate but vanish when they encounter a blinding flash of light.
Meanwhile in the Human World as Ichigo and Rukia respond to a Hollow threat, Kon, in Ichigo’s body, discovers a green haired girl unconscious in a car park, who he takes back home much to Ichigo’s chagrin. Ichigo and Rukia return to the Soul Society but are chased in the Dangai by a creature known as the Sweeper. With Ichigo’s Spirit Pressure already at a low after the Arrancar battle, using his Bankai to expediate their escape further reduces his energy. Making matters worse, upon arrival Ichigo is arrested by Tōshirō Hitsugaya and Byakuya Kuchiki.
All of this occurs in the first episode so we hit the ground running with this new story. If there is one thing to be said about non-canon arcs it is that they are often better paced and subject to tighter scripting. They may not always get them right but when they do they are huge fun to watch. We should also credit the writers with tying in the transition to this new direction with the end of the previous main arc, creating a credible sense of continuity.
So far then we have a number of mysteries that require solving – the tacit green haired girl in the human world, the time lapse in the Dangai and the unusual and hostile behaviour of Ichigo’s Soul Reaping friends. To get the first one out of the way, the girl is revealed to be Nozomi Kujo and is – surprise surprise – a fugitive Soul Reaper. Initially she is reluctant to accept anyone’s help, least of all Kon’s, but when Ichigo and regulars Orihime, Chad, Ishida and Urahara go out of their way to protect her, Nozomi slowly opens up to them.
The other two puzzles are connected, as you may have already surmised. Ichigo’s arrest comes after his Soul Reaper Pass – which he dropped while fleeing the Sweeper – was found a few days earlier, linking him to the recent disappearances. Unaware of the time lapse which has incriminated Ichigo, Rukia breaks him out of jail and they go on the run, but are saved from an attack from Renji Abarai and Ikkaku Madarame by Yoruichi Shihōin. She explains the time-lapse phenomenon has seen the entire 13 Division captains and lieutenants replaced by duplicates called Regai, similar to a Mod Soul like Kon.
Masterminding this extraordinary coup is Kagerōza Inaba, a seventh seat scientist of the 12th division deciding to join the ranks of evil villains with global – or in this case double dimension – domination in mind. A normally unassuming looking chap with his glasses and formal grab, his darker side reveals a ruthless and cunning mind, keen to use all he has learned from his research of the Precipice worlds to wreak havoc and assume control.
The great thing about the Bleach universe is that the writers of these anime only stories can introduce their own characters within the diegesis of the Soul Society since it is so vastly populated, even within the ranks of the 13 Division Guards. Therefore it is perfectly plausible for someone who we have not seen before step out from the shadows to have their moment in the spotlight, and as in this case of being the antagonist, the idea that years of subservience to the huge personalities of the regular cast is enough to drive someone to villainy is also valid.
For a character like Nozomi this is equally applicable although her significance to the story isn’t fully revealed until the final episode in this set, leaving us on a curious cliffhanger. So far she isn’t a particularly dynamic personality, as soft spoken girls rarely are, only her green hair makes her stand out for now. Presumably she will step up and prove her worth in the second half of this arc.
Action wise this story begets plenty of it, with two sets of Soul Reapers regularly clashing swords which provides another interesting dynamic to the plot. I’m sure long time Bleach fans have wondered how the captains would fare against each other in combat, well here is the chance to find out. And if they not feuding against the doubles of their friends, some even face off against their own doppelganger! Whether that means double the salary for the voice artists however has not been disclosed.
There is also a notable improvement in the animation in these episodes, found often in the fluidity of the battle scenes which are taut and focused affairs – no multi-chapter meandering here. As mentioned earlier time is used efficiently in each episode with only the instalment on the last disc including the dreaded recap, otherwise this is non-stop storytelling.
Possessing so many interesting and creative variables to be keep us invested, it is this writer’s opinion that one can almost sense a Bleach renaissance with this story, even if it isn’t canon. After the drawn out tedium of the Arrancar Arc, it is refreshing to be entertained by a fresh drama which also delves deeper into the mythos of the Soul Society while delivering some top-notch action to boot!
This may be blasphemy for praising a filer arc so highly but this is the most enjoyable Bleach release in quite a while.
Rating – ****
Man In Black