Bleach Series 15 Part 2 (Episodes 330-342) (Cert 15)
3 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 302 minutes approx.
I hope you are all strapped into your seats because we are heading towards the concluding part of the Invading Army Arc and it is a hell of a ride. It may be a filler arc but Bleach hasn’t been this exciting in quite a while.
A quick reminder of the main story – duplicate Mod Soul Soul Reapers created by megalomaniac scientist Kagerōza Inaba have been causing headaches for our heroes in both the Soul Society and the Living World. Their objective is to capture a young girl named Nozomi Kujo who fled to the Living World and is a vital part of Inaba’s plan. At the end of the last volume it was revealed that Nozomi was the first Mod Soul ever created.
Following on from this revelation Ichigo Kurosaki vows to protect Nozomi from Inaba but the onslaught of the doppelganger Soul Reapers is proving to much even for the real Soul Reapers. As the casualties begin to mount the top level Soul Reapers, including Captain Yamamoto, are forced to enter the fight but Inaba’s army still have the upper hand, with Inaba himself displaying extraordinary power.
Just as Ichigo has been suffering from a loss of his Soul Reaping powers, a confrontation with a hollow awakens Nozomi’s powers, revealing her Zanpakutou which can absorb the Spiritual Pressure of another weapon and duplicate it. With the others recuperating Nozomi is rushed into training with the aid of Uharaha and friends to join the battle against Inaba but as ever the evil mastermind is one step ahead, and Nozomi’s importance to his plan is finally revealed.
There is so much more that could be written about the plot developments but that would give them all away, such is the scale and depth of the story telling in this arc. It’s a discussion we’ve had before on this site but this is a rare occasion where non-canon material is every bit as good and al encompassing as the original material from Bleach creator Tite Kubo. I’d even go as far as to say that this has been better thought out that some of Kubo’s stories but only because the writers presumably had more time to work on it.
The other benefit is that that there is no padding or marking time – every episode is a direct continuation of the story with something new happening to further the progress, whereas the manga adaptations are often eked out to allow Kubo to play catch up. Credit must also be given to the writers for their close observation to the Bleach mythos and history as they incorporate many existing factors whilst being able to expand upon it with a sense of credibility and logic, and not just going into business for themselves to make something happen.
While this is not a slight on Kubo – after all it is his concept and vision that hooked us all in the first place – it has to be said that some of the most intense battles can be found in this collection, with the finale being a spectacle of epic proportions. The benefit of the fights not dragging on beyond two episodes at the most is obvious and used wisely while the emotional investment has been superbly manipulated too.
It’s not all action however as the twists and turns present us with plenty of intrigue and character development. Nozomi of course grows from a solemn, almost truculent girl to a fierce fighter with a moral fortitude to match the pernicious machinations of Inaba. Their histories are eventually explored, revealing a connection between to deepen the mystery while serving as the emotional core of Inaba’s eventual downfall.
Speaking of emotion, the hyperactive and often infuriating mod soul Kon who is largely employed for comic relief plays a huge part in both Nozomi’s rehabilitation and in the operation to thwart Inaba. As shocking as this may sound, Kon is actually put in the rare position of appearing almost human and engenders feelings of concern and sympathy as an outcome of his participation in this mission.
Much like in the previous collection the animators also seem revitalised by having something more to work with than periods of inert garrulous time wasting, as evident by the visual flourishes found in the battle sequences. Having to duplicate the various bespoke attacks of the Zanpakutous and their mystical manifestations hasn’t hindered hem in creating some smooth yet eye catching clashes, while Inaba’s special ability gives them plenty of scope to render the effects and subsequent carnage with a fresh sense of bombast.
Closing this set is a sobering and downbeat episode, almost standalone with fleeting references to the prior adventure, in which Rukia is due to return to the Soul Society but prolongs it due to Ichigo’s failing powers. The fact he can barely handle a mere hollow any more is a concern for everyone, although Rukia tries to keep her feelings hidden on the matter. The others think she is upset and try to cheer her up, but maybe she is upset for another reason.
As much as it sounds like a throwaway chapter it neatly ties up the main arc before paving the way for the return to the next manga story, the last one to be animated. Whether it was by advanced notice from Kubo about the next direction for Ichigo, or a combination of perspicacity and serendipity, this is a gentle and touching way to end this volume, tinged with a sense of excitement of what is to come.
Many Bleach fans will no doubt be happy for a return to the source material in the next release but don’t discount this fabulous and genuinely well crafted and exciting non-canon arc – proof the Bleach concept can live on beyond Kubo’s influence with the right guidance.
Rating – ****
Man In Black