Bleach Series 16 Part 1 (Episodes 343-354) (Cert 15)
3 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 279 minutes approx.
This latest release in the long running Bleach saga finds us back in canon for this new adventure for everyone’s favourite orange haired Substitute Soul Reaper – except he isn’t anymore.
Set seventeen months after the conclusion of the rather lengthy battle against the Arrancar we saw that it came at quite a cost – Ichigo Kurosaki’s Soul Reaper powers. It seems impossible to believe but it is true – after such a long and eventful life as someone who could see ghosts and went on to become a dimension jumping warrior with unique and bespoke abilities, Ichigo is now just an ordinary seventeen year-old high school boy.
His friends, Orihime Inoue, Uryū Ishida and Yasutora “Chad” Sado, however seem to have retained their supernatural powers while the inherent abilities Ichigo received from his father appear to have passed onto his eldest sister Karin. While it is clear Ichigo misses the unpredictable adrenaline rush of dealing with Hollows, he also has accepted his fate of being a regular civilian, having even got himself a part time job.
But as ever Karakura Town is never free from a major supernatural incident disturbing the peace and the first shot is fired when Ishida confronts a strange figure he first spots while dealing with a Hollow. The mystery man attacks and wounds Ishida with alarming speed and almost invisible dexterity, incurring a hospital stay for Ishida.
Ordinarily Ichigo would rally the troops and seek to avenge Ishida and send the assailant packing but as explained above this is no longer ordinary situation. Bleach creator Tite Kubo has taken the bold move of stripping away the very thing that drives his hugely popular franchise and in the process, has hit the rest button by “humanising” Ichigo again, just as a new terror threatens his everyday life.
In some ways the idea that Ichigo would forever be a Soul Reaper, leaping from adventure to adventure, crossing dimensions and universes in the name of protecting the human world may have a limited shelf life was always a concern. The fact Kubo – and by extension the TV writers who created the many filler arcs (both good and bad) – have kept the story going for this long is a testament to the fertility of the concept and the fantastic Bleach universe.
So what does this mean for this current arc? Does Ichigo sit on the sideline while his friends try to take on this new foe alone? Or do they rub it in further and contact the Soul Society for help? Initially Ichigo decides to close this chapter on his life, going so far as to throw away his now redundant Soul Reaper Combat Pass. But Ichigo is courted by a curious looking bunch called Xcution, fronted by Kugo Ginjo and who count Chad as one of its members.
Ginjo invites Ichigo to the Xcution headquarters and explains that he and his group – gamer Yukio, tough woman Jackie, stoic bartender Giriko and irritating lolicon Rurika – all possess a power called Fullbring, which allows them to manipulate inanimate objects. They find this a curse and ask Ichigo if he will allow them to restore his Soul Reaping powers and rid them of their curse. Naturally Ichigo declines but when his youngest sister Yuzu, is attacked by a Hollow, he changes his mind.
Technically we have gone back to the very beginning when Ichigo was first infused with his Soul Reaper powers and had to go on an extensive training programme to learn how to harness them. Then again, practically every major story arc has seen Ichigo undergo some form of new training in order to defeat a new foe, so as much as this feels like a reboot, it is really just more of the same.
Unlike the first time however, Ichigo is no neophyte and at least has an inkling of what to expect, although the training methods of Rurika are a lot different from before. And with no Zanpaktou to wield or bond with or anything akin to a bankai, Ichigo has to assimilate and acclimatise himself to a new manifestation of his power. And as the new antagonist Tsukishima is also a Fullbringer, Ichigo has a long road ahead of him.
While the story has an air of familiarity about it, the atmosphere and aura of the show does feel somewhat different from the onset, as if the removal of Ichigo’s powers have brought with it a sense of melancholy. Despite an early comedic tone, things feel downbeat and restrained compared to the usual energy pervasive in this series, but not wholly miserable or depressing.
To illustrate the passing of almost a year and a half the character designs have altered a little, with hair lengths changing, Ichigo’s sister now looking a little more grown up and facial definitions showing signs of maturity. The biggest change (no pun intended) is however in Inoue’s already sizeable chest which for some reason has expanded further over this time period! Sadly, while her cup size has increased her IQ appears to gone into reverse.
What we take away from this new adventure is how grounded it is in the reality of daily life insofar as the action stays with the human world, Soul Reapers are nowhere to be seen and the supernatural element of the Fullbringers is played down, with everyone involved resolutely human. The teaser at the end of the final episode in this set suggests that will change in the next volume.
This new arc brings us an interesting new direction for Bleach by essentially staying true to its original remit yet offers a different twist on the proven, if overdone, formula. It will be interesting to see how this new arc plays out.
Rating – ***
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