Bleach Series 16 Part 2 (Episodes 355-366) (Cert 12)
3 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 279 minutes approx.
“And now, the end is near”
It’s not just near but it is actually here. After eight years and three hundred and sixty six episodes the Bleach anime reaches its final release here in the UK (it stopped airing in Japan in 2012) so make the most of it folks.
Before we get to the eulogy there is the small matter of the ongoing Fullbring Arc to discuss. When we left the story Ichigo was undergoing training with the folks of the superpowered group known as Xcution to allow him to nurture his own Fullbring with the goal of eventually restoring his Soul Reaper powers.
While this is happening the dangerous Tsukishima continues to wield his unique Fullbring to create disharmony among Ichigo’s inner circle. Tsukishima’s power is to insert himself into people’s memories so they believe him to be an integral part of their lives despite having never met them before. By manipulating the memories of Ichigo’s sisters, Karin and Yuzu and his close friends Orihime Inoue and Yasutora “Chad” Sado, Ichigo suddenly finds himself a pariah for his antagonistic behaviour towards Tsukishima.
It seems that even after all these years Tite Kubo can still pull something new out of his trick bag and Tsukishima’s power is a genius one. This isn’t your average case of simple brainwashing as no-one is rendered a zombie as a result, but their emotions have been manipulated to the extent that their loyalty to Tsukishima overrides their feelings for Ichigo, creating a frightening and confusing scenario for our hero to overcome.
Meanwhile Kugo Ginjo, the head of Xcution is in a similar predicament as his fellow group members have also fallen foul to Tsukishima’s spell and they have turned on Ginjo too. With the odds being two against eight very powerful people, Ginjo and Ichigo, even with his new found Fullbring powers are up against it. Is help forthcoming?
That is something you’ll have to find out for yourself although if you’ve been watching Bleach for this long you already know the answer. Yet it isn’t so predictable as Kubo has thrown in some nice twists along the way that see the balance of power shift many times to keep up guessing until the end, and even then the story isn’t quite finished.
It becomes apparent as the developments pile on and things begin to gather steam that these episodes don’t reveal any signs that we are reaching the end of the series run, especially since it is set just seventeen months after the epic Arrancar Arc and Ichigo has just got his powers back. Kubo’s manga is still ongoing – closing in on 650 chapters and shows no sign of abating – which explains the prevalent sense of renewed energy instead of a valedictorian tone.
Fans can rejoice that there is plenty of action to be found in these final twelve episodes (well eleven – the first one in this set is a comedy filler) while the drama unfolds at a steady pace, dropping new revelations and shocking turns to stir the pot further. There is a case for feeling the denouement is somewhat anticlimactic after the intense build up, which may be more due to the anime’s schedule than Kubo’s narrative but the pay-off is satisfactory.
The animation, it has to be said, is a mixed bag – the action is fluidly handled and the various new forms the combatants evolve into are given priority treatment, while the detail of the character designs tend to fluctuate a bit. Orihime is the most noticeable victim, her face seemingly changing from scene to scene, while others suffer from alternating hair lengths.
But these are minor quibbles as a lot is packed into these final chapters and in true Bleach fashion we are treated to the usual emotional highs, tragic lows, bright spots of humour and of course intense supernatural action. We certainly can’t accuse Ichigo and co. of not going out with a bang, even if it could have been just a little bit louder.
As one of the first anime series I ever saw over a decade ago, I have to confess that Bleach has been a personal and sentimental favourite of mine. Certainly it has seen its fair share of peaks and troughs vis-à-vis the filler material but overall I have found it to be one of the more consistently enjoyable series out there. And now, having stuck with it since the very first episode I can’t help but feel a slight sense of sadness to see it end, having been such a regular fixture of my anime viewing for so long.
Rumours have been abound of the past couple of months that the anime might return in 2016 although nothing has been confirmed for the time being. The is no sense of finality in the closing moments of the last episode, so the door is very much wide open for a return and with four years of new stories written, there is no shortage of fresh material should this comeback actually reach fruition.
But we must now bid Bleach a fond farewell. It’s been a real blast and we must say a huge arigato gozaimasu for creating this wonderful story, engaging characters and for introducing us to the fantasy world of the Soul Reaper. The folks at Studio Pierrot also deserve kudos for bringing the story to life and for their tireless efforts to keep it on air, no matter how successful or unsuccessful their own stories were.
So, raise your zanpakutous and in a loud hearty voice let’s all join together for one last rousing yell of “BAN-KAI”!!
Rating – *** ½
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