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Bleach Season 6 Vol. #1 UK Review

6 min read

What They Say:
It’s back to high school and Hollow slaying for Ichigo Kurosaki, who is now officially recognized as a Substitute Soul Reaper by the Soul Society. On the day he returns to Karakura First High School, Ichigo meets an unusual new student named Shinji Hirako. Meanwhile, Uryu is attacked by a Menos Grande and is saved by his father, Ryuken. Ryuken defeats the Menos with a single attack. He tells Uryu that he can help him regain his powers but only under Ryuken’s conditions. Bleach Series 6 Part 1 marks the beginning of the unbelieveable “Arrancar” story arc and the burgeoning war between the Soul Reapers and The titular Arrancar led by former Soul Reaper captain Sosuke Aizen.

The Review:
Audio is presented in English and Japanese 2.0 stereo. I’ve been trying to widen my linguistic boundaries lately, so I listed to this release in both English and Japanese. Both tracks are fairly standard stereo mixes, with some effort having been made to properly place dialogue and effects on the soundstage but nothing particularly spectacular past that. There were no obvious dropouts or other problems. As for the English track – I’ve been becoming more accepting of dubbed anime lately, and Bleach is another series where the quality of the English voice-acting has quite impressed me.

Video’s hard to quantify in one way – this is a recent show, so in general the animation is clean and colourful, while the transfer is free of any obvious encoding issues. Where it’s strange is that there are scenes dotted throughout the show where the animation has noticeably more detail (both in terms of shading representing lighting, which adds a lot of depth to the animation, and in the amount of work that’s gone into portraying the characters) than for the rest of the disc. These scenes really do look good, but they’re different enough from the show’s usual level of animation that they do jar a bit. I can’t really criticise for the extra effort having been made, though.

No packaging was provided with our review copy.

The menu is a static screen, with an image of Ichigo in Hollow-mode off to one side. Options are provided for Play All, direct access to each episode, language setup and extras, with Kon, Rukia and one of the Arrancar featuring on the submenus for both discs. There are no transition animations, so it’s all quick & easy to use.

Disc 2 of the set has a gallery of production sketches, and another pair of creditless closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In Hueco Mundo, the realm where Hollows reside before coming to wreak their havoc on the land of the living, the hollow Grand Fisher transforms into an imperfect arrancar, before entering the real world. Guess where Ichigo’s next challenge will be coming from. There’s also a new transfer student at his school, Shinji Hirako – but Shinji’s no ordinary boy: during a routine hollow purification, Ichigo is confronted by Shinji, who shows that he can willingly change to a Hollow, in much the same way that Ichigo has done unwillingly before. He’s a member of the Visoreds, a group that gains their power from calling on the Hollows within them, and he wants Ichigo to join them. Meanwhile, there’s a new Quincy on the scene…

Another volume of Bleach, and another arc to introduce. This volume is the opening set in the Arrancar arc, which sees former Soul Reaper captain Aizen return to the picture with the first of what I suspect will be many schemes: creating Arrancars out of Hollows, he hopes to greatly increase their fighting power (and intelligence, although that may not be saying much) and wreak some havoc. As yet, it’s a little unclear on why he wants to do this (other than “because he can”, of course), but Bleach wouldn’t be Bleach without some good opportunities for violent confrontation, so here we are.

Before getting into the main event, though, there’s time given over to a little housekeeping: the matters of Ishida’s loss of power, a look at Ichigo’s family history (complete with a few surprises about the true nature of his father, naturally), and the return to action of Rukia. All of these could potentially be quite interesting subjects in their own rights, but unfortunately the series decides to deal with all three with what TVTropes would call an Ass Pull – plot twists that come out of nowhere, without any hints or clues, and with no explainable reason other that “well, it was convenient”. Rukia’s loss of her Soul Reaper powers had been portrayed until now as permanent – except that now, it isn’t. Similarly, after having already avoided the certain death that should have come with his permanent loss of powers, Ishida (still alive) finds that “permanent” doesn’t mean what it says on the tin, either, courtesy of the return of his father. Which also flies in the face of the whole “I’m the last of the Quincy!” thing he’s been running with for the past hundred-odd episodes. Ichigo’s dad likewise has revelations of his own that place him front-and-centre of the mess that his kid’s been in since meeting Rukia, without any explanation of why he only chose to get involved now.

Unexplained plot twists like this aren’t uncommon in anime, I suppose, but I don’t just dislike them, I positively loathe them – it’s lazy storytelling, pure and simple. Give me some foreshadowing, a hint or two that can be pointed at so that I can say “Aaaah, I should’ve seen that coming”, and I’m happy – but Bleach just dumps three fairly significant plot points on us with nary a word, and.. yeah. Just colour me unimpressed.

It doesn’t get much better from there, either. Traitorous captain Aizen makes his return, but it’s in a controlling role, sitting in his HQ in Hueco Mundo and sending his Arrancar to do his dirty work for him. This leads to the fairly predictable beginning of a stream of Arrancar that the Forces of Good will have to defeat – which in a lot of ways is, I suppose, what Bleach is all about: set-piece battles between overpowered heroes and villains. That’s certainly what we get, but a little rebel in me can’t help but wish that someday, a Big Bad Villain would just say “bugger this”, and step out at stage one to deal with his opposition properly, instead of wheeling out the cannon fodder first. Yes, I know this is too much to expect.

It’s not all bad, I have to admit. The scenes with Hitsugaya and his Soul Society underlings trying to get their heads around high-school life are great fun, and Rukia’s return is handled in quite moving fashion, playing nicely on the relationship between her and Ichigo and their recent separation. Bleach can do comic and touching when it wants to, and does it quite well – it’s a real shame we don’t get a little more of it.

In Summary:
Away from the small glimmers of good stuff, though, this volume is all about introducing the Arrancar, and it’s done in such a ham-fisted way that I really couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for it. And hey, there’s another 47 episodes of the Arrancar to go. Not Bleach at its best, unfortunately, and not something I’d make a point of rushing to see.

Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Productions Artwork, Textless Closing

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Running Time: 275 minutes
Video Encoding: MPEG2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37” widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-22 5.1 speaker system.

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