What They Say:
In the perpetual night and white sand world of Hueco Mundo, Ichigo and the others fight their way to Las Noches, the stronghold of former Soul Reaper captain Sosuke Aizen, where Orihime is being held. In the depths of Las Noches, Rukia encounters Espada Number Nine, Aaroniero Arruruerie, who removes his mask to reveal a very familiar face – could he really be former Squad Three Lieutenant Kaien Shiba?
Contains episodes 146-156.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The two stereo mixes that are included with this release are pretty good with an encoding of 224 kbps which gives it slightly more depth than the 192 kbps standards we usually hear. With a lot of action to it as well as some exaggerated dialogue sequences, Bleach has a fairly decent stereo mix that has some nice directionality to it but nothing that really sets it out as a truly strong piece. The opening and closing sequences have some solid use but overall the mix is straightforward and competent. In listening to both language tracks, we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This set contains twelve episodes spread across three discs with four episodes per disc. The transfer for Bleach is on part with previous season sets with a very clean look and solid materials. Colors are solid without any really noticeable bleeding, though some of the red items sometime seem like there’s a touch of it. Cross coloration is absent and aliasing is very minimal. Probably more out of expectation, the show does seem a bit soft in how it’s presented. Part of it comes from the way so many shows are just so clean and vibrant looking, that something of this nature doesn’t feel quite right – especially for something of this pedigree. Backgrounds do exhibit some noise and there are a few very noticeable areas of mosquito noise as well, but by and large this is a good looking release.
Bleach uses what we’ve seen for a few releases now for the packaging for this set as it uses a standard keepcase that holds the three discs inside of it. The keepcase comes with a slipcover that works like a picture frame as it’s all white with the die cut center that shows the keepcase artwork underneath. That artwork which shows through is that of Orihime in the outfit that Aizen has given her that marks her as one of his. I really like the die cut design with the slipcover and it works well here. The back cover to the slipcover is the same as the keepcase itself which goes back to how we’ve seen previous season sets. The logo is along the left, vertical, while the right has blank space along the upper half. The bottom half gives the short summary of what the season is about as well as the production information. What’s included in the set is there as well as the strip along the bottom that would normally be a technical grid but is instead all about the logos. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release mirrors the front cover with its die cut slipcover design except that it’s sideways instead with the framing, and that there are a few other softer gray ones in the background. The foreground one in black allows for clips from the show to play throughout it that are tied to that respective volume and with the music associated, it all has a nice mood setting feeling to it for this season. The navigation strip is along the bottom with quick access times to submenus and starting the show. Viz continues to avoid direction episode navigation from the top level but they’re not the only ones to still do that. While this is a simple approach, it’s done well and is a definite change from how Viz has done things in the past. On the downside, the discs did not correctly read our players’ language presets and defaulted to English only for audio and no subtitles – which is unfortunate since there isn’t a sign/song subtitle track so you initially believe the songs are not subtitled.
The extras for this release are pretty standard as we saw with the single volume discs in that we get the clean ending sequence and more production artwork. .
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
If there’s one thing that’s consistent with Bleach over the course of its couple hundred episode run, it’s that it seems like Ichigo and the gang are always running off somewhere to deal with big, otherworldly problems. Usually it’s the Soul Society, but this arc has them racing off to Hueco Mundo into rescue Orihime. With the way Aizen has played her, she feels like she’s gone willingly to his side there in order to protect everyone else and that it was her choice. And to make it worse, it looks like that to the Soul Society higher-ups as well so they’ve forbidden any attempts to go and get her, Ichigo included. And that, to say the least, is not something that was ever going to happen.
With this set, it lands Ichigo, Ishida and Chad in Hueco Mundo easily enough and it’s definitely a pretty stark and dark place. What surprises them is that the first thing they come across is a small trio of Hollow-types that are playing a game, though they think it’s actually something more serious first. This introduces us to Nel and his two companions, who are basically the gutter trash of this realm with little power and ability and no real position or presence to speak of. They’re shocked when they realize that Ichigo is a Soul Reaper and that the others are humans, and it doesn’t take long for all six of them to be in trouble with one of the guardians of the area that’s been sent to take them down a few pegs by Aizen. Giving Ichigo and the others, who are quickly joined by Rukia and Renji as they don’t want to be left behind and have plenty of reason to join in the rescue.
What happens with the set from there is, for better or worse, fairly predictable. It’s a positive because the familiar does work and there’s a lot of fun to be had here as they work their way through this particular world and its challenges. But it’s also frustrating simply because you can see where it’s going for the most part with the journey. There’s things that can shake it up at the destination, which doesn’t hit here of course, but the journey is where most of the adventure really takes place. Having it become almost completely predictable takes some of the wind out of its sales, even if it is a different area than we’ve been to before like Hueco Mundo. There’s just a lot of familiarity to it all, even down to the group of kid-like Hollows they encounter like Nel.
One of the main focuses of this set actually turns to Rukia as she has a double encounter here that makes her journey particularly difficult. The first is that while Nel and the others serve as a bit of a guide, she ends up getting separated in one of the chasms and finds another Soul Reaper down there named Ashido. He and his group have been down there for years and he’s the last survivor who has earned a bit of a reputation as he’s adapted well to the place while hunting, bringing out vengeance on those that killed his comrades. Of course, part of what this arc is trying to show is that not all of the Hollows are actually bad guys like we’ve seen come across before, and to add a bit more conflict to our heroes as they befriend people down there. You can tell how Ashido’s arc will end the minute you know who he really is, but it’s well done for the most part and doesn’t seem overly forced.
The other main thing that Rukia gets involved in is when she makes further progress inside of the citadel where Aizen is, and has created an interior blue sky that’s unnerving to many of the Hollows, she ends up being suckered into a darkened room where the Arrancar there reveals himself to be one of her former mentors, Kaien, someone she lost some time ago. That means flashbacks and conflicting feelings about what’s really going on. While it may take Rukia some time to work through, being emotionally connected to it and all, the clues are there from the start which makes it a little painful to watch. It brings you back to that suspension of disbelief thing since you watch Rukia and wonder how she can be so oblivious to something like this. If it was in the World of the Living, that would be one thing. But having him here in the midst of Hueco Mundo even with the story he tells…
Ichigo isn’t left out of this, nor is Ishida, as both of them have activity going on as well, first together with Nel and his group and then on their own. It’s fairly straightforward where they have to be reminded that they can’t take anyone less than serious here as even the former Espada are still very dangerous and that Nel and his friends can contribute to things. There are a couple of them that are brought in for Ichigo and Ishida to deal with, and they’re more comical of personality than anything else, but they have some power to back it up as well. It’s more about Nel and his friends getting involved to various degrees than anything else, but it works well enough overall for it to work. And that does add a nice layer to things, especially since it comes up a few times that Ichigo and the others are basically the bad guys here, coming to their world and attacking innocent people.
Similar to my experience with the Naruto: Shippuden sets, the drop to eleven episodes here is very frustrating since there’s so much more to go with it. It’s just slowing things down even more when it doesn’t need to be, as they can easily do twelve or thirteen episodes a set with no problem. This set is decent overall with some fun material and a surprising focus on Rukia. The exploration of Hueco Mundo doesn’t reveal much since it’s a pretty bland place and the structure of it with the Espada is just a bit more of the same without anything that really stands out. Bleach has pretty much staked out its territory by this point with what it wants to do with its mixture of humor and action so including things like Nel and his friends while balancing it with Ashido and Kaien is par for the course. It’s an extended sequence here overall that could easily be tightened up to just a couple of episodes, but this is what Bleach is.
Japanese 2.0 language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Omake, Production Art, Storyboards
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: June 21st, 2011
Running Time: 275 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.