What They Say:
As Ichigo and his friends battle their way through the Arrancar stronghold, Chad is overcome by Espada Number Five Nnoitora – and the drop in his Spiritual Pressure is felt throughout Las Noches. Elsewhere, Uryu and Renji struggle against Szayelaporro, who has sealed away most of their abilities, and Orihime and Nel watch in horror as a Hollowfied Ichigo faces off against the exultant Grimmjow.
Contains episodes 157-167.
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 eleven episodes spread across three discs with four episodes on the first two discs and three on the third. 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 Grimmjow. 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 along with a few pieces of cute but fluffy omake.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As Bleach continues through this particular arc of rescuing Orihime, it adds another eleven episodes with this volume and a lot of what I felt with the previous set is made more apparent here. There are some good segments to be had, but the bulk of the fights are ones that come across as placeholders rather than anything of importance. Roadblocks to getting to the real thing, dealing Arrancars and Hollows that use overly (and needlessly) complicated names that you have no real care for and aren’t all that interesting to begin with. They’re quirky troubles for everyone to deal with, like Ishida and Abarai, before we get to the meatier fights that actually mean anything.
That said, there are bright points to this set that did leave me both happy and annoyed. My interest in the non-Ichigo/Soul Reaper characters continues to be high so I was glad to see that both Chad and Orihime have some good material here. Chad’s been acting off since they got to this realm and he’s taken quite a beating in his fight, though he does it in the stoic way that one would expect with very little said. I like that he’s not overly talkative or gets all angry where he might ramble or make a big speech. Instead, he realizes that his power in this realm is actually greater than in the World of the Living but he didn’t really grasp that or know how to unlock it. When it does get unlocked, he moves up a level in an intriguing way and I love the visuals of it. While we do get a piece of flashback material that highlights why he fights, it fits here and is brief, as it serves as a good reminder to him before he gets his fight on again.
With Orihime being a focus of this arc, or at least the catalyst, she does have a running subplot throughout this volume that deals with her feelings about what she’s done. She’s been tweaked into believing she’s done the right thing, made the right sacrifice for the others, but the truth of it all is starting to come out and she’s becoming conflicted. At that same time though, she’s in an awkward position as the fighting intensifies as Grimmjow wants her to heal Ichigo so he can beat him up at his full potential. Since she did everything she did in order to protect everyone from further harm, it’s a conundrum for her that she’s not quite sure how to deal with, especially with someone as eager to fight as Grimmjow is. She has some decent moments with the other Espada as well since they’re certainly not welcoming of her and use some amusing invective in order to try and get under her skin.
The main draw of this set though are the final three episodes of it in which we get to see Ichigo and Grimmjow go at it. Grimmjow has had it in for Ichigo since their encounter in the World of the Living and is eager to take him down and down hard. Ichigo’s still holding back to some degree though because of the lingering doubts that reside in him regarding Orihime and the choices she’s made, but all of that washes away over the course of the fight. While it’s something that feels like it’s gone to rather easily and quickly at times, I do like that Ichigo has to bring out his inner Hollow during the fight here and there is a solid amount of intensity to it all that drives home just what it is that Grimmjow wants to do and why. He’s not really a fully realized character, but in the context of the moment and the grudge he holds with regards to Ichigo, it’s well done and fits just right.
What did annoy me though is the background material that we get about the evolution of the Hollows and how they progress. It’s not exactly convoluted, as we see how they form from one level to the next and the levels that they can rise to as well as the barriers they can hit along the way, but it just feels so unnecessary. There’s a natural aspect to it that is appealing, with the way they eat each other to grow and change, but when you start off by saying the first round of Hollows that eat other Hollows are rare and then realize we’ve seen how many of what they evolve into, it’s just comical. It may make sense in a big picture kind of way, but the more I watched of this evolutionary lesson of the Hollows, the more I felt like it undercut what it is that makes each of those levels interesting and needlessly complicated when it comes to who they might have once been.
While I thoroughly like the idea of the gang heading into Aizen’s realm to go after Orihime and bring her back after the duplicity that was used, it’s going in standard Bleach style of being dragged out with a series of fights. And not terribly interesting fights for the most part as you don’t really care enough about the Arrancar that they’re fighting against, particularly with the names that you don’t even feel like you’d be able to say, never mind write easily without a reference. The positives here are the final few episodes with the fight between Ichigo and Grimmjow that deals with their ongoing grudge and the revelation that Chad has, which made me smile as I continue to want to see him shine and have his own spinoff so he can kick ass on his own. It’s not a bad set, it’s not a great set, and it does advance some of the plot a little bit. It’s just heavily focused on the action, which is good, but kind of empty because of who all is involved.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Production Sketches, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Omake
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: September 6th, 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.