When your tools turn against you, things are not going to go well.
What They Say:
A mysterious man has given physical form to the Zanpakuto of all captains and lieutenants of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads. Newly liberated, the Zanpakuto wreak havoc upon the Soul Society and their former masters. Can Ichigo and the Thirteen Court Guard Squads rein them in before it’s too late? More importantly, are they ready to uncover the truth, lies, and deceit that await them?
Contains episodes 230-242.
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 2009, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This set contains thirteen episodes spread across three discs in a standard four/four/five format. 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 several releases now for the packaging for this set as it uses a standard keepcase that holds the three discs inside of it. The artwork for it is pretty standard stuff as we get a shot of a well illustrated Renji looking all serious through a profile design with a background that fits well for him with a segmented chained approach. The back cover 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 segmented approach from the background but done as a black and gray piece that gives it a heavier chains feeling. The foreground has various clips from the show that open up and move around before closing as other ones open up, giving a few action pieces from the set of episodes here. The navigation strip is along the bottom with quick access times to submenus and starting the show. Viz continues to avoid direct 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.
Having not seen a Bleach DVD release since the tenth set came out, I was a bit apprehensive at first about digging back into it. But this set kicks off the thirteenth season of the series, setting it up as a decent jumping on point if you’ve seen some of the material before, and I’ve also seen and written about events from the 280 range forward, so this will just be fleshing things out a bit. Bleach continues to be a series where it feels like it does some interesting things while playing to the standard Shonen Jump extended fight model, but it’s also a show that I keep feeling like it lacks that kind of big picture focus to it in order to drive a narrative that’s completely compelling. It’s easy to see jump on and jump off points compared to some other shows that are simply must-watch throughout.
What this season wants to do, at least at the start, is to explore the relationship between the Soul Reapers and that zanpakuto. It’s kind of a quick start to the season as we see several of those in the Soul Society talking about how they feel their spiritual pressure is a bit low recently and they find out that others are feeling essentially the same. But it all changes quickly when Seireitei is seemingly attacked by some unusual individuals that strike out of the blue, only to be revealed as the physical manifestations of the zanpakuto that the Reapers all wield. Lead by a freed zanpakuto named Muramasa, he’s gained the ability to reach into the souls of the zanpakuto and draw them out to deal with the issues and resentment that many seem to have when it comes to their masters. And therein is part of the problem in that many of them don’t realize that it’s a fairly symbiotic relationship between the two and haven’t given much thought to their weapons and the power itself that comes from them.
Within the Soul Society, we get some pretty good fights right up front, especially since the Soul Reapers are limited in their abilities since they don’t have the power of their weapons and are fighting against the manifestations that know a heck of a lot about their style of fighting. Rukia is one of the early victims of it and is taken down pretty hard by her zanpakuto, which hurts her a fair bit since she is one that has a certain connection to it that goes back to when she first acquired her weapon. But naturally, while Seireitei starts to suffer the consequences of several highly powered individuals causing trouble out of a sense of revenge and injustice, Rukia is able to slip out to the real world in order to find help from Ichigo.
Ichigo’s kind of a unique case and his storyline along this collection is what sells it for me. While we get a lot of different fights as the Soul Reapers do their best to win against their weapons, and to grow from it as does happen in some cases, Ichigo is a substitute Soul Reaper and not bonded the same way. That doesn’t mean that Muramasa can’t draw out Zangetsu though as Zangetsu sees this as an opportunity to test the man who wields him, to give him the chance to finally cross blades with him. There’s a layer of being controlled to it, but you can also sense that Zangetsu sees it as something fun and exciting to do. What really makes it intriguing though for all involved is that not only is Ichigo different in being a Substitute Soul Reaper, he’s also got some Hollow in him and that comes out to play, allowing him to draw on the power there. That makes for some good visually pleasing sequences as they go at it and Muramasa is just more and more surprised by all of it.
There isn’t a whole lot of plot progression here as we don’t know exactly what Muramasa is after nor what brought him to this place and position. That’s something that’s slowly teased at just a little, but mostly because of one Soul Reaper that he seems to be able to bring over to his side that will lead to some confusion along the way. Most of what we get here are just big action sequences, sometimes with some comedy, but also with a bit of clarity about the Soul Reaper’s pasts with how they got their weapons and the kinds of bonds they have with them and each other. But it also does some decent stuff in how the personalities are similar for a lot of them and the kinds of complications that come into play because of it when they actually get to fighting. None of the fights really stand out in a huge way, but they’re well done, sometimes fun in a comical way but generally solid and engaging enough to move those smaller and more personal stories forward.
Having gone for awhile without seeing any Bleach outside of a movie since the series ended its simulcast run, going back to something a bit older was rather refreshing. The start of the thirteenth season has a pretty small and simple approach in a way with what it does, even if it is kept mostly to the Soul Society and a large cast, because it’s about the bonds between the warriors and their weapons. It runs across numerous people and starts at least a small look at what it is that’s involved with the relationship between the two, something that has been given some nod before when it comes to Ichigo and Zangetsu. There’s a lot to like with a number of the action scenes, such as Rukia and her zanpakuto and the extended time we get with Ichigo and his, and it starts a pretty good storyline here for an area that you can see needed to be explored, even if it also feels like a chance to just create more merchandise with these characters.
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: March 12th, 2013
Running Time: 275 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
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.