The Zanpakuto arc comes to a close before throwing us back into the thick of things with Aizen.
What They Say:
Rukia, Renji and the other Soul Reapers are having a good time partying at the Kuchiki mansion when the place is attacked by what turn out to be Sword Beasts. They’re the manifested Zanpakuto of Soul Reapers who died during the battle with Muramasa, and they’re wreaking havoc in the Soul Society and the World of the Living!
Contains episodes 256-267
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 twelve episodes spread across two discs in a standard six/six 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 villain from the set which is done with some really great and vibrant reds combined with black and white to give it an intense and detailed feeling. I just hate that it’s yet another upside down cover, something Bleach does far, far too often. 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.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The nature of how the Bleach manga was adapted into anime form was definitely one of the more confounding things for fans since it had such breaks at times with standalone episodes and entire original arcs. For the purists who just wanted what was originally in the manga, any deviation was considered unacceptable. Others enjoyed them for what they were and on occasion, the team would come up with something created. I never really minded these kinds of arcs too much, and even my time doing simulcast reviews of the series had me dealing with a lengthy original arc that went pretty much up to the end of its broadcast. That said, one of the downsides of the original arcs was that like the Naruto movies, they never really had any impact as everything was neatly wrapped up by the end and you could realistically skip it and just go with the core material and not miss a beat.
This set deals with the fallout from the Muramasa arc where we had the villain du jour running rampant throughout the Soul Society after freeing the souls of the various Zanpakuto into a more physical humanoid form. That made for some interesting adventures along the way, even if Muramasa’s story itself felt weak, as we got a lot of new characters with some very exaggerated quirks and designs. This ran in contrast to the way most of the Soul Reapers were pretty similar in design as mostly human with an occasional quirk here or there or some variation to their costume. Having the Soul Reapers fight against their own weapons definitely brought in a new appreciation for the tool in hand and turned it into more of symbiotic relationship, which ties well to what we’ve seen over the course of the series with Ichigo and his weapon.
The fallout from all of it has its moments here as the first ten episodes of the set deals with some of the weapons whose masters were killed, turning them into rogue weapons of sorts. Labeled as Sword Beasts as many of them have gone a bit mad without that connection, the hunt for them is what preoccupies much of the time while also having some of the Soul Reapers deal with residual issues with their own weapons. With most of these being Soul Reapers not involved in the whole Arrancarr arc that’s going on around the edges of this set, we get mostly the third tier kind of characters involve for some of it and a lot of it just deals with weapons that lost masters that aren’t even mentioned. That, for me, removes a lot of the connection since it’s non-existent characters that start the motions and it involves Sword Beasts that don’t have any resonance as they deal with the last throes of madness, acceptance and trying to figure out how to move on from their situation.
The stories from it can be interesting in a simple way, but because of the way the show works with these kinds of arcs it does have a simplicity to it. Which is made all the more stark when we get into the final two episodes on the set. Since it’s picking up with an ongoing arc from before with Aizen’s plans to screw over Kurakara City, there’s a fair bit of recap at first to show what happened before and how it’s all coming together, but then it goes whole hog into the events of Ichigo attempting to rescue Orihime and the battle that Renji and Chad against the Arrancarr they’re facing. It goes big, fast and pretty furious which makes it exciting, even if it is just getting everything back on track again in Hueco Mundo. But what these two episodes do, even in recapping some of the events, is to show how thin so many of the episodes prior to it with the Sword Beasts really are.
Bleach really is one of those feast or famine shows depending on how you’re looking at the episodes. I liked the previous Murasama arc for what it was well enough, but the fallout aspect of it here is definitely the way they extended everything to just draw it out more and to see if anything sticks. But nothing really sticks because we’re in the middle of some other, bigger arc elsewhere that was waiting on more original material to be created. When you see the differences between the two, it becomes clearer the way the two sides of the show really works. There’s more than enough to like here in a simplistic way with the Sword Beasts and what they represent, and a chance to dabble with some of the lesser used Soul Reapers, but once it shifts into gear with the core storyline, it’s a whole other show and you can really feel the difference and crave more episodes.
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 10th, 2013
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Apple TV via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.