What They Say:
Ichigo begins training under Ginjo in order to develop his Fullbring powers, while Orihime and Chad discuss what little they know about Tsukishima and Uryu begins his own investigation into the attacks. Once his training is complete, Ichigo returns home, only to find that his family and friends have accepted Tsukishima as if they’ve known him for years. Confused and shaken, Ichigo goes to the one person he thinks he can rely on, but with everyone turning on him, who remains to be trusted?
Contains episodes 355-366.
The audio presentation for this release is straightforward as we get the original Japanese language track as well as the new English language dub. 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 2012, 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 sometimes 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 several releases now for the packaging for this set as it uses a standard keepcase that holds the two discs inside of it. The artwork for it is pretty standard stuff as we get a shot of a well-illustrated shot at Ichigo to close things out which, with the color shading it uses, comes across as a little more cartoonish than it should. 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)
Going into this set was kind of surreal in a way as I hadn’t seen these episodes since they originally aired back in early 2012 and I hadn’t gotten in a Bleach DVD set to review since the 19th set, which means I haven’t really revisited this arc prior to the finale here. Thankfully, it eases you into things since it kicks if off with the New Year’s kind of special where the gang, mid-arc, gets to step out of the norm and just have fun. And with the way the current arc is going, focusing on just a handful of the World of the Living characters, taking an episode to focus on the Soul Society and its cast is certainly welcome on some level. With them being shuffled off to the background for awhile in order to focus on Ichigo regaining his Fullbring powers, you can easily imagine the cast for those characters getting a little itchy about things and hoping they have some working coming back soon. While this may not be a lot, it at least reminds us about the cast we haven’t seen in awhile.
And what we get is pure silliness. Izuru kicks things off by deciding that everyone needs to do something fun which results in a kite flying contest. Watching the various members of the Soul Society come together for something so light and frivolous is fun since they get into it completely, which means a fair bit of violence shows up along the way as well. The first half of the episode is given over to this as it goes out of control along the way since the personalities involved, well, they simply can’t place nice together for the most part. It’s comical and silly and exactly what a New Years episode should be like.
The second half focuses on a different bit of story though as it Rukia takes the spotlight, not that she really wants it. She’s been selected to do the dance for the Celebration Ceremony, but she’s struggling with it when it comes to getting all the steps right. So she’s gone and brought Renji in for some support, which has him doing his best to help her out and encourage her. Of course, his particular style of praise and support doesn’t work that well and just ends up making her even more frustrated. There’s some good bits of humor, but this one tries to play it more serious overall and because of the nature of the episode in general, it just doesn’t work quite as well. Her reasons and stress make sense, but I would have preferred that it continued the light and fun tone of the first half.
Once we get back on track, though, things move along decently enough if familiar enough. Some of the things that have gone on prior to the special are dealt with here as Orihime has made it into the training area where Ginjo is working Ichigo over pretty hard. It’s good timing since it lets her heal him, but it also shows something more for him. While he’s been working hard, she makes it clear that she and Chad haven’t just been sitting around as they’ve been working hard themselves so as to not be a burden to him. Reinforcing that it’s been seventeen months since he lost his power, it helps to push him in the right direction mentally to deal with Ginjo. It’s not that it makes him more aggressive, it’s the shove he needed from her to remind him that he has to hold his own as well and do what needs to be done. He may have kept his skills to some degree and gained some new motivation with the Fullbring side, but he needed that extra shove in order to really start reaching for that next level.
What we get with a decent portion of things here is the whole training and preparation side of things as Ichigo deals with the training, we get our Quincy getting back on track, and some minor time with Chad and Orihime to get them on the right page to be a token part of how this anime-original arc is going to close things out. It’s certainly not bad, but we’ve seen it all before. I did like some of the interactions with the Xcution group that Orihime had as it helped to humanize them a touch, making them not to be just basic hardasses and the like, but it really just says more about Orihime than anything else. When she has the one conversation where it’s so casually mentioned about the loss of her parents and why she does what she does at school, you know there’s more to her than what she says and feels even if it is played casual and friendly. It’s an area where the show could really dig into something more yet isn’t capable of doing that kind of real introspection and exploration.
Naturally, events do start moving forward as we get Ichigo making stronger plays towards what needs to be done to deal with Tsukishima and that means some awkward time between him and Ginjo as well since the training side of it has made them friendly than the might have been otherwise, all while still having a larger problem to deal with. There’s a lot of back and forth early on with the fighting in this arc, again being a familiar Bleach pattern, and it also does what it can to bring in some of the other Soul Reapers to observe and lightly get involved. Ichigo’s position as a Substitute Soul Reaper is something that worked early on in the series when there was a kind of uncertainty about him that was natural, but after 366 episodes worth of material and stories, he’s certainly proven himself numerous times all while becoming strong and more potent as a kind of irregular member that they need to be able to deal with the kinds of threats that are there and looming in the background.
With the manga still going, the Bleach anime draws to a close with the final episode on this set after quite the lengthy and uneven run. With this arc, it’s actually been pretty welcome for the most part as it dealt with the powerless Ichigo for a while and worked a slow but interesting storyline involving the Xcution group and Tsukishima, both of which became increasingly irrelevant as it went on and the focus shifted to Ginjo and the truth behind him being a Substitute Soul Reaper himself. One that intended to get a bit of revenge eventually on the Soul Society that wronged him by using the new Substitute Soul Reaper to achieve that goal. Unfortunately for him, the Soul Society did undergo changes because of Ichigo and his personality, which is markedly different than that of Ginjo. So while they were intent on originally using Ichigo to draw out Ginjo at some point, Ichigo instead became more than just some form of eventual bait but rather a key part of who they are.
Thankfully, though the fight is fairly intense between Ichigo and Ginjo here, it isn’t one that drags on for the entire episode and has a good sense of character about it, a little humility in what it does as they talk as things draw to a close and you empathize with Ginjo a bit more. On the downside, more time is spent with the remaining Xcution members who have been manipulated by Ginjo and Tsukishima than I would have cared for, but it’s that necessary bit of closure to deal with the arc in total. Some of it is pretty nicely done though as you get some like Riruka who are helped and dealt with in a clean and honest way while others like Tsukishima are able to slink off into the background and wonder what they’re supposed to do now that Ginjo is no more.
Unfortunately, we don’t get nearly enough time with Ichigo himself over the episode as a whole to deal with the closure of this particular series, but it’s not too much of a surprise since there’s the potential for another season or two down the line for when the manga itself gets ready to end. What it does work through in a good manner here is the remaining fallout from Ichigo regaining his abilities and coming to terms with them and what the Soul Society will do about it because of how they’ve dealt with him since he first became one. There are issues to be had with his position in general, but also some ancillary bits as well that Ichigo throws at them which is rather fun since it shows just how easily he can throw them off balance when they least expect it. Ichigo’s part in the Soul Society is made fairly clear here in that while they are largely a fairly static group in their own way, he’s what will keep them growing and changing to deal with the threats they face.
Looking back at the end of the simulcast, and now reading the manga in Shonen Jump, I think the same thing still applies. Bleach has been like a number of long running Shonen Jump shows in that it has a strong following overall, not entirely dedicated in a way, and it’s been rather uneven over the years with its arcs and original stories. I’ve always enjoyed the basic idea behind it but it had the main problem for me in that it did not have any large, overall story it wanted to tell in a very clean way. It was so drawn out with so many other and seemingly irrelevant things to it that it didn’t compel you to follow it because of this other background story that made it amazing, ala One Piece or Naruto at times. I suffer through Naruto filler because core Naruto is great. Bleach filler can often be better than core Bleach and that’s mostly because of pacing and how quickly the anime kept catching up to the manga. That said, Bleach was once one of the big guys of anime and for good reason, so it’s definitely sad to see it go even if it wasn’t anywhere near as compelling as it once was. I do hope that the manga works towards its end that we get a follow-up season or two, tighter and stronger, in order to give the anime fans a better sense of closure. What’s here isn’t bad and it serves as a decent ending – for now – but it’s not what the long time fans or the people involved really deserve to have as the ending.
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 29th, 2015
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.