Hope you’re ready to dive into the deep end of the spiritual pool, because Bleach is back for its second Blu-ray collection and it’s looking AMAZING. This is where the action really kicks off with the 13 Court Guard Captains and the entire Soul Reaper fighting force. It’s a race against the clock as Ichigo struggles forward with almost no plan, almost no chance of success, almost zero combat experience and almost no idea of where he’s going. He's determined to save Rukia Kuchiki from her execution, and dying or running is not an option!
Last volume started the story: Ichigo, troubled young man with the ability to see ghosts meets Rukia Kuchiki, a Soul Reaper who’d come to slay corrupt spirits known as Hollows. Emergency circumstances force Rukia to transfer her power to Ichigo, who must take her place until her powers recover. While at first, the biggest problems seem to be Ichigo’s attitude and his reluctance to be a hero, things start looking up as his friends develop powers of their own and he begins to get the hang of things. At which point Rukia finds herself arrested and sentenced to capital punishment via burning for daring to give a human her powers. Ichigo, his friends and even former rival Uryu the Quincy follow her into the Soul Society to rescue her. Last volume saw everyone make it into the Soul Society’s military compound successfully (via human cannonball) and now they’re split up, so only fun times and rainbows can follow!
Seriously, Ichigo gets ZERO breaks; there’s another enemy with an even bigger, flashier sword every five feet, and he’s gotta take them all down one by one before his wounds cause his guts to flop out.
So, are the battle scenes awesome? BOY HOWDY! This is where Bleach’s famous swordfights really take off, and the Blu-ray’s higher quality make the animation feel more fluid than ever. This is our first real introduction to the various Zanpakuto abilities, busting out a whole wad of shiny new magical powers. Whip swords, flying blades, and short swords that leave giant gashes in the walls…it’s totally nuts! The animation’s also really gone up a notch quality-wise; I’d bet my front teeth that the studio’s budget went up since last season.
Also, loving the scenery. The Soul Society has a distinctive style and feel that makes every shot and background look cool. My apologies to the citizens of Karakura Town, but fantasy Feudal Japan beats modern-day suburbia any day of the week.
We also get a closer look at the 13 Court Guard Captains (along with their Lieutenants), who prove themselves quite the quirky crew! The soon-to-be series regulars Renji and Kenpachi get the most attention, and not just through their fights with Ichigo either. See, certain members are starting to think that there just might be something suspicious about Rukia getting the most severe punishment available for doing the Soul Reaper equivalent of running a red light on an empty street.
Then one of their own gets murdered. Which, y’know, might’ve been a tipoff that there’s a grander scheme at play. While the Captains may be the antagonists of this arc, they still spend a lot of screen time trying to solve the mystery brewing in their midst; could even Ichigo’s own group be merely one cluster cogs in a larger machine?! Le gasp!
Yet out of all the characters who get their moments, it’s Rukia who rises to the top. This volume shows us more of her vulnerable side and why she is the way she is. She’s really torn apart about the way her recent conviction has shamed her brother and sewn distress amongst her loved ones, but the saddest thing by far is her horrified reaction when she hears that Ichigo and his friends have followed her to the Soul Society. They’d rather risk their lives to save her than to just leave her to her fate, and she’d rather die alone than see them killed trying to save her. It’s painful to watch Rukia the stone-cold warrior (and secret cute-things-lover) to keep swinging between “I accept my fate” and “I REALLY don’t want my friends to die for me!” *sniffle*
Also, if you want to geek out, there’s a bunch of interviews with the English voice cast! I forgot just how much of an All-Star Cast Bleach calls its own! Plus, there’s some gorgeous artwork, including some of the modeling sheets that the animation team used. Just in case you find those interesting, or want the Official-est of Official References for your next fanart project.
Still, this entire volume is Bleach at its best—high action, unique world, fantastic pacing and a whole slew of crazy characters engaging in some gorgeous battles. Everyone’s got a part to play and we get to watch as they kick major super-powered tail. Where the last volume established the characters and storyline, this one brings us deeper into their world. And there’s no turning back now!
You can see some gorgeously animated sword fights by picking up the Blu-ray right here!
English & Japanese Audio / English Subtitles
Special Features: Art Gallery, Clean Endings, Bonus: Behind the Scenes of Bleach (interviews with English cast).
by Chris Turner
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