Once More Unto The Bleach: Part 3

Okay, it’s been a while but here it is: Once More Unto The Bleach Part 3!!!

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If you haven’t read the last two installments, here’s what this blog feature is about: I’m going through each season of the long-running, legendary anime series Bleach–which is available entirely for free on Hulu (in Japanese w/English subtitles)–and writing about it. I do this because I want to see what attracts people to shonen (boys’ action) anime that run on for years and years. I’m only covering the seasons that are adapted directly from the original manga, because even in a shorter anime, filler is a killer™ and I don’t want to slog through it. The title of this feature comes from the fact that this is my third attempt at making it through the series, after trying to get into it through the English dub a couple of times before.. The 3rd season, “Soul Society: The Rescue,” has a lot to cover, so let’s get to it!

Last season, “The Entry,” involved Ichigo (Masakazu Morita), Orihime ((Yuki Matsuoka), Chad (Hiroki Yasumoto), Uryu (Noriaki Sugiyama), talking cat Yoruichi (Shiro Saito) and Rukon District native Ganju (Wataru Takagi) blasting their way into Seireitei, the home of the Soul Society, to rescue Rukia (Fumiko Orikasa) from execution. They got in successfully, but were split up as a result, with Chad stoically fighting on his own, Orihime and Uryu trying to stay out of sight, Yoriuchi prowling the rooftops and Ichigo and Ganju bumbling their way into taking Soul Reaper Hanataro (Koki Miyata) hostage.

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(Left to Right: Chad, Orihime, Ichigo, Ganju, Hanataro and Uryu)

Ichigo wound up fighting Lieutenant Renji Abarai (Kentaro Ito), who had helped bring Rukia back to await execution. After a long, epic battle, Ichigo won (barely) and was admonished by Renji, who it turns out had known and looked out for Rukia since they were kids in one of the poorest areas of the Rukon District, to save her from death. Ichigo’s defeat of Rukia was so alarming to the top of Soul Society that all captains of the 13 Guard Squads were sent out to pursue them.

Byakuya2-1-  E320 Renji Mugshot

(L to R: Byakuya and Renji)

The next morning, 5th Squad captain Sosuke Aizen (Sho Hayami) was found brutally murdered, nailed high up on a building with his Zanpakuto driven right through him. Naturally, this freaks out the rest of the Soul Reapers, with Aizen’s lieutenant Momo Hinamori (Kumi Sakuma) lashing out and attacking 3rd Squad captain Gin Ichimaru (Koji Yusa), who she had been warned not to trust by her old friend, 10th Squad captain Toshiro Hitsugaya (Romi Park). Ichimaru’s lieutenant and Momo’s other friend Izuru Kira (Takahiro Sakurai) was sympathetic but refused to let her attack his captain, leading to a fight between the two of them that was stopped by Hitsugaya, who ordered them both restrained and imprisoned.

Momo Hinamori265  Hitsugayatoshiro Kiraizuru

(L to R: Momo, Hitsugaya, Izuru)

Meanwhile, on their way to rescue Rukia, Ichigo and Ganju–and later, Hanataro–were pursued by 11th Squad captain Kenpachi Zaraki (Fumihiko Tachiki), easily the strongest person inside Soul Society, who eventually located them along with his lieutenant Yachiru Kusajishi (Hisayo Mochizuki), who’s also incredibly strong despite being around 8 years old. Kenpachi and Ichigo have an enormous fight that ended in a standstill with them both collapsing. Ichigo is then rescued by Yoruichi, who spirits him away to a cave and revealed that he is actually a she (Satsuki Yukino) who can merely transform into a cat. Of course, when transforming back into a human, she’s completely naked, which led to some great comedy between her and Ichigo.

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(L to R: Zaraki and Yachiru)

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(L to R: Yoruichi…and her real form)

Not gonna lie, folks, I did not see this reveal coming one bit. But it works because it upends our conception of Yoruichi as well as provide the series with a strong female mentor for Ichigo. On top of that, Yukino brings a nice sense of energy and purpose to her role, which helps sell Yoruichi’s authority very well.

Meanwhile, Ganju and Hanataro made their way to the prison Rukia is in, but upon seeing her for the first time, Ganju freaked out. It was revealed last season that Ganju’s older brother, Kaien, was killed by the Soul Reapers. A flashback by Rukia showed that Kaien was actually her former lieutenant and her mentor. But after his wife died at the hands of a Hollow, he went crazed and went off to fight it alone. Rukia and their captain, Jushiro Ukitake (Hideo Ishikawa), followed on foot. They saw the Hollow fuse with Kaien and attack them, leading Rukia to stab Kaien in self-defense, which killed the Hollow and brought Kaien back briefly before he died. A young Ganju witnessed Rukia bring Kaien’s body home and admitting to killing him.

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(L to R: Ukitake, Kaien)

Ganju, however, didn’t learn of this. Enraged, he almost attacked her, but was interrupted when Rukia’s brother, 6th Squad captain Byakuya (Ryotaro Okiayu), arrives and attacks him. While fighting him, Byakuya releases his Shikai and nearly kills him in the process. Ukitake appeared to try to dissaude him from doing that–as it’s a class offense to do so within Soul Society–but Byakuya told him that with war declared, it’s okay.

Okay, now to explain Shikai: as Yoruichi tells Ichigo while they’re in hiding, there are two other forms a Zanpakuto can attain if its welder is powerful enough to obtain them. The first form is the Shikai, which can be activated by the Soul Reaper learning the name of their Zanpakuto and saying an incantation including the name. Ichigo’s Shikai is what was responsible for turning his zanpakuto, Zangetsu, from its initial katana-esque form into the huge blade it stays as. Byakuya’s Shikai causes his zanpakuto, Senbonzakura (which translates into Thousand Cherry Blossoms), to scatter into a thousand tiny blades that look like flower fragments and proceed to slice up his opponent from all angles.

File:Senbonzakura57.gif Hyorinmaru

(L to R: Byakuya’s Shinkai; Hitsugaya’s Shinkai)

The effect of Byakuya’s Shikai nearly killed Ganju, but just as Byakuya was about to finish him off, Ichigo arrived to battle him. Rukia, for her part, wasn’t pleased at all to see him, telling him he should have stayed in the human world; Ichigo responded that she can yell at him later after he beats Byakuya. Just before Byakuya uses his Shikai on Ichigo, Yoruichi whipped a bandage around Senbonzakura, stopping it from releasing itself. She then greeted Byakuya to the shock of everyone else; Byakuya said it’s been a long time since anyone has seen her and he alludes to her having been in charge of some part of Soul Society at some point or other.

As Season 3 begins, Yoruichi knocks Ichigo out by punching anesthetic into his wounds and spirits him away from Byakuya using Flash Step, a move that enables whoever’s using it to teleport really fast. Rukia passes out from all the strain and Byakuya leaves in a huff. While Ukitake has his lieutenants tend to Ganju and Rukia, Yoruichi takes Ichigo back to a network of caves underneath Soul Society that look like the area underneath Urahara’s shop.

She explains to Ichigo that there’s another form to Zanpakuto besides Shikai: Bankai, which usually manifests as some sort of gigantic monster or other form that inflicts a tremendous amount of damage. Although it normally takes ten years for a Soul Reaper to unlock Bankai, Yoruichi tells Byakuya that Ichigo will reach that level in three days in order to save Rukia from execution. Using a special device made by Urahara, who is also revealed to have been a Soul Reaper and a Captain the same time Yoruichi was, over a century ago, Zangetsu manifests and agrees to help Ichigo obtain Bankai in three days.

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(L to R: Mayuri…and his Bankai)

While Ichigo trains harder than ever before, Orihime and Uryu, after being sidelined for most of last season, are revealed to have largely stuck to the shadows, stealing Soul Reaper uniforms to blend in and fighting 7th Squad member Jirobo (Kazuhiro Nakata), an enormous man who it turns out is the brother of Seireitei gatekeeper Jidanbo, shown last season. Orihime manages to attack him with Tsubaki (Toshiyuki Morikawa), the most warlike of her Shun Shun Rikka, but as she does not have killing intent behind her attack, Jirobo easily cripples Tsubaki and manages to attack Orihime before Uryu drives him away.

Uryu and Orihime make some more progress, unaware that they’re being stalked by 12th Division captain and absolute psychopath Mayuri Kurotsuchi (Ryusei Nakao), who eventually gets their attention by having them being confronted by members of his squad right before he blows them up and confronts them directly. In a terrifying monologue, he reveals his surprise at Uryu being a Quincy, as he thought he had violently tortured and experimented on the last one, Uryu’s grandfather. Enraged, Uryu confronts him head-on in an incredibly tense battle. This fight provides the best showcase yet of Quincy powers and shows just how skilled Uryu really is. However, he’s out of his depth when it comes to fighting against Mayuri who has leagues of power over him. The toll their battle wages and the final cost Uryu winds up paying is a genuinely shocking and inspiring moment.

Meanwhile in prison, Momo is given a letter from Aizen addressed to her by Hitsugaya. Reading it, Momo is shocked to learn that, according to Aizen’s own words, he was killed by Hitsugaya. Enraged, Momo escapes her cell and confronts Hitsugaya, intending to kill him. Hitsugaya, for his part, has confronted Gin and Izuru, revealing his suspicions about the two of them relating to Aizen’s death. Hitsugaya fades off Momo’s attack and directly confronts Gin by unleashing his own Shikai, an enormous ice dragon that results in not only some impressive visuals but leads to a truly impressive fight that reveals just how powerful Soul Reaper captains truly are. A similar fight between Renji and Byakuya is even more impressive, with the creative designs of the Shikai leading to some awe-inspiring images.

Rukia’s execution is moved back one more day, and while Hitsugaya and his lieutenant Rangiku Matsumoto (Kaya Matsutani) rush to Central 46, the hub of the leaders of Soul Society, to stop the execution and Ukitake tells his lieutenants that their only option left is to destroy the Sokyoku, the powerful spear that is used to execute Soul Reapers, Rukia is brought to the execution spot and levitated by blocks to await being killed by the Sokyoku’s spirit form, a giant phoenix made of fire.

Matsumoto Rangiku Mugshot 2  54Sokyoku transforms

(L to R: Rangiku and the Sokyoku)

As Rukia calmly accepts her fate, the Sokyoku charges at her, only to be stopped by…Ichigo, who is flying thanks to a device given to him by Yoriuchi and using his zanpakuto to repel the flames. Astonishing all below, he frees Rukia, lowers them both to the ground and challenges Byakuya to a fight.

There’s a whole lot more I haven’t mentioned, but trust me, this season sees things get really complicated as more and more Soul Reapers are introduced and a wide circle of intrigue widens outside of the immediate attempt to rescue Rukia. Remarkably, the show manages to deal with this all successfully, never giving any character short shrift and even helping to shed light on a lot of their personalities.

As I’ve said, the animation is particularly stellar with the introduction of the awesome Bankai sequences, which result in some truly epic creative fights. Furthermore, the pairing off of characters into individual arcs helps viewers get to know them and identify with them and for me, the strengthening of the bonds between Uryu and Orihime is particularly enjoyable, as well as Ichigo learning from Yoruichi, proving that he hasn’t conquered everything that easily.

Of the now greatly expanded cast, Morita still provides a strong anchor, giving us insight into Ichigo’s thoughts and feelings as he proceeds on his quest; his wonderful banter with Yukino and  Takagi is also a great highlight. Being largely isolated from everyone else, Orikasa has to give Rukia a LOT of heavy lifting in order to sell her introspection and she does, giving Rukia’s thoughts and memories a great layer of heartbreak.

As the incredibly creepy Kurotsuchi, Nakao basically gives us this show’s version of Hannibal Lecter, and his haughty attitude is terrific to square off against the righteous Sugiyama. Koji Yusa once again excels as the terrifying Ichimaru and Hitsugaya’s opposition is given wonderful stern life by Romi Park (best known as the Japanese Edward Elric in both versions of  Fullmetal Alchemist).

The scripting, as I said, combines all of these characters and more in a perfectly balanced plotline. It reminds me a lot of Game of Thrones‘ writing in the sense that, while you may be unable to recall who some of these characters are, you’re invested in their struggles whenever they appear on screen. Series director Noriyuki Abe and his time utilize their considerable talents and Shiro Sagisu’s excellent score in order to bring the show to exciting, frenetic, breathtaking life.

The stretching out of this arc to two seasons could’ve been risky, but I’m glad they went that way, as just when one threat ends, another one pops up and it majorly defines the tone of the series going forward. It’s terrific stuff and I recommend it.

As I said up top, I’m skipping the filler, so now I’m watching Season 6, “The Arrancar.” It’s proving exciting so far and I can’t wait to tell you about it. A special thanks to the Bleach Wiki, where all the above images are taken from. See you next time!

 

 

 

 

 

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