Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 7th 2010
Bleach Season 4 Box Set 2:
In the wake of Yoshino's death the gang recovers and regroups, with the Mod Souls even laying elaborate anti-Bount traps to protect the Kurosaki domain. Jin gives them little down time, however, for the Bitto created by Yoshino's passing have a mission: to suck the souls from living humans, concentrate them, and feed them to the Bounts to empower them further. Desperate attempts to stop the Bitto eventually lead the gang into a series of confrontations with various Bounts out to test their newly-expanded powers. Fortunately Captain Hasegawa has gathered and dispatched to the World of the Living a squad of top-seated officers to help in the defense of Karakura Town, but will even the likes of Rangiku, Kira, Shuehei, and Yumichika, as well as the re-empowered Uryu, be enough to thwart Jin's ultimate plans for the Bounts?
At this time Viz Media is still using single DVD volumes to lead the way on its Bleach releases, with partial seasons composed of a trio of volumes released in boxed thinpack format as the second wave and broader seasonal boxed sets as the Third Wave. This is one of the middle options. Its three thinpacked disks, which cover episodes 80-91, are just volumes 20-22 of the original singles releases in repackaged form, complete with the original on-disk Extras for each volume: some production art, a manga preview, and a clean opener or closer. In other words, if you already have the singles then there's absolutely no point in buying this set other than to save a bit of shelf space. However, if you never got the singles but intended to own the series then this option delivers a significantly better value for your money.
Of course, whether or not this set of episodes is actually worth owning is another story. Although the Bount arc as a whole fares pretty well as filler arcs go, this run of episodes, which constitutes the period between the release of the Bitto to gather live souls and the Bounts' departure into the Soul Society, is arguably its weakest part. Granted, fans finally get to see the rest of the Bounts in action, as all of the remaining Bounts except Kariya reveal their Dolls during this span, and granted, we do get choice revelations during this span, like what Kariya's objective actually is and what the true origin of the Bounts actually is (and the two are, of course, related). Ichigo also re-realizes his Bankai form and Uryu is (temporarily) back in the game during this span, too, and we get to see plenty of Lieutenant-level Soul Reaper action.
However, conspicuously lacking here is the sense of excitement which characterizes much of the series. For all that the battles try to be creative and flashy, they often feel like they are just going through the motions. Bleach has always been a series which focuses primarily on mano-a-mano battles (or several combatants simultaneously going head-to-head), and its minimal familiarity with how to stage mixed Soul Reaper-level battles shows in the weak and sometimes awkward fight choreography. This is not a constant problem, to be sure; the fight Chad, Rangiku, Noba, and Ururu have against Sawatari actually displays an atypical level of teamwork, coordination, and use of skill rather than just relying on raw power to plow through the opposition, but that is the exception in this set rather than the rule.
That this run of episodes represents one of the series' artistic nadirs does not help matters. Bleach has always had at least a bit of trouble with consistency in its character designs, but here the rendering quality fluctuates widely, resulting in an unusually high number of poorly-drawn scenes. Rangiku is a particular trouble spot, as the artists do not seem to know how to handle her when she makes combat moves. Animation is an irregular mix of cuts and complex moves and certainly is not consistently good enough to cover for other artistic flaws.
The soundtrack turns in a typical quality effort, though it never quite reaches the bold, rich sound it achieves in the series' best scenes. The Bount-specific themes, with their ominously-Whispered Words, set a good mood for the content but lack the dramatic punch of heavier themes used in other arcs. Opener “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” which is used throughout this run, is another solid rock opener for the series. The closer changes from the seventh ending them “Hanabi” to the eighth ending theme “MOVIN!!” beginning with episode 87 – arguably an upgrade.
While English performances of the regular recurring cast members are as solid as usual, the Bount performances impress much less. Troy Baker gives Jin Kariya a suitably mannered, laid-back feel which easily makes him sound like the smug mastermind that he is, and Karen Strassman makes Go Koga's doll Dalk sound appropriately like a middle-aged playgirl with an evil twist, but the rest of the Bount and doll cast members fail to distinguish themselves. The English script is close enough that it should generate few complaints.
These episodes are not without their merits, as the comedy-focused episode 80 is quite funny, the “Illustrated Guide to Soul Reapers – Golden” bits at the end of each episode are sometimes a riot, and some of the action bits do work. This set is too thin on plot, and too lacking in creative effort, to warrant an overall recommendation, however. The main reason for watching these episodes is simply to maintain a sense of continuity between the arc's better earlier and later episodes.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Good funny moments, some important truths revealed.
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