Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Kon is in hell. Every day Ichigo's sister Yuzu dresses him in handmade dresses, stitches him to other stuffed animals, and generally abuses and humiliates him. He manages to escape, but is immediately captured by a visiting Don Kanonji, who enlists him as the Karakura Heroes' mascot. Things get ugly for Kon but fast. Back at the Soul Society, Ichigo's Bankai training continues, but Renji's has finished. As he heads out to rescue Rukia, Captain Zaraki Kenpachi teams up with Orihime to find Ichigo and ends up accidentally rescuing all of her imprisoned comrades. It's an act that sits ill with blind Captain Tosen and basket-headed Captain Komamura, who rather foolishly decide to teach him a lesson. While the captains clash, Renji runs smack into Byakuya Kuchiki, the last possible person he wants to see, and Rukia encounters mocking Captain Gin Ichimaru on her way to the execution grounds.
Bleach long ago reached the point where its four-episode discs were sadly inadequate. This is deep marathoning territory, where subplots intertwine and extend over dozens of episodes, where fights are measured in hours rather than minutes, and where four episodes provide only a taste of a story-arc's propulsive charms.
It isn't that the series is sagging; on the contrary, with the down-time of volume twelve behind it, it is visibly accelerating. Rukia's execution is imminent, Ichigo's training is wrapping up, and the captains are girding themselves for epic bloodshed. All along the way there are moments where the series' polished blend of stylish violence, wacked humor, and nearly fetishistic coolness shine: Kenpachi's and Renji's episodes keep the sword-flashing, one-upping action flowing thick, showcasing Kenpachi's sociopathic charms and Renji's painful determination while elsewhere Orihime lays on the adorable cuteness and Gin Ichimaru metes out some sadistic psychological torture. The problem is that the series' stride is so long that three episodes (not counting the Don Kanonji fluff) is only enough to prime the pump before the disc cuts off, leaving one unfulfilled and itching for more. It's a frustrating arrangement, leaving the series stuttering forward when it should be barreling head-on.
Nitpicking Viz's release schedule may seem petty, but frankly there's little else to discuss. The Kanonji episode is chockablock with the Kon abuse and general weirdness that Bleach fans have come to expect from the comic side-stories, while the other three episodes are exactly the kind of razor-honed genre fare that the series has always purveyed. Any viewer who has made it thus far knows exactly what to expect, whether it be from the visuals or the plot. Will Rukia be driven into a corner before Ichigo's last-minute arrival? Of course. Will the action sequences be shot through with shaggy energy, squealing electric guitars and uber-cool characters with uber-cool clothes in uber-cool poses? Without a doubt. Will anyone care? So long as the captains are spraying metal shards like lacerating curtains of steel, summoning giant blades from the abyss and punching each other through walls, absolutely not.
The further into the series it gets, the better Viz's dub seems to grow. David Lodge's Kenpachi is actually a hair more frightening than his Japanese counterpart, and Michelle Ruff gets Rukia's ugly little confrontation with Gin so right that its plain painful. While the script generally keeps the fine balance of fidelity and fluidity that the series has maintained for ages now, Kon and Kanonji are given plenty of room to fool around in, resulting in a priceless freewheeling rapport. In many ways, a superior experience to the Japanese.
A sheet of stickers, clean version of the new closer (a fine ballad by YUI), and some production artwork are the only extras that count this volume.
The thirteenth volume returns Bleach to its main story, delivering exactly what one expects—brutal sword fights peppered with moments so cool that they chill right to the bone, humor that actually makes you laugh, and predictably winding tensions as the arc approaches its climax—it isn't going to make or break any fan's Bleach experience, it's merely one more step, albeit a fun one, on the way to the episodes that will. As such it may behoove first-timers as well as misers to hold out for the season box set, when they can marathon this arc the way they're supposed to. Unless, of course, you just have to have that groovy sticker sheet.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ The main plot kicks back into gear with plenty of captain vs. captain action.
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