Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 14th 2009
The mod souls continue to trouble Ichigo and the gang, but as Ichigo soon learns, they were actually only testing the teenagers' ability (on Urahara's behalf) to fight under real-world conditions and function as a team. The mod souls' ability to detect reishi, and the ability to transplant them into less conspicuous plushies, also makes them quite handy when a new threat appears on the scene: the Bounts. Vampire-like super-powered humans who use Dolls instead of zanpakuto and gain virtual immortality by regularly feeding on souls, the Bounts seem to have abandoned their ages-old ban on feeding on living souls, though to what ultimate purpose neither the inhabitants of Karakura Town nor the Soul Society have yet determined. Two of the Bounts seem to have taken a particular interest in Uryu because of his status as a Quincy, however, and clues indicate that they are not united in purpose. Jin Kariya, the Bounts' leader, also lurks in the background. Fortunately for Ichigo, the defense of Karakura Town has been further augmented by the return of Rukia, and she is not the only Soul Reaper to join Renji and Ichigo in town.
With episodes 68-71 Bleach wraps up its mini-arc focusing on Ichigo and friends dealing with the mod souls and officially touches off the Bount arc which will continue through episode 109. As filler stories in long-running series go, the Bount arc stands head and shoulders above most because it tells a single cohesive story which maintains the style of the original so well that a viewer is unlikely to realize that it is a filler arc (i.e. not based on canon manga content) unless told so or already familiar with the manga.
While this arc throws out the expected super-powered foes with diverse powers, it ultimately works where others might fail because of the solid foundation it starts to lay in episodes 69-71, which assures that these are not just random foes. That everything ultimately links back to the Soul Society and the Quincies is only barely hinted at through these episodes but will eventually become one of the arc's strongest selling points. Here, the episodes mostly focusing on establishing the most basic facts about the Bounts, that they are a forced to be reckoned with, that they are not of one mind, and that something fishy concerning them is going on in the Soul Society. In other words, these episode provide plenty of fodder from which to build a long and involved plot line which could cover a few dozen episodes while Tite Kubo had time to get further ahead on his originating manga storylines.
The actual course of events in this volume is very typical for Bleach: Ichigo fights, only rarely actually uses his brain, occasionally gets into squabbles with other characters, and tries to protect people without understanding that some of them take affront to having to be protected. Other characters occasionally contribute and/or cover Ichigo's butt when he overextends himself, powerful villains step forward to look down on the hero, Kon is annoying, and regular doses of comedy antics ensue. The understated comedy gem through this span is the simpatico pairing of the mod soul Noba with Chad, neither of whom speaks except when necessary; the scene in episode 69 where they just sit quietly in Chad's room until Kon interrupts is priceless. Oh, and Rukia also returns, sans zanpakuto. (Don't expect her to ever have one in this arc, either.)
As is (unfortunately) all too common in shonen series, Studio Pierrot's production of the animation and artistry suffers from occasional brief quality control lapses during these episodes, though it also continues its generally fine job of providing distinctive and memorable character designs. That does not necessarily mean that the designs are universally attractive, however; Kuroda's dual hair color is a positive fashion disaster, so he cannot turn into stuffed animal form fast enough. The series' odd sensibilities about using manga-style shading lines also continue, as do the flashy moves in the action scenes. All things considered, Bleach is not the best-looking of action series, but it fares acceptably well for what it is.
The series does much better on the music front, with various familiar stand-by themes mixing with some entirely new and creepy themes tailored specifically for the Bounts. The heavy third opener “Ichirin no Hana” continues through this run, as does the high-spirited sixth closer “My Pace,” here available in all its unedited-for-TV glory with the sharp original animation and visuals.
With a couple of exceptions, the English dub executes surprisingly close to the original in style and delivery. A character like Ichigo pretty much has to be voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch, Orihime pretty much has to be voiced by Stephanie Sheh, and Derek Stephen Prince is an excellent fit as Uryu. Amongst new roles, Troy Baker (Schneizel in Code Geass, Abel Nightroad in Trinity Blood) is a fine choice for the Bount Jin. One of the few distinct differences comes in the role of Captain Kurotuschi, where Terrence Stone's stylized performance makes him sound more blatantly crazy-evil. The English script does not vary much, either, beyond Americanizing some of the insults and more typically referring to characters by their first names; all of the attack and weapon names are fully retained, even including the German Doll names.
For Extras, this disk has a clean version of the new closer, a few production art pieces, and both anime and manga previews. In addition, after the Next Episode previews for each episode are the “Golden Illustrated Guide to Soul Reapers” comedy bits that were apparently part of the original Japanese broadcasts but never seen on the American TV broadcasts.
Bleach is not the kind of show one watches for a fulfilling experience. It has all of the depth of single-topping thin-crust pizza, what passes for character development mostly consists of fretting over not being powerful enough, and it suffers from most common foibles of long-running shonen action series. It does, however, fully recognize and play to its strengths by providing a (usually) entertaining mix of flashy action, silly comedy, and good old-fashioned angst. This volume isn't one of the series' strongest efforts but still provides enough for fans to muddle through and gives a strong base on which to build the upcoming long plot arc.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Musical score, return of Rukia to action, some worthy comedy bits.
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