Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 24th 2010
DVD - Box Set 6
It's back to school for Ichigo. No kidnappings, no soul-sucking villains, just papers to write and friends to reconnect with. Such peace cannot last long. And it doesn't. Highly suspicious transfer student Hirako quite handily breaks it by breaking the news to Ichigo that he's not alone with his little inner-Hollow problem. Hirako is an emissary from a faction known as the "Visored." They're Soul Reapers who, like Ichigo, possess Hollow powers. Ichigo refuses to join their ranks, and some ugliness ensues. But it doesn't get far, because another group who are blurring the line between Hollow and Soul Reaper arrive in Karakura Town. They're the Arrancar, Hollows who have acquired Soul Reaper powers. And they've come directly from Aizen with one object: To kill Ichigo Kurosaki.
Coming on the heels of the Bount filler arc, Bleach's sixth set is a blissful twelve-episode return to the main story arc. No enforced character stasis, no side-stories—nothing but advancing plot, shifting character dynamics, and gobs of superpowered action. Of course, this being Bleach and therefore being an enormous shonen cliché, the plot advances in wee little steps, the character dynamics never shift too far, and the action is as predictable as sunrise and sunset. But who cares? Bleach is on the path, moving forward. There are more players to worry about, more conspiracies to look into, more revelations to be revealed, and plenty of hurdles, emotional and physical, to overcome on the way to achieving ever-greater powers.
The first of Bleach's signatures to return, and with a vengeance, is its demented character humor. A return to school means a return to Ichigo's crazed classmates, and they chew the scenery as if famished. Their antics border on the frenzied, and can certainly annoy. But their novel comic chemistry with the new cast more than compensates. Ever wonder what would happen if perverted goofball Keigo met Rangiku's cleavage? You'll find out here. How about what happens when he brings Ikkaku home like a bald, bleeding stray? Or when Orihime-stalking Chizuru spots Hirako flirting with the object of her obsession? How about when Orihime and Rangiku move in together? Or when Rukia tries to live openly with Ichigo's deranged family? The set is infested with new, strange and often uproarious combinations of characters.
Hilarity isn't all that results. The two Visored we see are funny, and typically colorful, but also really scary, and just untrustworthy enough to make their promises of power appropriately Mephistophelian. The mixture is pure Bleach. Where else will you find a character who can one minute be on the verge of ripping through Orihime like talons through tissue and the next be violating her comrade with a quarrelsome finger? Elsewhere a meeting between Ichigo's dad and Kisuke in, shall we say, heightened circumstances drops a bomb on Kon and recasts the Kurosaki household's dynamic in a somewhat unsettling light. Still elsewhere, the reunion of Ishida with his estranged father opens up a fruitful vein of speculation about Ishida's past and Quincy powers.
Everyone gets a goodly nudge forward and their moment to shine. And are the better for it. With a couple of rather conspicuous exceptions. Aizen is given little to do but lounge on his Hueco Mundo throne and look villainous, and Ichigo spends the majority of the set agonizing over his failures and holding himself back for fear of unleashing his inner Hollow. Aizen isn't such a problem; all he has to do is flash his smug smirk and he's done his work—namely making us hate his rotten guts. Emo-Ichi, on the other hand, is a serious detriment. His straight-charging, consequences-be-damned forcefulness has always been Ichigo's greatest asset. Taking that from him may serve a purpose—preparing him for the next power-up, say—but it still strips him of much of his charm.
Ichigo's fights are largely designed to bring out Emo-Ichi, giving him fallen comrades and psychic attacks by his Hollow self to ponder while brooding in the dark. Which means his fights must be at best inconclusive, and at worst outright defeats. Not a lot of fun to be had there. That leaves the supporting cast with a pretty serious amount of action slack to pick up. And they do. As villains go, the Arrancar are on the simplistic side—no moral gray areas here—but they are frightening in their indomitable power and unadulterated viciousness. And their opponents—Chad, Orihime, Ikkaku, Renji, Rangiku, Hitsugaya—are a lot more disposable and on a whole weaker than Ichigo. Put Ichigo in front of a pair of Arrancar? Meh. Have Orihime cross the same pair? Instant agony.
Working from Tite Kubo's manga always gives the action a boost in artistic quality. The fights are better composed, more cogently constructed, and more inventively staged. In the case of Ichigo's fights that can seem something of a waste. The flowing black splash of his finishing attack connecting, the sleek minimalism of his Bankai attire, the displays of inhuman prowess—they're useless in fights that go nowhere. But when the same fluidity is applied to a lesser fight, when the artfully spilled blood and high-impact cross-hatching are employed in support of Renji or Yoruichi, the results are quite different. Then we get such thrilling sights as Yoruichi's acrobatic thrashing of an Arrancar bully, or Ururu unleashing unstoppable brutality in a fugue state. And when everything combines—Kubo's eye for cool, Studio Pierrot's punchy animation, Shiro Sagisu's mariachi contributions to his own guitar-and-dissonance score—during the very expendable Ikkaku's genuine death-match with a volcanic Arrancar...the results can be sublime.
Today's wealth of extras: a fifteen-minute dub-only video overview of the villains to date. Don't spend it all in one place.
There is little new to say about Viz's dub. The humor has a becoming looseness, intensity is preserved, and no one seriously flubs anything. A sharp-eyed viewer may catch the occasional disparity between a character's dialogue and expression, but only rarely. None of the new additions have been pushed far enough to test how well they'll act in extremis, but they do solid and appropriate work here. Particular kudos to Stephanie Sheh for nailing Orihime's difficult bathside confession to Rangiku.
The gonzo mixture of whacked character humor and gut-puncturing violence, the complicated back-stories, the shadowy organizations, the attenuated angst: this is Bleach the way it's meant to be. Maybe you'll want to kick Ichigo in his mopey, I-can't-protect-my-friends-and-I'm-afraid-my-inner-Hollow-will-consume-me ass, but it's hard to care about that when Keigo's vicious sister is falling for Ikkaku's shiny pate or Rukia is planning to redesign Ichigo's closet for comfort living. Or, more importantly, when Orihime is pouring her conflicted heart out to a shockingly tender Rangiku. It's one of the beauties of Bleach that its characters, honed stereotypes though they are, can still surprise you. And it's a beauty you can only appreciate at times like these, when the filler stops.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ The full-time return of the main plot; revelations, developments and new characters galore; Ikkaku fight.
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