Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD - Season 19 Uncut Box Set (DVD)
In Los Noches and on the surface of Hueco Mundo Ichigo diligently battles Ulquiorra in defense of Orihime, while Uryu has his own (comparatively brief) battle against Yammy. In the former case the battle pushes both combatants to previously-unrevealed limits. Meanwhile, on the floor of Los Noches, Chad, Rukia, and Renji battle against lesser but still tenacious Hollows and Arrancar foes.
Back in the world of the living, battles also proceed apace against the top three ranked Espada, each of whom undertakes his or her Resurrecion form. While Captain Hitsugaya confronts Hallibel and Soi Fon and Marechiyo battle Barragan, Shunsui and later also Jushiro confront Coyote Starrk. Aizen is not about to let things go on interminably, but the arrival of a seeming game-breaker of a reinforcement for him is matched on the other side by the unexpected (to the Soul Reapers, anyway) arrival of reinforcements of their own – very powerful ones, in fact, who have a mighty large and long-standing bone to pick with Aizen.
Wow, a whole dozen episodes of Bleach without a whiff of one-shot side stories, filler arcs, full-episode flashbacks, or training sequences! This must be a record.
Sarcasm aside, this block of episodes, which covers 268-279, is one of the rare periods in the series where it largely dispenses with all distractions and simply focuses on what the series generally does best: feature an epic battle between Ichigo and a well-established foe and a plethora of other lesser conflicts that nonetheless offer plenty of their own flash and pop. However, to say that the show moves along briskly through this period would be accurate only in relative terms; this is a long-running shonen action series, after all, so typical time-wasters a couple of minutes of recap, characters spending considerable time in the midst of battles analyzing what their opponents are doing, dramatic power releases that require lengthy power-ups, and occasional comedic tomfoolery all drag the pace down. The more recent advent of episode preview segments at the beginning, before the opener rolls, also contributes in a mild way. And naturally no battle can end quickly because that would deny one or both of the combatants the opportunity to show off the full range of their powers and abilities, sometimes in excruciating detail. Such has always been par for the course for Bleach, although here the latter point is taken to its greatest extreme, as the ultimate confrontation between Ichigo and Ulquiorra takes the bulk of six full episodes and involves stunts that smack of ass-pulling on both sides.
Unlike during much of the rest of the series, though, this block of 12 episodes offers plenty to keep fans enthusiastic enough to stay involved. Chief among those offerings are the numerous occasions in which characters on both sides of the fray use previously-unrevealed tactics and power releases. For instance, Captain Hitsugaya's Bankai form has appeared many times before, but here he uses a never-before-seen aspect of it. Captains Shunsui and Jushiro, for the first time in well more than 200 episodes of appearances, finally show at least some of the power that they are really capable of besides just manifesting dual swords. Captain Soi Fon also finally reveals her Bankai form, and it takes an unexpected angle. The top five Arrancars (Yammy also technically counts) also reveal their Resurrecion forms, and while some of them are silly – for all that the music and color schemes try to make Ulquiorra look intimidating, his ultimate form is essentially an emo Dark Angel, and Stark looks like a gay hold-over from the '70s – Barragan's is especially impressive and Hallibel's offers a distinct element of sex appeal rarely present in the series when Matsumoto is not bouncing her chest around. The achingly long-awaited arrival of the Visoreds towards the end of the block is also a big highlight, although their initial effectiveness is somehow not as visually impressive as one would expect. Even Orihime actually does something beyond heal people and be a victim (although the latter happens a lot, too). Her moments of glory are very brief, though, and she is mostly relegated to being the heart of the human combatants and Person Who Must Be Protected.
The feature battles usually bring out the best technical efforts by Noriyuki Abe and his Pierrot team (and their countless assistors), and the Ichigo/Ulquiorra fight in particular is no different. While hardly an animation marvel, it nonetheless showcases some of the TV series' highest-tier animation and does some visually striking things with color schemes and terrain effects, especially once the battle ascends to the surface of Hueco Mundo. By comparison, the battles in the more brightly-lit Los Noches desert seem dull. Nothing in the Karakura Town side of the battles matches the Ichigo/Ulquiorra fight for visual flair, either, but it has enough other visual stunts to rely on.
These episodes are also a little more active and varied than the norm in the musical score. While scenes primarily rely on typical Bleach stand-by numbers, the musical score also draws up some more ominous pieces not heard since the Bounts arc and mixes in some rarely-heard organ pieces and Spanish guitar numbers, too. Opener “change” by miwa, which is arguably one of the strongest of the series' openers, is used throughout. Closer “Stay Beautiful,” which cleverly imagines the entire cast as they might look if they lived as normal people in the real world, is used for all but the last episode, which changes over to the less involving “Echoes.”
No new role appears during this stretch, so the English dub here is all about maintaining already-established standards. None of the already-existing roles show any kind of drop-off, and most of the English voice actors capture the attitudes and styles of their characters quite well, especially Steve Kramer's deliciously laconic performance as Shunsui. The English script takes some broad liberties in rewording the dialogue, but this is nothing new and generally results in a smooth-flowing dub script.
At this time only a DVD version of this release is available. Extras on both disks are identical: clean opener and closer, a set of production art, and the six omake which correspond to the episodes on the disks. The latter are a mix of “Arrancar Encyclopedia,” “Quincy Encyclopedia,” and “Illustrated Guide to Soul Reapers” parody bits that are very hit-or-miss in terms of humor value, but they go quick enough that the misses are not a pain for too long.
After dozens of episodes of filler the series is finally back to business and on a distinct uptick. The climax of the whole Aizen storyline is still a couple of dozen episodes off, but some major building blocks towards it are now in place.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Climactic Ichigo/Ulquiorra battle, numerous good and bad guys show off fresh capabilities and power releases.
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