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The Fall 2022 Preview Guide
Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War

How would you rate episode 1 of
Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War ?
Community score: 4.5

What is this?

After a thousand years, war has returned to the doorstep of Soul Society. The Quincy, long thought to have been exterminated by the Soul Reapers, have been revived by their mysterious king, and have been preparing to annihilate their would-be destroyers. He doesn't know it yet, but Substitute Soul Reaper Ichigo Kurosaki may just hold the key to victory in this long-awaited battle - but for which side?

Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War is based on the "Thousand Year Blood War" arc of Tite Kubo's Bleach manga and streams on Hulu and Disney+.

How was the first episode?

Nicholas Dupree

It's been over 10 years since the first Bleach anime went off the air, and another six since the manga's controversial conclusion. In that time, there was a lot of uncertainty about how this juggernaut of 2000s shonen anime would go out, but at last the finale arc of this story is being animated, back with a shiny new coat of paint to conclude it all. And this premiere gets off to a solid start, thought certainly not one that curious new viewers are going to understand.

This is definitely not a newbie-friendly entry point, and if you're a lapsed fan who hasn't read or watched Bleach in a hot minute, you'll want to re-familiarize yourself with the basics of the main cast and general worldbuilding. At the very least make sure to know/remember terms like Shikai, Bankai, Quincy, Hollow, Arrancar, all that good stuff. Because this opening very much assumes you've got it all down. It's a bold move, not even bothering to bridge a decade-long gap in broadcast, but it ultimately serves the introduction well to keep on moving like it never left.

In fact, it immediately taps into one of the longest-standing and most frustratingly unaddressed bits of the series' larger world, at last fully broaching the topic of the Quincy, the race of hollow-hunting humans that Soul Society nearly wiped out a millennium ago. Uryu's battle with Mayuri in the Soul Society Arc scratched the surface of that lore, but now it's getting a real chance to shine. Through some unknown means, their former king of the Quincy has risen anew, and established an army of his own to revitalize this blood war and take down the Soul Reapers once and for all. It's an excellent hook for this final arc, and the way it's slowly rolled out through the B-plot of the premiere is a great way to hype up the coming confrontation. These are not only opponents that genuinely seem stronger than Aizen and his Espada, but they fill in an already existing place in the larger universe that's just been begging to be explored for ages.

But if I'm being honest, the main appeal of this premiere wasn't anything as concrete as narrative direction or high stakes. Rather, this premiere is largely a targeted nostalgia bomb set to be dropped on anyone who was a middle or high school kid staying up late to watch Bleach on Adult Swim during the Bush and Obama administrations. That was always going to be a factor for this return, but the premiere really leans into it, giving Ichigo, Chad, Orihime, and Uryu stylized name cards as they each show off their powers. Hell, in classic pro-wrestling fashion, the episode starts by introducing some red shirt Soul Reapers exclusively so they can be saved by the Karakura crew. And I'll admit I marked out pretty hard when “Number One” started playing in all its cheesy glory. There's an unmistakable rush seeing these characters in motion again after so long, and I suspect that will carry folks more than anything in these early story beats.

It certainly helps that the show looks fantastic. The original anime absolutely had its highlights, but it was also a product of an older, more stringent production pipeline that made it a lot harder for the show to capture the striking energy of Tite Kubo's illustrations. Here, without the need to produce weekly episodes for an unknown eternity, and under the hands of much of the team behind 2020's gorgeous Akudama Drive, these visuals absolutely sing. Characters are clearly recognizable, but have a slightly stylized edge to each of them, channeling the same effortless coolness of Kubo's draftsmanship while still working perfectly in animation. Most striking is the episode's use of color, shifting pallets and tones to set the mood of each scene and magnifying the effects work of the (admittedly short) fight scenes. The episode looks great, not just because it's highly polished, but because the team working on it clearly understand what made the original art so memorable, and are doing their damndest to translate it into animation. It's good stuff.

My only real complaints for this episode come down to just how busy it is. There are a lot of moving parts as we see different hints about the encroaching Quincy attack, but the structure of the episode is largely built around Ichigo encountering the newbie Soul Reapers and fighting off an unexpected enemy. So there's a bit of a disconnect between the two stories, and it detracts from the impact of both. Also those two soul reapers Ichigo saves are really god damn annoying, and are around juuuuust long enough to drag down any scenes where they speak. Neither is enough to ruin it, but it's just enough that this premiere isn't quite as strong a home run as it could have been.

As a manga reader, I have...let's say mixed feelings about the lengthy final arc of Bleach, but if nothing else I can say this premiere worked for me, and does have me genuinely excited to see this last season play out. It captures all the right elements of the original and brings them to life on screen in a way they rarely were before, and there are some rock-solid ideas to this giant war that's on the horizon. Whether or not either of those things stays true is questionable, but for now this is a damn good return for the series.

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