Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
DVD Box Set 8
Everyone's training for the coming battle with Aizen's herd of arrancars. When they arrive, however, no one is properly prepared. Grimmjow returns to Karakura Town, escorted by Yammy, Luppi, and Wonderweiss, all of them Espada except Wonderweiss, who is...weird. The clash goes poorly for Karakura's defenders. Until, that is, Aizen's true objective becomes clear and the fight becomes moot.
Aizen has a sword that screws with people's heads and a stone that creates arrancars, but his real superpower is the dick move. His ability to find and follow the most bastardly course of action is so inhumanly well-developed that it deserves nothing less than superpower status. He's definitely not someone you invite to a party. He does, however, make for great TV. Take his emotional brutalization Hinamori back during the Rescue Arc. Or his callous use of Rukia to get at the Hogyoku. This set finds the king of slime back in peak condition, which naturally means it has some killer content.
Unfortunately you have to navigate a disc's worth of tedious filler to get at it. That's four episodes for those unfamiliar with Viz's per-disc episode counts. The first is probably the worst, a corny affair during which Soul Society's two biggest bumblers team with its biggest narcissist to help a dead baker reconnect with his living mother. The final two, both part of the same story, are a close second. Aizen gets in some minor douchebaggery to foreshadow things to come, but it only leads to a couple of underpowered fights designed mostly to keep animal mascots Lirin, Kurodo, and Noba in rotation. Renji and his eyebrows do get some welcome screen time, but they deserve a better platform than a couple of dully-animated Hollow-slayings. The disc's other episode has Kon possessing a girl's stuffed dog and awkwardly healing her lonely heart. It sounds about as fun as blinding yourself with chopsticks but turns out, contrary to all logic, to be pretty good. It's nice to see the comic relief get a story with a little meat on it, and if that isn't your thing, there's always the sight of Kon-as-adorable-stuffed-dog going Jet Li on a Hollow.
Even so, it isn't an easy disc to get through. So when Grimmjow and company are sent by Aizen to wreak some havoc in Karakura Town, the relief is palpable. And we aren't the only ones feeling it. Released from the interminable training, the animators tear into the Espada action as if starved for worthy content. They almost immediately regain their eye for uber-cool poses and neato power-ups, and spike each fight with jolts of violence so beautifully executed (they give Grimmjow the world's most awesome flying kick) that it's hard to believe that they're the same guys who were sleepwalking through Renji's rinse-and-repeat fight just episodes previous. It's easy to get caught up their enthusiasm. The show is, for a while at least, the rock 'em, sock 'em shonen action machine it was before runs of filler and mopey soul-searching robbed it of its energy. Blood is spilled, new powers are tested, and enough testosterone leaks from Grimmjow to give a football team incurable man-crushes.
And then Aizen makes his move. Or more accurately, his move is revealed. It unfortunately cuts the fights short, leaving them inconclusive and unsatisfying (though still more satisfying than the throwaway filler fights and excuses for emo agonizing of the past few sets), but it definitely has its compensations. For the sake of those who haven't seen these episodes already (both...no, all three of you), I won't say what it is. Suffice to say it leads to one of the handful of episodes in which Bleach tries to play on our softer emotions and actually succeeds. It's an excellent episode, perhaps one of the series' best—a deeply sad and equally touching parting of characters' ways that makes explicit the previously implied feelings of a crucial player in Ichigo's life. Nearly as important, it, like the best of Aizen's dick moves, punts the plot in an entirely different direction than it was heading. That the direction it punts it in is a Rescue-Arc-styled invasion of Hueco Mundo (the world of the Hollows) isn't exactly heartening, and neither are the small fry that are fought there, but it does get the series moving in earnest again and at least now we don't have to worry about keeping all of those repetitive attacks on Karakura Town straight.
Plus, Hueco Mundo gives the series an excuse to indulge its love of atmosphere again. The black and white wasteland of the surface world, with its starless skies and dead crystal trees, is a particularly inspired creation, and coupled with the series' dissonant score puts some of the menace back in its style.
After nearly a 150 episodes there isn't much new to say about Viz's dub. It has become something, like the sharp character designs, rock-guitar-meets-mariachi-band score, dumb yet somehow funny humor, gorgeous minimalist packaging, dearth of meaningful extras, Orihime's eyeball-melting cuteness, or that particular bit of piano they always break out for the weepy bits (which actually works well this time) that we just take for granted. And this set doesn't add much new to it: if you liked it before, you will now; if you didn't, you won't. It does bear noting that Stephanie Sheh acquits herself well as Orihime, though not as well as Yuki Matsuoka, and that the rest of the cast handles the increased intensity with skill.
Set eight is a transitional set, marking the final shift from the filler-plagued Karakura Town arc to the action-packed, if flawed, Hueco Mundo arc. There are great episodes to be had here, and good fights, as well as further proof that Aizen MUST DIE, but it is a very uneven collection of material, both in tone and in quality. It is best taken as a necessary stepping stone on the way to the good stuff, or as dressing for the single superb episode at its center, not as straight entertainment.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Episode 141; finally takes us out of Karakura Town to somewhere where there's real fighting to be had.
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