The second part of the Arrancar: Downfall arc starts in the thick of the fight with Aizen Sōsuke, former captain of the 5th Division in the Gotei 13, and his arrancar army. Soul reaper Ichigo Kurosaki is nursing a crippling blow, while the cavalry arrives in the form of the Vizards and shinigami for a devastating showdown.
With its exceptional use of music and swordplay, Bleach maintains a style that’s completely its own; the score is so startlingly effective that it elevates the events on screen to new heights; battle plays more like theatre and, as the soul reapers fall, it’s a tragic orchestration of melodrama and choreography, while at other moments it’s a full blown gothic opera.
The show’s stock and trade is combat, and Ichigo dipping in and out of his hollified state makes for some lively fights. Even when the parts of the story start to waver, the combat is always fresh and exciting. In amongst the average animation are some playful visuals and time for the odd frame of something pretty. Taken as a whole, it’s testament that when Bleach is good, there’s not a lot that comes close.
Startling revelations from Aizen changes the way you view the events of previous series, well and truly pulling out the rug from under poor Ichigo. It revisits the earlier arcs, with a montage of past skirmishes, lasting the length of almost two episodes, with a recalibration and review of each clash and what he learnt there.
In the present, Ichigo learns strength through mediation, and the results are as potent as they are severe. This is Ichigo as the sacrificial lamb, caught somewhere between a willing gesture and the weight of responsibility. But if Ichigo shows growth, it’s only in response to Aizen. He’s a complicated character, formidable and desperate to show it, but in the revelation of his motives we learn his journey is laced with pathos and despondency. Coupled with fellow traitor and follower Gin Ichimaru, they make for a unit full of passion, hunger, hate and deception.
In amongst the meat of the series are several filler and promotional episode, drumming up the fourth movie, Hell Verse. The following episode, likewise, is a prologue to the movie, and neither have any bearing on the events of the series. Then there’s the New Year special, and the following filler before it returns for a poignant and invigorating end to the arc. And then more filler.
If Bleach is guilty of anything, it’s the glaring inconsistencies, and the lengthening void between its best and worst parts. You get a dose of both with Series 14, but the former triumphs over the latter.
Special Features: Opening and closing
BLEACH – COMPLETE SERIES 14 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: NORIYUKI ABE / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: FUMIKO ORIKASA, MASAKAZU MORITA, AKIO OHTSUKA, ATSUKO YUYA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW