As the Soul Society was all but bereft in the first curve, it’s gratifying to catch up with the Soul Reaper’s shenanigans. And all’s well and merry on New Year’s Eve as the Soul Reapers fly kites. But even that turns into a hot bed of competition and one-upmanship. Rukia, on the other hand, has to deal with a more personal plight than the world hanging in the balance or umpteen hollows to contend with.
When the narrative does catch up with Ichigo again, he’s still in the thick of it, vigorously training and honing his fullbring ability opposite ruthless sensei, Kūgo Ginjō. Some of these scenes are particularly eye wincing – sometimes literally - and even by Bleach standards, the entire arc flings about the bloodshed with abandon.
Since losing his powers 17 months before and having to cope with life as a normal, Ichigo has been putting in the hard slog and sharpening his innate ability to tool himself as a hollow slayer again. His powers are put to the test by having to routinely fend off Shūkurō Tsukishima, who deals in memory and manipulation. As far as Bleach baddies go, he’s fairly bland. After the curtain falls on the obligatory twists, he’s a lot more fallible, but since this is, for all intents and purposes, the last huzzah, he’s a bit lacklustre.
Where the villain loses, is only Ichigo’s gain. The episodes take time to explore his mental state, and the growing effect of creeping paranoia and instability. The fatigue of his excursions on his mental wellbeing was never an overwhelming concern, but when the memories of his friends and family have been drastically altered, Ichigo reaches breaking point. If the entire 16-series run was a character study, then this final curve was the apotheosis.
There’s some spectacular combat in tow, the like of which we haven’t quite seen before in the clashes between Soul Reapers and the fullbringers. The last episode, aptly, is a convergence of style, sound and splendour that is the essence of Bleach distilled.
But in amongst the action and mental fatigue is a real sense of retrospect and generational divides. It’s an ending steeped in nostalgia and optimism, and one that quietly bids farewell to a show that ran for almost ten years. This isn’t necessary the end, but for now, this quietly unassuming swansong is all we’ve got.
Special Features: Opening and closing animations
BLEACH SERIES 16 PART 2 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: NORIYUKI ABE / SCREENPLAY: MASASHI SOGO / STARRING: FUMIKO ORIKASA, MASAKAZU MORITA, AKIO OHTSUKA, ATSUKO YUYA / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 28TH