Initially unsure about what to do, Ichigo and company get a note that’s followed by an enormous gate floating down from the sky. The doors open and a wind starts to suck things in. Upon getting closer, Ichigo sees their three opponents, and Ririn is carrying Urahara’s hat. Kon, Ishida, and Inoue get pulled in, so Ichigo and Renji have no choice but to follow. Ichigo tries to destroy the gate by attempting ban kai, but for some reason is unable to finish the power up. The group wakes up in a barren landscape and find Ririn’s group holding Sado hostage. Ririn announces that they’re going to play a challenge stage that gives Ichigo five minutes to save Sado, who is slowly being buried in sand. The catch is that they have to get through Nova and Claude. To fight Ichigo, Claude copies Ichigo’s appearance while to fight Renji, Nova starts manipulating space.
With time running out, Ririn launches a final attack in the form of a vortex that pulls everything upward. Ichigo once again tries for ban kai and once again fails to complete the transformation. Fortunately for our heroes, Sado’s prison cracks open and the vortex in the sky suddenly disappears. Though initially puzzled, Ichigo spots Urahara’s hat, and realizes what’s been going on. Urahara appears and says that after observing Ichigo, he’s noticed that Ichigo is unable to use ban kai. So before Aizen comes back, Urahara wants Ichigo to be able to initiate ban kai again. Urahara then tells them about Ishida’s lost abilities. Because he never told them about it, Ichigo lectures Ishida about the importance of fighting together. Ririn also reveals that all of his classmates are safe in a place admiring the stars.
Meanwhile, Yoruichi and Soi Fong have been on the move. From the sandy remains of a person, they tracked down a singing woman who is in the act of attracting a man with her song. Yoruichi – in human form – intervenes, but the woman gets away. Yoruichi returns to Urahara’s and gathers everybody to tell them about the appearance of a new enemy: the Baunt. Urahara explains that the Baunt are like Quincy in that they are humans with special powers. However, the Baunt can live forever by consuming souls. The problem is that the Baunt Yoruichi encountered is taking the souls of still living humans. Urahara then assigns Ririn to Ichigo, Claude to Inoue, and Nova to Sado as support.
Sado puts Nova in a turtle doll that he won out of a machine, while Inoue puts Claude into a rabbit doll. Ichigo is trying to find a suitable one for the picky Ririn, but she accidentally steps on his shinigami battle license and gets her mod soul tossed into a bird doll. After kicking Kon out for laughing at her, Ririn later senses the Baunt and alerts Ichigo. He arrives on the scene just as the female Baunt has started to eat a woman’s soul. He succeeds in cornering her, but she summons a fire beast she calls her “Doll.” Ichigo manages to cut off one of the Doll’s arms, but it easily reattaches back.
His friends – Sado, Inoue, Claude, Nova, and Kon – have also sensed the Baunt, but have gone a different way. They find a body that turns into sand right before their eyes and briefly encounter a male Baunt. Back at the fight, Ichigo can’t find a way to stop the Doll until he hits its weak point, the heart. However, the victory is short-lived because the Doll re-forms and subsequently buries them in rubble. It powers up a pair of fireballs, but they never reach their destination because of a lightning bolt from the sky. Ichigo is astonished to see the familiar face in front of him: Rukia.
Well the animation isn’t all that great, but the story definitely has its share of surprises. For starters, Ririn, Claude, and Nova are actually helping Urahara. I figured that the dolls in the ED animation were supposed to represent the three, and I knew they were mod souls, but I never made this connection. And on the heels of showing that those three are really allies, they also unveil a new bad guy: the Baunt (aka vampires). Now all we need is some ninjas and space pirates and… I joke, but my point is that I hope these villains don’t disappoint.
I like how they take away Ichigo’s ban kai. Doing so accomplishes two very important things: they make him less super-powerful for the time being (which was approaching DBZ proportions) and they allow the story to not screw up the manga plot in terms of Ichigo character development. Though speaking of screwing up manga plot, they did put Rukia back into the mix. It’s nothing too major, but a manga purist like myself will find anything to complain and worry about lol. It does make me curious about how they’re going to animate the manga chapter where she returns, whenever that finally comes around.
Overall, this episode alone raises my opinion of the entire arc by quite a bit. The previous episodes are still pretty poor in comparison to the Soul Society arc, but with this week I’m a lot more optimistic about Bleach. Next time, more Rukia!