When Ichigo sees that Inoue appears scared when he has his mask on, he tells her not to worry and promises to end things quickly. Grimmjow, on the other hand, is ecstatic to see the mask and immediately releases his zanpaktou. This changes his body into a more feline look, and he quickly gets to work beating Ichigo up. Ichigo, however, isn’t so easily defeated and counters with a Getsuga Tenshou attack. Meanwhile, watching this battle from a building in the distance are Halibel and her three Fracción. When her Fracción get uneasy over the power Grimmjow is displaying, Halibel tells them that she doesn’t blame them for being scared because this is a primordial fear. What she doesn’t say is that, with Ichigo as Grimmjow’s opponent, she feels like she’s watching a fight between two Espada. Back in the battle, Grimmjow observes that Ichigo is able to maintain his mask for longer than before, and he doesn’t want it breaking again mid-fight. Ichigo proves that it won’t be a concern by grabbing Grimmjow’s hand while it’s in mid-attack and countering with a sword slash. The two then begin a series of ferocious attacks back and forth, and as she continues to watch, Inoue wonders if the person she’s seeing is really Ichigo.
Grimmjow eventually fires off a set of projectiles from his arm, and though Ichigo dodges them at first, he quickly realizes that they’re going to hit Inoue instead. In order to save her, he uses his own body as a shield and takes gets hurt pretty bad even though he claims that he’s okay. Seeing Ichigo facing towards her with his mask on reminds Inoue of her brother’s Hollow form, and after he notices the shocked look on her face, Ichigo turns back to the battle. He is now breathing heavily and cracks have begun forming on his mask, but he doesn’t give up and charges at Grimmjow again. Inoue meanwhile is trying to tell herself not to be scared, however she can only think of Ichigo’s blackened Hollow eyes and how they remind her of her brother’s from back then. Beside her, Nel is shocked for a different reason: this is the first time she’s seen Ichigo losing while he has his mask on. However, she then notices how Inoue is trying not to watch the battle by keeping her eyes closed. This causes Nel to decide to cheer Ichigo on, and she tries to get Inoue to do the same. She makes Inoue realize that Ichigo is doing everything for her sake and cites how he had attacked Ulquiorra only after hearing her name.
Remembering how she had originally come to Hueco Mundo because she wanted to protect everyone, Inoue admits to herself that she had been happy when she heard that they were coming to save her. She had been scared upon seeing Ichigo’s mask because she thought that they might not have been there to save her after all, but she now knows that she was wrong. With this in mind, she yells for Ichigo not to die and tearfully tells him that he doesn’t have to win or keep trying his best – she just doesn’t want him to get hurt any further. Ichigo is surprised to hear this, and when he sees Grimmjow charging at him to try to deal a finishing blow, he catches Grimmjow’s arm. Apologizing to Grimmjow, Ichigo explains that he can’t get hurt anymore, and he proceeds to slash through the front of Grimmjow’s body.
For an episode that consisted mostly of fighting, this was pretty well animated (as have been, historically, most of the episodes that come after Bleach takes a break). I did, however, have some problems the consistency of character designs – Inoue’s face in particular looked different with every other shot of her. I got distracted by Grimmjow’s ears too, but that’s not as much a problem with the animation as it is just with me not being used to seeing him with furry green ears like that – they stood out a lot less in the manga.
I also have to say that my favorite moment this week was definitely at the end. As much as Inoue’s angst can be annoying at times, it was really cool to see Ichigo stop Grimmjow’s attack because Inoue didn’t want him to get hurt any further. In a more romance-oriented series, that’d be the kind of thing that leads to a hero and heroine finally hooking up, but since this is Bleach, we probably shouldn’t expect that (or any relationship pairing for the matter). In any case, the fight with Grimmjow ends next week, and on that note, I’m fairly confident that the new OP and ED will start the week after that (on April 23rd). The question, of course, still remains how they’re going to jump from the middle of the Hueco Mundo arc into something new without horribly screwing everything up. Keep your fingers crossed…