「THE BLOOD WARFARE」
REFLECTING ON BLEACH: THE BIG THREE’S WILDCARD
Warning, this particular section’s gonna be long, so if you want to jump right to Episode 01 analysis, scroll down to the “ONE THOUSAND YEARS OF DEATH!” section.
Bleach was a very important series to me. Anime Unleashed might’ve been the main block to get me interested in rediscovering anime, but Adult Swim reeled me in for sure. Bebop, Champloo, FLCL, and a popular shounen they snagged called Bleach. I was hooked from the very first episode, and spent a solid year or so making that show my entire personality. Whether it be cosplaying as the characters, buying all of the Hot Topic merch (I think I finally gave my Rukia glove to a thrift shop this year), or looking up to the English voice actors as if they were all members of the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team, it was the only series in the Big Three I went all-in on.
I would go on to follow the show until halfway through the Hueco Mundo arc, where I’d eventually fall off and go on to read the manga instead. Unfortunately, I stopped reading around the Fullbring arc, but eventually got a refresher thanks to the Brave Souls app game and my deep lust for Unagiya Ikumi. I’d read about what happened throughout the TYBW arc, but I admit that aside from some of the spoilers, I jumped to the finale to join the same communal discussion that occurred when Naruto ended. To me, Bleach was a series that might’ve gotten a little out of hand, but it’s also played such a huge role in getting me into anime that I can look back at my time with Bleach fondly.
At the same time, it puts me in quite the pickle because there was way more anime that came out after I dropped it. On top of the remainder of the Arrancar arcs and the Fullbring one, there are also the filler arcs involving New Captain Amagai Shunsuke, all of the Zanpakuto’s physical manifestations, and the Gotei 13 Invading Army.
The first anime’s decline and eventual cancellation isn’t a tale of a vindictive production company wanting to rewrite the anime to clean its hands of it. It doesn’t even feel like a condemnation of mangaka Tite Kubo’s work considering that they were relatively faithful and respectful towards his material. It felt more like a desperate struggle to stall out as much as they could with hopes that they’ll be able to catch up with the manga and retain the same fanbase that stuck with them from the very start.
Kubo was already being stretched thin to keep the manga going, and I can sympathize with the pressure he must’ve been facing to appease Shonen Jump and keep Bleach relevant. Especially with the tides turning against his manga for being unable to maintain the level of quality that came from the series’ earlier arcs.
I made an in-depth analysis about Bleach and Kubo’s reputation in my BURN THE WITCH review, but one important takeaway I want to call to attention from that review is that there is truth to the idea that Kubo’s tenacity is both a gift and a curse.
While the creative decisions he made with Bleach would contribute to its eventual nosedive, they were also very inspired and highly entertaining. For instance, as easy as it is to dogpile on Bleach, I believe that Jujutsu Kaisen’s brilliance comes from how it took lessons from Kubo’s work to build a neat supernatural urban fantasy story.
There is a funny interview that JJK’s mangaka Gege Akutami did with Tite Kubo where they both discussed the things they appreciated about both of their works. Kubo spends most of the interview being the goofy, breast-loving dude we all know, love, and revile, but Akutami has plenty of heartfelt reflections on Bleach as a whole.
After sneaking one of his older brother’s WSJ volumes to catch the first chapter, it helped kickstart his own personal interest in manga as an art form and inspire him to pick up a pen himself. Kubo would then share his own investment in GeGeGe no Kitaro and Yu Yu Hakusho which would lead him down his very own path in the same way.
It might raise a few giggles from older otaku to suggest that a series like Bleach would gain that same level of influence, but with time, it’s no surprise that some of the cooler supernatural shonen out would look up to Bleach as their gateway into becoming creative.
Everyone had their laughs about Gene Simmons’ son tracing over Bleach volumes for his comic in 2009. But since then, JJK, Kimetsu no Yaiba, and Boku no Hero Academia have lead the new generation of massive shonen, and each of their mangaka have been happy to give Bleach its roses. Hell, if I ever get in the position of being interviewed about my inspirations and interests, I’d likely talk about Bleach in the same light.
With all of this in mind, it’s no surprise that the reaction to this Bleach comeback is less “Good grief, this crap again!?” and more “Holy crap, I never thought I’d be here for this!”. To say the reaction to the new season was explosive would be an understatement. Hearing “Number One” again and seeing Ichigo in action with new, crisp animation is a sensation I hadn’t expected to feel again unless I was rewatching the first episode in all of its 2004/2006 glory.
I know I dragged this section out a bit, but it would be unrealistic to talk about this new installment of Bleach without building up to why it’s massive enough for me to want to see how it unfolds. Could it potentially build towards a continuation? Could it build a bridge for BURN THE WITCH to carry the torch for the shonen? Without further adieu, let’s see where Bleach left us off at.
ONE THOUSAND YEARS OF DEATH!
I wasn’t sure whether they’d try to do a full recap for the first episode of the Thousand Year Blood War arc, but what they managed to pull off by jumping right to the action is a far better choice. It helps that the beginning of this arc makes for a pretty easy transition, and I quickly caught on to what everyone was up to.
Using Ryuunosuke’s assignment as a reintroduction to Ichigo and his friends from Karakura Town is a great launching pad for seeing how big of a deal it is to be saved by Ichigo. It does make me a little sad though because it might be the closest we see to Orihime and Chad getting their moment to shine. Back when I played the awful Wii game Shattered Blade, I used to make an effort to master some of the more overshadowed, underestimated characters like Orihime and Hanatarou. It was my kind of way of being like “Hey, these guys can be awesome too!”, but that doesn’t wind up being acknowledged by the story since they often take a backseat to the cooler soul reapers in the series.
But it can’t be understated how cool it was to see how much love and attention this adaptation has received based on its production quality. The modern aesthetic it has to punch up the action with glossy artwork makes for some pretty awesome visuals, especially with how its color scheme works alongside the show’s shinier appearance. You know anime is a brilliant medium because it manages to create magic from thin air by giving Bleach stunning backgrounds with all of the nighttime shots of Karakura Town. And the remix to “Number One” playing during the big beginning fight is worthy of a chef’s kiss.
It’s a stellar introduction to Ichigo, but also hits like a truck when it jumps right to the main catalyst behind the final season’s plot. As soon as Ebern bursts into Ichigo’s room, the story jumps right into Yhwach commanding the Quincy army to take the war to the Soul Society. It’s not even halfway through the episode before it becomes clear that the soul reapers won’t be seeing a day of peace anytime sooner.
I also can’t get hyped enough for how they pulled off Ichigo’s fight with Ebern. The juxtaposition between the Quincy’s declaring war on Yamamoto and Ichigo’s tussle with Ebern is thematically sick. Seeing Sasakibe use his final gasps to warn Yamamoto about their Bankai-stealing capabilities as Ebern salivates at Ichigo slowly gets his Bankai builds some crazy tension. It’s a real nail-biter to see whether Ichigo winds up having to fight without his abilities or if he’d somehow be able to pull through it.
Even with how intense the first episode wound up being, it managed to get a few smiles out of me with how they retained the tone of its lighter moments. I cackled at so much of what happened in Ichigo’s room, from all of his friends mocking Ichigo for downplaying his love for Orihime’s bread to Ebern being insulted that Ichigo literally jump-kicked him out of his room. Even Ryuunosuke is pretty amusing given that it’s Yamashita Daiki bringing his Deku performance to Bleach. It might seem dated, but Shino picking apart Ryuunosuke warmly reminded me of old Bleach’s comedy that often relied on underlings bickering amongst themselves.
But I’m liking all the questions that this new episode posits about the world of the Bleach anime. Like why Quincy’s would have bone masks similar to what Arrancars walk around wearing, or what the Quincy invasion would mean for the Soul Society. They’ve already put a death clock on the Seireitei as they declare that the soul reapers have five days to prepare until Wandenreich blows everything sky-high. What this means for Ichigo will be interesting as well, given that he was trying to live his own life outside of the Soul Society around the time skip. On top of all of this, what would it mean for Uryuu, given that his own Quincy heritage will be bound to get him roped into Yhwach’s plans. It feels great to approach the return of Bleach with an enthusiastic disposition, and I’m hoping that feeling will stick with me as I dive further into the show.
ED: 「Rapport」 by Kitani Tatsuya