Bleach: Series 4 Part 2

Just as the Soul Society arc was a look into the why of Rukia, the Bount arc is the same unto Ishida and how he is dealing with the loss of his powers after the events of Soul Society. It’s this sort of character study that makes Bleach watchable during the more insufferable Dragonball Z moments and thank goodness for that. The second Bount set takes its Ishida focus and goes with it, ramping up to some rather well executed fights and some shocking turns towards the end of the set.

This set contains another eight episodes (72-79) and mostly focuses on retrieving Ishida from the Bount HQ (a hilariously conspicuous mansion) and playing though what is going on in the minds of this arc’s characters. Why does Yoshino, the Bount who abducted Ishida in the first place, want nothing to do with the Bount Clan? Why is a Soul Reaper working amongst the Bount ranks (as a side note: would you be surprised if the answer is “Soul Society is the worst run After Life ever?” Seriously, at this point, that shouldn’t even be a spoiler). And, most importantly: What can you do when you are three inches tall and a talking chicken doll?

It’s rather nice to have a set that actually answers all the questions it puts forward by the time it’s done. In particular, one character is introduced, her story arc concludes rather decidedly, and it doesn’t feel like a cop-out. It’s a breath of fresh air to see that sort of storytelling in a Shonen Jump property that isn’t One Piece, and in filler material at that.

The battles in this arc begin to pick up, with even the lowest of the Bount ranks taking every weak point that our heroes have and exploiting them what for. The fact is, unlike the fights in Soul Society, these fights are being won with mental ability over Ichigo’s over-dependent use of his special moves. As such Ichigo only manages to get himself hurt, and the only enemy fatality in this set is the one Bount member who forgets what happens to those who attended the Starscream school of backstabbing. Whilst the show still suffers from Ichigo being something of a one hit-point wonder in battles, I can accept that he’s being mentally outdone better than the idea that everyone he faces just has a bigger/better sword than him.

I like the fact that the plot sets up Ishida to do some turncoating. Given his tenuous relationship with the rest of Ichigo’s group at the best of times, having him work for the bad guys would, I feel, allow for Ishida to be portrayed as something more than just the snarky pretty boy he currently is. Ishida’s characterisation is by far one of the most interesting aspects of this arc. Knocking him down a few pegs with the loss of his powers is exactly what was needed to explore the character; I hope the third and final set of the season goes some way to fully fleshing him out beyond the initial persona of “Quincy Archer hates You”.

On the technical side, the art direction still hasn’t dipped, even if the show is now knee-deep into the filler budget by this point. I have to say the new Opening is a far more upbeat affair from the previous one with “Tonight Tonight Tonight” by the Beat Crusaders being very catchy, Engrish and all. That said, the sound direction has some issues; in one than one place I could have sworn that the background music was an uplift from the Yu Yu Hakusho sound track. It might be my imagination and no one would notice it being as much (thanks, MVM) but at the very best, the new background music themes could be described as bland.

Voice acting is still up to par, with Richard Epcar (Batou in Ghost in the Shell) doing what he does best (big guys with soft hearts) with Go Koga. Tony Baker (Kanji in Persona 4) brings a degree of calm yet firm leadership to the role of Bount leader Jin Kariya, and Dorothy Elias-Fahn (Naru in Love Hina) has to be applauded for her role as Yoshino, doing her best to act as someone who’s lived for as long as she has, teetering to and from suicidal tendencies, and wanting to live if only to stop Jin’s scheme.

On the negative side of the voice acting coin, Sam Regal (Faust VIII in Shaman King) comes off a bit flat as Ichinose (the rogue Soul Reaper) with the Japanese voice actor, Susumu Chiba, pulling off the role far more convincingly. I’ve also stated to notice Johnny Yong Bosch’s guttural yells, his way of emulating Masakazu Morita whenever Ichigo attacks, are starting to come off as a little silly and almost as if he’s trying to channel his time as a Power Ranger into the role. I have to admit I’m not entirely appreciative of him doing so.

This set is a great middle part to this season. It brings forth the ideas and rules of the plot without bogging it down in the process, choosing instead to go with emotional scenes and funny moments as opposed to the shonen anime twitter that is wont to happen.“The Mod Soul’s Lament” is, by far, the funniest skit, though the tender argument between Rukia and Ichigo in Ishida’s hospital room is a hoot too. If the third set follows up on this mix, then this will be a filler season that bucks the stereotype that filler is often saddled with.

In Summary
A good continuation to the season; the next set will determine its place in the pantheon of filler – but it’s looking to be more Goku’s Driving Test and less Kenshin vs the Christian Nutcase.

8 / 10