I hold the Soul Society Arc in very high regard, but even I’ll admit this first quarter is a little on the slow side. Now, it’s the beginning, it’s just setting things in motion, so I can’t be too hard on it, but there are one or two moments when the anime team stretch some things out to breaking point, something they thankfully resist as the arc goes on. So with that all being said, let’s take a closer look at the first chunk of Soul Society episodes!
Ichigo, Uryu, Orihime, Chad and Yoruichi arrive in Soul Society, but outside of the Shinigami’s main HQ where their goal of the captured Rukia awaits. After a battle with a gatekeeper and a confrontation with a Captain, it becomes clear that entry will be far more difficult than they realised…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Making an entrance with style! … and zero stealth, but hey-ho.
As I said in the opening paragraph, this is nearly all set up, but it does have some stand-alone perks. When they first arrive Ichigo takes on the massive gatekeeper Jidanbo and bests him, making him open the gate without much fuss. There are some funny interactions here, but the best part is Gin Ichimaru, who arrives saying that a Gatekeeper who loses “don’t open the gate, they get killed”, slices Jidanbo’s arm (not clean off like the manga, but hey-ho…) and then knocks Jidanbo into Ichigo and co before waving with a sarcastic “Bye-bye!” as the gate closes. Still makes me laugh. Due to this Yoruichi says they must find another way in and to do so they need to find Kukaku Shiba.
There are some funny bits and some endearing bits in this next chunk, as we’re introduced to Ganju Shiba, whose brother was killed by a Shinigami despite loving them and being one, to the point where he was still smiling after his dying body was returned, so he takes an instant disliking to Ichigo, but after hearing his reasons for wanting to get into Seireitei (the Shinigami HQ, which is protected via a dome of energy) the two begrudgingly start to like each other. Kukaku herself is a great character, though why the anime team gave her a false arm rather than just leave he with one I have no idea. She’s strong and quite the bad ass type, which works well for the funny squabbles Ichigo and Ganju get into. She uses her pyrotechnic skills to literally fire Ichigo, Orihime, Uryu, Chad, Yourichi and Ganju into Seireitei via a large cannonball of energy.
This is also the period where we’re introduced to the full line-up of Captains in the Gotei 13 as they have a meeting after Gin faced a bunch of Ryoka (what they call foreign invaders) and let them live. Mr. Nicey-nice Captain Aizen (… *ahem*) is suspicious of Gin and makes these suspicions known with the youngest Captain, Hitsugaya, in earshot. As our heroic group break through the boundary they get split up, with Uryu and Orihime pairing up, Chad and Yoruichi on their own and Ichigo and Ganju together. Uryu is seen handily dispatching a rather cowardly Shinigami named Jirobo (after Inoue fails to attack with the intent to kill) but the main fight involves Ichigo and Ganju…
Ikkaku takes “not going down without a fight” to a whole new level.
Ichigo and Ganju land right in front of Ikkaku Madarame and Yumichika Ayasegawa, the third and fifth seat of Squad 11, respectively. Ikkaku pairs off with Ichigo while Ganju tries to escape from Yumichika, and while the latter is talked about down below in the bad, the fight between Ikkaku and Ichigo is good fun. Ikakku recognises that Ichigo has good reactions but is clearly inexperienced, so gets a few shots on him, cutting his forehead open and obscuring his vision. Ichigo however is a quick learner and eventually pulls out a win, much to Madarame’s surprise. It’s quite bloody, and has some good lines between the two (it’s also funny to see Ikkaku do a weird “lucky dance” that he never does again, well, outside of filler anyway). After fight Ikkaku warns Ichigo of his Captain, Kenpachi and how unfathomly strong he is, which we’ll see in the next batch of episodes!
I also have to mention that Kenpachi has spent a lot of these episodes running in blind alleys as he follows the directions of his young Lt. Yachiru, plus a scene in Episode 29 where he stops the overly-evil Squad 12 Captain Mayuri from killing Ikkaku for not telling him any info. Also in this final episode Ichigo and Ganju meet back up and kidnap Squad 4 member Hanataro, which will become quite important later on!
If nothing else this really made Yumichika look incompetent!
The main “bad” of this batch of episodes is Ganju facing off against Yumichika, it’s the only point where you feel the attempt at filler via scene stretching, something Bleach actually rarely does. Normally the show is very good at keeping manga adaptations close to the panels, but just add a tonne of stand-alone filler arcs and episodes in the middle instead (with the exception of the early period of the Arrancar Arc, anyway) so this really stood out to me. In the manga it’s a quick run-around, a bit of a confrontation in front of an inescapable pit and then Ganju pulling out a victory via some sneaky tricks and a large firework bomb. In the anime? About 20x more running around, they get to the inescapable pit but then run away from it, find a second pit and soon runaway from that before ending up back at the first pit to resume and actually show the end of the fight from the manga. Stood out like a sore thumb given it was going on alongside the much quicker and manga-accurate fight between Ichigo and Ikkaku…
Bye-Bye! See you in Part 2!
The Soul Society arc begins with a few fight scenes but mostly scene setting and some comedy thrown in. By the time Episode 29 ends you do get a better feel for the arc going forward, not just Ichigo and co.’s mission to rescue Rukia, but also the plot and intrigue between the Captains…