Bleach: Soul Society Arc (Episodes 42 – 54) Review

Uryu gets the spotlight for the first half of this chunk of episodes, before we dive head-first into the fight-fest that is the Soul Society Arc finale. Does the pace slow a bit too much in between? Are there too many flashbacks? Did they really put another Karakura Superheroes filler episode in?! Let’s take a look!

Synopsis:

Before Ichigo and Byakuya can clash on the bridge to Rukia’s cell Yoruichi arrives and manages to take him away from the scene. Initially angry at being so close to Rukia and then being taken away, Yoruichi reveals to Ichigo that every Zanpakuto has a second release many times stronger than the regular one. “Bankai” is the name of this new form, and she’s going to teach Ichigo how to use it in just three days…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

Kubo certainly went all-out in making sure Mayuri’s Bankai was proper “nightmare fuel”, as the old phrase goes…

The big moment for the first half of these episodes is, as mentioned, Uryu’s time to shine. Squad 12 Captain Mayuri appears and wishes to experiment on Orihime, but she escapes while Uryu tries to hold the Captain, and his Lieutenant Nemu, at bay. The mad scientist is annoyed because he was so looking forward to slowly experimenting and dissecting the young girl, and then eventually reveals he was the one who kidnapped and slowly tortured Uryu’s grandfather to death. Can I just mention that after this arc Mayuri is technically on the “good guy” side? Just saying… Anyway, Uryu is backed into a corner due to the Captain’s Zanpakuto disabling his arms and legs (but keeping the ability to feel pain!) but after hearing of his beloved grandpa’s slow death he stands up to Mayuri, eventually breaking the special Quincy glove he had on to achieve incredible power. The power is enough to rip an arrow through Mayuri’s creepy as hell Bankai form and through the Captain himself, but in the end the sinister scientist gets the last laugh by liquefying himself to escape, while Uryu has lost all his Quincy powers as a result of unbuckling the glove. It’s quite the odd fight (as all of Mayuri’s will be going forward…) but a good one. Nemu is treated as a disposable piece of equipment and still loves Mayuri for it, which is … somewhat uncomfortable, but whatever…

Uryu gets harmlessly taken out by Captain Tousen before we switch to Ichigo, who as mentioned in the Synopsis was taken away from Byakuya’s gaze by Yoruichi before any fight could go down. She begins teaching him Bankai via a method to draw out one’s Zanpakuto spirit forcibly, which gives our lead protagonist something to do for the next bunch of episodes: fighting Zangetsu with hundreds of different swords, trying to find his ally’s “true form”. Eventually Renji joins them for training, revealing his Zanpakuto manifested the legit way so he too was going to train in order to save Rukia, also dropping the bombshell that her execution had been pushed up to noon tomorrow… During this we get a flashback episode, where future Lieutenants Renji, Kira and Hinamori are training in school, eventually going on a field trip to the real world and getting attacked by giant hollows. Their upperclassman Hisagi (also a future Lieutenant) is injured and the four are about to be finished off when Aizen and his Lieutenant (and future Captain) Gin arrive and easily dispatch the beasts. It also showed Hinamori living with an even-younger Hitsugaya, so it accomplished showing how Hinamori got to idolize Aizen, why Hitsugaya is so close to Hinamori, and why Kira was so broken up about attacking her when they found Aizen’s body… plus how Hisagi got the cool claw mark scar on his face!

Gin is striking really fast, for the record. Sprouting more arms has yet to appear as an ability within the Bleach universe…

This leads to Hitsugaya confronting Gin, only for Hinamori to arrive and accuse her old friend of killing Aizen because of a letter the former Captain wrote for her. She is soon knocked out (much to Gin’s sarcastic joy) and the two Captains fight each other, which is good fun and we even see Gin’s eyes open in shock. The whole thing ends because Hitsugaya’s lieutenant Matsumoto arrives and blocks Gin’s strike towards Hinamori, it being briefly revealed in another flashback that the two were friends as children. It’s all getting close and personal! Speaking of which, when then get another flashback, in this case Rukia reminiscing about her old Lieutenant Kaien, who she loved and respected. Kaien, who looks a lot like Ichigo (yes, he’s the one both Byakuya and Ukitake thought of when they saw our orange-haired protagonist) is married to an equally nice member of the 13th Squad Rukia joined, and she loves that they treat her as a normal person rather than a nobleman. Sadly, Kaien’s wife is killed and possessed by a special type of Hollow, and Kaien himself soon suffers the same fate while trying to avenge her. While Ukitake was on the verge of killing the possessed Kaien, his illness stops him in his tracks, leading to Rukia having to be the one who “kills” the person she loved. It’s dramatic, but the idea Rukia still blames herself for his death when it he was clearly already dead by that point is bit… stupid. But hey, that’s mental trauma for ya!

Finally we get to the day of the execution, and a “healed enough that he wants another fight to the death” Kenpachi joins up and/or frees Orihime, Uryu, Chad and Ganju, and together with his Lieutenant (man I’m getting fed up of writing that word…) Yachiru and Ikkaku and Yumichka, they all head to Rukia’s execution ground, but are met along the way by Captains Tousen and Komamura. Ichigo’s allies run ahead as Ikkaku and Yumichka take on Lieutenants Iba and Hisagi, respectively, and Kenpachi challenges the two Captains to a two-on-one battle, managing to stand his ground against their first assault. Meanwhile Renji confront Byakuya and shows him his Bankai, managing to knock him down to a knee, but he’s soon sliced to ribbons by his Captain’s own Bankai. He manages to get to his feet and charge at Byakuya, but falls back to the floor, a show of guts and determination so great Byakuya leaves his scarf behind as a show of respect.

Renji is ever-so-briefly satisfied with the results of his training…

In the last two episodes of this batch, Kenpachi survives Tousen’s sense-removing Bankai and injures the blind Captain before smashing Komamura’s helmet and revealing him as a large fox-man. Kenpachi then delights in fighting the Captain’s massive Bankai one-on-one. Then we get to the execution itself, though on the way Gin makes sure to offer to free Rukia, and then say he was “just kidding”, making sure to break her resolve for the hell of it (complete bastard! … I love it). Just as Rukia is about to be killed by the Sokyoku Ichigo arrives and deflects the killing blow, then Ukitake and Kyoraku reveal their place in the conflict by destroying the massive blade (that took the form of a flaming bird, for the record). Ichigo then takes out three Lieutenants without even using his sword and hands Rukia to a somehow-still-standing Renji before turning to face Byakuya…

The Bad:

Those were the days… of weird bamboo cups, apparently?

Episode 50 is another pure jokey filler episode set in Karakura Town with Don Kanoji and his “heroes”. Again, it can be funny at times, but given it comes after Rukia’s dramatic Kaien flashback it is rather annoying. Speaking of which, the Ending theme throughout these episodes is called “Happy People” and it’s often hilariously at odds with what comes just before it and can instantly kill the emotional or dramatic impact of what just happened before “To Be Continued” pops up…

I kind of feel the flashbacks are a little excessive, but at the same time they all add something to what comes after them, so I’m happy they’re here. There was something about seeing the flashback with Gin as a Lieutenant that gave me a real feeling of a flowing timeline in the series when I first watched it. I also want to reiterate how over-the-top evil Mayuri is in this story, even blowing up a bunch of his own squad members for the chance to take out Uryu and Orihime. I enjoy it, especially his Frieza-like voice (Sharing the same voice actor and all) but retrospectively it’s hard to understand why the other captains would tolerate someone so clearly evil in their ranks!

Also I have to mention Renji being up and about, able to run off with Rukia despite being basically in little pieces just a couple of episodes earlier always annoys me, but that’s Bleach for you, those Shinigami bodies are really made of tough stuff!

Overall Thoughts:

Mission complete! Plus bonus points for the cool cape.

This is where the Soul Society Arc goes crazy, the reveal of Bankai giving the Captains a chance to show some crazy abilities as they end up fighting each other in an almost civil war scenario. Ichigo’s appearance in front of Rukia is an all-time great moment, the title of the episode having the phrase “An Accomplished Oath!” rams home that after everything that’s gone down in the past 30 or so episodes, Ichigo did somehow manage to save Rukia. That being said, it’s far from over…

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