It’s time to have a look at the anime version of Bleach’s Arrancar arc, a story arc that took many years to complete in the original manga so ended up shredded into chunks in the anime. This will actually be my first time watching just the Arrancar episodes in a row, intentionally skipping over as many filler episodes and arcs as I can, rather than watching just a chunk here and there like I have in the past. Will it hold up as a long-viewing experience, or is it all just too jumbled to work? Let’s find out! … Over the next couple of months…
Some time after Aizen’s betrayal (and some stuff to do with vampires if you want to include filler…) Ichigo and friends’ lives begin to normalise… until Karakura Town is invaded by Aizen’s army of converted hollows known as Arrancar, and that’s not to even mention the group calling themselves Visoreds who have their eye on Ichigo and his struggle with his inner-Hollow…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Shinji plays a big role in these early episodes, then vanishes for a good chunk… Like so many other characters in Bleach, to be fair!
Given these are the opening episodes of a very long story arc you won’t be surprised to hear it’s mostly build up and exposition. Still, there are a few highlights, chief among them Ichigo going through a bit of a down period and how that effects his friends. He’s worried about the inner hollow that took control of his body during his fight with Byakuya and is soon confused at the appearance of a man named Shinji Hirako, who reveals himself to have both a Zanpakuto and a hollow mask. Ichigo initially declines his invitation to join his “Visoreds” group, but then two Arrancars appear. This is where the lingo starts going into overdrive, but without going into too much detail (or spoilers!) Visoreds are Shinigami that gain the ability and powers of a Hollow, and Arrancar are Hollows that gain the ability and power of Shinigami. (If you want to know what Shinigami or Hollows are, see my previous reviews because otherwise I’d be here all week). The two Arrancar, Ulquiorra and Yammy, are under orders from Aizen himself to see if Ichigo’s power poses a threat, and soon they draw their opponent out by nearly killing several of his friends, including eventually injuring Orihime.
Ichigo initially has no trouble relieving Yammy of his arm, but his inner Hollow stops him from moving and he gets beaten pretty bad before being saved by Urahara and Yoruichi. Ichigo then falls into a bit of a depression before being perked back up by the arrival of Rukia (plus Renji, Hitsugaya, Matsumoto, Ikkaku and Yumichika) but this is short lived as another Arrancar named Grimmjow has taken exception to Ulquiorra’s decision that Ichigo wasn’t worth dealing with and taken matters into his own hands. Ichigo gets absolutely pounded by Grimmjow shortly after he dealt a potentially deadly blow to Rukia, he is again only saved by the arrival of someone else, this time former Captain Tosen, bringing Grimmjow back to discipline him. There is this brilliantly pathetic look on Ichigo’s face at several times during these episodes that make Orihime feel bad, and a great scene where she confesses to Matsumoto that she feels like a “terrible person” because she was jealous of Rukia’s ability to cheer Ichigo up. We’re peak love triangle here, people!
The first of many “grabbing a sword to show how weak the opponent is” scenes in this arc…
As for the rest of the story? Well, it opens up with an “incomplete Arrancar” version of the Grand Fisher attacking Kon in Ichigo’s body believing him to be the actually Ichigo (this must be so confusing if you’re reading this with no prior knowledge…) and then getting easily sliced in half by none other than Isshin, Ichigo’s dad. Such a great reveal, even now when I obviously was fully aware of it the scene still works (well, mostly, I’ll get to that in the “Bad” section…) At the same time Uryu’s dad Ryuken also reveals his secret: that he kept all his Quincy powers despite turning against his bloodline and that he has a way to restore his son’s powers so long as he agrees never to assist the Shinigami again. Uryu agrees and his training doesn’t end until the next batch of episodes we’ll be talking about so I’ll end it there! The other main bit of story is in the form of the Shinigami that arrived alongside Rukia, as when Grimmjow arrived (his full name is “Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez” by the way, the weirdest name in the series until the Quincy army appear in the final arc…) he brought with him some lower-tier Arrancar allies.
Each of the Shningami (apart from Yumichika) pair off with an Arrancar foe, and not only do we see Rukia activate her shikai for the first time and defeat an enemy in a single blow but we also see Ikkaku reveal he has achieved Bankai but doesn’t want anyone other than Renji and Yumichika to know about it because he doesn’t want to get promoted out of Kenpachi’s squad. It’s a great fight, but the first fight to be ruined by a sudden blood censorship rule I’ll get to later. Still, Ikkaku manages to eke out a win and we get some of his backstory to boot. Hitsugaya, Renji and Matsumoto struggle with their foes until revealing that every Captain and Lieutenant that enters the real world gets a limiter placed on their power so as not to negatively influence the innocent humans with their “spiritual pressure” (something Renji already mentioned back in the Soul Society arc, to be fair) and once its released they easily beat their foes. Renji also got help from Urahara’s young girl assistant Ururu, who went into some sort of kill-mode trance, which is a fun story that is now literally dropped and not even hinted at again until the post-manga Light Novels, and even then barely…
Ikkaku has such great character development here, it’s a shame it doesn’t really go anywhere…
The only other thing I have to mention is not only do we get two of my favourite openings in the series during this batch, but Shiro Sagisu out does himself once again with the background soundtrack, adding some Spanish influenced tunes for the very Spanish-themed Arrancar and Episode 121 (or was in 120?) saw the debut of one of my favourite pieces of background music ever: “Soundscape to Ardor”. I can never stress enough how much the soundtrack adds to the anime.
Speaking of “a shame it doesn’t really go anywhere…”
The main “Bad” here is that a trio of filler characters from the Bount filler arc are inserted into a lot of the story. They help out Kon and get in on the shocked reactions when Isshin reveals his Shinigami powers, tarnishing one of the coolest moments in the series. They also appear and help out Renji with his Arrancar foe which takes all the fun out of that as well. It really feels like someone writing fan fiction by inserting their own created characters into moments of the series and it’s annoying as hell. Thankfully they all but vanish soon after this (though not soon enough…)
The other thing is the sudden censorship. At the start of this batch of episodes the usual red blood turns darker and darker, then becomes black sketch lines or replaced entirely with spit, with only one or two brief exceptions. It’s frustrating, I’m not really into excessive amounts of blood but I’m definitely against complete censorship. Ikakku’s fight suffers badly as he’s clearly supposed to have been taken to his very limit but all he does is look a little sweaty and dirty. Towards the end of the arc (which is a LONG way off, trust me…) it gets a bit better, but it never returns to the Soul Society level of gore, which if nothing else is doing injustice to the source material, which is always a big no-no when adapting anything.
There is a long exposition dump by Hitsugaya about the different levels of Hollows, that a Menos can either be a Gillian, Adjucas or Vasto Lorde, with the big dumb ones we’ve seen up to this point being the lowest tier, the Gillian, and the Vasto Lorde being stronger than Captains if turned into an Arrancar. It’s interesting, but it’s also pretty much entirely dropped going forward, so it made it all rather pointless. Most fans assume that at least the top four Espada (who are the 10 most powerful members of Aizen’s army, as revealed in a separate exposition dump) were Vasto Lorde before being transformed, but it’s never said, and never addressed again. Oh well!
Isshin’s shinigami powers revealed! One of my all-time favourite moments… which is a shame, given the anime version of it..
The start of the Arrancar arc is a lot of exposition with a couple of small fighting sequences thrown in. Ichigo goes through one of many downward spirals that he goes through in this story arc, with his re-rise happening in the next batch, but it’s Orihime’s timid reaction and Rukia’s tough love that make these moments stand out and give a bit of development to all three. Sadly forced filler characters and blood censorship take it down a few notches, making the start a bit more shaky than it should…