Bleach: Arrancar Arc (Episodes 266 – 278) Review

After it got teased all the way back at the start of the arc (which seems like months ago now… probably because it was!) we finally see the big fight between Ichigo and Ulquiorra, plus the other top three Espada show their powers and forms, making this chunk of episode a gold mine of very cool Tite Kubo imagery. What’s that? Story? Animation? Oh right! Let’s take a look and see if they hold up as well…

Synopsis:

The top 4 Espada finally take to the battlefield as the war with Aizen’s Arrancar reaches its peak…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

Ulquiorra reaches “Emo Level 2” form.

The first seven episodes focus on Hueco Mundo, where not only is Ichigo facing off with Ulquiorra at last but Rukia, Renji and Chad are all fighting various Hollows and in the case of Rukia, Rudbornn the leader of the Exequias, who eventually shows he creates his skull-headed minions via his Resurreccion’s tree-like powers. Rukia does eventually defeat him by freezing his roots, which isn’t a euphemism for the record. As Ichigo and Ulquiorra fight in front of Orihime she gets attacked once again by unpleasant female Arrancars Loly and Menoly, then Yammy shows up and takes the two women out for the hell of it. Things look grim for our captured “princess” until Uryu arrives and eventually takes Yammy out via Arrancar-detecting mine given to him by his favourite scientist in Mayuri. I say take out but in reality Yammy just falls down a whole bunch of floors… he’ll reappear later! With Uryu protecting Orihime Ichigo is free to go all-out and focus on Ulquiorra, donning his mask and actually getting the upper hand on Espdada #4, causing him to head up to the roof of Las Noches…

While up there Ulquiorra finally reveals his Resurrección and gains some wings along with overwhelming strength. Ichigo still doesn’t give up hope, which angers his opponent enough that he transforms a second time using “Resurrección: Segunda Etapa”, a form even Aizen doesn’t know about. In reality I’ve always thought that Ulquiorra’s original Res. design didn’t go down particularly well so he was given a more dramatic second form to make up for it as there was no actual reason for him to transform, he was already winning easily! Anyway, Orihime and Uryu arrive on top of Las Noches in time to see Ichigo’s chest get a new hole courtesy of his foe and left for dead. Uryu tries to distract Ulquiorra while she heals him, but it doesn’t work as her Quincy ally begins to get easily out-matched (obviously!) In a moment of sheer desperation she calls out for Ichigo to save her and her does! … sort of. Ichigo fully hollowfies and his mindless beast form easily takes out Ulquiorra but then starts to attack Uryu as well, it’s only his real opponent’s last gasp attack that breaks his mask and turns Ichigo back into a regular human again. Our protagonist demands a rematch as it “wasn’t him” who was fighting earlier but is denied as Ulquiorra’s body begins to turn to dust. In his last moments his asks whether Orihime is afraid of him, to which she simply replies “no” as she reaches for his hand, but it simply fades away…

Ichigo reaches… “scary-arse demon level 3” form!

Back in the fake Karakura Town we get a trio of fights that last roughly an episode and a half each, though with a few cutting back and forth. Harribel faces off with Hitsugaya and reveals her Resurrección is water-based, leading to a “I can freeze your water” “well I can turn your ice into water” battle that eventually ends with the Soul Society Captain victorious. Soifon and (sadly) Omaeda then face off with Barrigan who shows his has the ability to control time and age what he touches, then basically goes “screw it” and uses his Resurrección which makes him go full on Grim Reaper with his skeletal appearance and his new “Resperia” attack, a black mist that instantly dissolves anything that comes in contact with it (or in reality ages it to dust). Soifon loses an arm due to the attack but eventually rebounds by revealing her Bankai which takes the form of a gigantic missile. It’s an attack she hates, being the head of the stealth force and all, but it’s enough to seemingly destroy Barragan…

Then we get to my favourite fight as Espada Primero Stark faces off with Kyoraku, the two half-heartedly fighting while Captain Ukitake humiliates Stark’s Fraccion Lilynette. Eventually the Squad 8 Captain goes so far as to threaten attacking the child-like Arrancar in his opponent’s care if it will make him take the fight seriously, something his opponent finds uncharacteristic. After seeing the downfall of Espadas 2 and 3 he decides to use his own Resurrección, revealing that while the other Espada sealed part of their power into a sword he created Lilynette instead, the two forming a single whole as part of the release process. Stark gains a frankly cool-as-hell gunslinger look, complete with furs and a pair of Cero-firing pistols that apparently is where Lilynette’s consciousness resides. Kyoraku releases his zanpakuto and deals with the Cero-based offense with relative ease until his opponent fires a good few hundred at once. This is where Captain Ukitake arrives and shows his zanpakuto’s power is to absorb projectiles and then fire them back with varying timing and power to throw his opponent off. Sadly this is the most information we’ll ever get about Ukitake’s sword…

Want to make someone look cool? Give them an eyepatch and a gun. Job done.

Just as things start to get interesting a titanic portal (or “Garganta”) opens up and the mentally and vocally diminished Wonderweiss appears alongside the colossal Hollow with one eye. Ukitake is suddenly impaled by a fast-moving Wonderweiss as Kyoraku is hit point blank by a Cero and knocked to the ground. Wonderweiss then lets out a scream which not only gives the giant Hollow instructions to blow away the flames that were holding back Aizen, Gin and Tosen but also shows us that Barragan didn’t get hit by Soifon’s Bankai at all and Harribel breaks free from the ice. All hope seems lost until the sudden arrival of Shinji and the rest of the Visoreds as we close out this batch of episodes…

The Bad:

It’s at this moment Harribel wishes her Resurrección had less bare skin…

There were some filler issues that crop up, especially in the Hueco Mundo part of the story. Episode 266 is entirely a recap episode thanks to there being a sizable filler arc in between the previous chunk of story and this one, then the next episode is mostly filler that sees Renji and Chad fighting a sand-based Hollow, which is rather dull, and we get a lot more of Omeada running around and prat-falling while distracting Barragan which is frankly the worst kind of filler… Also Uryu fighting Yammy is expanded and while some dialogue was fun the fight itself wasn’t very exciting.

Speaking of Yammy, he releases his Resurrección and turns into a large multi-limbed giant and the 1 of his “10” mark vanishes, revealing that he is in fact Espada 0, the top of the pile strongest. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it and never have. Sure he’s immense but after being played for a fool for the whole arc this was a bit hard to swallow, and given he meets his end off-screen (look out for that in a bad section in a few weeks’ time!) makes all the more fitting that he’d be #10 rather than the best of them all. While I’m at it Ichigo demands that Ulquiorra cut off one leg and arm so he can fight the near-death Ulquiorra on even ground before the latter fades away. Uryu, and all watching/reading, rightfully call the idea more than stupid given all that was at stake… I mean, seriously, the hell? That’s Goku from Dragon Ball levels of stupidly favouring fighting over saving people…

Finally the censorship problems rear their ugly head once again. In the manga Uryu loses a hand in his battle with Ulquiorra, informing Orihime not to panic as he’d already stopped the bleeding but in the anime his arm just has some black marks on it, though he oddly still tells his female friend that he “stopped the bleeding”, which I guess he did given there was no blood at all… It has to be said that roughly from the return of to the fake Karakura town to the arc’s end we now have basically no filler in these episodes, each actual cannon episode just adapts manga panels and very little else. Even the censorship pulls back eventually and we get more blood as it goes along, so this “Bad” section should now become just about any story issues going forward…

Overall Thoughts:

Barragan reveals his “cover of a cheesy 80s rock album” look.

This ninth chunk of Arrancar Arc gives us one of the iconic Bleach fights in Ichigo vs. Ulquiorra, with Ichigo’s full Hollow form becoming something of a favourite for merchandise and fan artists, plus the releases of the top three Espada are all really great designs and have some fun powers. It’s Tite Kubo at his best as an artist, but some filler and censorship drags it down from a perfect 5. Still a good watch though!

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