Bleach: Arrancar Arc (Episodes 279 – 286) Review

A smaller chunk of episodes this week but a chunk that actually ends the Arrancar part of the Arrancar arc, pretty much… plus Episode 287 is filler so it’s always nicer visually to just have one set of numbers in the thumbnail! So let’s take a look at what becomes of Espadas 1 – 3…

Synopsis:

Just as things were looking up for the Shinigami of Soul Society the Espada they believed defeated return and several Captains fell as Aizen himself joined the battle. A last second glimmer of hope soon appeared however in the form of Shinji Hirako and his Visored group…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

Barragan during his hip young days.

We start off right where we left off (minus an obscene amount of recap I’ll get to later) as the Visoreds and specifically Shinji make their intentions clear to Captain General Yamamoto (that they aren’t on Soul Society’s side, but against Aizen and his army and allied with Ichigo… so basically on their side) and then the super-massive Hollow known as Fura spews out a large group of Menos Hollows for the sole purpose of allowing our new heroes to show off and defeat them easily. The Visoreds then split up and pick an Espada to fight, with Lisa and Hiyori joining with Hitsugaya to fight Harribel, Love and Rose squaring off with Stark, Kensei and Mashiro take on Wonderweiss and Fura, Hachigan is the only one brave/stupid enough to join Soifon in facing Barragan, and Shinji heads straight for Aizen but gets stopped by Tosen, who then squares off with Kommomura and Shuhei, leaving Shinji to face and Gin.

Unexpectedly we cut straight to the battle against Espada #2, Barragan, instead of following the order from the previous showdown. Hachigan had a look at his opponent’s ability to emit a black smoke that literally ages everything to dust in a matter of seconds and decided that his stupidly high level of kido would trap him, but no matter how high a level the barrier it still dissolved with enough accelerated aging. Hachigan then goes crazy with the barriers and makes a deal with Soifon, who completely unfairly holds a grudge against him and his follow Visoreds for being partially responsible for Yoruichi leaving her (but, you know… talk about wasn’t their fault!) This gives Soifon an opportunity to use her Bankai again but this time in what equates to a small box, therefore not allowing Barragan the chance to avoid the blast. Now with only half a skull the Espada emits a bunch more of his deadly black smog and catches Hachigan’s arm, but the large Visored teleports his vanishing limb into the body of his foe, under the correct assumption that while Barragan’s outside is immune to his aging smoke his inside isn’t. We see a fun flashback of Barragan as King of Hueco Mundo and how he ended up having to be subservient to Aizen, then as he slowly turns to dust he throws his axe towards that same man for having the gall to consider himself better. The axe vanishes before it even reaches Aizen as the former King himself turns to dust…

Kyoraku makes a dramatic return by popping out of the shadows… literally!

We then move on to seeing Stark battling Love and Rose, who both show their zanpakuto release along with their mask, the former being a great big demon-like club and the latter being a whip with magical, music-based properties. Stark is overwhelmed though mostly due to combination of being sad over Barragan’s death and not wanting to risk his partner’s life by using their full power. He eventually snaps out of it and soon Lilinette takes the form of countless wolves that explode on touch, an attack that soon turns the tables on the two Visoreds. This is when things get really interesting as Stark lands on a shadow and suddenly gets stabbed in the back at the hands of Kyoraku using the powers of his Zanpakuto. Stark remarks how stabbing him in the back while he’s fighting someone else is “out of character” but the Captain retorts that anyone in the middle of a war trying to stick to a code of honour is a fool because once it starts no side is “right”, it’s simply kill or be killed. I loved this character turn, Mr. laidback and funny is actually cold and calculated when in battle, even if he still quips and smirks quite a bit.

The Squad 8 Captain slowly unveils the power of his Zanpakuto, where anyone under its influence is forced to play a series of children’s games with a nasty twist, like stepping on a shadow means Shunsui can stab you through it (and appear from it), one where the person on the highest ground gets the advantage, that sort of thing. Eventually the Captain manages to destroy the wolves, which meant Stark’s other half was also wiped out. Despairing about once again being alone (and then showing us a few brief flashbacks) the #1 Arrancar attempts to take out his opponent in his latest game where you call out a colour and if you have more of that colour on your person than your opponent slicing that colour will do greater damage because you put yourself at greater risk… it makes more sense when you read / watch it. Anyway, although Stark catches on quick and gets a good shot in he is ultimately struck down. I can’t say how much I love the fight between these two, their similar personalities on the surface yet completely different philosophies about fighting leading to some great moments… plus great character designs and moves. Top stuff.

Stark’s last stand…

This then leads to a few quick bits: Aizen decides the Espada were a failure and so mercilessly cuts down Harribel (which leads to a lengthy and anime-exclusive flashback episode for her), Wonderweiss beats Mashiro leading to Kensei using his Bankai, and everyone gathers around Aizen but is obviously hesitant to attack, until Hiyori decides to charge in and gets… well, cut in half in the manga, in the anime she’s badly wounded… by Gin. We then cut back to Hueco Mundo where Chad, Rukia and Renji fall to Yammy and Ichigo arrives to help out… then also struggles as he instinctively fears putting his mask on after the whole full hollowification thing. He’s rescued by Kenpachi and Byakuya, who then tell him to head to Karakura town, which he does alongside Unohana. That’s where he leave it for this chunk!

The Bad:

“Thanks for your help, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go.”

Not a lot, given the small number of episodes and mostly sticking to the manga. The censorship isn’t actually that bad at this point, but even at the height of Soul Society blood and gore there was no way Hiyori was going to be cut in half, so I can’t find it to complain about that censorship too much. As already hinted at Episode 279 is almost entirely a recap of the Turn Back the Pendulum flashback, which makes sense given the appearance of the Visored, but is also annoying, especially back when they were airing weekly…

Episode 284 is mostly the also already mentioned anime exclusive Harribel flashback and it’s just… fine. It has that “filler villains look a bit crap and aren’t interesting” problem but it does add some more character to Harribel and her fraccion… right before they’re written out until the yet-to-be-animated-as-of-this-writing final arc (and even then she barely appears). Kensei’s fight with Wonderweiss looks exciting but we never see it. It’s one of many of Kubo’s “fight ends off-screen” moments that drive me nuts. If there was ever a call for filler it would be to show us how these fights ended, but… oh well…

Overall Thoughts:

Here’s a shot of Yammy in his released form, otherwise I doubt I’ll squeeze one in the last two parts!

In 8 episodes the Arrancar Arc drops nearly all Arrancar and begins its final path: the fight against Aizen. It gives Barragan and Stark great send offs then tosses Harribel aside to get to the next phase, which is a shame but I won’t let it detract too much away from the overall story here. It’s not perfect, but it’s really fun.

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