Bleach: Arrancar Arc (Episodes 288 – 297) Review

This batch of ten episodes is where the anime team went into manga adaption overdrive as each episode is pretty much consistently two or so chapters each with very little added content, meaning that there is a LOT to cover so excuse the potential paragraph overload… Also: Aizen slashes a lot of people with his sword. Let’s take a look!

Synopsis:

As Ichigo rushes to the real world to help in the fight against Aizen the combined forces of Soul Society and the Visoreds have an overwhelming numbers advantage… but then why do they feel like the underdogs?

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

Tosen wonders why people no longer take his view points as anything other than evil…

The first two episodes mainly deal with Kenpachi and Byakuya fighting each other over who has to fight Yammy, a foe they both view as beneath them. They actually nearly come to blows against each other which I always felt was equal parts uncharacteristic (for Byakuya…) and hilarious. Anyway, Yammy transforms a second time to an even larger form and that’s that… sadly. Ichigo is told by Unohana that the fact he hasn’t seen Aizen’s Zanpakuto release and been put under its spell means he is their best shot at delivering a deadly blow. We then cut back to the fake Karakura Town and Hirako squares off with Aizen while Komamura and Shuhei face off with their old friend / mentor Tosen. In the case of the latter the ex-Captain reveals not his Bankai (because we’ve already seen that!) but instead a Hollow mask transformation, one that gives him a sleek, mouth/eyes/nose-less appearance. It proves too much for Hisagi but Komamura manages to hang in there with his large Bankai as the two go back and forth on what it means to be right and wrong. There are some good moments (made better now after having read the “Can’t Fear Your Own World” novels) as Tosen basically says “why is someone joining the organisation that killed the love of his life and then didn’t punish the culprit turning out to be against it a surprise?” and that forgiving such a corrupt state would be noble but stupidly so. It’s hard not to at least see Tosen’s point of view even as his mask cracks into an evil looking crooked smile.

Sadly the fight gets a tad more generic as Tosen reveals he can also perform Resurreccion and turns into a large fly-like creature that grants him the ability to see. This revelation leads him to start calling Komamura ugly (how on Earth would he know?) and generally he turns into a generic taunting evil villain devoid of his backstory. As he is about to finish off his foe Tosen is stabbed in the head by Hisagi, who claims that his old Captain relying on his new senses has meant he lost the edge that would’ve made him sense his approach, before activating his Zanpakuto from within his ex-Captain’s head. Tosen reverts back to human form and looks upon his old subordinate’s face for the first time before exploding into a large pool of blood (which again is given more context in the recently-released CFYOW novels). While this is all going on Aizen faces off with his old Captain in Shinji, the latter reveals that he too has a Zanpakuto that can control the senses and shows his foe its power: to flip his opponent’s senses so left becomes right, up becomes down, and basically as Hirako himself describes it, it’s like a challenge handicap in a puzzle game. Aizen is momentarily caught off guard but almost immediately breaks free of the power with his own Zanpakuto and slashes Hirako. Then behind him Ichigo suddenly appears and goes for a full power strike on the back of Aizen’s neck…

It’s a shame really, this Zanpakuto release would be a real bastard against any foe other than Aizen…

Sadly this strike doesn’t work because Aizen always has a barrier there because it’s the most vulnerable part of the body to a sneak attack, though he does say had Ichigo worn his Hollow mask he may have gotten through the barrier (Ichigo still fears it from the whole Ulquiorra battle…) Still, the rest of the remaining Shinigami and Visored (minus Hachigan and Unohana for healing, Captain Commander Yamamoto and anyone who’s injured, obviously) surround Aizen as they see Ichigo’s arrival as the signal to take down their foe. Some of the lesser fighters like Lisa, Rose, Love, and Komamura get taken out with little issue but a team up from Soifon, Hitsugaya and Shunshui manage to trap him and thanks to Shinji making everything go backwards again Hitsugaya lands the killing blow! It’s over! … Wait, hang on, Ichigo shouts “What the hell are you guys doing?!” and we see that Aizen had replaced himself with Hinamori of all people, his favourite mental and physical torture subject. As Hitsugaya pulls his sword from his life-long friend and she gently asks “why?” the Captain goes off the deep end with rage leading to one of my all-time favourite moments: the “You’re all wide open” scene…

Yes as the Captains are caught off guard for having stabbed an innocent member of their own side Aizen takes out Soifon, Shinji, Kyoraku and Hitsugaya (who loses an arm and bits of his torso, which shows that the censorship has relaxed a bit!) within the same few seconds and smirks at all four bodies fall to the ground behind him. It was an amazing scene in the manga and just as good animated. Really made Aizen move up to the very top tier of fictional villains in my mind, and he was already high up to begin with! Ichigo panics as all the people who were so strong and helpful had been cut down but goes to try and attack anyway. He’s stopped by a sudden wall of fire as the Captain Commander takes to the field (after all his men had been cut down… nice guy!) Yamamoto allows Aizen to stab him so he knows for sure the real Aizen is in front of him and tries to self-destruct himself and everyone in the vicinity to take down his foe (nice guy! … Again!) but his flames are extinguished by the arrival of the now released and transformed Wonderweiss. Apparently the fact he can’t speak and has no intelligence was because he was modified by Aizen to counteract Yamamoto’s Zanpakuto and losing those were the cost.

Wonderweiss shows just how…. weird his release is. Shame he’s picked a fight with an old bearded man in a Shonen anime!

Yamamoto soon proves that even without his sword he’s more than capable as he defeats Wonderweiss with his bare hands but ends up wounded by having to cover the exploding body of his opponent after the flames that were stored explode from Wonderweiss’s corpse. Aizen gloats and claims he wishes to kill Yamamoto personally but the Captain Commander gets the last laugh by sacrificing one of his arms to activate a damaging Kido, catching the normally impossible to catch Aizen off guard. In the chaos Ichigo dons his mask and lands a blow on his opponent but it’s not fatal, and in fact Aizen reveals that he has fused his body with the Hogyoku itself and is now practically immortal. After a long diatribe and flashback that I’ll get into later Ichigo’s Dad Isshin arrives to help his son, fresh in his Shinigami outfit. Ichigo is fine with the revelation and says he’s sure he had his reasons for not telling him. Isshin squares off with Aizen (including flicking his middle finger at his foe’s forehead and knocking him through several buildings) while Ichigo takes on Gin, who has spent all these past episodes watching from a distance with a smile. Gin uses his Bankai which is the same extending blade as before but it now extends to a crazy amount and can retract back to its hilt near-instantly. Aizen’s body begins to fuse further with the all-powerful orb just as Urahara arrives on the battlefield, and that’s where we leave it for the penultimate chunk of episodes!

*Phew!* These episodes certainly don’t suffer any pacing issues, that’s for sure!

The Bad:

Now think back to the first chunk of episodes I reviewed featuring this reveal for the first time… That’s a long wait for the pay-off!

As mentioned in the last chunk of episodes, I always hate it when Kubo has a fight end off-screen, it happened with Wonderweiss fighting Kensei last time and this time we see Yammy undergo a new transformation in front of two fan-favourite Captains and the next we see him he’ll be on the verge of death as Byakuya and Kenpachi arrive home. Always annoying.

Most of Episodes 295 and 296 are a recap of the entire Bleach series. I’m not even joking, Kubo tried too hard to retcon Aizen into being such a master planner that he literally engineered all of Ichigo’s actions up to this point and so they pretty much SHOW all of Ichigo’s interactions up to that point. As much as I love Aizen and his scheming this always came across as too much in my eyes…

Overall Thoughts:

I mean… I had to screenshot this moment, obviously. Missing is Aizen’s self-satisfied smirk, but you know its there!

This second-to-last chunk of episodes goes full-on with the manga adaptation and features Aizen rise from “the future threat” to “the current threat that’s literally one-shotting everyone”. It’s extremely entertaining, only a few Kubo niggles and a near two-episodes worth of flashback take this down from a 5… Next week: the finale! At last… Imagine if I’d included all the filler stories and arcs as well?! I’d have been here all year!

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