Anime Reporter steps into the world of Bleach (the anime adaptation of Tite Kubo’s acclaimed manga of the same name) for Part One of the twelfth season of the series; Zanpakuto: The Alternate Tale arc.
“A zanpakuto; its unique shape and abilities are defined by its Soul Reaper. A Soul Reaper is able to harness the power of the zanpakuto by learning its name and forming a synergistic union. The zanpakuto is born with its Soul Reaper and dies with its Soul Reaper. That is the existence of a zanpakuto…”
“…This night marks the end of the Soul Reaper’s reign over the zanpakuto”
So begins the Zanpakuto arc, aptly referred to as the Alternate Tale arc; despite being twelve (or thirteen, depending on who you ask) seasons into the series, the Zanpakuto arc is one which even relative newcomers to the series can enjoy without running into unfamiliar devices or characters. Anyone who has seen to the end of the third season will find themselves in familiar territory throughout proceedings, while those who are entirely up to date may enjoy the break from the lengthy war against the Arrancar, still ongoing at the time of the Zanpakuto arc.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Bleach is the story of high school student Ichigo Kurosaki (voiced by One Piece and Tiger & Bunny star Masakazu Morita in Japanese and Johnny Tong Bosch, best known from Blue Exorcist and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers in English), who has the peculiar ability of being able to see and communicate with spirits. When empty and malevolent spirits, known as Hollows, begin to appear, Ichigo crosses paths with Rukia (portrayed by One Piece’s and Devil May Cry: The Series’ Fumiko Orikasa in Japanese and Michelle Ruff of Digimon Frontier and Naruto in English), a young woman who also happens to be a Soul Reaper (or ‘Shinigami’ to fans of the Death Note series) and through necessity and astounding fortune, Ichigo manages to manifest Rukia’s power to banish these twisted souls. Ichigo, like all Soul Reapers, utilises his power by means of a special sword, capable of harming Hollows and channelling Ichigo’s spiritual energy into a weaponised form. These swords are known as zanpakuto; a powerful weapon in its own right, it can become tremendously powerful when a Soul Reaper learns the name of the spirit of their zanpakuto and the two bond to become one.
This relationship is the focus of the arc as Muramasa; a mysterious and sinister stranger manages to break the bonds between Soul Reapers and zanpakuto and compels the personified weapons to strike back against their former masters and against anything that may stand in their way. As the zanpakuto know their masters on a deeply intimate level, while also being their greatest source of power, the Soul Reapers soon find themselves gravely unprepared for and pitifully outmatched by the wave of destruction making its way throughout the Soul Society, the land of the dead and official mission control for Soul Reapers. Ichigo and the other Soul Reapers soon find themselves trying to stop an all-out rebellion where losing means certain death and rampant destruction, while victory could mean destroying their greatest weapons against evil. As if things weren’t complicated and perilous enough, Ichigo also finds himself facing off against his very literal inner demon, determined to break free of Ichigo and carve his own bloody trail.
Bleach is a show which places a lot of stress on the development of its characters and given that the plot consists of pitting warriors against their greatest weapons and a part of their own souls, this arc is no exception. While there is naturally a lot of time given to protagonist Ichigo, it is not entirely his arc. Many Soul Reapers previously encountered in the series are given new developments and challenges to overcome, allowing the world of the Soul Society to be explored a little more at a time. Every battle pits a Reaper against their counterpart(s) and each one feels as much like a messy breakup as a fight to the death, with betrayal, broken trust and the flinging of many a cheap insult. The first half of the arc covers the response to the outbreak of zanpakuto violence and it really is anime battling at its best, with strategy and action propelling each episode. Fans of Naruto’s Sasuke Retrieval arc against the Sound Four should have little trouble enjoying the contents of this season. Humour is not as present as during some other seasons, though its presence is palpable, with Soul Reapers and antagonists alike providing occasional glimpses of the easy and over the top humour which anime is known for.
The animation of the episodes is crisp and colourful with characters appearing both original and interesting. Many of the zanpakuto who did not have humanoid forms before are presented in newly personified incarnations, with matching changes to their personalities. Battles are predictably exhilarating; oscillating neatly between fast-paced action and tension-riddled stalemates and the animation manages to exceed itself during these scenes in particular.
Included on the DVD are both Japanese and English audio tracks, with English subtitles available and there is really little to argue against for either one. Both casts manage a superb job of conveying the drama and emotions of the episodes and it ultimately falls to a matter of personal preference for viewers.
The Zanpakuto arc stands firmly as a great standalone series and more than does justice to the anime as a whole.
Bleach Season Twelve (Part One) is available on DVD from Manga UK.
For more information visit the
Official Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bleach-official-pages/163711416982261
Official Twitter (Manga UK): https://twitter.com/MangaUK
and of course, stick around Anime Reporter for more reviews and updates, with Bleach season 12, part 2 coming soon!
84%- ‘Top of the Class’
Bleach is a world class anime series with fast-paced intense action, distinctive and enjoyable characters and a plot worthy of its immense fan base. The Zanpakuto arc- Part One stays true to the quality of the series and that’s no mean feat.