It truly is the beginning of the end as Anime Reporter covers Part One (episodes 343-354) of Bleach Season 16, the final season of the series. (Which you can win a FREE copy of here!)
If Season 15 felt like a long and heartfelt goodbye, and it really did in many ways, then Season 16 feels a little bit more like an epilogue, or perhaps a teaser of what could be in the future if Bleach ever produces another series. In any case, it’s definitely a little bit new and different.
Let’s be real here. This is the final season of Bleach. Spoilers. Spoilers everywhere! Spoilers the size of cargo ships! Beware of spoilers!
Seventeen months after all manner of intense battling went down, Ichigo Kurosaki is introduced in a way that makes it nigh impossible not to think back to the first episode; Hair colour: orange, eye colour: brown, he cannot see ghosts. With almost a year and a half under his belt as a civilian, Ichigo has adapted to his life without soul reaper powers. He’s adjusted to life without spirits and hollows and he feels like a normal guy again. He’s happy to let his former teammates carry the burden of fighting the things that go bump, slash, crunch and snap in the night. Until…
(I mean, there was always going to be an “until”, right? It wouldn’t be much of a season watching Ichigo study for exams and argue with his father.) … Until he’s approached by a stranger who seems to know everything about the existence of soul reapers, hollows and even Ichigo’s own past. This man eventually decides to hand Ichigo a membership card, black, with the word “Xcution” printed on it and the invitation to come when he wants to protect the people around him.
When Ichigo’s family talks of strangers outside the house and, after some of Ichigo’s classmates are attacked, he realises that he can’t wait in the wings anymore and he heads off to Xcution, where’s he’s promised the chance to regain the soul reaper powers he once possessed.
This season, unlike so much of Bleach (possibly too much of Bleach), dials down the action and isn’t afraid to tell a smaller story at the beginning. We get to see Ichigo’s relationship with his friends and family when his life isn’t full of danger and battles. It actually makes his need to go back to that life feel like a much heavier responsibility than it did in the past. The plot and, eventual conflict, is built up more gradually through dialogue and drama than with a succession of battles. It isn’t going to be easy for Ichigo to return to his former strength and it certainly isn’t what he expects it to be, but it does definitely make for a more fully developed story.
The most noticeable absence in this collection is the entirety of the Soul Society. This tale, or at least the first half of it, are taking place entirely in Ichigo’s hometown, though that isn’t to say there aren’t a few big scale fights thrown in. I mean, they’re big, but they’re also very small. You’ll see what I mean.
When I finished Season 15 of Bleach, it felt like all the farewell the series could have needed. Now, Season 16 feels like a much worthier way to see the characters off, taking the time to do it right. This isn’t as formulaic or stale as many have accused earlier seasons of being and I really think that fans who’ve stuck with the anime this far are going to feel justly rewarded by what this series has to offer.
Bleach Season 16 is available on DVD in the UK and Ireland from Manga Entertainment starting Monday 20th July 2015. If you’d like to win a FREE copy of the collection before that same Monday ends, just click here for more details.