After finally getting back to the true Bleach storyline at the start of Series 6, things took another filler departure at the end of the last volume. Unfortunately we start off again in filler territory, but thankfully things begin to pick up as this volume progresses.
The first four episodes in this series are pretty limp
standalone side stories focusing on Ichigo's sister Karin trying to get Captain
Hitsugaya to play football, Ikkaku training some kids to swordfight for a kendo
tournament, Yumichika learning to bake cakes and Rangiku helping a lonely child
by transferring Kon's mod soul to her stuffed toy dog. They're all
cringeworthy, so the appearance of some Arrancar makes for a welcome diversion.
Arrancar Patros and two followers break away from Aizen, steal the Hogyoku and
attempt to force Kisuke to unlock its secrets. However, Kisuke's away and
they come face to face with Hitsugaya's team instead! Their appearance is
just the beginning though. An even deadlier threat is to come in the form
of a group of Espada - the highest ranking Arrancar - who attack Karakura
unexpectedly. Even with the aid of Kisuke the Espada Yammy, Luppi and
Wonderweiss are proving a serious threat to Hitsugaya's team, and elsewhere
Ichigo is in a desperate battle of his own against the returning Grimmjow.
Despite the tough fight Aizen's true objective lies elsewhere, and with all of
Karakura's most powerful fighters already engaged there's little to stand in the
way of his plan. The deadly Espada Ulquiorra has approached one of
Ichigo's friends with an ultimatum - join Aizen or watch Ichigo and their other
friends die. Cornered and with no-one to help them is there anything they
can do to escape the cold and calculating Ulquiorra?
As you would no doubt expect from the above this volume is once again a bit of a mixed bag. The less said about the first few episodes the better to be honest, they're the usual filler drivel which takes established characters and puts them unfamiliar situations for 'hilarious' results. Needless to say they're pretty pointless, and their only redeeming feature is that they at least don't crowbar Ichigo in all the time. Things do pick up when the Arrancar arrive, but only really kick off when the Espada attack. This signals the return to the true storyline once again, and also gives us the opportunity to see Ichigo, Hitsugaya and Kisuke show off their powers against some powerful opponents. Ichigo in particular is given the
chance to use his Hollowfication powers in battle for the first time, and we also get a true demonstration of how hard Shinji really is. After all the silliness the volume started with the switch into pure action and then to drama is both a relief and thankful return to the style that makes Bleach worth watching.
To be fair, ignoring the first few episodes, the
majority of this volume is pretty much solid action. Mostly it's
great action too, with some great set pieces and grand proclamations
providing everything you'd expect from a leading 'Shonen' action series.
However, what I've always liked about Bleach is that it can on
occasion do emotional drama pretty well, keeping it for the most part
heartfelt rather than cheesy. This volume is no exception, and the
final episode, which focuses solely on one of Ichigo's friends as they
wander Karakura town in a ghost-like state deciding who to say their one
final goodbye to, is amongst my favourite in the series so far. I
really like it when an anime steps outside of its usual remit and
changes pace like this, especially when it is done well, and the end of
this episode is one of the most emotionally charged scenes the series
It's frustrating that a series that is capable of episodes like this resorts to stereotypical banality when it comes to the filler episodes like those that started this volume. Many of these continuously-running anime series are starting to mix the filler in every few episodes to keep them a fair few steps behind the manga storyline, but I just wish it wasn't so inane. Again, another gripe from the last series remains an issue to me, and that's the fact they continue to keep the Bount detecting Mod-Souls Lirin, Kurodo and Nova in the story even though they are a) completely pointless and b) annoying. The only time they get any notable input in the story is during the filler episodes, and the rest of the time they are
used for comedy asides which are generally completely unnecessary. The seem to be used a lot to cover for the fact that Kon isn't in the story much at this point, providing the comic relief in his absence. This is pretty much an unnecessary job, particularly when the story is going to more dramatically interesting places.
In the end Bleach Series 7 Part 1 provides more of the same in many ways, mixing the frustrating filler episodes with the more action-packed and intriguing main storyline. This volume shows both the best and worst of the series, combining some inane episodes which try - and fail - to expand the characters, with some really exciting and emotionally involving ones. Overall it remains entertaining and action-packed but the end of the volume shows some levels of dramatic impact all too often missing from the series. It also sets up some interesting possibilities for the next volume, and it will be interesting to see how Ichigo and Soul Society will react to the outcome of Aizen's plan. A potentially great volume marred by a weak start, but worth a look nonetheless.
As always just textless opening sequences, trailers and production art galleries, plus the 'Arrancar Encyclopaedia' comedy segments after the credits of each episode.