Bleach has been going from strength to strength over the last three volumes, so I couldn't wait to see if it could keep the pace up for volume 4!
Split up and fighting for their lives against the Soul
Reapers, Ichigo and his party make their way slowly towards their goal.
However, Ichigo's fight with Renji has really taken it out of him and he needs
time to recover. Soul Reaper Hanataro Yamada, a weedy 4th Company relief
team member, helps him and Ganju hide out in the sewers, but he's going to have
to get on his feet soon as things on the surface are going from bad to worse.
Chad is heading into danger as he closes in on 8th Company's headquarters and
their powerful Captain Shunsui Kyoraku, but a more pressing issue is at hand.
Captain Aizen Sosuke has been murdered, and his death has thrown the Seireitei
into disarray. Accusations fly and the chain of command breaks down,
Aizen's vice-captain Momo Hinamori attacks the decidedly suspicious 3rd Company
Captain Gin Ichimaru, an act which leads to her being jailed. Ichigo
doesn't know what's going on outside but then he's only got one thing on his
mind - rescuing Rukia. However, there's a pretty formidable obstacle in
his way in the form of the fearsome 3rd Company Captain Kenpachi Zaraki.
Zaraki is more powerful than anyone Ichigo has ever faced, but he knows he must
defeat him if he is to have any chance of getting to Rukia. The problem is
that Ichigo doesn't have the strength to even cut Zaraki, so how's he going to
take him down?
Sounds very exciting doesn't it? Unfortunately what I didn't mention in that synopsis is the fact that the disc starts off not with awesome battles, but an excruciating filler episode featuring Ichigo's sisters. It's always a frustrating part of these kinds of 'Shonen' (see glossary) series that the creators seem to feel it necessary to chuck in comedy episodes just when things are getting good. The last volume of Bleach ended with the climax of a tense and bloody battle between Ichigo and Renji, but instead of jumping straight into the aftermath we instead get Ichigo's sister Yuzu picking up a cat and being hunted by hollows. This somehow leads to the inexplicable return of the excruciatingly annoying celebrity psychic
Don Kanonji, who wants to form a new Power Rangers-style super team with a group of pre-teen children. I kid you not. However, once you realise that this episode has absolutely no bearing on the story and decide to skip it, things get a hell of a lot better.
Back in Soul Society things are really hotting up.
Ichigo and Chad are causing untold chaos as they make their way to
Rukia's cell, and Renji's battle with Ichigo has really made the Soul
Reapers sit up and take notice. If their unwelcome guests weren't
enough, suspicions are still growing within the Soul Society hierarchy
about the actions of 3rd Company Captain Gin Ichimaru. With things
already strained, the murder of Captain Aizen - one of the 13 most
powerful Soul Reapers - throws things into all-out chaos.
Bleach has really hit its stride in this story arc, with the superb
action that has been present throughout bolstered by a truly gripping
storyline. The mystery of Aizen's death is intriguing, Gin looks
guilty as hell and his actions do nothing to allay that suspicion.
However, it's just too obvious to really be the case, but such is the
quality of the storytelling there's no real hint as to what else is
going on. The story also serves another purpose - bringing the
Soul Reapers to life.
The Soul Reapers are miles better than the hollows, but so far there hasn't been a huge amount of insight into them or their society. A few important characters, such as Renji, have been introduced and given some background, but it's on this volume that the Seireitei really comes to life. The focus shifts away from Ichigo for several episodes, instead showing the Soul Reapers trying to deal with Aizen's death. It's brilliantly done, and more to the point it turns many of them into more sympathetic characters, particularly the distraught Momo Hinamori. It also adds another edge to the story, as not only are Ichigo and his companions trespassing and trying to rescue a criminal, but they are now
also suspects in Aizen's murder. Not that this matters to Kenpachi Zaraki. Zaraki is just after a good fight with Ichigo, and Christ does he get one. The battle between the two is probably the best action scene the series has come up with so far. It's extremely violent, pretty gory and just damn exciting from start to finish. Ichigo grows stronger, Zaraki grows stronger, blood flies and buildings crumble. It's superb, and well worth buying the volume for on its own, but even in the midst of the action the series can still come up with new plot elements.
Who is the mysterious white doppelganger that Zangetsu summons? Why does the strange hollow-style mask keep appearing near Ichigo? All these questions and more spring up but don't disrupt the flow of the story or the action, and even the flashbacks - the perennial problem with Shonen Jump anime - aren't pointless. Instead they are used to tell the story of characters like Chad and Yachiru, rather than just recount stuff that happened two episodes beforehand. It's a shame that the first episode on the volume is so poor, because the other episodes on here are so damn good. Bleach has finally lived up to the promise it showed sporadically through the first couple of volumes and started to demonstrate last time round. The story is gripping, the action is brilliantly visceral and the characters grow more than ever. You are actually not quite sure where certain plot strands are going, and it's great to see that the series can actually balance the action and drama with a couple of deft comic touches. It's unfortunate that just one episode really lets it down, but just skip it and you have a brilliant anime actioner with plenty of re-watch value. Pick this up, skip the first episode, and you really won't be disappointed. Bleach Series 2 Part 2 is superb.
The usual textless closing sequences, trailers and production art galleries. Average.