Judge Adam Arseneau has one big Zanpaktou.
Feels like the rain…stopped…
One of the hottest anime series around, with good reason, Bleach has been making its way into North American homes over the last year or so, with 20 manga volumes adapted from the best-selling Shonen Jump series winning awards and selling like hotcakes, and the anime adaptation airing regularly on Adult Swim. The tale of Ichigo, high-school student and substitute "death god" (or Soul Reaper in North American translation) starts off as your average "teenager with superpowers" show, but rapidly expands into a complex world of spirituality and over-the-top battle sequences, delving deep into a universe of super-powered spiritual warriors.
As with Naruto, I picked up Bleach a few years ago on the fansub circuit in both manga and anime form, and still follow both when I can. Though we only have seen but a season on North American television so far, with many more episodes to go, Bleach is a show that only gets better with age. This is one show I'm glad to see hit North American shores properly.
Bleach: Volume 5 contains four episodes, numbered 17-20:
• "Episode 17: Ichigo dies!"
• "Episode 18: Reclaim! The Power of the Shinigami"
• "Episode 19: Ichigo becomes a Hollow!"
• "Episode 20: Ichimaru the Silver Shadow"
Bleach: Volume 5, the end of the North American first season, represents a nice turning point, ending the semi-repetitive, annoying run of early episodes and introducing the "Soul Society" story arc; Ichigo and friends venture into the spirit ream to rescue Rukia from her colleagues. This isn't to say that the first season of Bleach is bad per se; only that later episodes are so, so much better. Really, we spend the first 15 episodes or so hunting Hollows and getting some character development done, but nothing else of substance. Yes, the show gets a bit Dragonball Z-esque in Soul Society, with a progression of constantly more powerful adversaries for Ichigo, Chad, Inoue, and Ishida to tangle against, and entire episodes devoted to grunting, sweating and "powering up," but the crafted world of Bleach's Soul Society is just too interesting and too darn action-packed to pass up. But we're getting ahead of ourselves now, because that's Bleach: Volume 6 and onward.
Here in Volume 5, Ichigo and friends are preparing for their venture into Soul Society to rescue Rukia from the clutches of her commander, set to punish the rogue agent for transferring her powers to a human. That human, Ichigo, is prepared to defend Rukia, but gets his black robes handed to him by the commander, Byakuya (in an awesome sequence of butt-kicking). Realizing his powers are amateurish in comparison to those of the opponents that await him in Soul Society, Ichigo and friends turn to the only ally they have left; Urahara, the funny hat and sandal shopkeeper with a mysterious connection to Soul Society, agrees to train Ichigo up in preparation for his journey.
And that's pretty much Volume 5. This is a transitory set of episodes; you know, the meat-and-potato dreaded "plot development" episodes that sandwich together a long string of action-packed episodes. We get a few good fights (Ichigo getting it handed to him by Byakuya, Ichigo fighting against Urahara), but even more talking and whining and fussing about. Of significant note is Ichigo's training with Urahara, where we get a taste of something ominous hidden in Ichigo's power—his inner Hollow—which plays central to future episodes, making its first appearance in episode 19.
Technically, Bleach: Volume 5 is a mixed bag. Visually, the colors are pleasantly vibrant and well saturated, but the disc exhibits an awful lot of edge enhancement and compression artifacts, all clearly visible to the naked eye. Like, disgusting amounts. The image is clean from print damage, but muddy, almost soft, and black levels are all over the map. I expected the transfer to look better than this, frankly. On the audio side of things, the English dub is adequate. I don't hate it, and I certainly don't love it, but it doesn't make my ears vomit. I guess there's that. However, I am appreciative that Viz included both the English and original Japanese tracks in each release, very thoughtful for us purists. Both tracks are simple stereo presentations, but they're not bad—decent bass response, good action in both channels, clear dialogue, and nice big clean subtitles. Extras are slim as expected—we only get some production art, some trailers, and a clean ending animation, which is pretty thin, even by anime standards.
I haven't seen these episodes in years, since they made the fansub circuit, and I was delighted that Viz chose to present Bleach in its unedited form. There wasn't much to clean up or anything, but hey, sometimes they edit the strangest things. I also like that the discs preserve the funny episodic preview included at the end of each episode, and for my money, Bleach still has one of the best anime opening sequences and theme songs around (at least in Season One).
For a single-disc release of an anime series, there's a lot to like about Viz Media's treatment of Bleach. The packaging, normally totally disposable to our concerns here, is worthy of mention, with nice clean design, shiny accents, and some nice inserts in the form of some stickers and a glistening collectible foil trading card. On the negative side, the visual quality is pretty wretched, and a disc with only four episodes is of marginal quality and value, but thus far the only way to get on the Bleach bandwagon in North America. At least, until that Bleach: Season One Box Set appears in a few months.
If you haven't been watching Bleach, you've been missing out on a worthy anime endeavor. Bleach: Volume 5 represents a nice turning point in the series, easing out from its inaugural season into one of the finer shonen anime series in recent memory. Action, comedy, drama, adventure, teen hijinks—Bleach has it all, and wraps it up into a tight package. As anime go, this one is surprisingly well-rounded and appealing, not just to pre-teens and anime fans of that generation, but also to more seasoned viewers of anime, who know the good stuff from the bad. In Bleach, there's a lot to love, and the more you invest, the bigger the payout (especially next season). The action and combat is intense and appropriately paced, the characters are well-developed and enjoyable, and the constant stream of new opponents/allies/villains kick ass. And they show it on TV, no less! Who would've thunk it!
Although one may be tempted to write off past episodes entirely, from here on out, things go on solid footing into awesomeness in the world of Bleach. The first dozen episodes or so are slow, but necessary, and pay off their dividends next season. Trust me. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Viz Media
• Production Art
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