When it comes to the world of Shonen Jump there are three franchises that I would regard as being the largest: Naruto, Bleach & One Piece. Sadly the latter is not available in the UK but both Naruto and Bleach have built dedicated followings in the UK with their unique stories, character development and overall contrasting universes that they are set in.
Given this is a review of the first half of series eight in Manga Entertainment’s DVD releases, you may forgive me if don’t give a detailed back story of the entire franchise. (One would think if you’re reading this then you are familiar with the story.) But for the benefit of those who might be throwing themselves in at the deep end in reading this, allow me to briefly enlighten you on where things stand.
The Bleach universe focuses on the presence of Death Gods (pronounced as Shinigami in Japanese) and how they must protect the world of the living from Hollows – essentially souls that did not properly transfer to the afterlife. By the time we get to season eight it’s a very different outlook from the start of the series. We have the main protagonist Ichigo Kurosaki who has now been accepted by the Soul Reapers – another word for death gods, in this case the police equivalent of them – following the assistance he gave the Soul Society – the headquarters of the death gods – in a previous battle that encompassed and climaxed throughout the majority of the first few seasons. Now attention is turning to rescuing one of their own, Orihime, who has been taken by the devious (former soul reaper after being ousted as a turncoat) Aizen to his home that is conveniently the home of the Hollows, Hueco Mondo.
Series eight kicks off with protagonists Ichigo, Sado, Ishida, Rukia & Renji having successfully broken into the home base of Aizen, aiming to eliminate him and secure the safe return of Orihime. They reach a quandary as they enter a room with 5 separate pathways. They collectively decide to take one path each and meet at the end safely, knowing full well there will more than likely be some form of blockade in their path.
During this DVD set you get to see each character embark on a fierce battle. Be it Ichigo facing a foe determined to antagonise him enough into releasing his full power during the fight, or Ishida facing a very powerful female who wields a whip with a giant spinning disc resembling a yo-yo attached to it. We also get to see a very unique encounter as Rukia is faced with the challenge of coming to terms with feelings from her past that have not been previously explored in the story. Providing the viewer with more details on her past and how it had an impact on the person she is now.
From a content perspective this box set provides good entertainment. Battles are a big part of this release but within this there is also the exploration of Rukia’s back story that I mentioned – which I will note is a welcomed dichotomy within these episodes. Because of the long fights (and how they seemingly last more than a few episodes a piece in some cases) it creates a feeling that you want things to progress faster and that the story is being dragged out somewhat. But by the end of disc two the tension has been built up to a point whereby you need to know what happens next after the emergence of new foes who are clearly going to put up a tough fight and also because the battle with the most intriguing elements of story telling has not found a resolution.
Though this volume is very battle driven Bleach manages to accomplish incorporating moments of light relief that blend in well to the action. The comedy elements do add to this collection very well.
From a technical standpoint all the episodes are displayed in 4:3 ratio and includes 2.0 stereo for both the English & Japanese audio tracks. The subtitles for the episodes are based on the Japanese translation. (No dub-titles present.) Extra features come in the way of production art relating to the included episodes, Bleach related trailers and textless endings. (The text dominates the screen during the endings sequences, to the point the screen stutters, at the conclusion of an episode in this set. So it’s nice to be able to appreciate what was going on behind it.)
Overall the eight episodes included in this volume certainly given you value for money if you’re a fan of battles with some of comedy relief on the side. Though there isn’t a tremendous amount of progression story wise, you do get the sense that the events viewed in this set are a prelude of much bigger things to come.
– Jeremy Graves
Available to purchase from Monday 19th March by Manga Entertainment UK.
Pre-order Bleach: Series 8 Part 1 at Amazon UK HERE.