Continuing to take on one soul at a time, Bleach returns with the second half of series 8 as Manga Entertainment bring you the next chapter of this arc that sees Ichigo, Chad, Ishida, Renji & Rukia continuing in their attempts to rescue their fellow comrade, Orihime, from the clutches of the evil Aizen in Hueco Mundo.
(You read our review of the previously released Series 8 Part 1 DVD set HERE.)
We pick up right from we left off with Rukia engaging in a battle that’s testing her will against Aaroniero Arruruerie, an Espada whose appearance matches that of a former superior of hers in the 13th Squad of the Soul Society. Elsewhere Renji is forced to tangle with the very confident, data driven & mysterious Szayel Apporo Grantz and Ichigo finally has a confrontation with a powerful rival.
From the outset I would like to say the great thing about these episodes is the pacing of the story & how important each episode feels no matter what scenario is being presented. Despite dragging in some places during Series 8 part 1, that in hindsight did a good job of setting up many of the occurrences during part 2, you are rewarded with important battles that bring forward a variety of unique situations. This collection launches into a crucial battle right from the get go and it feels like what you will be watching is likely to have a large impact on not only the arc itself but the, no doubt, dramatic fallout too.
Perhaps the biggest payoff of all in this release is the aforementioned battle involving Ichigo. The way the tension between him and his opponent had previously been built up and events that ultimately lead to this confrontation occurring was cleverly executed and manages to alter your perception on the mindset of some of the antagonists at the same time. The battle also explores some of the back story of the opponent allowing you fully appreciate why he is such a headstrong individual, why he want to fight Ichigo and why he won’t let anyone get in his way of achieving that. In fact there is a demonstration of altered perceptions on a variety of characters. From Orihime having to face an unexpected challenge of her own amongst everything she’s going through and to Renji having to come to terms with he fact he is outmatched (but not for the reason you may suspect). Of course you’re still treated random ‘comedy’ interactions involving Nel, Pesche & Dondochakka that, luckily for latter two (at least) are less frequent than in part 1, you will either get lots of amusement out of or find it to be the most annoying & frustrating thing in the world.
This brings me onto the English dub that throughout this set is very well executed. The characters have been cast very well, in some cases even perhaps suiting better than the original Japanese voices. The new Espada’s we encounter in particular blend well against the original voices and do a fantastic job of providing the necessary tension. The same cannot be said however about Nel, Pesche & Dondochakka who’s voices are still perhaps some of the most aggravating I’ve ever heard. Yes they are meant to be some form of comedy relief (it would seem), but I don’t think a better job could have been done in making me want to hate them more than I already did simply because of their voices.
There is however a slight twist at the very end of this volume. I will note now this is not a spoiler concerning the story. It is revealed post-credits that the remainder of this Hueco Mundo arc will be halted in favour of a new standalone story whereby the new captain of the Soul Society’s 13th squad is introduced. This means the variety of answered questions and unresolved plotlines won’t be sorted until this next story, meaning all of season 9, has concluded. Quite annoying to say the least, given how well the story progressed during these episodes. However this deviation occurred when airing in Japan due a ‘production issue’, as phrased on the DVD. The issue in question being that when this was airing on TV the content was pretty much at the same point as the manga (that was being published simultaneously). There was a notion in wanting to create some distance between the two so another original story being inserted was the chosen path to make this so. While this has happened in other series before, the fact it’s going to deviate in the middle of a big story at crucial point is very frustrating.
However that final point aside, Bleach Series 8 Part 2 is a great collection of episodes that reminds you why you began watching the series in the first place. It provides good entertainment at a very digestible pace and most of all, moves the story forward in such a way you feel compelled to want to watch more of it.
Bleach Series 8 Part 2 (episodes 160-167) is released by Manga Entertainment UK on May 14th and can be pre-ordered at Amazon UK HERE.
– Jeremy Graves