Episode 4 – Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War

Episode 4 – Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War

There are few things Bleach love more than introducing new villains via a squash match. If you’re someone who hasn’t absorbed too much pro-wrestling terminology and doesn’t know what it means, you’ve still almost certainly seen it happen in at least a few glorious bouts. The narrative has to introduce a new villain and quickly establish that they’re terrifying, so it sets the stage for them to fight a character we’re already familiar with and wipe the floor with them. Consider Shunsui’s “battle” with Chad during Soul Society as a prime example, using a single chapter to not only establish an individual power gap, but set the standard for every captain level to come.

While it’s a device I think this series tends to overuse, it can certainly be effective in telling the audience that these new enemies are not to be trifled with. The Quincy may serve their King, but certainly none of the invading Soul Society are disposable, and they will not be taken down by mere sitting officers like some of the Espada’s underlings. Each and every one of them is as powerful as Gotei 13’s best. This episode certainly succeeds in establishing that idea – I have full faith that the Quincy are going to be powerful foes that only the strongest of Soul Society’s fighters will stand a chance against. Unfortunately, there are a number of execution issues that make it a very shaky journey there.

First off, this is a pretty conservative episode in terms of animation. There are a couple of nice clips, but there are many more shots of characters standing still, bridging combatants through split screens or jarring cuts between what feel like slavish recreations of manga panels. It’s not bad so much as it’s just functional, where earlier this season it oozed style and panache to make every shot feel like the coolest thing you’ve ever seen. I can’t complain too much considering what I had to deal with last season, but it does mean that an episode that is 90% fighting and character introductions doesn’t quite have the impact to carry it on its own.

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The larger narrative problem is that Quincy mostly looks powerful because our heroes make a lot of stupid decisions in quick succession. I’m not one to demand that characters in stories constantly make the most optimal or rational choices. Characters making mistakes can be a fundamental part of their arc, or the narrative’s larger themes, or just a relatable moment of fallibility that propels the story into interesting new directions. But there are also times where characters make bad decisions for the sole reason that if they didn’t, the story couldn’t go the way the creators want, and four of Gotei 13’s strongest captains all making the same move of sacrificing their Bankai definitely feels like a by them.

Like, come on guys, none of you thought to coordinate or communicate this plan to anyone else, on the (not-so-) chance that someone else might have the same idea, and you don’t want 30% of your sides offensive power the knee? Add in Urahara, the ever-forward genius, who doesn’t bother to double-tap Opie, and all of the villains’ victories in this episode feel like exploiting the heroes’ fumbles more than anything else. Now it could be some sort of setup, the establishment of the Soul Reapers have become complacent with their established powers, or have grown quietly since Aizen’s defeat, or are just poorly organized under leadership that just isn’t prepared for a full blown war. But as presented here, it just feels like we needed to nerf people like Byakuya and Hitsugaya so they wouldn’t immediately stun their opponents.

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It’s a shame, because the threat of stealing the Bankai is, on paper, a super interesting wrinkle to throw into all of this. It puts a huge handicap on the show’s strongest characters, leaving them to either figure out a new way to fight, or be dominated by their opponents. It also takes away one of Bleachits longest-running narrative crutches, preventing our heroes from pulling out their second form to turn the tide of battle at its most dramatic. With the creation of Quincy having to switch between offense and defense, it seems like a natural setup for team fights, forcing characters to team up and combine forces in ways they haven’t before to catch their opponent in a moment of weakness. It even allows for desperation moves or feints from Soul Reapers who haven’t lost their Bankai. This is legitimately a very good setup for potentially interesting new matches rather than the 1v1 matches that have defined and expanded previous arcs, and it’s sad that the introduction feels so contrived.

But I don’t want to let this review get all down on this episode, so let’s take a moment to appreciate the awesome names of the villains coming this week. After all, a good heel is nothing without a good moniker, and the new three are pretty solid. Thanks to the show for including official romanized names, because otherwise I wouldn’t know the capitalization of each individual “Na” in NaNaNa Najahkoop. NaNaNa doesn’t really do much this episode but snarl at Rojuro, but I dare you to say his name without spontaneously smiling. Same for Bambietta Basterbine, a lady born to put the plosive in the explosive. The bronze medal goes to Äs Nödt simply because I hate having to break out the keyboard shortcuts for his umlauts, but they’re all winners here, really. Any of them can be a character i Gundam without even a little bending incredulity, and that’s the sign of a good, ridiculous name.

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Whether or not these characters can live up to their names, or the dominant introduction they’ve been given, will be the x-factor for the foreseeable future for this arc. We have the setup now for a whole bunch of battles across a myriad of characters, and it’s there Bleach have buttered their bread for decades, so here’s hoping these matches can deliver.


Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War currently streaming on Hulu.

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