BleachIts biggest boon and most systemic hindrance has always been its full-to-bursting cast. It is a blessing because Look Kuboits eye for character design is keen enough to deliver dozens, if not hundreds, of some of the most iconic designs in anime, allowing for a metric fuckton of characters all with distinct and unique aesthetics. But that’s often a hindrance because, as the cast grows larger with each new arc, it tends to dilute focus and stretch conflicts beyond their original lifespan. The Fullbringer story arc is a great example of that in action, starting out as a smaller-scale conflict focused on Ichigo and this new group of characters, before inevitably grinding out with countless one-on-one battles that only served to Ichigo’s character. bow feels less meaningful.
There’s definitely a risk here, especially since Quincy’s alphabet-themed power set suggests we have at least 26 new villains to cover. Factor in how Ichigo, somehow for the second time in the series, is stuck in a Garganta and unavailable to join the fight, and you have a recipe for introducing new characters and powers that could easily make this invasion happen to stop. Fortunately, the first half of “Wrath as a Lightning” avoids that entirely, zeroing in on a single fight and making it hit hard for characters and audience alike.
I’ll admit that I’ve never exactly been a huge Byakuya fan. He was the perfect antagonist for Ichigo in the Soul Society story, but I always felt his face-turn was a little too easy, and all his appearances since then haven’t been that interesting. Still looking franchise‘s most flawlessly stoic fighter trembling with fear, raging in desperation, and totally on the back foot against Äs Nödt worked very well. Quincy himself is a little too chatty for my taste, but I’d be lying if I said his power to instill instinctive fear wasn’t a pretty awesome ability, and to top it off with him flipping Senbonzakura Kageyoshi on his original wielder. perfect touch. When it first appeared, this was a force that left our heroes bloodied and helpless against its sheer might, and to see it in that role again is a wonderful bit of poetry.
It also helps that unlike in the Fake Karakura Town fight, Ichigo isn’t just running late or having an impromptu training arc while everyone is being slaughtered. He is trapped and desperately trying to get to the battlefield. Ichigo gets some criticism as a character for being defined primarily by wanting to protect his friends – and there are certainly problems that can arise from that – but when used correctly, the motivation hits hard. Ichigo will face any threat, no matter how ill-prepared, if it means keeping someone he cares about safe, and every time he fails it tears him apart inside. So you totally buy the desperation, the boiling rage, and the fear as he tries to get out of there, while we know that the Soul Reapers he’s closest to are already on death’s door, and every second makes the door creak a little higher.
It would honestly be enough to make an episode on its own, but this story is already way too busy – and has a huge amount of ground to cover even for a 50 episode series – that we have to move on from there, and a lot of tension is lost as a result. Zaraki strolls in to give us a cliffhanger version of the three Quincy he killed off-screen, before just jumping straight at King Ywach (he finally has a name!). But even as someone who really likes Zaraki, it feels like letting the air out of a balloon. I already know that Zaraki is insanely strong and throws every powerhouse he meets out a 20th floor window; I don’t need a whole scene repeating that when there are already a dozen other fights going on around him. The guys he beats don’t even have particularly funny names either. It’s a sink.
Then there’s Yamamoto’s flashback about Sasakibe which, while nice enough, feels a bit like subtraction through addition. That one funeral scene, along with Yamamoto’s somber demeanor and visibly restrained rage, did more to sell me on their relationship than any flashback could. While a longer, narrated explanation of who they were to each other concretely communicates what their bond was like, I feel this adaptation’s direction is evocative enough to get by saying more with far fewer words. Maybe it’s a bit silly, but I can’t help but think that Yamamoto’s story slows things down a bit too much for what it achieves. Though in the end, seeing him melt the Quincy that stole Sasakibe’s bankai is worth it, and it’s exciting to see the old man finally fight for his keep.
Still, for all my grumbling, this episode did a lot to get me invested in the action on the ground of this invasion. There’s real tension in Ichigo’s struggle to escape, which really affects the drama of the heroes losing, and next week might shed some light on our new villain.
Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War currently streaming on Hulu.