Seasonal Reviews

A Spoiler-Free Review of BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War Episode 1

Watching this episode felt like a genuine dream come true. The BLEACH 2022 anime adaptation, which covers the Thousand-Year Blood War arc, released the first episode of the first of four cours for the arc. The last time there was a new episode of BLEACH was in March of 2012 — we haven’t seen Ichigo and his friends fight for over a decade. The manga continued after the end of the anime (with this arc) leaving the anime to wrap up the series with the generally-disliked Fullbringer arc and some filler. In many ways, the sheer length of time since BLEACH has been around feels like an anime time skip. The same characters are back but the quality has improved, there’s fresh and exciting content, and the wisdom of previous versions of the anime is there as a foundation for BLEACH 2022.

Episode 1 featured plenty of shots meant to reintroduce and pay homage to different elements of the series. The original OST returned in updated form (hearing it really hit differently) and many production aspects of the episode felt like they were playing off the first episode of the original anime. Finishing this episode felt both gratifying and frustrating. Gratifying because seeing this series continue is great; frustrating because I know it’ll be a week until I see more.

A Decade’s Leap in Quality

I’d seen chatter after the BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War pre-screening that the animation was movie quality and now I entirely understand. Perhaps part of that hype was the contrast between the animation in 2012 and animation now (seriously, go look at what was considered good animation back then) but BLEACH looks absolutely fantastic. The art style is slightly different than before, with many changes toward what’s becoming more standard across anime, such as differences in how hair is textured and emphasized. What stuck out to me quite a bit during action sequences were two things: one, the 3D graphics used to animate larger entities like hollows have improved a lot, making their movement a lot smoother and giving BLEACH the opportunity to have them move more without looking awkward. While they weren’t the absolute best 3D graphics, I felt like the composition of scenes made any sluggishness barely noticeable.

Lovely to see a familiar Ichigo-kick with new art and animation | Source: Hulu

Two, and more notably, the action is just incredible all around. Every explosion popped out with great detail and lighting felt dynamic and satisfying. Compared to other anime this year the lighting may actually be the very best so far. The aura that swirls around characters was fluid and bright — but not to an overexaggerated extent. Ichigo’s black Getsuga Tensho looks as amazing as always and the coloration of it reminds me slightly of his Final Getsuga Tensho against Aizen. BLEACH has never been a stranger to eye-catching visuals. But this episode brought a level of flair and detail I never imagined a single episode would. Given the series is streaming on Disney+ I initially was worried that violence would get toned down but luckily this is not the case. All of that topped with the cherry of the all-to-familiar OST was an excellent experience.

An Evolved Series

Without spoiling the fine details I’ll also note that BLEACH 2022 made some slight changes to the order of events of this arc’s opening. Notably, some of the more humorous scenes were cut out entirely. This isn’t to say jokes during relaxed moments were entirely absent. Rather, the sort of mid-fight Manzai humor BLEACH occasionally makes use of was toned down in order to give full focus to the action. The order of some scenes was shuffled as well, for example, flashbacks were shown instead in real time to better stitch scenes together. The extra time banked with the removal of small scenes was put to good use. BLEACH 2022 takes advantage of its freedom in structuring events to give fight scenes a bit more than the manga did and it’s very much appreciated for a premiere.

Hard to look eviler than that | Source: Hulu

Critically, this is a strong standard to set for the series going forward. The original BLEACH anime suffered from frequently slow pacing and a depressing amount of filler. Even the canon episodes tended to cover roughly 2.5 chapters at the most. In comparison, episode 1 of BLEACH 2022 covered the first 4 chapters of the arc despite dedicating a portion of the episode’s airtime to some throwback scenes. Now that the series is split into multiple, seasonal cours, it seems unlikely that filler will be a necessity like it was in the original anime. Plus, the manga is finished so there is no longer another production timeline to keep pace behind.

Bleach is Back

Again, BLEACH being back feels unreal. It’s almost comical thinking about the thousands of threads and posts about how the anime would never return. At this point, the only real complaint I have is that the lines spoken in German are…a little rough. But that being my primary complaint is an excellent sign in my opinion. The Thousand-Year Blood War arc is one of my favorites across all of BLEACH and there are countless fights that I absolutely cannot wait to see. So many of the BLEACH captains finally have the space to go all out and seeing it animated is going to be amazing. For now, I’ll be glued to the screen every week a new episode drops, just like I did a decade ago. BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War has resurrected a longtime favorite.

Screenshots via Hulu
© TITE KUBO / SHUEISHA, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot

Jay Gibbs

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