This week might have been the biggest week-to-week improvement for BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War, Part 2: The Separation yet. Last week’s episode, in part due to its position in the plot and in part due to its presentation, felt a bit slow and stagnant. Episode 16 in comparison was quite exciting, well designed, and had all the characteristic elements of strong BLEACH. Even more, the episode introduces two new sets of scenes, one a continuation of last week’s post-credits scene and the other one of many brand new fight scenes hinted at earlier in the year. In essence this means this week’s episode gave the double treat of strong adaptation and exciting new content.
Spoilers ahead for BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War, Part 2: The Separation episode 16 The Fundamental Virulence
Hollowfication and Rancor
The title of this episode and the end of the prior one form the set up for much of its plot. Kisuke Urahara, after remaining in Hueco Mundo to investigate Quincy’s interactions with Hollows and Arrancar, discovered a means of getting Bankai back from the Quincy. In short, since Quincy have no defensive antibodies against Hollows, Hollow reiryoku (spiritual energy) becomes a poison to the Quincy. Virulence is this case is used as an episode title to liken that energy to a poison or virus. By having each captain briefly “hollowfy” their Bankai those powers will no longer become useful to the Quincy.
The exchange between Urahara and Mayuri around this is one of the most interesting dialogues in BLEACH in my opinion. For one, it relates closely to the constant motif in BLEACH of crossing the boundaries of species to surpass individual potential and grow much much stronger. Ichigo and Uryu are being painted in this arc to mirror the two sides of that struggle and “surpassing” different beings was a core of the Aizen arc(s). In this case, Urahara manages to come to his conclusion by understanding that the hostility Quincy feel toward Hollows cannot be one of ideological difference since Hollows lack ideology. Of course, we know from flashbacks last season that the conflict between Soul Reapers and Quincy was precipitated by the latter exterminating Hollows rather than allow Soul Reapers to purify their souls. This all makes a lot more sense when understanding that Hollows are like a virus to them. But, even more, it speaks to the central conflict of this war.
BLEACH has introduced an ideological conflict with this arc that is a lot more series-meta than others. Soul Reapers and Quincy have a fundamental disagreement with how the flow of souls in the world ought to function — Soul Reapers position themselves beneath the Soul King and its governance of the flow of souls while the Quincy seek to disturb it for their own survival. The Sereitei lost one of its greatest assets, head captain Yamamoto, in part because he was too prideful to ask a human, Orihime, for help in healing his arm and bringing him to his full strength. The Quincy had an advantage in this war because they were willing to subvert the power of other species for their own ends. Now, Soul Society is only regaining their footing in war by doing the same. This is an excellent instance of thematic continuity and I appreciate the care the anime is granting it.
A New Bankai
Most exciting to me was getting to see Shinji Hirako, (former) leader of the Visored, use his Bankai in the anime. This ability was originally revealed within the BLEACH novels which take place chronologically after the current arc of the anime. Interestingly (without spoiling the novels) the anime here curated very similar circumstances to the novel in order to showcase this Bankai. When I saw very similar I mean very similar — the scene where Shinji originally unveiled his Bankai involved him literally reminiscing about the very moments of the war that this episode of BLEACH covers. His Bankai is an interesting one in the sense that it is an overspecialized power and has value somewhat opposite to his Shikai. While his Shikai ability is usable alongside allies and useful against stronger opponents since it weakens them, his Bankai is only useful against weaker enemies in groups while he fights alone. For example, he opted to use his Shikai on Aizen in a group fight but would not have been able to use his Bankai since it indiscriminately makes allies see one another as enemies.
Personally I’ve always wondered if this Bankai was designed in this way to retroactively justify its non-use against Aizen. Many captains opted not to use their Bankai against an opponent who outclassed them and we never got an explicit explanation as to why. The story of BLEACH tends to resolve these tensions with a premise of “if they didn’t do it they couldn’t do it” and it seems that will carry forward. I wish we could have seen his Bankai used in a bit more of an impactful way. But, that might just be my bias for Shinji as a character speaking. I’ve loved him and the Visored since I was a kid and I never felt like they got enough shine in the past. This week’s episode made him look like a badass, especially with a neo-soul track playing in the background while he mocked his opponent from above.
Shocking Reveals Ahead in BLEACH
The introduction of Shinji’s Bankai and the continuation of Ichigo’s slow journey toward a torii gate both make me think exciting things are coming for the series. As Ichigo slowly peddled forward this episode, his mind was filled with images that seemed to resemble the Soul King. Since these scenes weren’t at all in the manga this is pure speculation on my part, but, seeing as the new Uryu plotline features him diving into the diary and recollections of his grandfather, it feels reasonable that Ichigo’s version of that might be diving into the memories of the Soul King and understanding some fundamental truth about the universe and the war at hand.
If that’s the case we might see a form of wisdom in Ichigo that truly elevates him as a character. That notwithstanding, I imagine the fights to come are going to be amazing. The BLEACH novels have a wealth of content that has always been sitting on the sidelines, unanimated. I’m glad the anime is making use of that content with this new season and breathing life into it on screen. This week was an improvement and I’m looking forward to the next episode.
Featured image and screenshots via Hulu.
© TITE KUBO / SHUEISHA, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot