It may be my nostalgia talking but BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War, Part 2: The Separation has absolutely outdone itself. This week’s episode featured a number of fantastic interpolations of classic traits of the series and references to fights as early as the Rukia rescue arc over a decade ago. Music was fantastic, lighting was (as usual) quite wonderful, and the fights were visually stunning. My only complaints with the episode are incredible minor; there was a bit more fan service / fan service adjacent content than I would have preferred to see and the episode reminded me of some opportunities the BLEACH anime could take that I’m not sure it will. But overall I think the episode is evidence that the series is picking up in a very real way.
Part 2 of this new BLEACH anime began, in my opinion, with a lot less aplomb than part 1. This isn’t for lack of available exciting content either. Most of the episodes so far have featured fights between high-level fighters from both the Soul Reapers and the Quincy. The difference between the beginning or part 2 and the last few episodes (BLEACH episode 19 onwards for the most part) has been the thematic continuity each of the fights granted their recurring character combatant. Rukia and Zaraki both fought Quincy who were foils of themselves to some extent and their fights showcased growth from known deficiencies to their character. Even Renji’s return to the battlefield didn’t grant this — his fight was more or less to establish that he isn’t weak now. This week’s episode, following the trend of episodes 20 and 19, was perhaps one of the very best showcases of Ichigo’s growth as a character. Let’s talk about it.
Spoilers ahead for BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War, Part 2: The Separation episode 8 The Headless Star
Ichigo’s Incredible Growth
Ichigo’s entrance to the battlefield should feel very familiar to longtime fans of BLEACH. First, the remix of Ichigo’s theme “Number One” was amazing and set the tone of the fight immediately. Second, both his clothes and method of entry are quite reminiscent of his arrival to stop Rukia’s execution. Just like then, he is wearing special clothes given to him in order to aid his travel to the battlefield. Even more, he has once again improved his sword skills and power writ large to a degree that the audience is excitedly waiting to see. Thirdly, and most satisfyingly to watch, he began the fight with hand-to-hand combat and established just how much stronger he was than the people he was fighting against. In the past this was defeating three vice captains with a single blow (one of whom being the first division’s vice captain, which sort of calls into question how much others hyped him up when the Quincy made him into a jobber character) and now it’s sending Sternritters flying. To put this into explicit perspective: a single Sternritter has been shown capable of taking out multiple captains. Ichigo is taking on four (admittedly mostly mid tier) Sternritter with almost no effort. As an aside though, I do think the structuring of battles here does a slight disservice to Zaraki by making it seem like he’s much weaker than Ichigo in terms of number of enemies. Gremmy was absolutely busted ability-wise and explicitly ranks high amongst the Sternritters.
One of the more notable aspects of Ichigo was how calm he was. This wasn’t just the sort of cocky confidence that BLEACH characters tend to get when they’re strong. Ichigo was more than willing to crack jokes, smile, and show reactive expressions on his face. These actions go beyond mere confidence in one’s strength. Ichigo in this fight was blisteringly aware of just how insignificant this fight was in comparison to the bigger picture. It’s quite reminiscent of Ichibe’s attitude toward the absolute massacre happening in Soul Society. Ichibe is tasked with guarding the Soul King and does not concern himself elsewhere. Ichigo is obviously much less heartless than that, but his willingness to simply ignore the eight Sternritter around him to pursue Yhwach is similar. The difference in this case is, in my opinion, very much tied to his humanity and how he’s allowing every part of himself into his fighting style. Ichigo is not fighting out of duty or obligation. He’s fighting because he wants to protect those important to him and doesn’t want anyone to suffer unnecessarily, to the point where he didn’t instantly kill this group of Sternritters (like Renji did to Mask) and even warns Candice not to try and tank his attack.
Character growth aside, Ichigo was a treat to watch fight in this episode. His fighting style with two swords feels great to watch and his new way of unleashing Getsuga techniques had me feeling like a middle school shonen fanboy all over again. No complaints there. Like I mentioned earlier, the only real complaint I have about this fight is all the little bits of fan service sprinkled within it. Sure all of the Bambi group are sort of like BLEACH meets Mean Girls but I don’t think it was necessary to have so many butt camera pans.
On Lesser Characters in BLEACH
Orihime’s outfit sort of falls into this category of unnecessary but, without spoiling anything, there’s a least a reason for it. The opportunities that I mentioned in the intro have to do with the humans of BLEACH. Uryu is being elevated in the anime now and getting additional character content that was absent in the original manga. I wish that to some extent there could be more done for characters like Chad and Orihime. Their powers have largely remained the same as they were allllll the way at the beginning of BLEACH and both of them are never at the level of strength that Soul Reapers are. This is especially odd in Chad’s case since he is the same type of Fullbringer that, admittedly with a boost, could fight Soul Reapers. For Orihime, I’d just like her to have more exposure and character in general.
Many might not know this, but Orihime’s presence in the BLEACH anime has actually been toned down since the very beginning. The exact nature of her abusive parents as well as most scenes that involve her getting injured have been censored quite a bit. This, in my opinion, serves to make her a sort of perpetually unblemished character, which also reduces the potential motivations for her to vastly improve her powers or fight. Since the Arrancar arc it’s been noted that her powers are a lot like a Zanpakuto and I would love to see some Bankai-like evolutions to them.
Ultimately this episode was great from start to finish. I loved watching Ichigo fight and felt like the voice acting, especially when Ichigo finally sees Uryu beside Yhwach, was stellar. This keeps up the momentum of the last few episodes being the best of the season and I’m looking forward to more of it. And this was only Ichigo’s new Shikai. I’m sure his Bankai will be even more incredible animated. Hopefully with some upgraded moves like his Getsuga Jujisho.
Featured image and screenshots via Hulu.
© TITE KUBO / SHUEISHA, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot