Adaptation and optimization are both concepts very key to anime creation and even more key to a series like BLEACH. Quality of animation has been one of the biggest sources of controversy around BLEACH 2022. For good reason too; the anime is a decade further than its original in terms of available animation techniques and expected animation standard. However, I think one other important element to an anime’s adaption of source material has been neglected in conversations about BLEACH. These shows don’t just shine merely by remaining true to their source and doing so in ways that align with the standards for a “good” anime at the time. They focus on something a bit beyond that.
This important element is enhancement, or the ways in which a show takes the source material and adds to it using tools only available to a visual form of art. BLEACH 2022 episode five felt like a master class in this. This week’s episode, like those prior to it, was incredibly focused on conveying emotions like anger, despair, confusion, and fear. But, unlike previous episodes, the focus was a lot more pointed. Rather than hop between a large scale series of losing battles in the Soul Society and a winning battle involving Ichigo, this episode primary focused on two battles, each occurring in one half of the episode and mostly occurring isolated from the other.
These two fights were perhaps the most visceral, emotionally intense scenes I have ever seen in BLEACH, original series or otherwise. The music conveyed the classic, crisp melancholy BLEACH is perfect at delivering. Voice acting, especially from some of the newer characters, was absolutely incredible. The visuals on screen, even when acting as support for longer strings of dialogue, never felt like space-fillers and only added to the words being spoken.
There’s plenty to fawn over and discuss in this episode. The rest of the article will contain spoilers for BLEACH 2022 episode five. Read on with that in mind.
God Bless Yoshitsugu Matsuoka
He’s one of the best voice actors and a personal favorite for good reason. You might recognize this voice from a lot of other anime, spanning all kinds of characters across tons of genres. If the absolute range of those roles isn’t evidence enough, there’s plenty of talent here. The focus in BLEACH episode five, however, was As Nodt, the Sternritter with the designation of F, The Fear. This section was probably the most impressive for the episode in terms of execution. Matsuoka perfectly captured an unnerving, slightly rattling, creepily pompous voice this episode. We saw Byakuya feel absolute fear for the first time in the series and witnessed a villain capable of taunting him to a point of madness. Even more, the creepy scenes accompanying their fight, especially those of a melting Rukia and flies crawling over Byakuya’s body, elevated the manga in a way I truly did not see coming.
This is the kind of enhancement really worth praising. I’ll entertain bickering about whether or not the animation this episode was up to snuff. But there is absolutely no denying that the execution of Byakuya’s fight was incredible. This is also one of the first higher-tier characters we’ve seen get absolutely dominated (or rather one of the first ones we actually care about; sorry Kira). A character this stoic and reserved losing to the embodiment of fear is one of the best ways for BLEACH to start of a series of longer-form fights. This sequence did more to set the tone than the thousands of nameless soul reaper deaths prior to it.
The Head Captain’s Comeback
Personally, while I feel the execution and technical quality of the first half of the episode is higher, I was much more hype watching Yamamoto finally hop to action. For those who’ve forgotten, Yamamoto sacrificed his arm to cast a powerful Kido spell back during the Aizen arc and hasn’t been very much involved in combat beyond that. Even then, he spent much of his time occupied by an Arrancar specifically invented to stall him. His performance this fight was incredibly shocking and satisfying. One because he’s been one of the more active participants of this arc, being the main person with memory of the first Quincy war, and two because he absolutely melted someone after having an extended emotional flashback.
Flashbacks often get followed with a slow build toward the big attack but BLEACH wasted no time and it was appreciated. More to the point this felt like the first high point in basically the entire arc. Multiple powerhouses, Yamamoto, Ichigo, and Kenpachi, have just taken down Sternritters while everyone else is rallying around their presence. The episode really drove the feeling home and I found myself rewinding multiple times to watch Yamamoto absolutely go off.
Featured image and screenshots via Hulu.
© TITE KUBO / SHUEISHA, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot