If you haven’t already been spoiled already and don’t want to be, watch the new BLEACH episode first then come back. This week’s battle was one of the most looked forward to of the entire arc and a lot was revealed. In the previous week’s episode, we got a chance to see the absolute horror and despair that the Quincy are capable of dishing out even against powerful characters like Byakuya. This was certainly an important and monumental fight — it involved the first captain we ever watched fight in the series. However, watching Yamamoto leap to the battlefield is a different level of significance entirely.
I’ve talked about this before, but one of the key narrative implications behind the early-season slaughter of weaker and nameless Soul Reapers was to create a threshold for battle and establish for the viewer what level of power simply wouldn’t be relevant. This somewhat breaks from the usual BLEACH pattern of breaking multiple battles into multiple fights between similarly skilled fighters. This was true of just about every arc with the rare exception of one-vs-everybody fights such as during the penultimate fight of the Aizen arc.
Even in that battle, we never saw Yamamoto go all out. All we saw was him deal with an enemy specifically created to distract him, sacrifice an arm to cast a kido spell, and lose to Aizen’s overpowered combination of nigh-immortality and complete hypnoses. This time, we see quite a lot more.
The feeling and message that comes across the strongest with Yamamoto’s bankai, to me at least, is that of experience. We saw in the previous episode how he praised the strength of a Bankai honed over the course of thousands of years. In the case of his own, we saw an even greater form. The sword in this case feels awfully similar to the progression of names Yamamoto saw over the years. In those cases, more and more battles, experiences with strong powers, and scars from taking them on led people to call him different things. Similarly, his bankai evolved over time to include new powerful techniques and applications of his power. Given that Yhwach was unaware of many of them, it’s clear that some are either (relatively) new or truly weren’t worth revealing at the time.
When we compare this to other Soul Reapers, only a few of the others have well-honed techniques that they’re able to employ in battle quite easily. But, despite all of that, Yamamoto still lost. This is probably the largest upset across BLEACH and makes it very clear just how far out of the current Soul Society’s league Yhwach is. BLEACH episode 6 did a great job of building up to that shock value, especially with the continuation of bonus scenes involving Uryu not present in the manga. In this case those scenes painted the Quincy as victims. They seem like a race that existed and simply wanted to defeat a force that threatened their lives but was annihilated by Soul Society. Even within the fight itself, Yamamoto is incredibly cocky and arrogant, talking down to Yhwach and taking time to show him every devastating aspect of his bankai before finally dealing the apparent finisher.
Obviously, as a viewer, it’s quite easy to see that this isn’t the end of the arc and that the main villain can’t simply get curb stomped in a single episode. But BLEACH episode 6 did a fairly good job making it difficult to predict exactly how things might go wrong even if it was clear some sort of twist was coming.
A Taste of New Animation
Narratively the episode was fantastic for the reasons above. However, animation wise, I think it suffered quite a bit this week. For context on why things looked a bit different this episode, BLEACH tagged in some star-studded help to animate one of the most important battles of the series. It’s been known for quite some time that legendary director Hiroyuki Yamashita was involved BLEACH 2022, as he was in charge of key animation from episode 1. For episode 6, he was animation director and brought a style of animation to Yamamoto vs. Yhwach that I recognized before even needing to see the episode’s credited staff.
Overall, while I think this style of animation, consisting of quick movements, dashes, plenty of acrobatics, and other elements that make a fight scene feel incredibly dynamic and eye-catching can be valuable, I find it misplaced in this scene. Frankly, that sort of fighting movement is just very alien in a BLEACH episode. This episode’s more noticeably influenced sequences weren’t quite as erratic and jarring as, say, Naruto vs. Pain, but Yamamoto simply doesn’t fight the way this episode made him out to. He has always been a character that represents the wisdom of age and the raw power that comes from simple but perfected movements. The manga was quite true to this; Yamamoto only swings his sword about 8 times in the manga and absolutely destroys the battlefield each time.
Movement and Moving Forward for BLEACH 2022
One of the key ways that directors like Yamashita are able to make these scenes force the eyes to stay glued is through careful placement of things called between-movements. In simple terms, these are the frames of animation used to make simple movements, like a sword swinging feel less disconnected between each portion of their art. Using carefully overlaid but significant between-movements is what lends that spectacular visual effect of action that feels both visually smooth while somehow almost too fast for the eyes to digest, immersing your brain into the action as it races to comprehend what’s happening.
In this episode I found that the sequences attempting to employ this effect lacked the level of detail to pop off despite their technical value. Even more, the scenes without it, such as the 8 or so minutes of zombies, felt sluggish both in general and in comparison. Overall, I think this episode did a fantastic job advancing the narrative and granting Yamamoto a visually spectacular fight. I also appreciated the continuation of the Uryu scenes. These round out the Quincy as a set of characters in a way I think the manga needed. I’m hoping future episodes, however, strike a better balance between dynamic animation and the sort of fighting cadence that feels endemic to BLEACH.
Featured image and screenshots via Hulu.
© TITE KUBO / SHUEISHA, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot