I went into watching BLEACH episode 7 thinking that it would be nearly impossible to follow up on the amazing episode from last week. An episode focusing entirely on the mindset, power, raw authority, and ultimate demise of a character as longstanding as Yamamoto is nearly impossible to beat in general. This episode, in my opinion, gleefully accepted the challenge of doing better and did so immediately. Even before the theme song began playing, BLEACH this week showcased a degree of quality and care I expect to only appear briefly for an important sword clash and vanish in the scenes after; this week it was constant and maintained a level of eye-catchingness so strong that my computer screen felt IMAX size in my vision.
More so than just the up in animation quality (even compared to the relatively high bar this season), BLEACH brought incredible sound quality and voice acting this week as well. Comparing it to episode 5, I would say this week brought higher overall vocal quality while that episode introduced a single character whose voice acting perfectly fit the portrayal. In terms of music and sound it was definitely a personal favorite, with a new version of Nothing Can be Explained (the sad music that often played in Ichigo’s inner world) alongside strong depictions of sadness and anger.
This week BLEACH pushed a strong bar even higher and made some extremely substantial revelations about the story. Make sure you’re either up-to-date or prepared for spoilers before reading on.
Past and Future
Episode 7 opened up with a brilliant sequence showing off the original 13 Court Guard Squads and exactly how strong they truly were. Like previous flashback scenes, this one succeeded both in showing off the former strength of Soul Society while also muddying their exact position as the “heroes” of the story. From the very beginning of this arc BLEACH has been careful to indicate that there is not necessarily a duality of combatants in warfare like this. The original captains were, from Yhwach’s words and the clips we saw, bloodthirsty. They seemed to fight in a ragged, wild way more similar to Kenpachi Zaraki than any of the careful, refined movements of the current captains. More to the point, it really shows off the degree to which Soul Society exterminated the Quincy to protect the balance of souls in the world. It’s hard to think of the Quincy invading force as uniquely brutal when they experienced the same thing at a grander scale 1000 years ago. My only real complaint for the episode is that it used these flashbacks twice, but I can’t even say I minded that much.
For Yamamoto, these final moments for him truly solidified an aspect of Soul Reaper character that isn’t touched upon much: the divine arrogance that comes with a duty to protect. Yhwach points out in episode 7 that Yamamoto could have easily restored his arm after fighting Aizen, and this is true. Even more, Aizen’s entire personal arc stemmed from trying to attain higher degrees of power by blurring the lines between spiritual species. Yamamoto’s arrogance came not necessarily from achieving balance, but rather by achieving stasis. The world became peaceful and yes that likely softened him. But, the broader issue is he came to reject any change to the world’s condition that deviated from the norm he decided to originally defend.
I think the anime is doing a much greater job at showing this than the manga. There’s only so much that’s possible without visuals and sound. In this case, the grit of Yhwach’s words and the raw pain in Byakuya’s voice as he swallows his pride to beg Ichigo to defend Soul Society really puts into perspective how strong and long-lasting the existential arrogance of Soul Reapers became. If anything, the English / Viz translation “Soul Reaper” itself downplays that these are in fact Gods of death with all the pride that comes with the title.
Ichigo’s Return and Repudiation
Ichigo’s return to the battlefield came with another show of fantastic voice acting (I hesitate to imagine the amount of practice it took to get so many actors to perfectly convey a tone of despair) and some changes to the confrontation between him and Ywach. Firstly, the scenes of the pair clashing swords were absolute art and showed off the progression BLEACH 2022 has made with lighting effects and making bursts of energy feel fluid and dynamic rather than sluggish and viscous. The kind of dynamic movements in this episode in my opinion felt much more at home than the rather erratic between-movements of last week, especially given that Ichigo is generally much more of an acrobatic fighter than someone like Yamamoto. Blut looks fantastic in this fight as well and I’m coming to appreciate the ethereal glow Quincy attacks have about them compared to the pale-lightsaber-blue Uryu’s attacks had in the original BLEACH anime.
I figured the anime would lengthen the fight here but not quite with the level of clash that it did. For context to anime-only fans, this fight in the manga was laughably short. Ichigo charged forward with a Getsuga Tensho before being summarily choke slammed and stabbed in the neck as in this episode. The exchange of blades that followed was Ichigo immediate being parried before being subdued again by Yhwach and having his bankai broken. The purpose of this was obviously to indicate the gap in power, which the manga accomplished via a quick defeat. I actually thing the anime accomplished a much more robust version of that. While Ichigo is certainly exhausted (and his bankai outfit, a visual representation of his remaining power, is in tatters after escaping Jail) Yhwach clashed blades with him multiple times despite his Lieutenant rather easily shattering Ichigo’s bankai. It shifted the scene from one of overwhelming defeat to one of someone toying with a child.
Revelation in BLEACH
And with that we have our big reveal: Ichigo is a Quincy. Obviously the anime has yet to dive into any sort of deep backstory here, but the showing of Quincy specific powers and a detailed breakdown by Yhwach are more than enough confirmation. Looking forward, considering the bonus scenes dedicated toward Uryu’s family history and the history of Soul Society past in general, I am anticipating two things, one in this anime and one in BLEACH writ large.
In BLEACH 2022, I anticipate there will some combo of juxtaposition of Ichigo’s origins alongside either new or existing content about Uryu and his family. BLEACH in the past has artfully used flashbacks to explain current context (think the Aizen and Fullbringer arcs) but this and last episode are doing so in ways that seem more like like narrative builders than narrative explainers. It feels as though the foundation for backstory novels, manga chapters, or anime are being put out for fans to get curious over and I am definitively looking forward to that. At the very least the amount of time the original captains are getting demands something really showing them off in full. For now though, I’m looking forward to this anime maintaining a bar I never thought it’d reach after ten years of nothing.
Featured image and screenshots via Hulu.
© TITE KUBO / SHUEISHA, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot