BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War, Part 2: The Separation has fully reinvented the battle between the Quincy and Squad Zero to add tremendous amounts of detail. The finale this week came in the form of two episodes released on the same day. Despite them being two episodes rather than a single one, they feel like a single episode and thus I’ll be discussing them as such. While it’s difficult to top the spectacle of last week’s performance by Oetsu, I do think the finale managed to pull it off. Every element that was outstanding from that episode was taken up a notch in this one. The original story was enhanced to breathe life into fights that either happened off-panel or too quick in the manga. Lighting, color, and fluidity were on full display as a variety of unique powers danced across the sky of the royal palace, a brilliant blue backdrop after countless red skies in prior episodes. Music swelled and cascaded, changing tracks as the perspective shifted between each part of the battle, giving each individual segment of combat its own unique feel and reinforcing the divine scale of the battle we were seeing. All of this is quite satisfying.
The finale of BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War, Part 1 focused almost entirely on Ichigo mending his broken sword and obtaining his true powers, combining his Quincy, Soul Reaper, and Hollow abilities. That finale, in the context of the plot, took place while no other combat was occurring, meaning this special treatment didn’t leave one wondering what was happening elsewhere. In contract, this finale is taking place during a very much in-progress stage of the overall battle. BLEACH is not a series that used to have season finales given that it used to air continuously. But, I think the prior finale episode and this pair of finale episodes prove its more than capable of delivering great content in this seasonal format.
Spoilers ahead for BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War, Part 2: The Separation episode 11 The Master and episode 12 Black
Ichibe vs Yhwach, First Half
The first battle of the finale is between Ichibe and Yhwach, finally trading words extensively for the first time in 1000 years. This section is just about the portion of the fight in the first half/episode of the finale. The flashback in the previous week’s episode did a good job of setting up the ideological conflict between the two, pitting the maintenance of the current world against the return to a primeval one devoid of a distinction between life and death. Similarly to that flashback, this fight depicted Ichibe wonderfully in my opinion. At times he appears more heartless than the coldest villains of BLEACH and is constantly speaking in a manner quite detached from individual fates, much more concerned with the fate of the entire world than individuals. His powers are a perfect match for that attitude and for a soul so old. Ichibe is the first character in BLEACH to have power that involves conceptual erasure, messing with the names of things in terms of their ontological meaning. The particulars of a given object are used a metric of their “power” and he manipulates it; such a thing in fiction is almost always reserved for gods and primordial beings that predate nearly everything else in their respective series. I appreciate the degree to which his age is emphasized and given substance here. In the early chapters of the BLEACH manga, Yamamoto was very explicitly one of the oldest beings in the series and his sword was called the first and strongest Zanpakuto. Despite that, he didn’t have this almost otherworldly quality to him.
The anime depicted Ichibe’s abilities wonderfully, with every attack of his having both considerable power and arrogance. he chastises Yhwach like a child while basically spanking him hundreds of miles back and forth through the sky. Appropriately, Yhwach’s response is similarly divine in its scope. I’ve always been a fan of how BLEACH integrates Gregorian chants into its soundtrack and the music accompanying Yhwach’s use of Auswählen immediately became one of my favorites. This portion of the battle is also quite interesting, for two reasons. First, a notable moment from the manga is absent here. In the original version of this scene, Robert Accutrone (the Quincy who shot Kyoraku’s eye) hysterically laments the fate of the Quincy left behind before being hit by the beam of light in front of Liltoto and Giselle. It’s this that the pair originally dodge. In the anime there’s no trace of this scene. I kept waiting for some version of Robert’s dialogue to make it in only to find nothing. This is especially weird to me considering Giselle’s borderline necrophillic scene made the cut (weird that they censor bath scenes but keep that) while an incredibly impactful scene did not. Robert is unique in that he is one of the older Quincy and is aware of how the Auswählen looks and works. Other Quincy on the ground have zero clue what is happening to them — even Uryu, who is aware of the power’s existence, did not recognize it on sight.
That reason is part of the second reason I found this interesting. In the context of the fight against Ichibe, the added information from the flashback last week, and the removal of Robert’s scene, this scene comes across as a character change for Yhwach rather than something typical for him. The past version of him advocated for the interests of all of his followers and expressed dismay at the fearful feelings of theirs he absorbed in their deaths. Now, he seems not to care about those feelings, treating the lives of all Quincy as mere extensions of his own to be distributed as it suits his interests. It’s a nice arc to paint, especially if the endgame here is to have Yhwach be a person with originally noble ambitions that were corrupted by power. The present version of him has always rather clearly been someone who feels entitled to the world. His past wasn’t very developed in the manga though so this felt good to see fleshed out.
BLEACH Pits Royal Guards vs Royal Guards
I’m going to group the portions of the fight between the lower four of Squad Zero and the Quincy together. I was very pleasantly surprised with this fight because almost every element of it was new. Oetsu’s fight against Askin was the only one of these that was present in the manga. That fight was well adapted for the anime but it’s always been an annoying one to me, mostly because I think it’s silly that Askin wouldn’t just make the lethal dose of blood for Oetsu nigh-zero and instakill him before his blood could be replaced. The other pre-Auswählen fights really gave Squad Zero the treatment they deserved. Hardly anyone other than Oetsu and Ichibe fought at all in the manga. They lost quite easily to Quincy and died without even really having a chance to show off their abilities. I think a large part of why the initial confrontation at the palace was changed was so that they wouldn’t initially look quite so weak in comparison to the Quincy. This version of events quite satisfyingly had them deal with all of the Quincy quickly, with Oetsu having of course taken out a few last week and the remainder dying. Every one of those fights looks quite nice and stylish; even the brief CGI components felt smooth in comparison to many other fast-paced scenes in other series. Them being defeated specifically after the Quincy were amped and revived makes a lot more sense than them losing outright, especially if we’re assuming that the robbed powers of other Quincy are amping everyone up additively.
Senjumaru’s Bankai, the final portion of this surprise, was also incredible to see. This did not exist at all in the manga, nor did the life-linking condition for its use. This was a nice parallel to the limiters that high-level Soul Reapers have when travelling to the world of the living or Aizen’s rules against some Espada going all out in Los Noches, especially given their powers are on a scale that Senjumaru simply activating Bankai affected the world of the living. It seems a bit contradictory that Yhwach and Ichibe aren’t having that effect despite presumably being stronger, but I can ignore that. The technique itself is both fantastic and powerful, carrying on the loom / sewing theme with a tapestry of terror that takes every Quincy to task. It had no immediate weaknesses or flaws and even displayed the ability to make use of multiple elements, something that was previously noted to be impossible for a single Bankai or Shikai ability. Separately, a trend I’ve noticed over the course of BLEACH is this: in general, longer name means stronger power.
Ichibe vs Yhwach, Second Half
This portion of the fight was much more power and action focused, at times having the same style as Yamamoto and Yhwach’s battle. I very much appreciate the arrangement of these scenes. Oftentimes Ichibe would quite literally talk down to Yhwach from above in a very specific position such that their places resembled Yhwach looking up at the Soul King’s palace, with Ichibe in the palace’s place. It very much conveyed the impression that he sees himself as a God only beneath the Soul King in authority if beneath anyone at all. I’ve always been convinced that Ichibe’s character is at least partially inspired by Zhong Kui / Shoki in folklore and his tendency to act as the vassal of a much greater power to maintain the spiritual world continues to support that.
Ichibe’s True Sword, predating even the idea of a Bankai, was beautifully animated, with the ink feeling distinctly different in style from any other art on screen. It also felt like a direct repudiation of Yhwach’s desires; he proudly proclaimed that everything was for him to take, that he could give himself a voice when it was stolen from him, and stole the powers of Quincy below to create a halo of power his for the taking. Ichibe created a similar halo of white to paint over the power of black which belongs to him to such an extent that it cannot be stolen. This felt like a backslap to Yhwach’s ability and proclamations. Ichibe is honestly so strong that it’s easy to forget who’s supposed to be the villain here.
Next to Come for BLEACH
I felt like this was an interesting but not bad place to end part two of BLEACH. Obviously the battle is far from over, especially given that Ichigo and company have yet to arrive and multiple moving parts were deployed during the finale. Urahara is doing something, Kyoraku is doing something, Yoruichi’s femboy brother has brought a bunch of stuff, and obviously more parts means more plot to get through. As far as things that I expected to see glimpses of in this finale but didn’t, the main things that come to mind are more special anime-only development for Uryu and some additional development coming off of the flashback from last week. It quite conspicuously featured some relatively important-looking characters (the woman especially), one of whom used a submachine gun spirit weapon nearly 1000 years before the real life weapon would even see a prototype.
All this is to say that there is plenty to develop leading up to part three of BLEACH. I’m of the opinion that season-to-season transitions are best kept hyped up by either appealing to an enticing cliffhanger or building out more soon-to-come stuff. I think this is going to be the case of the latter, with the various upcoming threads that were started in the finale seeing clips and teaser trailers over the next few months. In any case, I’ve loved watching this season and am quite sad to see it go. Hopefully the next one will be even better. BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War, Part 3: The Conflict is set for a 2024 release and already has some great visuals you can check out here.
Featured image and screenshots via Hulu.
© TITE KUBO / SHUEISHA, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot