Song of the Blog: [Collard Greens] by SchoolBoy Q feat. Kendrick Lamar
Life, uh, found a way... to keep me from doing this FOREVER.
Anyway, a discussion with Lemursrule in a comment section inspired this particular blog. We were discussing a mobile game which had dropped a content drop based on the filler arcs of Bleach and I realized I rarely talk about those particular bits of sometimes-canon. So, I'm covering all of it now, including movies and OVAs because hey, why not.
First on deck is the arc commonly seen as the best of all Bleach filler, the Bount arc. For those unfamiliar, this arc takes place immediately after the conclusion of the Soul Society arc, and deals with Ichigo adapting to life as a valid Substitute Shinigami while fending off the attacks of the vampiric Bount, a race of immortal pseudo-mod souls created by the SRDI and cast away when the experiments became verboten. The arcs principle antagonist is Bount leader Jin Kariya, the nihilistic yet charismatic man who proved to be Ichigo's first major test after returning to the human world. With amazing development for both Team Deathberry (especially a temporarily repowered Uryū) and the Gotei 13, interesting if abstract villain powers, and the first real display of a Hollow-possessed Ichigo's destructive power, this arc earns its stripes as a quality bit of Bleach.
Next on the docket is the New Captain Shūsuke Amagai Arc. This arc deals with the Gotei 13's replacement of traitor Gin Ichimaru, one Shūsuke Amagai, and his efforts to revitalize the 3rd Division. Meanwhile, Ichigo deals with runaway royal Rurichiyo Kasumiōji, who is fleeing assassins armed with mysterious and esoteric living weapons called Bakkōtō. The conspiracy against Rurichiyo winds its way through both the human world and Seireitei, before coming to a shocking conclusion as it is revealed that Amagai is the main perpetrator. My opinion of this arc is mixed. With a few notable exceptions, Bakkōtō are really dumb as both weapons and a plot device; also, the arc ran for way too long in my opinion (even though the Bount arc is longer episode-count wise), often winding in narrative circles in an effort to pad out runtime. I also have no idea when it is supposed to fit into the timeframe of Bleach, but that's true with most filler. That said, the final fight with Amagai was legitimately epic; it ranks in my top ten Bleach fights of all time, and is one of the few fights that Ichigo legitimately loses. This is not an arc that you should go out of your way to watch, but it isn't terrible.
Following this are paired filler arcs: the Zanpakutō Unknown Tales Arc and the Beast Swords Arc. The first deals with a rogue Zanpakutō spirit, Muramasa, and his mission of unsealing the Zanpakutō spirits of the Gotei 13 for the purpose of releasing his master, Kōga Kuchiki, from his imprisonment. This arc is legitimately interesting; we get several notable fights pitting a Shinigami against a spirit, and the protagonists have to discard their traditional fighting styles in order to face off against their superior opponents. The end bit, where Kōga betrays Muramasa and the rogue spirit Hollowfies, seems a bit contrived, but the arc was otherwise solid. The same cannot be said for its immediate successor, the Beast Swords arc. In this arc, the aftermath of Muramasa's Rebellion can be seen. The unsealed Zanpakutō spirits still roam freely, and both Shinigami and spirit deal with the threat of Tojū, Zanpakutō spirits whose masters have been killed and who have become monsters as a result. This arc had neither the novelty or the interesting plot conceits of its predecessor, and the fights felt a lot like the early monster-of-the-week stages of the series without any of the meaningful character development. The Zanpakutō Unknown Tales Arc is definitely worth watching, but the Beast Swords Arc can totally be skipped. That said, if you watch the first, you kinda have to watch the second to complete the narrative, so do as you will.
The last filler arc is the Gotei 13 Invading Army Arc, taking place immediately after Aizen's defeat and dealing with the assault of Kagerōza Inaba and his army of Reigai, mod soul clones of the Gotei 13. Also introduced in the arc is Nozomi Kujō, a strange mod-soul girl who is actually, along with Inaba, a part of a Reigai-esque clone of deranged rogue Shinigami Ōko Yushima. This arc is straight up dumb. The villains are boring, the action is minimal and unoriginal, and the ending is one of the famously derided 'power of friendship' crapfests that only Tea Gardner could love. This next bit is my speculation, but I believe the low ratings generated by this arc and the following Lost Substitute Shinigami Arc likely helped spur on the sudden end of the Bleach anime. This arc deserves to be unmade, but since that's impossible, skip everything but the last episode of it, as it actually contains bits of important canon.
The anime also contains sporadic non-arc filler episodes, usually dealing with either a few isolated Shinigami or the citizens of Karakura Town dealing with random Hollows or other cockamamie hullabaloo. Most of it is preeminently skippable with two notable exceptions. The first is the Forest of Menos mini-arc, occurring in the early stages of the Hueco Mundo Arc. This arc introduces Ashido Kanō, a Shinigami trapped in Hueco Mundo with a vendetta against the Menos that killed his team. This arc is also based on discarded chapters of the manga that Tite Kubo chose not to include in the final printing, and are thus of similar quality to the main canon; in fact, along with the Bount Arc, I choose to include these few episodes in my personal canon as they offer amazing character development, especially for Rukia. The other exception is the short run of episodes dealing with Kon's actions as the masked hero Karakuraizer as he defends Karakura Town from Aizen's Arrancar Vanguard with assistance from Kisuke Urahara and the Karakura citizens. It has no bearing on the main plot but it's hilarious. I recommend a watch, but not a critical one.
Bleach has two OVA (original video animation) features. The first is called Memories in the Rain, and serves as both a retelling of episodes 8-9 (the ones with Grand Fisher) and a pilot for the series. It is a more emotion-driven take on the sequence, and makes a good watch, though it does not replace the actual episodes. The next is a standalone feature, Sealed Sword Frenzy. This OVA features Baishin, a rampaging rogue Shinigami who had fused with his Zanpakutō and was driven mad as a result. The action of the OVA is cool, but it adds nothing to the story. Watch it if you want, but don't expect any grand revelations.
Bleach also has four feature length films in its series umbrella. The first, Memories of Nobody, is a very interesting flick. Its plot revolves around Ichigo's interactions with Senna, a Shinigami with vague memories of being a human resident of Karakura town. The pair face off against Blanks, memory-free souls living in a transient dimension within the Dangai called the Valley of Screams, as well as exiled Soul Society residents known as the Dark Ones. It is revealed that Senna is the Shinenju, an amalgamation of the Blanks' lost memories and a critical piece of the Valley of Screams. This film has some of the greatest collections of 'feels' found in Bleach, and the ending is legitimately heartbreaking. This is a great anime film, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
The second Bleach movie, The DiamondDust Rebellion, deals with Tōshirō Hitsugaya as he flees false accusations of treason. An old rival from his past, Sōjirō Kusaka, is trying to steal the Ōin, an artifact of unimaginable deus ex machina power, and frames Hitsugaya through use of their shared Zanpakutō, Hyōrinmaru. This film starts off as a well crafted character-driven piece and devolves into a two bit monster movie. This is a shame, as I legitimately liked its first two acts. I's a pretty average flick, overall.
The third Bleach movie, Fade to Black, is most definitely the worst. Everyone seems to have forgotten Ichigo and Rukia, and all of his old friends are opposing him once more. Meanwhile, Rukia is being twisted by two children from her past, who eventually possess her through an experimental Hollow creature, creating Dark Rukia. This film occupies the same tired niche as the Gotei 13 Invading Army Arc. It seems boring and repetitive, and the evil Rukia thing is just lame, man. Like, even with a badass scythe, there was no way to make Rukia a credible threat to a Bankai and Hollowfication capable Ichigo at that point in the narrative. Skip this one, it isn't worth the time.
The final Bleach movie is called the Hell Verse. Occurring sometime after Ichigo's fight with Ulquiorra Cifer, this film sees Ichigo's sister Yuzu being dragged to Hell by the villainous Togabito inhabitants of that accursed realm. Ichigo and crew descend to Hell to rescue her, with Ichigo finding that Hell's nature drives his inner Hollow out of control. The film is beautifully animated, the reveal of the new character Kokutō's true role as main antagonist was a predictable if entertaining twist, and the showcase of Ichigo's second fully Hollowfied form and his movie exclusive Skull-Clad state as legitimate plot points was refreshing and fun. This movie is nowhere near as good as the first, but it is a worthwhile fluff watch and I do recommend it as such.
There we have it; I have now laid down in internet stone my view of the whole of Bleach's anime only bits. Some are great, some are middling, and just a few are absolutely horrible. So, I ask you, what do you think of Bleach filler arcs and movies, either as a whole or on an individual basis? comment your opinions below and don't forget to vote in the poll!
BONUS Song of the Week because this was hella delayed: [Set Free] by Meridian