Episode 8 – Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War
So far, I’d say TYBW has done a pretty good job pacing itself as an adaptation. By that I mean it’s largely succeeded in taking the existing material and doing the necessary reworking to make it all flow properly as individual episodes. Sometimes moments from the manga are cut or altered, but their overall spirit remains, and those edits were clearly in service of making things work in a different medium. That’s no small task considering how much ground the series has already covered, getting through nearly four volumes of the manga in well under a full cour, but that speed was inevitably going to catch up to it once the swords stopped swinging for a bit. Thus “The Shooting Star Project [Zero Mix]” ends up disjointed, rushed, and with a lot of tonal whiplash.
Between the carnage Soul Society just went through and the enormous twist Ichigo had dumped on his head last week, you’d think that this would be an episode to slow down and decompress, allowing the cast to process the grief and pain and confusion of the invasion. That does happen for a few minutes, and it’s easily the most compelling segment. We see Ichigo shoving the whole Quincy question to the back of his mind so he can focus on his injured loved ones (come to think of it, it’s wild this is the first time he and Rukia have spoken this whole season, huh?), which is exactly how you’d expect him to handle it. We see the surviving captains shaken to their cores and wracked with guilt over Yamamoto’s death, with Shunsui of all people having to keep them from tearing each other’s throats out. It’s shocking to see so many of these characters so vulnerable and human, and it hammers home the stakes of this war harder than any fight could.
Then a clown car of wacky side characters comes literally crashing down from the sky.
I really can’t express how much whiplash this sequence gave me. One minute Ichigo and the others are desperately trying to rebuild the crumbling sand castle of the Soul Society, the next a handful of new characters show up to loudly establish their goofy personalities and talk shit at any captains that aren’t currently comatose. That was true in the manga as well, but there you had at least a chapter break after the Zero Squad first appeared before delivering the swerve into comic relief, if not a whole week between publication to let the heavier bits of this part settle. Here, it’s a bizarre and rudderless jack knife that the episode never recovers from.
Which really sucks, because a whole lot of important and long-anticipated bits of Bleach‘s larger world are finally brought to light here. Zero Squad has been one of those mysterious pieces of foreshadowing fans waited to see for ages. The Soul King and his inner sanctum were the driving force of Aizen’s entire tenure as a villain! Yet both are introduced with no sense of majesty. Ichigo gets ten seconds to marvel at the big floating castle before he’s dumped into a healing hot spring, and then the episode doesn’t so much end as it just stops in the middle of a conversation with Mr. Pompadour. I genuinely had to double-check to make sure Hulu hadn’t put up a corrupted or incomplete video file, but nope – that’s just how this episode finishes, and it left me scratching my head for quite a while.
And that’s not even getting into all the little details here that raise a whole lot of questions but get swept to the side for the sake of launching Ichigo into a new training arc. For instance, I guess it was Grimmjow who saved everyone in Hueco Mundo, and now he’s working with them. How did that happ- oh hey turns out Ichigo’s father is Kukaku and Ganju’s uncle, which I guess is also a sideways explanation for why Ichigo looked so much like Kaien. Sure. But that detail then gets eclipsed by revealing the Shiba sibs have taken in the dead villains from the previous arc for reasons unknown. But there’s no time for that because we have to get up to the Royal Palace so Ichigo can reforge his Bankai.
Oh, right, it also turns out, for reasons that aren’t ever extrapolated on, that it’s impossible to repair a zanpakuto if it was damaged while in its Bankai form. So while his Bankai hasn’t been stolen, Ichigo’s Tensa Zangetsu is permanently out of commission. That should be a much bigger deal than it is, all things considered, but since there’s almost no time between it being introduced and Zero Squad proposing the solution, it just feels like a plot contrivance.
I don’t want this to come off as saying I disapprove of comic relief here. While Bleach‘s style of humor has never been a favorite of mine, it works well in rounding out characters and balancing drama when utilized properly. It’s fine that the Zero Squad appear silly at first before we start to dig into their characters. The problem is in the execution, with the adaptation speeding through material that was supposed to gradually lighten the mood while also expanding the story, and in doing so they turn it into an incoherent parade of exposition and poorly-placed comedic shouting. That compressed delivery greatly detracts from what should be critical, memorable moments. It all makes for a weak, jumbled transition that I’m hoping the show can pull out of soon.
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