what is it?
After a thousand years, war has returned to Soul Society’s doorstep. Long thought to have been exterminated by the Soul Reapers, the Quincy were revived by their mysterious king and prepared to destroy their would-be destroyers. He doesn’t know it yet, but replacement Soul Reaper Ichigo Kurosaki may hold the key to winning this long-awaited battle – but for which side?
Bleach: Thousand Year Blood War is based on the “Thousand Years of Blood War” arc. Tite Kubo‘with Bleach manga and streams on Hulu and Disney+.
How was the first episode?
More than 10 years have passed since the first one Bleach the anime has not aired, and six more since the manga’s controversial conclusion. At the time, there was a lot of uncertainty about how this giant shonen anime from the 2000s would turn out, but the final arc of this story is finally being animated, back with a shiny new coat of paint to wrap it all up. And this premiere is off to a solid start, definitely not a premiere for curious new viewers to understand.
This is definitely not a good entry point for newbies, and if you’re a die-hard fan who hasn’t read or watched Bleach within a hot minute you’ll want to reacquaint yourself with the basics of the main cast and general world-building. At the very least, make sure you know/remember terms like Shikai, Bankai, Quincy, Hollow, Arrancar, all that good stuff. Because this opening pretty much assumes you have everything down. It’s a bold move that doesn’t even bother to bridge a ten-year broadcast gap, but ultimately serves the intro well to keep moving like it never left.
In fact, it immediately ties into one of the longest-standing and most frustrating bits of the series’ larger world, finally fully fleshing out the Quincy, a race of hollow-hunting humans that have been nearly wiped out by Soul Society for millennia. before. Uryu’s battle with Mayuri in the Soul Society Arc scratched the surface of this lore, but now he gets a real chance to shine. Through some unknown means, their former king, the Quincy, has risen again and raised his own army to revive this bloody war and bring down the Soul Reapers once and for all. It’s an excellent hook for this final arc, and the way it slowly unfolded through the B-plot of the premiere is a great way to get excited for the upcoming confrontation. Not only are they opponents that actually seem stronger than Aizen and his Espada, but they also fill a pre-existing spot in the larger universe that has been begging to be explored for ages.
But if I’m being honest, the main appeal of this premiere wasn’t anything as specific as the narrative direction or the high stakes. This premiere is more of a targeted nostalgia bomb meant to be dropped on anyone who was in middle school or high school and stayed up late to watch Bleach on Swimming for adults during the Bush and Obama administrations. That was always a factor for this return, but the premiere really leans into it, giving Ichigo, Chad, Orihime, and Uryu stylized name tags as they each show off their abilities. Heck, in classic pro-wrestling fashion, the episode opens with some redshirt Soul Reapers being introduced exclusively for the Karakura crew to rescue. And I’ll admit I commented pretty hard when “Number One” started playing in all its cheesy glory. There’s an unmistakable rush to see these characters in action again after so long, and I suspect that’s what’s going to get people in these early snippets of the story more than anything else.
It certainly helps that the show looks fantastic. The original anime had its strengths, but it was also a product of an older, stricter production process that made it much harder for the show to capture a remarkable energy Tite Kuboillustration. Here, without having to produce weekly episodes for an unknown eternity and under the hands of much of the team behind the wonderful Akudama Drive, these visuals absolutely sing. The characters are clearly recognizable, but each has a slightly stylized edge that captures the same lightness of Kuba’s artistry while still working perfectly in animation. Most notable is the episode’s use of color, shifting palettes and tones to set the mood of each scene and augmenting the effects of the (albeit brief) fight scenes. This episode looks great, not only because it’s very polished, but also because the team working on it clearly understands what makes the original art so memorable and does everything they can to translate it into animation. It’s a good thing.
My only real complaints about this episode are how busy it is. There are a lot of moving parts as we see various hints of the Quincy’s penetrating attack, but the structure of the episode is largely built around Ichigo meeting the rookie Soul Reapers and fighting an unexpected enemy. So there is a bit of a disconnect between the two stories, which takes away from the impact of both. Also, the two soul reapers that Ichigo saves are really damn annoying and are long enough to drag out all the scenes where they talk. Neither is enough to spoil it, but it’s enough that this premiere isn’t as strong a home run as it could be.
As a manga reader, I have…let’s say mixed feelings about the long ending arc Bleach, but if nothing else, I can say that this premiere worked for me and I’m really excited to see how the final season plays out. It captures all the right elements of the original and brings them to life on screen in a way they rarely have before, and there are some rock-solid ideas in this giant war on the horizon. Whether or not any of these things will remain true is debatable, but for now, it’s a damn good return for the series.
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