Bleach Season 9 Vol. #1 UK Anime DVD Review

Bleach Season 9 Vol. #1 UK Anime DVD Review Another new season of Bleach, presented for your enjoyment. If you’ve a liking for tsundere princesses, you’ll get a kick out of this arc, too. Rurichiyo Kasumioji is heir to a powerful household in Soul Society, but a relative who’d rather have the position and power for himself is trying to knock her off. So guess who gets to play bodyguard..?

What They Say:
Kurosaki Ichigo has always had the uncanny ability to see spirits and ghosts. Despite his unusual skill, he lives the normal life of a 15-year-old boy, aside from the moments when his rambunctious father body-slams him by surprise. Then one day, a Shinigami named Kuchiki Rukia crosses his path. She is hunting for an evil spirit but is shocked by Kurosaki’s ability to see both her and the demon. It is obvious that Kurosaki was born to be a Soul Reaper like her and, so, when she is injured by the foe, she allows her powers to transfer to him so that he can fight it before it wreaks more havoc. She is still more surprised, however, when rather than absorbing a small portion of her power as she expects, Kurosaki imbibes all of it. It would seem that Kurosaki’s destiny may be laid out before him at the early age of 15.

The Review:
Audio:
Audio is presented in English and Japanese 2.0 stereo. I’ve been trying to widen my linguistic boundaries lately, so I listened to this release in both English and Japanese. Both tracks are fairly standard stereo mixes, with some effort having been made to properly place dialogue and effects on the soundstage but nothing particularly spectacular past that. There were no obvious dropouts or other problems. As for the English track – I’ve been becoming more accepting of dubbed anime lately, and Bleach is another series where the quality of the English voice-acting has quite impressed me.

Video:
Video’s hard to quantify in one way – this is a recent show, so in general the animation is clean and colourful, while the transfer is free of any obvious encoding issues. Where it’s strange is that there are scenes dotted throughout the show where the animation has noticeably more detail (both in terms of shading representing lighting, which adds a lot of depth to the animation, and in the amount of work that’s gone into portraying the characters) than for the rest of the disc. These scenes really do look good, but they’re different enough from the show’s usual level of animation that they do jar a bit. I can’t really criticise for the extra effort having been made, though.

Packaging:
No packaging was provided with our review copy.

Menu:
This is the first Bleach release where Kaze UK have taken the lead on production, so there’s a change from the usual menu style. When the main screen appears, the available options are displayed in gold on the left of the screen – Start, direct episode access, and language select. Hollow-mode Ichigo strikes an action pose on the right on disc one. Kira takes the equivalent spot on disc two which also had direct access to this release’s extras. With no submenus to worry about, it couldn’t be any quicker to use.

Extras:
Creditless opening and closing sequences, and that’s your lot.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
There’s a new captain in Soul Society: Shusuke Amagai, who thanks to having spent his time on an expedition to Parts Distant is pretty much an unknown to the other captains and to the men of the Third Division, who he’s just been given command of. After a shaky start, though, Shusuke and his right-hand man Kibune soon prove their credentials and earn the respect of those they have to lead – with the possible exception of squad lieutenant Kira, who believes that the change in captain may put his own position under threat.

Meanwhile, spoilt heiress Rurichiyo Kasumioji has just arrived in the human world, along with her aides Kenryu and Enryu. They’ve become aware of a threat on their young mistress’s life from her old relative Kumoi. Kumoi has been running the Kasumioji household for a while, but with Rurichiyo becoming old enough to take command of the clan herself he’s decided he’d rather not give up the reigns – and so has ordered her assassination. Not long after reach Karakura, the group encounter Ichigo and Rukia, and after a short confrontation discover they may just have found the bodyguard they need…

A new arc, then, with two currently-distinct plotlines to deal with. The arrival on the scene of Captain Amagai will, I suspect, turn out to have something to do with the goings-on in Rurichiyo’s household (there’s no other reason to give him so much screen time, really), but for the moment his story focusses on him settling into his new post and dealing with the natural tension that comes from being put in command of people who have no real reason to trust him. His power is quickly established (impressively), and for the most part he comes across as a decent, likeable guy with no tolerance for alcohol. A lot to like, then. There’s just the small detail of trying to work out if he’ll ultimately be one of the good guys, or one of the bad – and to that there are no real hints so far.

Which moves things on to Rurichiyo. Short, blonde, and clearly used to weilding the power that comes with her position, she’s a short little brat – and initially she’s unaware of the threat to her life, as Enryu and Kenryu have done a good job of keeping it from her. Even when she does begin to twig onto her predicament, she’s naive enough to make some rather daft decisions, which just makes life harder for Ichigo and Rukia in their role as her new bodyguards. But they’re accomplished fighters, and one by one the assassins sent by Kumoi are dispatched – each time the old userper trying to give his men better weapons, more advantages, and getting ever more frustrated by their continued failure.

Bleach being Bleach, there’s a lot of fighting going on here – Amagai proves himself through his fighting prowess, and Kumoi’s reliance on assassins means there’s plenty of people for Ichigo and his friends to face off against. They’re impressive enough visually, and with the emphasis this time around being on the number of fights rather than their length, they’re nicely short and to-the-point – always a good thing, in my mind. They take up enough of the set, though, that there’s not a lot of time available for explaining it all – a short scene explaining what’s going on in the Kasumioji household, and some speculation from Urahara about some apparently-related economic issues. It’s enough to give you an idea of what everyone’s fighting for, but not much more than that.

Note that there’s a production glitch with this volume, as the post-credits omake scenes and next-ep previews that usually appear haven’t been included this time around. Be aware if such things bother you.

In Summary:
As volumes of Bleach go, it’s middling – there have been better, but also a lot worse. For all Rurichiyo’s brattiness, I do quite like her as a character – there’s a sense of fun about her that most characters in this show simply don’t have, and Bleach has always seemed short on female characters to me, so she’s a bonus in that respect as well. Now if they could just get around to revealing why Amagai has really been introduced, I’d be a lot happier…

Features:
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Creditless Opening and Closing Sequences.

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK / Kaze UK
Release Date: June 25th, 2012
Running Time: 275 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37” widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-22 5.1 speaker system.

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