After a brief scene with 12th Squad Captain Kurotsuchi observing hollow movements from his giant lab, two Shinigami from the 13th Squad, Shino and Yuki, arrive in Karakura City to relieve the substitute operating there. They are quickly in over their heads when the area becomes overrun with giant Hollows.
They’re saved by Kurosaki Ichigo, Inoue Orihime Ishida Uryuu, and Sado Yasutora, for whom the Hollows are only a minor annoyance. Everyone uses their signature move, culminating in Ichigo loosing a Getsuga Tenshou in Bankai mode. So begins the first episode of Bleach in over a decade, and I have to admit I was overcome by a combo of nostalgia and elation.
It’s back! Bleach is back! The first television anime I watched regularly. It was going to be very hard to mess this up (unless they brought the freaking Bount back out) so I’m pleased to report that they haven’t. So far so good. And this episode doesn’t just look good, it looks great, more like the Bleach movies. The original has its charms and looked pretty good in its day, but this is a more visually modern and mature aesthetic, and I dig it.
The episode is also wise to show us not only the badass parts of our Bleach gang, but their down time as well, as Ichigo plays host to the recovering Shino and Yuki while Orihime, Uryuu and Chad drop in with a bounty of baked goods for breakfast. I only wish we’d gotten to see Karin and Yuzu too, but the bedroom was already pretty crowded before a pompous half-Quincy, half-Arrancar-lookin’ jamoke barges in and ignores Ichigo’s demands he get off his bed.
Something is rotten in Soul Society, specifically the Rukon District, where Madarame Ikkaku and Ayasegawa Yumichika are investigating an entire village apparently spirited away … by itself? Then the office of the head honcho, 1st Squad Captain Yamamoto-Genryuusai, is infiltrated by a group of masked baddies.
Yama’s lieutenant Sasakibe is impaled by a giant blue beam that Yamamoto shatters, but before he can engulf the intruders in his righteous flames, they transport away, seemingly by being engulfed by their own shadows. They call themselves the Wandenreich, and they were there to declare war. The plan is to destroy Soul Society in five days’ time.
Back in Karakura, Ichigo kicks his uninvited guest Asguiaro Ebern out of his window and then leads him to the river where they can fight without too much collateral damage. Ichigo is confused by the fact Ebern uses Quincy weaponry but wears a partial Hollow mask. He also notes that Ebern is going out of his way to taunt and provoke Ichigo, even telling him he won’t be able to beat him without Bankai.
Sasakibe warned Yamamoto that whoever these guys are, they’re somehow able to seal Bankais. That’s not good considering it’s pretty much the ultimate weapon of a Shinigami. It looks like Ichigo takes the bait and is about to lose his, but he powers through Ebern’s ritual and slashes him with another Getsuga Tenshou.
A pissed-off Ebern withdraws through his shadow, and we get a glimpse of the Wandenreich’s headquarters, which looks a lot like Hueco Mundo. As expected, Ebern is a fairly low-level member of the Wandenreich, which means their leader is probably someone it would probably take Ichigo 5-10 episodes to defeat on the old show.
A big reason I stopped watching Bleach around the 160-ish-episode mark was that there was so much low-quality anime-only filler, and I’d kind of outgrown the deliberate, analytical, and often repetitive pace of the multi-episode shounen battles. At least in this episode, the new show’s structure has caught up with the times just as the visuals have.
More importantly, this arc is based on the final manga chapter, so I doubt it will be shuffling its feet. And to this day the first couple seasons of Bleach remain some of my favorite anime, though it’s been over fifteen years since I’ve seen it (aside from re-watching the first episode on the show’s tenth anniversary). Bleach is best when working at the top of its game, and this is a very encouraging start … but I am going to need to see Kuchiki Rukia at some point.