Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War – 08 – Zero Hour

In the aftermath of the Quincy invasion and subsequent withdrawal, triage operations underway. Lieutenant Kotetsu tearfully asks Captain Unohana if it was really the right call to remain in the Squad 4 barracks for the entirety of the battle. Unohana reminds Kotetsu not to let emotion rule her decision-making.

They made the right choice because it was Head Captain’s final order, and now they’re still alive to take care of the wounded. Ichigo is there, and while he’s received first aid he still needs a lot of work. Less, though, than his pals Rukia and Renji, who are in stable condition. Rukia can tell something’s troubling Ichigo beyond the destruction of his zanpakuto and failure to protect everyone.

At the captain’s meeting, the younger, more hot-headed Captains like Soi Fon and Muguruma get into it and have to be calmed by Iba and Shunsui, who reminds them that if Old Man Yama were there he’d smack them all for whining about this defeat. They do receive some good news: both Byakuya and Kenpachi are still alive. The bad news? They may never wake up.

Captain Kurotsuchi invites Ichigo to his lab to give him the good and bad news: restoring his shikai is possible, but his bankai is gone forever. He then takes Ichigo to where the other captains have gathered near Seireitei’s protective wall…to await the arrival of the Royal Guard, AKA Squad Zero, which consists of five captains, each one stronger than the combined Gotei 13.

Here I was, wondering who the hell was going to fight the Quincy when they’ve taken out Yamamoto and neutralized Ichigo. It’s these guys. And while the Gotei 13 captains find them irritating, the fact is they infuse both optimism and comedy to the proceedings.

As one would expect, the character designs of the five Squad Zero captains are extremely extra, including a dude with a huge, sharp pompadour that’s almost a character in and of itself, a due with a white puffer jacket instead of the standard captain’s obi, and a lady with six golden legs she uses for everything from playing the squad’s arrival fanfare to holding four spheres that contain Ichigo’s broken zanpakuto, Rukia, Renji, and Byakuya.

Squad Zero has come down from the Royal Palace realm to rebuild the ravaged Gotei 13, but first they’re bringing the injured Kuchikis, Renji, and Ichigo back home with them, where they’ll be able to heal properly. After receiving a video call from Kisuke, Inoue and Chad reassuring him they’re all right (and have apparently made a deal with Grimmjow) Ichigo agrees to go with Squad Zero.

They all pile up in the giant pillar-shaped conveyance they used to travel to Seireitei, and with help from Shiba Kuukaku (joined by Ganju and making a reference to her uncle, Ichigo’s dad) it launches back to the realm of the Royal Palace, which is very cool and austere looking. The main palace is surrounded by five city-sized plates where the five Squad Zero captains’ castles are located.

Ichigo and his injured comrades are sent to Kirinden, the castle of Captain Kirinji Tenjirou, who is apparently the healer of the bunch, and someone whose healing powers far surpass Captain Unohana, who was a past student/apprentice of his.

That said, his methods are pretty simplistic on the surface, consisting of soaking the injured in a white-colored hot spring, then tossing them into a red-colored hot spring, then repeating the process. In Ichigo’s case, only one night in the spring will be enough to restore him, while Byakuya will need more intensive treatment.

Once Squad Zero arrived I started to feel a lot better about Ichigo and the good guys’ chances against the Wandenreich. They’re certainly an eccentric bunch, but I’m sure glad Bleach’s cheeky levity is back, anyone who fixes up Rukia is fine by me. They’re also able to re-forge Ichigo’s sword, so even if he can’t restore his old bankai, perhaps he’ll be able gain a new one, or perhaps even something beyond a bankai.

And, oh yeah, the Soul King is awake … so there’s that.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bocchi the Rock! – 01 (First Impressions) – Guitar Heroine

I never did replace Renai Flops after dropping it, and I’ve heard and read good things about Bocchi the Rock!, so I thought better to check it out late than never! Reviews to come as I find time to watch back episodes.—Zane

First-year middle schooler Gotou Hitori describes herself as an “archetypal introvert”, but when she learns from TV that even introverts can become cool and popular if they join bands, she borrows her dad’s guitar and starts practicing, with the plan to create a band and perform at the cultural festival.

Those plans would prove … optimistic. Three years pass, and while she never puts the guitar down, gets quite good at it, and posts covers on YouTube and gets good feedback, she never made a band, never performed, and never even made a friend. She aims to change all that in her first year of high school.

But despite psyching herself up and decking herself out in Rocker Chick garb and accessories, no one approaches Hitori in the first month of the school year. Granted, she’s just passively waiting for people to approach her. She has social anxiety, stammers, and has trouble making eye contact.

But even if Hitori can’t communicate externally, her colorful, dynamic inner voice is a genuine delight. Props to Aoyama Yoshino for nailing both sides of Hitori, which make her an instantly likeable protagonist you want to see succeed.

Sure enough, when hanging out on a swing a girl with red boots and a blonde sidetail approaches her while yelling “Guitar!” Ijichi Nijika is her name, and a guitarist is what she needs for a show … today.

After a quick train to the stylish Shimo-Kitagawa district, Nijika leads Hitori to the basement club called Starry. Immediately Hitori is encouraged by the darkness and stuffiness, reminding her of the closet where she spent most of the last three years. She also meets Yamada Ryou, a cool beauty and bassist.

A quick scan of the sheet music for the set reveals nothing Hitori can’t handle musically, but after her first-ever practice with other human beings, they’re unable to hold back the hard honest truth: she sucks. Or, rather, she sucks staying in synch in a band. But that’s what you’d you expect … she’s never been in one!

After curling up into the fetal position, the “sub-water flea” Hitori jumps into a garbage can, and even considers committing guitar hara-kiri on stage. But Nijika and Ryou insist she’s being too hard on herself, and everything will be fine. When she mentions she uploads covers, she learns that not only to both girls know about her (through her YT handle “guitarhero”), but think she’s awesome.

While this revitalizes her, Hitori still has legitimate concerns about being able to stand on a stage and play (this is someone who only recently became capable of speaking to Nijika) so her bandmates produce a big mango box she can play inside. They immediately notice the change in her personality once she feels safe and secure.

Nijika and Ryou tell Hitori that their band is called Kessoku Band (as in zip-tie band), and then give her an appropriate nickname: “Bocchi”, as in hitoribocchi (“all alone”).

With that, it is time to rock, and while we don’t get to hear most of the set, all we need to know is that it wasn’t that great, at least by the standards the band is trying to meet. That’s not just on Hitori, mind you: Nijika and Ryou know they have flaws too. They’re grateful Bocchi was able to play with them, and look forward to playing with her again.

Nijika wants to take Bocchi out to celebrate her first ever set in her first ever band, but all this social interaction has exhausted Hitori to the point she simply has to head home for the night, so she takes a rain check (Ryou also falls asleep on her feet).

Honestly, I would have been disappointed if Bocchi and Kessoku Band kicked ass right out of the gate. Rather, it will be fun to watch Bocchi grow more comfortable talking to her new bandmates, meeting the fourth member who appears in both OP and ED, and watching the band learn from and get better together. It’s a very solid, fun start to a show I wish I’d picked up eight weeks ago!

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