Episodes 42-63

Viz's third Bleach box set covers episodes 42-63, which constitutes the second half of the original Soul Society arc and brings the series to its first major plot climax. Along the way it showcases (for better or worse) all of the characteristic traits of long-running shonen action series and how the franchise put its own twist on them to make this series both distinctive and so immensely popular.

Whether creator Tite Kubo or producer Studio Pierrot intentionally drew upon them for inspiration or not, Bleach shows the unmistakable influence of earlier iconic shonen action series. The Shikai and Bankai releases, which are numerous throughout this stretch of episodes, harken back to the classic power-ups of Dragon Ball Z, as does the annoying notion of showing respect for an enemy by not holding back on using the character's ultimate power. It also shows DBZ's propensity to occasionally stick in an irrelevant side story. (The whole business with Don Kanoji and the Karakura Rangers in episode 50, while quite amusing, was annoyingly timed.) From Naruto it picks up the bad habit of interrupting fights with backstories and/or long-winded explanations, which can help flesh out characters and provide details relevant to the current situation but too often become needlessly involved. From both it takes the more welcome trait of diffusing overly intense situations with occasional bouts of humor, such as the classic “play catch with Rukia” scene. As usual, a certain suspension of logic is required to make the series work, such as how certain buildings in the Seireitei seem to exist only for characters to stand on or knock down, why intensively battle-trained high-ranking Soul Reapers are so slow to react in certain situations, or the rampant inconsistencies in the detection of spiritual pressure signatures; characters are obviously detectable or not according to the whims of the plot, which makes DBZ's power-sensing methods look like paragons of consistency by comparison.

What truly separates Bleach from its competitors, though, is its art design. It may not be the prettiest or best-rendered of series, and its manga-like way of handling shading is an unattractive style point in anime form, but the costuming certainly is sharp and the overall visual impression is appealing.

leach also trumps most other long-running shonen action series on its musical score. Its themes have a different sound to them, one dependent more heavily on electronic instruments and sounds, which carries a heavier and often slightly darker or edgier tone that works well with intense battle sequences. Its patented goofy theme also allows the change of mood of a scene in a snap.

Ultimately Bleach works despite its flaws because it provides plenty enough flash backed by just enough story and characterization and occasional outbursts of humor. It does so with a certain style and the support of a capable musical score, which can allow viewers to weather its more annoying traits. This is a key set to own, too, as it wraps up one major storyline and lays the foundation for the one which follows the upcoming Bount story arc.

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