Since Studio Pierrot has not produced new Bleach anime content for the past decade, not everyone fortunate enough to experience the Thousand Year Blood War debut has watched the original series and doesn’t know exactly what they are getting themselves into.
Seeing that the first 366 Bleach episodes are not widely available outside of Japan and the US, not many people have the opportunity to catch up on what they have missed. Fortunately, Tite Kubo considered the concept of new viewers by introducing them to enough relevant information to get excited, without boring the die-hard fans with tedious facts. And those in the know got the fan service they had been hoping for, along with some well-deserved surprises to spice things up further.
Sending a mysterious enemy in from the get-go is a fantastic way to grasp viewers’ attention immediately, as newbies and anime veterans alike are intrigued right from the start. Yukio and Shino’s introduction also puts the audience on the same page, as neither is familiar with this particular set of Shinigami. The pair bicker in a way that reminds age-old fans of how Ichigo and Rukia also used to constantly quarrel when they began working in Karakura Town together; a nostalgic reminder of how far these two have progressed.
The all-important Hollows look just as badass as before (if not better!) and they act as a smooth segue into the main heroes’ introduction. Thankfully the lead protagonists look just like fans remember, and yet somehow even cooler than before, each receiving a brief yet epic presentation piece as they dominate the enemy. But of course, Ichigo deserves his own legendary rocking intro song as he steps onto the battlefield, and those at home find themselves singing along or grinning ear to ear as Shirō Sagisu’s iconic sound (with a modern twist) stimulates the senses.
The Handy Hollows
Even though the battle against the Hollows is over within minutes, it plays a crucial role in helping newbies catch up while providing some highly-anticipated action for everyone in the process. Orihime Inoue gets to show off her shields, healing abilities, and her sweet side while also flexing how independent she has become as a fighter and support character. Yasutora Sado (aka Chad) shows more berserker-type elements with his cool, calm attitude and incredible strength, leaving behind some stunning symbolic skull visuals in his wake. Uryū Ishida demonstrates his versatility on the battlefield and uses his spirit energy to virtually ice-skate through the scene, doing some magnificent damage with his ranged attacks as he goes.
The first important fight of the season obviously would not be complete without Ichigo’s epic Bankai coupled with breathtaking artwork, just as a reminder as to why everyone is here. The fact that Ichigo and his team could demolish the massive hoard of Hollows so effectively is a testament to their strength, as Shino and Yuki struggled significantly when they had fewer enemies to deal with. While Shino comes across as quite a weak character, both he and Yuki are not just some random nobodies-in-training but are 13th Squad Officers who have been extensively trained in combat. However, the gang certainly showed them who’s boss, ensuring to bring the injured back to Ichigo’s nostalgic bedroom for some fan service to boot.
The audience finds themselves on equal footing when it comes to Shino and Yuki, as these are brand new characters for everyone involved and each act as an audience surrogate of sorts. These Shinigami Officers are as much in the dark as first-time viewers are, and help with answering those crucial questions to help everyone get up to speed about the nitty-gritty details.
While it would have been nice to see Renji and Rukia again, it’s no surprise that Ikkaku and Yumichika were chosen as curtain-raisers to the Gotei 13, based on their pure entertainment factor. This pretty pair is known for their comic relief and questionable relationship dynamic, adding some flair without stealing too much of the limelight (as the domineering presence of Kenpachi, Toshiro or Matsumoto would have done.) Ikakkaku and Yumichika show how this strange series of events has affected Seireitei too, suggesting that it is not just the Human Realm that is in danger.
The other two Shinigami who made it into episode 1 will evidently also play a crucial role in the plot development (not to mention they are some of the most visually captivating character designs in the Gotei 13.) The Captain Commander is not one to put his Zanpakuto to work very often, so it was a delightfully thrilling treat to witness Yamamoto’s almighty power in all its glory, and so early on in the game too! Fans should also keep a close eye on the bizarre Mayuri Kurotsuchi, the smartest Shinigami around, as he is most likely to have the solution to the Hollow/Quincy problem buried somewhere in his brilliant mind. The rest of the fan-favorites who didn’t get a chance to feature in this episode are honored with a stunning ending song and enough iconic graphics to leave a significant impression.
Captivating Plot Twists
When Ebern states that he can steal someone’s Bankai, by this stage in the game, it makes little difference if this is the viewer’s 1st episode or 367th; jaws drop to the floor all round as Ichigo’s fate seems sealed. Fortunately, the thievery is ineffective (possibly due to his Hollow connection?), as having to watch a Bankai-deficient Ichigo from day one would have been soul-destroying. However, it seems that the beloved Strawberry won’t necessarily be the main focus of this Arc, as Ebern can’t hide his amusement when Ichigo misidentifies himself as the main target, suggesting that stealing his Bankai was not, in fact, the purpose of the mission.
Ishida held onto “The Last Quincy” title for years, but apparently, that has been false advertising all along. However, this intrusive Quincy has an Arrancar mask, what is that all about? (Manga readers, shh!) As the Substitute Shinigami stated himself, Ebern’s presence has left more questions than answers, and the Thousand Year Blood War debut was anything but a soft re-opening to this legendary Shonen series.