Bleach: Season Four Box Set Part 1
2009 TV Series (episodes 64-79). Director: Noriyuki Abe. 400 minutes. DVD, bilingual, $49.95. Distributor: Viz Media.
Potential failure often looms large when anime veers from the plot structure of its original manga. It’s no secret. And it’s not just the bitching of devout fans that can undermine a story arc, but the sense of continuity and linear momentum can get tangled in seemingly endless tangents – just recall that awkward and near death-dealing season of Lost! Well, in season four of the Bleach saga we find such a deviation. Enter the Bount, a race of humans that devour human souls to achieve immortality.
After Ichigo’s epic battle with Byakuya and the release of Rukia, the substitute Soul Reaper and friends return to the world of the living to reclaim their normal lives. But when Orihime is abducted, followed by Chad, Ichigo, Renji, and the usual Soul Reaper suspects are ultimately drawn into conflict with the mysterious Bount.
Much like a political poll, fan approval of this conjured story arc can change on a given day. After all, the Bleach fan base is of global proportions. As for myself, I really didn’t dig it too much. The story telling behind the existence of the Bount and their conflict with the Soul Society is weak. Yes, I understand they were the result of a Soul Reaper experiment and eventually condemned to death. Revenge is a classic instigator of human action. But that event was placed so far in the past that the connection and significance to the present characters lacks depth. It’s just nothing like the race to save Rukia! The Bount are simply predictable straw men in the face of Ichigo's zanpakuto. I think this story arc was designed to capitalize on the series’ popularity and extend its marketing potential. Just keep the action going; that seems to have been the goal. And for that they get a C for the day.
But there is some good in season four. I have to admit this. Yet, it’s not so much the Bount as it is the subplots surrounding Ichigo’s friends. For example, Uryu’s journey to reclaim his Quincy powers and Rukia’s inability to use her zanpakuto constitute the real points of interest – for me anyway. At least some of our beloved characters are moving in a direction that creates excitement and anticipation. Without such character development this story arc would have been an epic fail! And don’t get wrong, there’s plenty of great action. But after the first two seasons, you expect more than just that.
At any rate, the monstrous popularity of Bleach overshadowed, and continues to overshadow, the mediocrity of the Bount. No matter how many complaints you can hurl, the Bount cycle did not deviate from the essential Bleach aesthetic: the deep bonds of friendship and a never-ending chain of bankai wielding battles.