Bleach released the final episode of batch one of its Thousand Year Blood War arc this past December. These 13 episodes were the first released since 2012, when the anime adaptation of Bleach was canceled due to poor ratings.
This cancellation meant that the Bleach anime was unable to adapt the manga’s final arc, the Thousand Year Blood War. The new adaptation is divided into four seasons, each around 12-13 episodes, with the second season set to release in July.
This adaptation had a much grander task than simply adapting the arc. It had to bring Bleach from the depths of a six-year-long hiatus.
Most notably, the Thousand Year Blood War is adapted at a much faster pace than the previous Bleach anime, which was often criticized as it often progressed at a snail’s pace. This progression was due to the initial adaptation being too close to the manga, which was being serialized concurrently.
Each of the new season’s 13 episodes is packed with beautifully choreographed action, plot development, and characterization. The animation especially is incredible, almost cinematic in its presentation.
The arc of the Thousand Year Blood War begins with the main character, Ichigo Kurosaki, acting out his duties as a Substitute Soul Reaper at the behest of the Soul Society, a military organization that works to keep up the balance of souls, purifying corrupted souls known as Hollows and sending them to the Soul Society.
This status quo is broken when the Soul Society reports a mass event of Hollows being completely erased, thus threatening the balance of souls and, by extension, the fate of both the world of the living and the Soul Society.
This soul-erasure power comes at the hands of a race known as the Quincies, who were thought to have been eliminated in a war against the Soul Society hundreds of years ago. This conflict comes to ahead early in the arc when the Soul Society is blindsided by an invasion from the Sternritters, an army led by the God-King and common ancestor of the Quincies, Yhwach.
Yhwach and the Sternritters were able to cripple the Soul Society in this invasion, killing its leader, Head Captain Yamamoto, and various other high-rank Soul Reapers and also injuring countless others. Many of the Soul Society’s top ranks also have their Bankai, swords created from one’s spiritual energy, stolen by the Sternritters.
Kurosaki challenges Yhwach to a fight, but he is swiftly defeated by the Quincy king. Before the Quincy army abandons the Soul Society, Yhwach reveals to Kurosaki that he is, in fact, also a Quincy, one of Yhwach’s many descendants. Kurosaki’s Bankai is also destroyed by Yhwach’s right-hand man, Jugram Haschwalth.
The Sternritter invasion, similar to the ending of Empire Strikes Back, forces not only Kurosaki but various other members of the Soul Society to reflect on the reality of their failures and learn to come back from them. Kurosaki must not only recreate his Bankai, but he must reckon with the reality of his Quincy-hood and how it pertains to his own identity as both a Soul Reaper and a man.
The Gotei 13, the Soul Society’s highest military force, is forced as well to move beyond the deaths of their leader and countless comrades so they can prepare to defeat Yhwach.
This early stage of the arc also foreshadows the potential necessity of an alliance between the Soul Society and one of Bleach‘s most iconic villains, the boundlessly intelligent and manipulative Sosuke Aizen, in fighting against this gargantuan threat.
The arc also tackles the reality of war and how the opposition between the Soul Reapers and the Quincies may never be resolved due to the vast cycle of crimes and violence each group has committed against one another due to their ideological differences.
The overall narrative of the Thousand Year Blood War arc is one of reflection and change, of reckoning with the mistakes and sins of the past and learning from them to build towards a better future. Bleach has always been a story of self-actualization, and this arc puts that overall theme into a much grander perspective.
In creating an adaptation both beautiful in spectacle and meaningful in its story, Bleach has undeniably planted its feet in the ground once again as a great anime.
With the remaining 3/4 of this arc left to be adapted over the next two years, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Bleach is back.