ANIME & MANGA - Review
14:58 - 3rd April 2013, by Matt Kamen

Bleach: Complete Season Four

So-called 'filler' arcs in long running anime series are a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, producers and, in many cases, viewers, want to have more of something that's proven popular or successful. On the other, they're rarely the highest quality stretch of episodes - with filler usually made when animators have caught up with the source manga, writers have to extrapolate content to move the story forward without stepping on the toes of the original creator, and episodes are produced so fast that animation errors are common occurrences.

That said, Bleach's first round of anime-exclusive adventures really doesn't fare too badly. While its biggest flaws are all on a production level - notably cheaper visuals with frequent uses of static screens, characters going off-model, and several rushed sequences with choppy animation or warped designs - the story created to bridge the gap between the manga's 'Soul Society' and 'Arrancar' arcs is actually quite entertaining. Plus, it has a fantastic opening song by BEAT CRUSADERS for most of the season, which can't be faulted.

The new enemies here, the Bounts, fit in with the world of Bleach remarkably well. Draining the life force from other humans to extend their own lives and grant themselves powers, their unusual twist on vampirism slots in nicely with the rest of Tite Kubo's creations. If the Quincy tribe that spiritual archer Uryu Ishida hails from are the mortal equivalent to the Soul Reapers, the Bounts serve as the human parallel to Hollows, the main villains of the series. There's something poetic about the symmetry of their roles, whether by intent or accident. The various Bounts we meet also present a satisfying mix of personalities, from sneering evil personified, to genuine self-loathing at what they're forced to do to survive.

It's also nice to see the writers of the anime start to tie the season in as closely as possible to where Kubo was taking the manga. As the season progresses, you'll find more references to traitorous Soul Reaper and series arch-nemesis Sousuke Aizen and his ambitions cropping up, ones that would have coincide with the definitive print edition.

Unfortunately, no matter how good a job is done with original content like this, it always feels somewhat irrelevant. The main heroes can't have any major developments, and no-one's at risk of dying unless they were created for the arc. Combined, this has the effect of de-fanging the story. Because the anime creators cannot diverge from what's being laid out by the manga-ka, what we watch becomes predictable. Bleach manages to subvert this somewhat - it's still impossible not to cheer for the good guys, and the supporting characters enjoy a fair bit of development, the likes of which hadn't been on offer while the anime was slavishly adhering to the manga. We also get some logical progression of everyone's abilities based on what's come before; there are some thrilling action pieces in most episodes, plus there's a dark twist on the machinations of the ostensibly 'good' Soul Society - but many viewers will probably be biding time waiting for the next 'real' instalment to come along. If nothing else, it's undoubtedly better than Naruto's painfully bad and seemingly endless filler arcs, and for that we should be thankful.

Far better than we'd expected from filler material, Bleach season four is entertaining content despite its often-apparent technical flaws.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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