Story = C
Video = B
Audio = C+
Conspiracies are revealed and sides are taken as Ichigo's quest to save Rukia comes to its dramatic and blood-soaked climax. In the aftermath of the battle, Ichigo returns to the world of the living only to find himself and his friends being taunted by rouge mod-souls and soul-sucking creatures called Bounts. The Bounts have nefarious plans for world domination, which somehow necessitate kidnapping the last known Quincy...
The good news is that the whole story arc involving Ichigo saving Rukia from being executed is finally resolved. The bad news is that once that's all done with, we're faced with the show's first round of mind-numbing filler episodes.
Starting with the up-side of this season, the way that the Rukia-execution story arc is resolved really is climactic. That's mainly due to Ichigo reaching his Bankai form and attaining a new black sword and a new Matrix-inspired outfit (although he looked cooler when he had the cloak). But there are also plenty of other battles taking part across the soul society with soul reaper squads battling one another to show who is strong and who is just a poser.
But as intense as a lot of the battles are, there are a few that seem to drag out. The worst of it comes in the battle with the bearded soul reaper captain Shigekuni. About a quarter of that episode (and part of the following one) was dedicated solely to panning over the old man's muscular body in slow motion just to show how powerful he is. And after all that we never even get to see the guy fight! What the--?
But despite the propensity for lengthy body-shots, most episodes contain some kind of revelation that uncover some new aspect of the characters or world they live in... at least, until around episode 62 -- the start of the dreaded filler episodes.
"Filler episodes" are the parts of an anime where the animators have run out of source material from the original manga and thus have to bide their time by animating all-new plot threads until more manga-based story lines are generated. The main problem with that -- regardless of how good or bad those new stories are -- is that the pace is ruined because there are no more revelations. And that's frustrating because it's almost like you are starting from scratch with a crew of new characters who are not nearly as interesting as the originals.
And even if you give the writers some slack and say that you don't care if the story is sidetracked from a little while, I would still say that the new stories are inferior to the originals. For one thing, it seems like the writers are doing nothing more with the original characters than playing off a single personality trait -- Ichigo as an angry and driven teen, Otahime as a ditz, Kon as a pining pervert -- so the characters do not seem as deep or complex as they used to. Plus, the careful balance between action, drama, and comedy that the show had at the beginning is gone. Sure all the elements themselves are still there, but they are not as well timed making for an awkward narrative.
As far as the animation, it's pretty much the same as it's ever been: average most of the time, above average the rest of the time.
The music -- which hasn't changed at all -- is actually starting to wear on me. I can only take so much more of that "If you want to see some action, you've got to be the center of a-ttrac-tion..." song. And the guitar music has lost the edgy-cool factor that it had in the first season.
From what I've heard the filler episodes keep going until around episode 110 (there are currently 190 episodes released in Japan) so I guess I'm stuck with them for a while. But despite how horrible they get I'll keep trudging along because bad filler Bleach is still better than no Bleach at all.
More Bleach reviews: