Out of all the long-running, weekly soap opera-esque anime instalments, Bleach remains the one still able to inject complexity and intrigue into its episodic format. In this final half of the eighth season the battle anime of ghosts and ghastly powers resumes with Ichigo and his team engaging with Aizen and his many Arrancars in their quest to save Orihime. As we see the full extent of our foe’s abilities, histories and motivations the plight of our heroes becomes very hopeless indeed, yet the ingeniousness in their victories, which come in small doses, makes a firm reason to keep watching.
The two disks are a set of a continuous eight episode string of battles; with some started, a few concluded and even one still ongoing. As is dictated by the necessary distance Bleach must keep from its likewise ongoing source material many of the bout’s resolutions, including the fates of one or two key characters, is kept in doubt in lieu of focus on events taking place miles away, which does feel like a form of unintentional drama sometimes. That said the fights themselves don’t drag as much as you’d expect. In particular the fight between Grimmjows and Ichigo is a stalwart contender for one of anime’s greatest bouts, with tension constructed by good writing in the motives of its evenly matched fighters alongside some very fluid animation, which it has to be said in other episodes can be considered flat at best.
Sticking to the dub, the actors retain their conviction against occasionally cringe-worthy dialogue, made so by the heavy demands of the translation. As a particular point and shame, Dave Mallow works very well as Rukia’s former mentor seen through flashbacks, but his tone just does not work for the Arrancar monster Aaroniero, who assumes his identity. I am sympathetic to the fact that the original Japanese voice actor took the duo-role of the character himself, but as one familiar with Mallow as a voice actor its more than a little distracting, and I wished they’d sought elsewhere.
Looking ahead to season nine the fight is far from over for the soul reapers, but in general this instalment did not stall things as much as you’d anticipate. Many of the Espada remain for our heroes to confront, however if the story doesn’t account quickly for those who engaged and fell short against their foes in this and last season, then piss shall truly be taken. (3.5 out of 5)
Words > Graham Ashton
Fairy Tale Part 2
Director: Shinji Ishihira
Released by Manga Entertainment 21 May 2012 on DVD
The adventures of Natsu and company continue in Manga’s Fairy Tale part 2, containing episodes 13-24 spread across 2 discs, which see Shinji Ishihira (with directorial credits for Air Gear and Basilisk to his name) conclude one story arc (Galuna island arc) and the begin the next (Phantom lord arc).
The early part of the box set focuses a lot on the back stories of some of the characters, namely Grey and Lyon and the reason for their hatred for each other reaching back to their childhood, before heading into the last few episodes that see the entrance of the Phantom lord guild, and with it a chance to get into the various other characters on offer.
As the series progresses it really starts to hit its stride and finishes establishing all the different why, who what’s, where and how’s of the universe. The animation quality is still superb, especially in the fight scenes, and the writing has stepped up a notch providing some genuinely funny episodes.
Fairy tale is slowly turning into a must see anime for action fans with an interesting blend of fighting, magic and humour; a fun series a definite one to watch as it progress. (4 out of 5)
Words > Jason Potter
Bleach Movies: Memories of Nobody, DiamondDust Rebellion and Fade to Black
Director: Noriyuki Abe
Released by Manga Entertainment 28 May 2012 on DVD and BR
The BLEACH movies flash-step onto Blu-ray with all the kind of visual wizardry and audio remastering you’d expect from this kind of re-release. All the visuals have been overhauled for the uncannily clear picture and vibrant colours you’ve probably come to associate with anime on blu-ray. The audio too has seemingly been overhauled which can’t be a bad thing, accepting of course that you’re watching in the original Japanese rather than the dub. Certain animes work much better with anglicised voices but bleach really isn’t one of them. It draws too heavily on Japanese traditions, settings, character archetypes that the English voices just don’t quite cut it. They lack some of the nuance and diversity of the Japanese cast and watching in English seems to diminish the experience. Fortunately though, each blu-ray offers you the option of switching on the fly so you can compare and contrast anally to our hearts’ content.
Memories of Nobody, the first BLEACH movie is by far the most interesting, most different and best handled. being from the shonen genre aimed at adolescent boys it’s a slightly odd choice from the directors to make a character driven story in the BLEACH universe rather than an all out action fest. It’s a bold move and one that really works. Within minutes of the film’s opening we are introduced to some mysterious new creatures with blank faces and a mysterious Soul Reaper named Senna who is struggling with a case of memory loss. A large chunk of the movie is a kind of getting to know you tale with fragments of returning memories, interested officials from soul society and a hint of a romantic sub-plot that all build to a cataclysmic if a little rushed endgame where Senna’s safety is compromised. All in all though, the end result is equal parts satisfying, tragic and poignant sticking resolutely to the films underpinning themes of loss and remembrance. (4 out of 5)
The DiamondDust Rebellion is a much more straight forward premise for a shonen movie. It lacks the heart of the first film, choosing instead to focus solely on one of the more (surprisingly) popular characters in the series, the white-haired juvenile captain Hitsugaya. There’s lots of political intrigue, such as it is in Soul Society, some ancient unsettled business and a rogue captain taking on friends and enemies alike. This one heats up much quicker than number one with action sequences spread fairly evenly after a battle in the opening 3 minutes sees a mysterious artefact stolen by a masked assailant. If you want a more action-packed BLEACH experience with enough story to get you by, this is the film to go for. (3 out of 5)
It’s hard to know what to say about Fade to Black. A cataclysmic opening sequence sees Soul Society in a great amount of trouble and all of Ichigo’s former allies suddenly turning against him. It’s not a great story to begin with, more of an excuse to show the most popular characters of the series fighting. There’s not much of an explanation as to why anything is happening in this movie until the final moments where a reasonably authoritative character simply turns up lazily explaining what just happened and why (probably) before the credits roll. There are some good fight scenes in this movie but that’s the most of what it has to offer. I’d like to say (without giving anything away) that it expands on the character of Rukia but since none of the movies hold canon, this story feels a little arbitrary and under done. (2 out of 5)
Words > Thom Haley
If that isn’t enough anime for you (or enough Bleach at any rate) then From June 8 – 10 you can head along to BFI Southbank, which will once again hold its biennial weekend showcasing the best in recent anime.
The weekend will open with a preview of the much anticipated From Up on Poppy Hill (2011), the latest offering from Studio Ghibli. Directed by Goro Miyazaki (son of studio founder and preeminent director Hayao), From Up on Poppy Hill is a timely tale set in rural Yokohama just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. A frequent misconception of anime is that it is invariably violent, or only for adults, but titles such as A Letter to Momo (2011) and Oblivion Island (2009) will appeal to audiences of all ages. Also screening will be the UK premieres of Full Metal Alchemist 2 (2011) (featuring a Q&A with special guests director Kazuya Murata and producer Masahiko Minami) and The Princess and the Pilot (2011). Also screening will be Gintama: the Movie (2010) and Makoto Shinkai’s (The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 2004) latest film Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below (2011), which firmly moves him from ranking as an up and coming animator to an established director. Finally, as a closing treat, there will be an opportunity to watch one of the seminal films of the genre Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (1988).
Below is a full breakdown of screenings. For more information visit the website here.
Preview: From Up on Poppy Hill / Kokuriko-zaka kara
Japan. 2011. Dir Goro Miyazaki. 91min. EST
Fri 8 June 18:00 NFT1
UK Premiere Preview + Q&A: Full Metal Alchemist 2 – The Sacred Star of Milos / Hagane no renkinjutsushi: Mirosu no seinaru hoshi
Japan. 2011. Dir Kazuya Murata. 110min. Blu-ray. EST
Fri 8 June 20:00 NFT1
Oblivion Island / Hottarake no shima – Haruka to maho no kagami
Japan. 2009. Dir Shinsuke Sato. 93min. EST. Suitable for children 8+
Sat 9 June 16:00 NFT2
Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below / Hoshi o ou Kodomo
Japan. 2011. Dir Makoto Shinkai. 116min. Blu-ray. EST
Sat 9 June 18:30 NFT1
Gintama – The Movie / Gekijouban Gintama: Shin’yaku benizakura hen
Japan. 2010. Dir Shinji Takamatsu. 96min. EST
Sat 9 June 21:00 NFT1
A Letter to Momo / Momo e no Togami
Japan. 2011. Dir Hiroyuki Okiura. 120min. Suitable for children 10+.
Sun 10 June 16:00 NFT1
The Princess and the Pilot / To Aru Hikushi e no Tsuioku
Japan. 2011. Dir Jun Shishido. 100min. EST
Sun 10 June 18:30 NFT1
Japan. 1988. Dir Katsuhiro Otomo. 125min. 15
Sun 10 June 20:45 NFT1