I’ll do my best to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but here’s one I can’t avoid: this arc is about Ichigo trying to get back his soul reaper powers after his battle with Aizen (and the anime-only Gotei 13 arc) drained them.
He does. But you knew that coming in, didn’t you?
This is also the last arc of Bleach the anime (the manga is currently in its final arc as well.) Due to decreasing ratings, the show was canceled. Fans are hopeful that they’ll pull an Inu-Yasha and adapt the last arc at some point in the future, though there’s no word on that yet. Honestly, I think this CAN serve as a fitting end to the series; I really enjoyed the arc and it ends in a positive, “what will the future hold?” style.
I have kind of a love-hate relationship with Bleach. I enjoy that the Japanese typically adapt manga to anime in a fairly faithful manner, at least when compared to similar American projects. But, this generally necessitates filler episodes or entire seasons just to allow the manga to move far enough ahead of the anime. With monster-of-the-week shows and comedies, this isn’t too difficult; with shows like Bleach with intricate, season-long plots, it’s more difficult and often manifests itself in the dragging out of events (remember Dragonball Z’s multi-episode fights?) and technically non-canonical arcs. It’s not that Bleach necessarily has bad filler, but for instance, I remember the Hueco Mundo episodes just dragging.
Also, author Tite Kubo himself mentioned that what he really likes doing is creating new characters, and a few seasons into Bleach there are literally so many that I kind of stopped caring about any of them. I enjoyed the first couple seasons much more because the focus was much smaller. I can’t pinpoint it, but I seem to remember an actual in-episode joke about there being too many characters.
I think that’s why I really liked this arc; the focus is on a fairly small (for Kubo) number of characters, and the pacing is very good. Watching nine episodes in a row one weekend was a bit annoying as each one essentially starts with the last five minutes of the previous one, but overall there is a minimum of dragging and the one filler episode, “The Shinigami enter battle! Seireitei also has a New Year Special!” is cute.
The focus for much of the arc is on Ichigo, Orihime, and Chad, which I like. I think it’s amusing too how they seem to form the RPG staple: Chad is the tank, Orihime the healer, and Ichigo the DPS. Uryu Ishida also features prominently. The Soul Society is mostly absent until the end.
The new characters are Xcution, a group led by Kugo Ginja; and villain Shukuro Tsukishima. They identify themselves as Fullbringers, humans who have varied abilities called “fullbring” due to their mothers surviving an attack from a Hollow while pregnant with them. Some of this is honestly kind of silly, (“dirty boots” being both tragic AND silly) but overall, it works well, and trying to figure out exactly what Tsukishima’s ability is is a prime motivator in the beginning to middle of the arc. Kugo tracks down the currently powerless Ichigo and convinces him he can use fullbring to restore his soul reaper abilities; meanwhile, Tsukishima sets about on a seemingly random plot that eventually ties in to Kugo’s actions in a very unexpected way. The arc ends with several battles; some of them very short, some of them very wordy, and some of them pretty darn cool.
In case you forgot after all of these many, many battles and story arcs that Ichigo is actually still in high school, the show didn’t. 17 months after the battle with Aizen, the characters have actually grown and changed physically. Ichigo and Orihime especially are notably taller, but Orihime is probably the most changed; in addition to her height, her face is less child-like, and her already large breasts have swollen to Rangiku-like proportions; honestly, my first thought upon seeing her for the first time in this arc was that she had become a caricature of herself. She’s still the same sweet, steadfast, caring individual, so I’ll give it a pass (it’s not as though Kubo has ever shied away from well-endowed characters, anyway.)
As usual, the animation is of a very good quality, but characters (especially Orihime) occasionally look quite odd. Newcomer Riruka Dokugamine also suffers from this, though not as much. The fights look pretty good, but as with any anime focused on escalating power, by this point in the series, it’s mostly moves too fast to be seen and energy balls being thrown back and forth. There are some neat sword fights from time to time, though.
All in all, then, I’m pretty pleased with The Lost Substitute Shinigami. Its pacing and character focus really brought me back in after years of flagging interest in Bleach. As I said, I think this serves as a good series end if need be; any end to Bleach wouldn’t be a real end, anyway, as the Soul Society would continue on and more battles would be fought in the future. Check it out!