In interviews leading into the release of Bleach: Thousand Year Blood War, author Tite Kubo mentioned that he didn’t write the action scenes with animation in mind. That was due to the original Bleach anime’s ending before the arc was even on deck for adaptation. After “THE FIRE,” it’s starting to be hard to think how studio Pierrot might have actually animated this a decade ago.
“THE FIRE” is easily one of the best single episodes Bleach has ever aired-if not the best period. Each episode of Thousand Year Blood War has been strong in its own right, but this episode blows it all out of the water. The entire runtime is a visual smorgasbord that would fit right in a Demon Slayer sizzle reel. Just like in that series, “THE FIRE” takes the single fight it depicts between General Yamamoto and the Wandenreich leader Yhwach as an opportunity to stretch the staff’s muscles.
Kicking off immediately, we are treated to Yamamoto’s full power -for the first time for those who have never read the manga. A fire-based bankai, Yamamoto’s abilities are some of the coolest in the genre. Each stage of the fight sees the animation staff pushed to the breaking point and meeting that challenge in stride. Describing each stage of Zanka no Tachi really spoils the fun, but throughout we are also treated to cuts to Yamamoto and Yhwach’s previous fight a thousand years prior and the cuts are seamless. These effects are highlighted by more line work focus than normal. Bleach has always aptly replicated Kubo’s style, but where animation needs to prioritize motion does have a natural conflict with Kubo’s ability to make time stop in the middle of an action scene. Tite Kubo really knows how to shade an image-something an anime doesn’t always need to.
This time, that replication is spot on, especially in the episode’s final moment. For this arc in particular, the moments depicted in “THE FIRE” are some of the biggest in the story and Studio Pierrot clearly understood that. Each motion leads perfectly into the big twist, complete with a surprise appearance that I also wouldn’t dream of spoiling, and it truly felt like I was experiencing everything happening for the first time all over again.
That feeling puts me at an impasse. I have read all of Bleach, which means as good as this episode is, I also know that this feeling isn’t going to last. There are fragments even in this episode: Ichigo remains in a reishi cage only because the story can’t have him appear in Soul Society yet. Uryu starts learning more about the true history of the Quincy with some very hinting implications and I’m sorry to disappoint you but no, it’s not going where that set up implies.
This is kind of the experience of Bleach‘s Thousand Year Blood War as a whole: something very cool but with an increasing sense of the other shoe dropping. That said, it hasn’t dropped yet. When it does, we’ll still have gotten episodes like “THE FIRE,” episodes that are must-watch demonstrations of the craft. With that in mind, I will be hard pressed to say this project was a waste of time or effort. Even lapsed fans should give this one episode a watch, at the very least. This may be the peak, but it is a gorgeous view.
Featured image via Viz Media
Bleach: Thousand Year Blood War - "THE FIRE" - 10/10