A recurring theme across the reviews InBetweenDrafts has published for Bleach: Thousand Year Blood War is that Studio Pierrot has done exceptional work taking Tite Kubo’s original manga and adding distinctive color and animation as a contrast to his use of negative space. That continues in “The Haze White,” but this episode also gives the studio a grand opportunity to experiment even further to spectacular results. On the other hand, the visuals can only do so much, and the battle depicted in “The White Haze” doesn’t do nearly as much to enhance its star like others in this cour have.
Save for an intro scene finally sending Ichigo off to rejoin the others, all of “The White Haze” is focused on Rukia Kuchki and her battle with Stern Ritter Äs Nödt. It’s a nice change of pace, with most of the fight only having the two characters interacting with each other rather than cutting away. Rukia is using an elemental kind of power that requires making some level of contact – which actually has a disadvantage at first compared to Äs Nödt’s Schrift of “Fear,” that causes the opponent to experience primal terror. Kubo had already changed up the text and art used for Äs Nödt to help set him apart as something creepy, and Studio Pierrot took that and absolutely ran with it, giving us the longest sequences of animation departing from Bleach’s design yet. It’s a delight to see the animation team add more frames and enhance Kubo’s original horror designs. It particularly helps separate Äs Nödt’s transformations further from Hollow imagery, which was something that was harder to do in the manga.
True to her Zanpakutō’s nature, Rukia tries to stay ice cold during the course of the battle, and for the most part “The White Haze” succeeds in upping her cool factor similar to other characters in recent episodes. However, as Äs Nödt becomes more monstrous, giving us even more uncomfortable but excellent horror visuals, she cracks under the weight. It’s reasonable, because I imagine I too would not enjoy thinking I had that many flies crawling on me. This does give way to a place for the story to stumble, because this is the moment Rukia’s step-brother Byakuya arrives to save her from the hallucination and reinforce that she’s strong now.
Compared to other fights during “The Separation” cour, this is the only one that features a man arriving to do a bailout for a female character, and it’s pretty disappointing that it’s used for Rukia, a character who’s been relegated more and more to the sidelines as Bleach has gone on. This isn’t a unique problem to this Shonen series of course; and at the very least it’s framed as an evolution of the very complicated relationship between Rukia and Byakuya that was once a major driver of the series. If that relationship – which at one point had Byakuya completely okay with Rukia’s state sanctioned execution – was still a driving factor of Bleach, it’d maybe fly. It’s not though, so instead it plays out with Byakuya coming in to coach Rukia, then doing a final spit on Äs Nödt’s pride as he gives her the confidence to one shot Äs Nödt with her very beautifully depicted bankai; meaning she could have easily done this herself.
It may seem a bit unfair to hold an issue that permeates the entire genre against a less egregious example of it here, but even just comparing last week’s episode that featured Renji’s new bankai, “The White Haze” doesn’t give Rukia the same kind of hype. Given that this series is particularly a present to long-time fans, a change to this fight to elevate Rukia a bit more would have been very welcome. Disappointing as this part of the narrative is, “The White Haze” does conclude with a gorgeous look at Rukia’s true power, rendered as moving and glowing ice crystals in ways that I doubt the original series would have been capable of, reminding me that at the end of the day, Bleach: TYBW has been much more enjoyable to watch than it was to read.
Featured image ©Tite Kubo/Shueisha, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot
‘Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War’ - “The White Haze” - 7/10