While Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War is a revival of the original anime, it is also adapting the manga’s final arc. That’s obvious to longtime fans, but the anime hasn’t yet had a chance to drive home the real finality of the series much to this point. There have been some losses, notably at the end of the excellent “The Fire” from last cour, but beyond that a lapsed anime watcher could easily mistake this for just more Bleach – at least until this week’s episode, “Heart of Wolf.”
Compared to the previous episodes of the cour, “Heart of Wolf” narrows the focus to only a handful of events in the Seireitei rather than jump around. That’s a huge pacing improvement, and a needed one in order to center the first part of the episode around the fate of Captain Sajin Komamura. He faces down Bambietta Basterbine, who had previously stolen his bankai last cour. She’s powered up by now being able to unleash her Vollständig and create extremely dangerous explosives in a manner that can only be explained as “exactly like Killer Queen in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.” Despite the danger, Komamura isn’t concerned and the reason why becomes clear quickly – he’s made a drastic trade for a power up.
In a reveal that gives fans the fun bit of trivia that the world of Bleach contains werewolves, “Heart of Wolf” features Komamura as a more human appearing being via the Jinka technique. In this Jinka form Komamura gets a significant upgrade in power, with his bankai shedding its iconic large armor in favor of the menacing skeleton underneath. This new form of Kokujō Tengen Myō’ō (called Dangai Jōe) is depicted with the most ambitious use of CG animation Studio Pierrot has deployed yet and I’m pleased to report they did great. Dangai Jōe is extremely well composited against the saturated environment that has served as the primary visual for this part of TYBW and the slight uncanny feeling of seeing the more traditionally animated form of Bambietta fighting it only serves to drive home that something isn’t exactly right about this particular power-up. That something is that Komamura has physically extracted his own heart and offered it to his clan’s head in exchange for this power, which has put his body in a state of un-death.
This little trick is meant to give Komamura the power to take vengeance on Yhwach for his murder of the Yamamoto back in “The Fire” but is perfectly suited as a check for Bambi’s otherwise difficult to combat firepower. He makes quick work of Bambi as a result, since she couldn’t really make any damage stick. However, just as he turns his attention to Yhwach, the comeuppance for this power reveals itself and the aftermath is one of Bleach’s longest-term payoffs. Over the course of the series, Komamura has been a voice of reason among the broader cast. That calmness was always put up against friend turned villain of the past Kaname Tōsen, who makes a brief cameo via flashback as Komamura recalls his admonishment of Tōsen’s desire for vengeance. The callback is good, as that was one of Bleach’s better side battles leading up to what probably should have been its original ending a couple of arcs back, but it’s effectively used to call Komamura out on his own words as his own body now warps into a full wolf. By seeking this quick power buff, Komamura has not only betrayed his ideals, but become a physical representation of it. It’s a pretty tragic end that still brings this particular character full circle, and Tite Kubo makes sure to clarify that Komamura was not wrong to want to have the power to stop Ywhach versus Tōsen’s desires when his vice captain arrives to retrieve him and tell him he was “not wrong.”
Particularly amazing about how the anime shows this sequence is that everything up to this point is before the episode’s title card. Studio Pierrot rightfully let this part of the story play out without intrusion or distraction, giving it the weight it deserved. That allows the rest of the episode to flow in a pretty breezy manner, showing the fates of several defeated Quincies and moving Uryu out to the front of the battle a bit more before transitioning to Mask and his new matchup with Rose and Kensei to queue up for next week. Not much to make of this beyond reinforcing again that Pierrot is nailing each episode’s animation, not just for the CG work on Kokujō Tengen Myō’ō Dangai Jōe but also for once again using vibrant colorwork on the Quincy’s Vollständig.
Each Quincy has a different color, with the primary colors animated in such a way that it creates the sense of their energy constantly moving and shifting. That kind of animation really sets apart the Vollständig from other powerups in Bleach, which could not be said of the manga representation alone. The post-credits check in with Ichigo also has some pretty swell animation as the truth of what’s happening to him is revealed and he’s filled with the sense of the Soul King’s power and has to try to become a vessel for it. Seeing Ichigo’s body physically swell up is striking, especially as it is the reverse of most of the cour so far by being in black and white.
“Heart of Wolf” really begins to move Bleach: TYBW out of its coasting pattern, aided by some stronger story beats. Once again, this is mostly a testament to the work of Studio Pierrot and their commitment to giving Kubo’s final arc for this series their full efforts. It’s paying off as these efforts are definitely preventing the weaker parts of the story from overwhelming and lowering the series quality. From a fan perspective, Studio Pierrot has fully exceeded expectations.
Featured image ©Tite Kubo/Shueisha, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot
'Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War' - "Heart of Wolf" - 8/10