A couple of things that became clear while watching Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War is that the critiques of Tite Kubo’s repetition is fair and the manga running at the same time as Naruto‘s final arcs in Shonen Jump did this series no favors. These realizations are particularly clear in “The Headless Star,” which brings the rest of the main Bleach cast back into the spotlight for the first time this cour. By bringing everyone back the narrative begins to progress, all while reminding of that narrative’s weaknesses.
Before that, “The Headless Star” opens on a refresher of the distinct animation associated with Yhwach’s origin as he signals to the audience of the coming story shift. These departures from the standard style really are some of the adaptation’s crowning achievement and its hard to fault the team for using it whenever they can. From there, it’s right back into the action as Zaraki is assaulted by the remaining Bambis taking advantage of his wounds. Like several set up fights during this cour, this is more about scaling to someone else about to appear – in this case Ichigo as he bursts in to retake his starring role.
What follows is a multi-Quincy attempt to take Ichigo out that allows him to showcase his new Zanpaktō and abilities. It’s a classic Big Damn Hero moment complete with Ichigo’s classic hype music, the iconic “Number One.” However, original vocalist Hazel Fernandez is absent in this version of the song and I have mixed feelings about- this. On the one hand, Fernandez was on the first remix of “Number One” during the previous cour and it does make sense to want to use new spins while there’s time left in the series to do so. On the other hand, the very distinct vocals for this song is as much a part of the identity of Bleach as is Masakazu Morita adding a breath in the middle of saying “bankai.” What I do know for sure is that whatever the reasons for the change, it was not out of disrespect – the song remains one of the peak hype songs regardless of who’s singing it.
“The Headless Star” isn’t just about hype though, and before long the plot begins to move forward. Taking advantage of the hole that Ichigo punched in the atmosphere, Yhwach reveals his real plan the entire time was to let events play out exactly as they did so that he could invade the Soul King’s palace. This sequence of events is another evolution of the Quincies plot taking the form of “oh but of course I KNEW you were going to do that!” It might not be so bad save for Bleach having been here many times before, which “The Headless Star” really highlights. As Ichigo rushes to intercept them and discover Uryu’s defection, the scenes look extremely similar to ones the series has played out before: Yhwach ascends up a pillar of light into another realm just like original bad guy Aizen at the climax of the early Soul Society arc. Speaking of Aizen, the surprise reveal of his betrayal also happened at this juncture. Rhyming plots aren’t inherently bad – I’m a Star Wars fan after all – but nothing Yhwach has going on right now makes him nearly as compelling as Bleach‘s previous antagonist and that makes the repetition far more obvious.
Uryu’s Sasuke arc isn’t helped by this clear repetition and neither is the ease at which this turn can be compared to Naruto‘s resident moper. Ichigo and Uryu’s relationship is very different than Naruto and Sasuke’s and while Kubo isn’t trying to mimic the latter’s conflict, right now that is exactly the energy being put out. That’s owed to this being not only far from the first about face in Bleach but also to TYBW just not spending nearly enough time with Uryu. Compared to more modern interpretations such as in My Hero Academia, Uryu’s about face just doesn’t hit hard. Much like with the reveal of Nozarashi last week, this is an aspect that the anime could have given us some extra scenes to flesh out.
These narrative weaknesses in “The Headless Star” definitely bring TYBW down a peg after a slew of strong battle episodes. It’s a shame, given that this is the first time the main cost is a/together again. That said, the cour isn’t over quite yet and there may still be expansions of the story to come. Hopefully this car will get to end on a quality high note.
Featured image ©Tite Kubo/Shueisha, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot
‘Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War’ - “The Headless Start” - 4/10