Multiple episodes in, ‘The Separation’ cour of Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War has settled into a pattern that long time fans will find familiar from previous story arcs. The primary cast’s training is starting to pay off as showcased in joining the already-going battle against the Quincies. In the past, this often played out over the course of weeks and weeks. With TYBW following a more modern production, this now happens in the span of an episode – and that is doing this series a lot of favors. “Rages at Ringside” is a perfect example of this change’s effects, both good and bad.
“Rages at Ringside” telegraphs its climax from the jump, as Kurosutchi re-establishes contact between the Soul Reapers so that Kyōraku can deliver some sort of rallying cry – at the cost of some very sassy talking down from Kurosutchi. Kyōraku doesn’t exactly rally, but does indicate that it’s “time to regroup” and that’s in part what happens when it comes to fighting the flashy Mask de Masculine.
Mask is quite a bit of a different fighter compared to most characters – which is saying something given that we’re also treated to two Bankai this episode that couldn’t be more different. Despite that, Mask’s commitment to the wrestling bit overwhelms both of them and both captains Rose and Kensei join the list of the KO’d. There’s kind of a joy in seeing a character not just get close in the other’s faces with mostly bare fists as it keeps the choreography of the fight tight. His power, called “The Superstar,” even ends up harder to dismantle than it would seem at first. Tied to a literal hype man who runs around with him, Mask gets restored and increasingly more powerful as this little guy cheers him on. He also can’t just be killed off to cut down Mask’s ability, proven when multiple attempts to do so just lead to him regenerating.
This power set does end up making him a good foil for the returned Renji, who intervenes before Mask completely does in everyone he’s been fighting. Renji gets some great lines and delivery as he leans into Mask’s heroes and villains routine and uses the moment to be properly menacing. Studio Pierrot finally gives him a proper big damn hero moment despite him playing the villain as he showcases his new Bankai, which is a radical departure from his previous one. Gone is the long bone snake that was iconic to him and in its place is a less dynamic but more interesting shell that gives him both a blade and an enhanced off-hand. As Renji uses this to push Mask into burning out, he gets his own cool hype song, complete with Hazel Fernandez lyrics, just like Ichigo is always afforded. It’s all very cool, and quickly resolved.
It’s hard not to compare this to Renji’s previous bouts after he became a recurring character. While his battle during the last arc of the original anime wraps quickly, it’s not really meant to be a complex battle – and if anything his conversation about his opponent’s gender there is a bit weird. Before that though is his team battle with Uryu against the Arrancar Szayelaporro Granz and took the course of nine episodes. That doesn’t sound too bad, but that’s also with extended filler arcs both before and after. By comparison, in “Rages at Ringside,” Renji has been able to be as cool as the protagonist against a properly powerful enemy in a stellar fight – all in the course of a single episode. The difference is stark and this new format is definitely preferred.
Of course, not everything is perfect – mostly the episode’s own logic. This once again is more an issue with the structure of the material and has actually been a long debated topic in the fandom, specifically regarding the captains that have been defeated over the past couple of episodes. Shinji, Kensei, and Rose were Visoreds, meaning that like Ichigo they have the ability to partially hollowfy and never call upon this power boost. This is mostly nitpicking for fans to debate about forever, but it does reveal the gears turning a bit more than storytellers usually want. It’s clear that certain characters were meant to beat certain Quincies, and compared to more modern series such as Demon Slayer where opponents can switch off and team up at a drop to raise tension, it’s a bit transparent.
Even so, while flawed it continues to be shocking just how good of a job Studio Pierrot continues to do with each weekly episode of Bleach: TYBW. Even knowing where the story is going as manga readers, there’s enough added from the act of adaptation for fans old and new to at least enjoy each stage of the ride on its own. “Rages at Ringside” is a solid fight episode, and there’s not much more to ask of than that.
Featured image ©Tite Kubo/Shueisha, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot
‘Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War - “Rages at Ringside” - 8/10