In a double episode blow out, Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War closed its second cour. Focusing on the first group fight in a while, The battle between Yhwach and the Royal Guards becomes a slugfest pretty quickly but also a final chance for Studio Pierrot to show off for the year. However, it also once again reflects the issues that can arise both from this modern structure of seasonal anime, especially when applied to older material like TYBW. As a result, “The Master” and “Black” are visually exciting but not much more.
Fitting the transition to a new battleground, “The Master” continues in earnest what the previous episode set up, with Yhwach and Ichibē facing each other above the trap set for the Quincy invasion. Meanwhile, the other Guards look to try to wrap up the remainder of Yhwach’s Stern Ritter, including Uryu. Just like the other Guard members, Ichibē’s power is much more terrifying than an average Soul Reaper, as he demonstrates by using his Ichimonji to literally erase half of Yhwach’s existence – mocking him by calling him “Yhw” for the rest of their fight. However, equally true to Yhwach for most of this series, he’s got a trick for this: the Auswählen; previously teased as the cause of both Uryu and Ichigo’s mother’s deaths.
It is worth noting at this point that most of this choreography is altered a sizable amount from its manga counterpart. The changes are mostly for the best – forcing Yhwach to have to use Auswählen against Ichibē rather than prior to the fight connects better to events happening around Yhwach and below in the Seireitei (which focuses much more on the suffering of the Quincy’s being consumed.) The anime also uses this change to completely rewrite the other fights happening since the manga cuts away entirely in favor of focusing on Ichibē and Yhwach, which gives quite a bit more screen time for the other Guards. Where the manga simply cuts back to them being defeated, “Black” divides out each Stern Ritter to a Court Guard for brief one-on-ones that do a better job of showing the balance of strength begin to tip in the Stern Ritter’s direction.
That’s when, in the coolest moment of the episodes combined, the deviation culminates in one of the Guard’s bankai being unleashed. We’re treated to a significantly extended sequence showing off Shuntara’s true power, which can only be used when the others sacrifice themselves to undo the seal on each other’s strength – because it would “shake all three worlds,” and is demonstrated by a cut to Isshin and Ryuken back in Karakura Town realizing the scope of how bad it’s gotten as the sky shakes. Shuntara’s bankai takes the form of a reality warping loom, complete with complicated 3D tracking shots for each weave rolled out to seal away the Stern Ritters, Uryu included. Like Shinji’s bankai earlier this cour, everything about this sequence is wholly original and unlike Shinji, the sequence gets to shine for a lot longer.
Despite, or maybe because of this new content, between “The Master” and “Black,” the cour finds a strange place to end off. “Black” culminates with Ichibē’s ancient bankai coating Yhwach in black and attempting to rewrite him as “nothing more than an ant,” following up with crushing Yhwach between two kido hands. With five and a half minutes left in the Hulu release’s run time, the episode ends. That’s not weird in itself, Bleach: TYBW has had plenty of post-credit scenes. What does become weird is there isn’t a post credit scene, instead of all things the anime decided to revive the “Illustrated Guide to Soul Reapers” end tags from the original Bleach. Kon, the segment’s longtime host, claims the choice is because TYBW is bleak (which, fair) but it really just feels like a nostalgic play. These kinds of end segments can be fun when used well, but instead of giving the cour a real cliffhanger – a perfect one was literally moments away in the manga – it’s just Kon.
As a result, “The Master” and “Black” put TYBW in a weird place. Cour 3’s first episode may either have to drag a certain reveal out or continue to speedrun through new information, and it won’t even be out until some nebulous time in 2024. We do know that Studio Pierrot has the entire arc planned out, so this is likely not an issue of corner cutting but making sure scheduling is tight and this was the best breaking point they could find. TYBW was not written with anime adaptation in mind as Bleach was already concluded by this point in the story, so the pacing just doesn’t map very well to seasonal anime. In many ways, a classic weekly schedule would have allowed for extended pacing. Of course, the grueling demands of such a schedule basically demands things like “Illustrated Guide to Soul Reapers” to fill in gaps for animators. The reality is that making anime is both an art and incredibly complicated. At no point was there going to be a really perfect solution for this adaptation.
In spite of some middling episodes and those production choices, I think now that it is safe to say adapting TYBW has been a worthwhile endeavor. Letting Pierrot take a shot at finishing a series they didn’t get to is heartwarming, and the new production leads have brought fresh perspective the original desperately needed by the end of its run. Tite Kubo too seems to be reinvigorated by this project, he’s stayed involved through the whole process and that’s allowed for this anime-only content to fit seamlessly into the rest of the production. He’s even been celebrating each episode with wonderful unique art of featured characters in brand new Kubo drip and it’s fantastic work from a fantastic artist. TYBW is not the strongest example of that art, but it really does seem like everyone involved is trying their best to get as close as possible.
‘Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War’ - “The Master” & “Black” - 6/10