After a few months off, Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War returns for its next cour, kicking things off with a good old training montage. “The Last 9 Days” dives right back into the thick of conflict between Soul Society and the Stern Ritters by showing the two getting ready for the next encounter and revealing Uryu’s place in everything. That does make the episode much more of a talk than show episode, but the showing that does happen is still some of Studio Pierrot’s best work. What issues there are continue to stem from the story they’re adapting.
Before digging too deep into “The Last 9 Days,” some attention should be paid to the new OP that comes with it. Bleach OPs were some of the best in class during the original series run, some of which remain all-timer’s. “Stars,” named for the track provided by w.o.d, takes the conflict and reframes it through a grounded and real-life experience for the cast. Tite Kubo’s characters have always had excellent fashion sense, but this OP adds more modern choices then have been afforded to these characters before. It may be a little canonically out of place to see Orihime sadly scrolling Instagram, but it serves the OP’s narrative and the character perfectly. The entire thing is a testament to why many fans have held onto their love of this cast and that even in an era of excellent OPs, Bleach is still here to play.
As for the episode attached, “The Last 9 Days” starts with a departure from the series’ normal animation in favor of a more esoteric look at Yhwach’s origin as a reminder that the show hasn’t quite gone over everything regarding him and will be explored this cour. From there, the episode catches up with our scattered heroes as they each take steps to get strong enough to deal with the inevitable return of the Stern Ritter. Ichigo, true to form, at first thinks his new Zanpakutō and origin story will be enough on its own. He’s quickly told by Squad 0 leader Ichibē that he’s not even close. This sends Ichigo into a sacred place to do more training, isolating him from the others. Renji and Rukia have also been training with Ichibē, when they get news that Byakuya has managed to recover from his near-death fight. Orihime and Chad remain in Hueco Mundo on their own training, concerned about the dangers ahead.
All of these snippets are meant to be compared to Uryu, who has switched sides to join Yhwach’s efforts, citing the history of the Quincy he learned in the previous cour. Much of the lead up to this part — called at the top of the episode “The Separation” — is focused on this heel turn for Uryu; but it’s a turn that doesn’t play off as earned. Even Yhwach’s explanation to Uryu for why he was named Yhwach’s successor doesn’t hold when put under scrutiny; telling Uryu he’s special because he survived the power-stealing ritual Yhwach performed on surviving Quincy and as such is the last remaining one from the living world doesn’t actually work. Not only is Uryu’s father still alive and powered, but last cour’s big reveal explains that Ichigo was a Quincy even before he was a Soul Reaper.
This is one of the issues that the source material brings over to the anime, unfortunately. Despite Thousand-Year Blood War being all about the long conflict between the Soul Reapers and the Quincy, the arc never really addresses how this conflict forms or how it impacts the larger world of Bleach. Old Bleach heads know that early on the explanation for why Soul Society waged war on the Quincy was because their methods were interfering with the natural cycle of spirits between the realms and could cause a destructive upending of everything. This never comes up in any meaningful way now, in fact Uryu’s big revelation is that it took two attempts from Soul Society to exterminate most of the Quincy rather than one. While manga readers will probably see this as nitpicking (believe me, I’m also caught up,) the reality is that Kubo is of course allowed to change or adapt things as his story grows, but that doesn’t mean those changes all work. If this cour is going to hang most of the emotional weight on Uryu as it seems to be shooting for, that doesn’t bode well for future episodes.
Not all is bad in “The Last 9 Days,” however. Studio Pierrot continues to put an incredible amount of effort into every scene, even if most of them are conversational this week. Led by series director Tomohisa Taguchi, TYBW has leveraged Kubo’s use of liminal space to deliver some very striking backgrounds and highlights. These really punch up every scene and give even the most straightforward conversation a heightened sense. Standouts this week include Uryu having to drink blood from a bowl in a room primarily awash in black and an alleyway conversation between Captain Kyōraku and Ichigo’s un-powered friends. These scenes could have easily been flat and basic shots but instead have a dynamic energy that keeps everything engaging in the back and forth. The highlight is the episode’s final moments, as the Stern Ritter invade and the Sereitei is awash in a contrasting deep blue and red to properly set the stage for the battles to come.
“The Last 9 Days” is not the strongest episode of Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War, but even with the narrative hang ups, it’s hard to deny how much love Studio Pierrot and Kubo have put into this production. Frankly, it cannot be argued that this adaptation has elevated the material it’s adapting in a significant way if slower episodes still have strong visual impacts on the first viewing.
Featured image ©Tite Kubo/Shueisha, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot
Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War - “The Last 9 Days” - 6/10