Bleach – Season 4: The Bount arc

Bleach – Season 4: The Bount arc

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Having rescued Rukia from execution, Ichigo, Chad, Orihime and Uryuu return to the World of the Living and attempt to resume their normal lives. But they soon find themselves confronted by a strange trio who want to play some “games” with them. However, Ichigo discovers that these games are the least of his problems, as the much bigger threat is a group of beings known as Bounts, an artificial race that feed on the souls of the living. Now Ichigo must rally his allies in order to stop the leader of the Bounts stealing souls to feed his ambition of destroying Soul Society.

This is the first arc of Bleach made up of what is known as ‘filler’ episodes – plot lines that are not derived straight from the manga that are used by anime producers to give manga-kas time to publish more material and allows the anime to continue with its weekly instalments. As a result, there is no mention of the Bounts and their attack on Soul Society in Tite Kubo’s manga.

Season 4 is essentially split into two plot lines. The first one focuses on the modified souls (called mod-souls) and the games their play with Ichigo whilst the second focuses on the Bounts, the predominant antagonists for this season.

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With regards to introducing the mod-souls in the first half of this arc, I wasn’t too impressed. It only felt like a badly-portrayed game of cat-and-mouse that lacked any of the action and drama of the last few arcs. I understand why filler episodes are needed in popular long-standing shows such as this, but it was clear within the first few episodes of this season that the momentum had been completely lost. There was no sense of urgency, no mention of Aizen and his plans (apparently, according to a piece of narration, it’s going to take him a while to ‘assemble’ his plans). The lack of action here is a true disappointment as the balance between drama and comedy has been upset, so now all that we’re left with are some new characters and a tedious amount of running around with the odd scene of banter between a few of them.

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Though the second half of this arc, for me, was marginally better, I still saw a lot of the same problems. Seeing the Bounts fight in a similar way to the Soul Reapers with their ‘doll’ constructs was an interesting premise, but they still seemed to lack that ‘threat factor’. It always felt like there was something missing, which is a shame considering the breakneck pace of its predecessors – but this is the risk you run with filler arcs. If you put a story in somewhere where it shouldn’t necessarily be, sometimes it can look as disjointed at this one.

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There’s considerably less excitement generated in this season, which is something that Bleach usually uses to its advantage with brilliant sword fights and high stakes. The battles with the Bounts, however, just seem overly flashy and extended without actually achieving anything important. It just seems as if they’re going through the motions and being a poor imitation of the previous battles within Soul Society. Bleach excels at juggling several one-on-one battles simultaneously, but now things are beginning to look repetitive and occasionally poorly-choreographed. Though this is not a constant problem (Chad, Rangiku, Noba, and Ururu battling Sawatari displays teamwork, co-ordination, and use of skill rather than just relying on raw power to plow through the opposition), season 4 just doesn’t have the intensity of its predecessors.

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However, though an arc full of filler, the backstory is as rich as ever. There are still exciting action scenes as the story expands to introduce the Bounts and their history. Ichigo also undergoes further training underneath Uruhara and Ganju and Hanataro spend some time in the World of the Living working in a shop – nice comedy breaks that keep Bleach entertaining whilst you recuperate from all the sword fighting and exposition.

The soundtrack is solid as always. The Bount themes set a good mood for the story but still lack the drama of themes used previously. The opening song ‘Tonight, Tonight, Tonight’ by Beat Crusaders is another solid rock number. The ending song changes from ‘Hanabi’ by Ikimonogakari to ‘MOVIN!!’ by Takacha from episode 87 onwards.

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Don’t get me wrong – season 4 isn’t without merits. We have the amusing ‘Illustrated Guide to Soul Reapers’ end segments, but I personally feel that the negatives outweigh the positives. As I watched this arc, it did make me wonder whether it was worth my time. It’s filler, after all, and contributes minimally to the original manga storyline as none of the new characters are actually designed by Tite Kubo. Filler definitely appeals more to hardcore Bleach fans that require their weekly fix, but I don’t think I’m part of that group (if this were Naruto, however, things would be very different).

Whilst not the most effective Bleach antagonists to date, the Bounts certainly work as plot devices to develop the main characters and keep Ichigo and friends warm for when the manga storyline resumes.