Bleach – Season 13: Zanpakutō: The Alternate Tale arc

Bleach – Season 13: Zanpakutō: The Alternate Tale arc

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A mysterious man calling himself “Muramasa” has appeared in Seireitei to declare war against the Soul Reapers. Using his powers, Muramasa gives physical form to the shinigami’s zanpakutos and liberates them from the captains and lieutenants of the 13 Court Guard Squads. The rebellion leaves Seireitei in a state of destruction as the Soul Reapers go toe-to-toe with the physical formations of their zanpakuto, who cannot revert to their original sword forms unless defeated by their own masters. When it is revealed that Muramasa’s real intentions lie within Karakura town, the Soul Reapers must use every tool at their disposal to prevent his ideas from coming to fruition.

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If the threat of Muramasa wasn’t enough, then come the threat of the Sword Beasts – manifested zanpakuto of Soul Reapers who lost their lives during the battle with Muramasa. Due to the potential danger, an order is issued throughout Seireitei to hunt down all remaining Sword Beasts, including the ones that have escaped into the World of the Living.

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Another timeframe-skipping filler arc, just like The New Captain Shūsuke Amagai arc. This one really shows just how disorganised the thirteen squads are and how much they rely on their zanpakuto to do battle. From the early onset, the theme here is the appreciation of teamwork and how important it is in order to win. You know, typical shounen anime stuff. Most of the story here, like before, shows the extensive cast splitting into smaller groups in order to face off against their corresponding zanpakuto and then alternating between two or three extensive fight scenes. These fight scenes, surprise surprise, do relatively little to move the plot forward and tend to drag on. However, I’ve got to give Bleach its due for trying to keep things imaginative and attempting to bolster the intensity.

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The plot is average throughout, but impeded by chunks of exposition and backstory that are lumped together at certain parts. Like the preceding arc, character development is largely reserved for emerging foes, which leaves all of our plucky protagonists and supporting characters in a similar situation to what they were when battling Aizen.

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Animation-wise, the battle sequences are very sharp and fast-paced, and you can really see how Bleach has come on in leaps and bounds in this respect when compared to its earlier arcs. Whilst I am starting to tire of the long list of ceaseless shinigami attacks, I do appreciate the character design of all the zanpakutos. Their appearances are very creative and distinct, and I quite enjoyed getting to know their personalities. In a show that has added lots of characters, where many of them where the same clothes, it’s a nice treat to see some creatures truly stand out.

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Having Muramasa release the zanpakuto in this way causes us to question the morality behind the Soul Reapers, and whether or not their power has been achieved or taken. There is certainly a lot of affecting dialogue which paints the zanpakuto as slaves to their masters, making their fights much more relatable and understandable. With the Soul Reapers stripped of their power like this, it essentially removes the bizarre (and convenient) powers that often creep up as a quick fix.

Most strikingly, the visual tone is a lot darker as this arc kicks off. Greys and blacks are dominant, and they give a more desperate feel to proceedings. Many battles throughout Bleach have been unapologetically played out for entertainment’s sake, at least these battles have roots that can be traced back to the characters, making each fight feel a little bit more important. The zanpakuto also have an understandable motive, meaning we can easily question our ‘heroes’, their intentions and how they treat their zanpakuto.

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Though this was an extensive filler arc, Zanpakutō: The Alternate Tale arc actually made a little bit more of an effort that usual. Unfortunately, the story stagnates for far too long as a number of battles take place not simultaneously, but consecutively. Towards the end a few more strands come together, and the twists are worth the wait. For its sins, this arc has gotten the closest to cohesive storytelling Bleach has gotten in quite some time. There’s some great action scenes, but usually has far too much going on at one time (courtesy of the sheer amount of captains and vice-captains in the Soul Reaper squads) for viewers to be truly engrossed.