Bleach – Season 16: The Lost Agent arc

Bleach – Season 16: The Lost Agent arc

imageA year has passed since Ichigo lost his ability to become a shinigami and has reverted back to being a fairly-normal teenager, surrounded by his family and friends. Despite finally getting back the non-stress life that he always wanted, Ichigo still feels a little empty, like there’s something lacking in his life. That’s when Ginjo Kugo appears before him.

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Ginjo is the leader of a group of super-powered humans known as the Fullbringers. Ginjo presents Ichigo with an interesting offer that could mean the return of the powers that he has thought lost all this time. Meanwhile, a mysterious man called Tsukishima, who has frightening powers, is attacking Ichigo’s friends and Isshin Kurosaki is meeting with Kisuke Uruhara. Bigger things than Ichigo realises are going on underneath everything.

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If there’s something Bleach needed, it was this change of dynamic. By advancing things forward a year that gives things to change to a degree and keep things fresh. More material showing what Ichigo went through after the loss of his powers before jumping forward a year could have been added, but the limited aspects we do get handles it well. It’s not rushed with any catch-up, but it’s very superficial and doesn’t really deal with any emotions or feelings he may have about all the changes. But it’s not particularly shounen-protagonist to keep on about these things.

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Another good thing about this arc is that it immediately gives more time to core characters like Chad, Orihime and Uryuu. Since this story is primarily set in the World of the Living (and because Ichigo no longer has the power to see other shinigami), we get to spend some time seeing Chad develop as a character and get an insight to the origin of Orihime’s powers.

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I’m just going to put this out there: I NEVER shipped Ichigo x Orihime. Why? Why would anyone do that?

The animation and character design is the best its ever been for Bleach, and with good dialogue, character development and plot that kept me engaged from the beginning. And best of all, it’s (with the exception of one random episode) filler-free!

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We see Ichigo develop new relationships with Ginjo and the members of Xcution whilst he harnesses his new Fullbring powers. Tsukishima gets through Ichigo’s friends and starts to bear down on the Xcution members. But this part of the storyline, which has been building for some time, becomes quite irrelevant as soon as the focus shifts to Ginjo and the truth behind him being a substitute Soul Reaper himself – one that intends to get revenge on the Soul Society that wronged him by using Ichigo as a pawn. However, Seireitei was aware of this and was already using Ichigo as bait to draw out Ginjo. But during their plight against Aizen, he has become more than bait to them – he has become a respected comrade. As a result, the shinigami return to defend our hero and restore his Soul Reaper powers so he is able to battle his newest enemy.

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Thankfully, though the fight between Ichigo and Ginjo is an intense one, it doesn’t drag on for episodes (as is usually the norm) and is emotionally-charged. After a bit of dialogue between the substitute Soul Reapers, Ginjo becomes more of a sympathetic character. I feel a lot of time is wasted on the remaining Xcution members after the climax, but I guess it’s all about closure here, dealing with every loose end and showing some light on what’s in store for them now that Ginjo is gone.

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We don’t get a lot of ‘Ichigo in the aftermath’ here to see how he deals with everything that has happened, but perhaps they haven’t hovered too heavily on this because of the potential for Bleach to continue further down the line when the manga ends, as this may be a chance to revive things. In the final episodes here, Ichigo’s part in the Soul Society is made fairly clear in that while they are largely a fairly static group in their own way, he’s what will keep them growing and changing to deal with future threats.

You’ve got to recognise Bleach as a shounen giant with an iconic protagonist and a host of anime tropes. Things have been rather uneven through the years with filler arcs mixing in with the original story and it’s definitely had its ups and downs. I’ve always enjoyed the basic concepts at work here, but the lack of clarity and drive within the somewhat wandering storyline was the most detrimental thing to this anime’s health. Things were so drawn out and irrelevant at times that it lost its compelling edge and its general identity, which made it fall short when compared to Hunter x Hunter or Naruto. Filler is almost unavoidable with any lengthy-and-popular shounen story, but I will watch (and, most of the time, enjoy) Naruto filler because I love the core story. I started to become concerned for Bleach when the filler arcs started to become more interesting than the cannon arcs…

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That said, I have to acknowledge that Bleach is a well-known and popular anime for good reasons, so it will be sad to see it go even though I’ve often thought that it may have outstayed its welcome. Like I mentioned earlier, another season may be in the pipeline depending on where Tite Kubo takes the manga, as it may give fans a bigger sense of closure than this arc realistically could (since so many viewers will be aware that Ichigo’s adventures don’t end with defeating Ginjo). For the most part, this arc serves as a decent ending as any but, in my opinion, Bleach owes it to its fans – and itself – to establish and execute a proper ending for Ichigo and friends.