This season finds the show’s hero, Ichigo Kurosaki, adjusting to normal life after losing his powers at the end of the previous story arc. No that that means things are quiet. He might not be able to see ghosts and he may be out of the Soul Reaper loop, but he still has plenty of teenage boy type stuff to worry about, from pushy bosses to annoying little sisters. Plus he’s hoping to cash in on his finely honed reflexes by hiring himself out to the school soccer and basketball teams…
All of this is handled brilliantly by the show’s creative team, with plenty of rambunctious comedy and scripts littered with cutting one-liners. After the sprawling, plot-heavy finale of the previous season, it’s a relief to see the show narrowing its focus onto the earthier territory of Ichigo’s domestic circle and high school buddies. This leaves plenty of space for the introduction of some extremely enjoyable new characters, a motley crew dubbed Xcution who hang out in a darkened nightclub. Whether they’re good guys or bad guys is hard to tell, but they put a proposal to Ichigo that might help him get back his powers. Cue some madcap scenes as Ichigo undergoes training by battling an angry talking pig and a sarcastic chicken.
Throughout this half-season, the show never puts a foot wrong. It’s full of winning humour and wild invention, and the great scripts are matched by frantic, high energy visuals. Last time round, there was a tiredness to some of animation, but here it’s top-notch – in a lanky, angular, gritty, gnarly way – from start to finish. It all culminates in an extraordinary transformation moment for Ichigo which is one of the standout sequences of recent seasons.
In short, the first half of Season 16 sees Bleach at its best, and feeling as it does like something of a new beginning for Ichigo, it’s also a great place for newbies to discover this constantly surprising and entertaining anime. 10/10