To recap, in Part 1 of Season 16, Bleach’s carrot-topped hero Ichigo Kurosaki buddied up with a colourful bunch of characters collectively known as Xcution in hopes that they might help him regain his Soul Reaper powers, which he expended back in the finale of Season 15. Part 2 finds him still hanging with his new besties and undergoing a training regime which even Rocky Balboa would consider dauntingly strenuous, given that it involves being impaled on a big sword on more than one occasion.
Meanwhile, old school buddies Chad and Orahime do some investigative work in an attempt to find out more about Ichigo’s latest nemesis, Sukashima, who has the power to twist minds and alter memories.
After some energetic opening episodes, Part 2 slows to a dawdle midway as Sukashima uses his powers to infiltrate Ichigo’s friends and family and turn them against him – an elaborate and over-subtle master-plan that has “filler” written all over it – and Ichigo responds by going into tortured, eyes-throbbing-in-disbelief mode. But the show slips back into top gear again with a well-timed twist or two, ushering in a kickass last third with some very inventive and intricately choreographed duels.
As always in Bleach, when the action picks up, so does the animation, and we’re treated to some very handsome fireballs and puffs of exploding masonry lighting up the skies over Karakura city. Needless to say, the show is never short of bizarre imaginative touches, and this time there’s a standout moment when Rukia gets turned into a stuffed plushie. Plus you’ve got to love the way Ichigo goes through more costume changes than Britney Spears in concert as he powers up through various levels of spiritual energy.
Arguably, Sukashima is a bit of a limp villain, but Season 16 compensates with some great supporting characters – sharply individualised and snappily dressed, the Xcution gang are in many ways much more sympathetic than all those Soul Society timeservers who usually fill out the background of the show. Part 2 also adds significantly to Bleach lore by revealing some hitherto undisclosed info about the true purpose of combat passes and status of substitute soul reapers.
A little more uneven than Part 1, but a satisfying conclusion to what as a whole is a fresh, exuberant story arc. 8/10