We wrap up the fourth season, along with another story arc, in Bleach Season 4 Part 2 from Viz. While I wasn't enamored with the first half of season four, I found that the series did pick up for the most part in the second half and definitely went up a notch in story quality. The Bount story arc still isn't as exciting or creative as the preceding ones but it has developed in unexpected ways that makes it worth watching.
I usually include a section on the background of an anime series, but since this is covering the end of the fourth season, I assume everyone who is reading this pretty much knows who Ichigo is, what a Soul Reaper does, and just who and what the Soul Society is. If not, check out my reviews of the earlier seasons here.
This collection: In the first part of season four we were introduced to the Bounts, near immortal humans with special powers that live off of consuming human souls. The leader of the Bounts has hatched a mysterious plan that revolves around finding a
As this collection opens, that Bounts have created a horrific weapon: the bitto. These are small flying insects with sharp stingers that they use to drain the souls from humans, leaving a dried husk behind that soon turns to dust. Afterwards the bittos return to the Bounts where they give them the souls they've harvested. These 'living souls' give the Bounts a huge amount of power, along with a euphoric rush. After they've all ingested souls, the Bounts head out to test their new powers. In separate encounters they run into Ichigo or his companions, but the humans are no match for the energized immortals. When Lieutenants from the Soul Society show up however, the tide of battle shifts quite dramatically.
I enjoyed this set a lot more than the previous one. They take the time to flesh out the Bounts in this collection, making them more real and not just evil baddies who twirl their handlebar mustachios while waiting for a train to run over the damsel that they've tied to the tracks. There's an episode where one Bount, Koga, recalls training a young Bount named Cain and relates the lonely lives that Bounts generally live. While there's still a part of the puzzle missing (I can't quite draw a line from the Koga in the story to the murderer in the current tale) it did show the villains from a different point of view and that really made the story more interesting.
Of course this is an action series and there's quite a bit of that in this set. Unlike the previous collection however the battles weren't just long slugfests. I have to admit that my eyes did start to glaze over in some of the fights, but when the members of the Soul Society arrived my interest was piqued. Of course this was timed for the most dramatic effect, but it worked well and I cheered inside when the various Lieutenants started kicking butt. And that's what this show is all about, isn't it?
The DVD:These next three volumes of the series, containing the final 12 episodes of season four, come in a trio of slimline cases, which is different than the previous releases. These three cases come in a standard slipcase.
The set comes with the original Japanese audio track as well as an English dub, both in stereo. I alternated between the two every episode for the first couple of discs, and finally settled on the Japanese track which was just a tad more natural sounding. The English actors did a good job, and managed to breathe live into the animated characters. While the show would have been enhanced by a multi-track audio option (especially during the fight with the Menos Grande), the stereo audio was fine. There was a little use made of the soundstage, though not as much as I was expecting.
There are optional English subtitles, though they don't translate signs or written text, which was a bit irritating at times.
This show is presented with a full frame image, which looks pretty good. The colors are nice and strong and the blacks are solid. There was a little banding in some scenes, and there was a bit more aliasing than I remember in previous collections. Otherwise the picture looks fine.
Not much of the way of extras this time around. There's a clean opening and closing animation as well as some production art galleries. The biggest bonus is a behind the scenes featurette that runs nearly 10 minutes. They spend the time talking with the English voice actors.
This set takes a step up in quality from the last collection that was only so-so. If you were disappointed in that group of shows, I can't blame you but don't give up quite yet. These 12 episodes are pretty good and really get the story moving. What's more, the ending hints at an exciting season 5. Go ahead and check this one out, it gets a strong recommendation.