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Bleach Uncut Box Set: Season 4, Part 1 - The Bount
VIZ // Unrated // November 3, 2009
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Entering its fourth season, Bleach takes a small dip in quality. The show is still fun, but the 16 episodes that make up Season Four Part One don't have quite the intensity that the earlier seasons did. That's not to say the show has lost its way or is bad, it's not. There are still some exciting action scenes and the series expands nicely with the introduction of a new class of villains, the Bounts. In any case this is a set that fans of the show will want to pick up.
Background: Ichigo Kurosaki is not your average kid. Sure, he goes to high school like other kids his age, and he helps his father out at the medical clinic that his family runs, but Ichigo can do something most people can't: He can see ghosts. It isn't scary or freaky; it's just something that he's learned to live with.
One day he spots a girl, Rukia Kuchiki, that he assumes is a ghost, but she isn't. She's a 'Soul Reaper', someone who helps dead people pass on to the other side. In addition to that, Soul Reapers fight Hollows, spirits that weren't been able to pass on and have subsequently turned into monsters who feed on people's souls.
While talking to Ichigo, Rukia is attacked by a Hollow and wounded badly. Knowing that Ichigo won't stand a chance against the evil monster, she transfers some of her power to the young man. At least that's what she tries to do. For some reason he absorbs all of her power. With his new-found abilities he's able to easily defeat the Hollow, but afterwards he's not able to give Rukia her powers back. Without her powers Rukia isn't able to return home either, to the Soul Society. So it's up Ichigo to do her job and hunt down Hollows before they can hunt anyone.
Over the course of the first season Ichigo discovers some of his friends have special abilities too, like Orihime Inoue who can summon forth six small spirits that each has a different ability and that live in her hair pins. Chad is a tall muscular kid Ichigo's age who looks intimidating but is meek and mild in temperament but can channel great power. Then there's Ishida, a quiet studious person who is secretly the last Quincy, a race of priest who also hunt hollow and have a deep hatred of Soul Reapers.
Season Four: After the season-spanning adventure in the Soul Society, Ichigo and company have returned back to Earth where things seem pretty normal. Everyone still has classes to go to and they're looking forward to some nice normal time after the events in the preceding seasons. The only major change is that addition of Soul Reaper Lieutenant Renji Abarai to the cast of characters. He's been assigned to Earth and Ichigo announces that he's his cousin, which gives him a reason to hang around.
Things don't stay quiet for long. One evening Orihime gets a visit from her brother, her dead brother, who summons a giant gate and pushes her through it into another dimension. This starts a series of games between a mysterious voice on the phone and Ichigo and his friends. The voice gives Ichigo increasingly difficult tasks to do if they want to keep Orihime, and eventually others that are caught, from being killed.
These cat-and-mouse games last are only the preface to the main conflict this season however. After solving that mystery an even more dangerous menace appears: The Bounts. These are near immortal human with special powers that live off of consuming human souls. The leader of the Bounts has a plan that revolves around finding a Quincy. Of course Ishida is the last of that race, but he lost his powers while fighting in the Soul Society so he can't defend himself. His friends rush to his defense of course, but the Bounts are so powerful that even the substitute Soul Reaper powers that Ichigo possesses may not be enough to save Ishida.
While I enjoyed this set overall, there were a couple of things that I didn't like about it. The cat-and-mouse games that started the season off weren't that exciting, especially when compared to the large scale adventures they were having in the last season. Having Ichigo trapped in a maze or having to deduce which one of his friends was really an imposter didn't create the same spectacle as taking on Captains of the Soul Society. It seemed like a come down immediately after such a great adventure. The resolution of that plot was also pretty weak and a bit disappointing.
The other thing that had me rolling my eyes were the addition of three new characters: Lirin, Noba, and Kurōdo. These are modsouls, like Kon. They too are housed in cutesy stuffed animals and while they sometimes serve a useful purpose end up being comic relief most of the time. The show didn't really need scenes of a stuffed bird arguing with a teddy bear, but that's what we get this season, in spades.
Despite that the program starts to get better when the Bount storyline develops. These villains have a unique history and some very impressive abilities that result in some entertaining battles. I especially enjoyed the fight in the hospital between Ichico and company and a pair of kids who could control water. Everything in this set is uphill after that.
These next four volumes of the series, containing 16 episodes, come in a quartet of slimline cases, which is different than the previous releases. These four 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 mintues. They spend the time talking with the English voice actors.
After the high standard set by the first three seasons of this show, this set doesn't quite make the grade. It's still a good set, just a bit of a letdown after the previous season. The addition of the three new modsouls wasn't a high point of the series either. Having said that, this set is still recommended. The show really picks up in the second half, and the Bounts are a group of villains that are interesting as well as nefarious.