Even in compared to the previous weeks' action-packed episodes, this week's episode of BLEACH was by far the bloodiest and most brutal thus far. It may even be the most in the entire series; BLEACH episode four clearly wins in terms of active death count. In terms of plot, this closely corresponds to the manga. However, animation is clearly capable of adding layers that manga cannot. The voice acting was, in my opinion, the true star of this episode. BLEACH episode 4 featured continual terror, agonizing cries, and the kind of perplexed horror that only appears when one feels completely helpless in the face of something they don't comprehend.
This episode wasn’t all that complicated in terms of actual plot development so this review won’t contain quite as much analysis of that as the others. But, I think this is a good episode to use in order to take stock of BLEACH 2022’s speed relative to the original anime and the source material. This review will discuss that and the episode’s content in the context of the broader series.
Is Pacing a Problem in Bleach 2022?
The tl;dr answer is no, it isn’t. The fast pace of this arc is only fast relative to other arcs in the series. This isn’t a reason to immediately assume the pacing is bad, especially given that this is the final arc of the main BLEACH series. As mentioned in some of the earlier reviews, the BLEACH 2022 anime is taking care to cut out scenes that aren’t fully necessary in order to give more time to the more important scenes and the fights. As we saw last week, the anime is even dedicated portions of screen time to expanding some (in my opinion) underdeveloped aspects of the arc such as Uryu’s learning about his Quincy heritage. The BLEACH manga was well known to have been rushed toward the end and it was noticeable. The fact that portions of it are being stripped away is more likely to mean something better and more refined is coming rather than some sort of random filler content.
Even more, the kind of fast pace this arc is going through is a key component of it. The reason everything feels fast is that the overwhelming majority of fights are curb stomps. Typically, BLEACH arcs have a wide variety of fights across a variety of skill levels such that fights at all levels square off against something relative to them in skill and power. This time, the floor of power for the Quincy is captain level. That obviously means that lower-level soul reapers lose immediately and get diced like vegetables. But, this is just a strong mechanism for setting the stage for the remainder of the arc’s combat.
Overwhelming Strength Gaps
Multiple characters in BLEACH 2022 episode 4 explained the quandary of fighting these Quincy quite clearly. This is a group of captain+ level foes that can steal others’ bankai. But, because of their overwhelming strength, they’re characters that the fighters we know of can only stand up against with bankai. As we saw from Ichigo’s fight against Quilge though, strong soul reapers using bankai are much stronger than some Quincy.
What this veritable math equation of content means is that yes, most fights are irrelevant, but that just means the series is forced to employ some of its stronger fighters at full power. In previous arcs, even against opponents like Aizen, the strongest captains never used bankai. This time they’ll certainly have to. I’m of the opinion that the clearest and most explicit noting of this was in the snippet we saw from Kyoraku’s fight. During his fight against Aizen’s rank 1 Espada, he was frequently goaded about not using his bankai and won without. That foe, like his current one, used guns firing energy blasts. But, unlike last time, this fight began with him immediately getting his eye shot out.
The pacing of BLEACH 2022 is really only a problem in the context of the original anime’s fights and the original anime’s stakes. This arc is special in the sense that it’s not only the final and most explosive arc, but also the first arc that all the minds behind the series have a chance to revise and tweak as they see fit. More likely than not that means any changes, cuts, or shifts we see are optimizations rather than oversights. In any case, the series is already this gripping four weeks in. That alone is enough to be excited about.