As part of Shonen Jump’s “Big Three” during the aughts, alongside One Piece and Naruto, Bleach reigned supreme as one of the biggest Japanese franchises of all time. Sadly, burdened in later years by haphazard storytelling and filler arcs, the anime’s popularity waned and its fanbase dwindled, leading to the show’s abrupt and unofficial cancellation in 2012. Unfortunately for die-hard fans, this meant that the series left off with an entirely unsatisfying conclusion. A decade later, Bleach has finally returned to adapt the manga’s final arc, Thousand-Year Blood War.
To recap: Bleach follows Ichigo Kurosaki, a teen with the ability to see spirits. He uses his powers as a Soul Reaper, assisting the flow of spirits from Earth to the afterlife. In addition, Soul Reapers also function as a military force that prevents evil groups from controlling the spiritual plane. The Thousand-Year Blood War arc pits the Soul Reapers against another spiritual military group known as the Quincy. Without missing a beat, season 17 picks off right where we left off by stylishly reintroducing Ichigo and old friends Chad, Ishida, and Orihime – before immediately establishing the villainous faction as a brutal and bloody force unlike anything they’ve faced before.
The first thing Bleach day-ones will notice is how smooth, crisp, and well-produced the animation is, courtesy of Studio Pierott. Everything from the character designs to the fluidity of the action sequences has improved, thanks to the strides made in animation over the last 10 years (Ichigo’s sword techniques have never looked cooler). The new Bleach offers the ideal blend of its nostalgic, old-school art style along with dynamic upgrades that keeps the show visually competitive with its modern contemporaries. Packed with a healthy dose of action, cheer-worthy moments and an invigorating sense of momentum, this prologue to Soul Society’s greatest crisis has been nothing short of a triumph.
It is important to note that among manga readers, the Thousand-Year Blood War arc was widely panned as rushed and messy – riddled with underdeveloped character arcs, plot holes and baffling narrative decisions. Much of this is attributed to author Tite Kubo dealing with serious physical and mental health issues during the manga’s final run while simultaneously facing pressure from his publisher to wrap up the series quickly due to declining sales. This time, though, Kubo promises that his second crack at Bleach’s ending will right those wrongs. During a recent Q&A with his fan club, Kubo revealed that the anime will feature new content and story beats that were left out of the manga. Specifically, Kubo said the show will delve further into the first Quincy invasion and – spoiler here – reveal who attacked Rukia.
If that isn’t enough to quell worries that the anime might repeat the manga’s most grievous mistakes, the first two episodes have already begun making minor adjustments by cutting extraneous moments, extending pivotal ones and slightly rearranging the sequence of events. New series director Tomohisa Taguchi clearly respects the source material but is willing to take some creative liberties, unlike original series director Noriyuki Abe who was often faithful to a fault. These thoughtful tweaks have already paid off – Thousand-Year Blood War feels like a glorious return to form for the shonen giant.
For 10 long years, a revival of Bleach has always seemed like a pipe dream. All eyes are on Thousand-Year Blood War now, not just because its existence feels like a minor miracle: some within the larger anime fan community see its return as a beacon of hope for other unfinished series. After the startling announcement in 2020 that Bleach would be renewed, other studios followed suit by resurrecting long-dead projects. Bandai recently revived Tiger & Bunny 11 years after season one ended. Earlier this year, 3Hz brought back The Devil Is a Part-Timer! after a nine-year hiatus.
Naturally this trend has buoyed speculation that some higher-profile titles might also be revived. But a lot of this optimism, and the industry’s willingness to offer buried IP a second chance, hinges upon the continued success of Bleach’s 17th season (which still has 50 episodes to go). Should Thousand-Year Blood War continue to be well-received, there’s reason to believe that a similarly popular (and similarly incomplete) shonen series like Hunter x Hunter will get a new lease on life (especially considering the HxH manga will return to publication this month after a long hiatus). Some other potential candidates for a comeback include ’90s classics like Slam Dunk (which frustratingly ended before its climactic Nationals Arc) and Rurouni Kenshin, alongside cult hits such as Baccano! and Spice and Wolf.
Will Bleach throw the anime revival floodgates wide open? Tag along with Ichigo and crew in Thousand-Year Blood War to find out.