Tite Kubo’s behemoth series, Bleach, is hardly a story with the happiest of endings. Having begun its life strong with an exceptional first arc, earning its place alongside Shonen Jump powerhouses One Piece and Naruto as one of the fabled Big Three, it seemed as though this series was flying high.
However, as was the case with Naruto, much of the Bleach anime was clogged with an excessive amount of filler episodes, and the manga found itself falling victim to recycling ideas time and again, in turn leading many readers and viewers to abandon Bleach all together. This eventually led to the tragic and premature cancellation of both the Bleach anime and the manga – a truly sad end for the former industry giant.
However, despite this, we here at the Otaku Rabbit Hole are pretty huge fans of Bleach, its ideas, characters and, of course, its incredible action sequences. So, then, today on our trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole, we’ll be taking a closer look at the Bounts, a pair of filler arcs from the Bleach anime that’s generally disliked by Bleach fans for a number of different reasons.
As a disclaimer, this discussion will delve into major spoilers for the plot of Bleach, both filler and canon. If you wish to remain unspoiled or plan on reading/ watching Bleach in the foreseeable future, then please consider clicking away now! Well, without further ado, let’s jump right into it!
Bleach and it’s Humble Beginnings
Bleach is a series that starts with a simple enough concept. Our main protagonist, Ichigo Kurosaki, is a human with an extraordinary ability – he can see ghosts and the souls of the dearly departed.
One day, however, Ichigo’s world is forever changed when a giant masked monster appears and attacks Ichigo and his family, an attack that he is helpless to stop. From nowhere, a woman, clad in a black Shihakusho and wielding a Zanpakuto (a samurai sword for those uninitiated) appears to slay the beast and save the day, but before she can do so, she is struck down and left wounded.
She reveals that she is Rukia Kuchiki, a Soul Reaper, one of a group of highly trained specialists tasked with aiding with the cycle of rebirth through guiding those souls unable to pass on to the afterlife, a realm that Bleach calls the Soul Society.
This creature that now threatens Ichigo and his family is a Hollow, a soul who has become corrupted. To save these Hollows, Soul Reapers must destroy their masks, thus purging them of the crimes committed as a Hollow, allowing them to pass into the Soul Society.
However, as Rukia lies injured from the Hollow’s attack, she is unable to carry out her duty. In her desperation, she turns to Ichigo, pleading for him to take a portion of her power to fight in her place and save his family. The transfer begins, and Ichigo becomes a Soul Reaper, brandishing a giant sword that he uses to quickly dispose of the Hollow in a single swing.
However, despite the best intentions, things don’t exactly go to plan. Ichigo unknowingly takes almost all of Rukia’s Soul Reaper powers, leaving her unable to even summon her sword.
From here, the scene is set. Ichigo becomes an acting Soul Reaper, with Rukia becoming his mentor, instructing him on how to best wield his new-found powers. They form a close bond, a bond that grows with each new battle and encounter.
However, it is when Ichigo is at his most confident that things take a dire turn.
The Soul Society, having learned that Rukia had imparted her powers to a human, sends two of their strongest to bring her back, so that she may be trialled and executed her for her crimes.
Ichigo being Ichigo sets out to save her, only to face a crushing defeat at the hands of the enemy Soul Reapers. His loss comes with an even worse realisation when he eventually returns to school.
Rukia is gone. Her entire existence erased from the minds of those who once called her their friend.
With only a small handful of individuals, each with their own set of unique powers, able to remember her, Ichigo, Orihime, Chad and Uryu set out to rescue their friend by infiltrating the Soul Society.
The Rukia Retrieval Arc is arguably the best and most beloved arc in all of Bleach, filled with tremendous, earth-shattering battles, massively shocking revelations and soul-destroying betrayals. It stands to reason then that the next arc would need to raise the stakes further in order to compete.
But, in Season 4 of the anime, there came something else, something unwanted, something… filler.
Season 4 would see the introduction of the Bounts.
Bleach – The Bount Arc
Before we get into the finer details, let’s take a look at the story that unfolds in Bleach‘s Bount arc.
After having rescued Rukia from her execution and having survived the evil schemes of former Captain Aizen, Ichigo and friends return to their peaceful daily lives in Karakura town. However, as is the case in most shonen, that peace was not to last.
A small confrontation with a trio of mod souls leads to the introduction of this arc’s main antagonists – the Bounts. Bounts are a group of immortal beings that resemble humans created by the Soul Society following an unfortunate accident.
These Bounts have survived for centuries, feeding on the souls of the living like a strange type of vampire. Of course, this means that they’ve survived war and hardships unimaginable and that they have had to fight to survive.
In order to face any opponent, the Bounts have their own secret weapon – a familiar unique to every Bount known as a doll. These dolls can come in any number of shapes and forms, with terrifying powers that rival even that of the Zanpakuto.
In an early encounter, Ichigo discovers that despite having unlocked the true potential of his Zanpakuto thanks to his achieving both Shikai and Bankai, the first and second power-up forms of Zanpakuto, the lack of spiritual energy (reishi) in the World of the Living means Ichigo can no longer access his Bankai, putting him at a severe disadvantage in the battles to come.
The following season has series staples and fan favourite Soul Reapers face off against the many Bounts that seek to gain access to the Soul Society, with some fun and interesting battles. The end of Season 4 sees the Bounts achieve their goal and successfully gain access to the Soul Society.
Season 5, unlike Season 4, sees Ichigo and friends travel once again to the Soul Society to defeat the Bounts that survived the previous season. The catch, however, is that in the Soul Society, not only are Ichigo and friends made stronger, but so too are the Bounts, as they are able to utilise reishi to increase their abilities far more than their usual soul-sucking antics and even heal their wounds, making the already intimidating Bounts all the more potent.
Now, while the plot is interesting and has its pluses, there’s a lot to digest with the Bount arcs, so let’s start with some positives!
Bleach is one of those Shonen series that suffers from an all too common issue – power escalation. With each subsequent arc, Ichigo and a select few others are forced to grow stronger and stronger in order to face the ever-increasing threats to the soul society, leaving other, less powerful characters forgotten as a result.
In the previous arc, Ichigo had achieved Bankai, an ability so powerful and difficult to master that only a select few soul reapers will ever achieve it. Not only that, but he had done so in record time. Ichigo had then gone on to rescue Rukia, faced off against, and bested, the nigh-invincible Captain Byakuya Kuchiki and saved the day. He was powerful, he was confident, and he was in for a shock.
The greatest strength of the Bount arc, or at least the first season, is how it de-escalates, forcing Ichigo to relearn what he took for granted while allowing other, less powerful characters to shine.
Reishi, the very spirit energy that makes up the Soul Society is also something that can be harnessed by individuals for battle, healing and so on. The sheer amount of reishi in the Soul Society made accessing Bankai a breeze for Ichigo during his mission to retrieve Rukia. However, by returning to the World of the Living, it would make logical sense that there be some limitations imposed in such a starkly different world.
Ichigo is still Ichigo, but now he’s been handicapped.
These limitations behave in a similar manner to the far later Fulbringer Arc, where Ichigo needs to regain his powers. It introduces a moment of calm, where Ichigo isn’t some shonen superhero – he’s vulnerable. It presents a unique strain of logic missing from the manga, that the worlds themselves are distinct, with their own rules that govern them, presenting their own unique challenges for those seeking to navigate both the Soul Society and the World of the Living.
Not only does this place Ichigo at a disadvantage, but the Bount arc also allows series favourites to make a reappearance. Many characters from the early seasons, like firework-loving hardhead Ganju, were beloved by fans but made little, if any, appearance in later seasons. This allowed for these lesser characters, as well as key players like Uryu and Orihime, to receive some well deserved time in the spotlight.
OK, so it’s time for us to come clean.
The reason we’ve focused so intently on how Bleach‘s Bount arc enforces a set of rules that impact our heroes while allowing characters to grow and gain some well deserved time in the spotlight is because that’s our favourite aspect of the Bount arcs.
However, we’re not afraid to admit that there’s a lot that the Bount’s arc does poorly.
Due to its very nature as a filler arc, the rules require that all end as it began – it can leave no lasting impact on characters that will play an important role in future arcs. Bleach is high action and high risk, with characters rising and falling rapidly, especially in the later arcs. By comparison, the action in the Bount arc feels… shallow. You know that the only characters facing real risk are the Bounts and that Ichigo and friends will be unharmed. It feels like a massacre waiting to happen.
The Bounts themselves also start out as interesting characters but quickly grow to become unlikeable. A small subset of the Bounts like Yoshino, the woman who Uryu becomes attached to, and Koga, the hulking man with a heart of gold, are likeable and feel well realised. The problem comes when viewing the remaining Bounts through the same lens we view the rest of Bleach with – they’re not just unlikeable, they’re downright unhinged!
The immortality of the Bounts will eventually result in reduced mental stability. That’s something that’s revealed during the arc and something seen by how erratic the actions of the Bounts are, particularly during their invasion of the Soul Society.
However, their leader, Jin Kariya, is on a whole other level, acting and behaving more akin to a psychopath with delusions of grandeur. His ultimate goal is the mutually assured destruction of both the Soul Reapers and the Bounts, and he doesn’t care who has to die for that to happen, be that friend or foe. His battle with Byakuya was one of the few highlights, in our opinion, with his wind posing the perfect counter to Byakuya’s Zenbon Sakura – it was fun and action-packed, but even then, he remained unlikeable.
Other arcs in Bleach introduce similar adversaries to Jin Kariya, only in those cases, the characters have unique nuances that make them interesting and likeable, even if they are trying to destroy life as we know it!
It’s a real shame that the Bleach anime missed the memo with Kariya, as he views Bounts as pawns, Soul Reapers as something to exterminate and the Qunicy as the key to unlocking it all. He never feels dangerous because of his status as a filler arc villain but lacks any nuance or character trait to help make him memorable in a good way. He’s just… there.
This problem is compounded further by the fact that, unlike the other Bounts, Kariya has no doll. Instead, he has become one with his doll, thereby eliminating the inherent weakness of Bounts, where by destroying a doll, the Bount too shall die.
In truth, the revelation that Kariya and his doll have fused is an incredible one – Kariya is powerful thanks to his fusion, but he is no longer wholly reliant on it. His strength then stems from the combined potency of Kariya and his doll combined. The catch is, while many of the Bounts are a little bland in their personality, their dolls have a personality that shines far brighter, making them a pleasure to watch and making for a cohesive whole.
The best example of this is the metal doll, Dalk. Her sadistic and playful demeanour has her toying with her opponents, cruelly tormenting them as she fights, making every encounter a battle of strength and mental endurance. Her personality couples well with her Bount, the stoic Koga, making for a dynamic that’s fun to watch.
By removing Kariya’s doll from the equation, Kariya is shifted into stark focus, emphasising any flaws and imperfections that his doll might have otherwise helped to mask. It’s a pity, because if Kariya had fused with his doll in a later episode, it could have contributed so much to his character development in a poignant moment where his desire for power is finally realised. Instead, we’re only shown a flashback to the moment Kariya and his doll fused, making it a far weaker moment for it.
While Bleach‘s Bounts are one of the series’ less impactful villains, even among the filler arcs, the unique concept of their immortality and their dolls helped make them interesting to watch. Sadly, due to the arc’s main villain being little more than an unlikable psychopath, the lesser villains feeling generally undeveloped and underwhelming, and its status as a filler arc having already relegated it to being widely despised by the fanbase, the Bounts stood little chance for widespread appeal.
What the arc did introduce, however, was a scenario where the cast could shine. Ichigo wasn’t the absolute powerhouse he once was, clawing a small break from the high-octane action, while giving just enough breathing room before the Hueco Mundo arc kicked in and upped the stakes once more.
Ultimately, where you fall on the Bount arc will come down to personal preference. Do you want your favourite characters to get more screen time, while the world becomes more defined? Then this arc will deliver on that. Do you want likeable and well-written villains? Well, maybe you’ll find yourself a little underwhelmed. While we enjoy the Bount arc on the whole thanks to its fun, no-consequences action, its flaws are undeniable, making it quite the guilty pleasure.
With all that being said, thanks again for joining us on this week’s trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole, and we hope you’ve enjoyed your time here. If you did, that’s amazing, and please consider sharing. If you didn’t, then please get in touch and let us know why. We would love to hear your thoughts! Thank you all once again and, until next time, keep it weeby everyone!