Sunday, 18 March 2012

Attack From Behind: Movie 3 Review

Movie 3 is subtitled "Fade to Black" (which, while obtuse, is more pertinent than Movie 2's "The Diamond Dust Rebellion"), but in my head, Movie 3's real title is "The Good One." Not out and out great, but it'll be the first anime-only material I review that breaks a rating of [5/10] (average).

Movie 3 succeeds where every other movie fails:
  1. The villains and the central conflict are unique and fairly compelling.
  2. The focus is on a character everybody likes, Rukia (well, everyone besides rabid Ichigo/Orihime shippers).
  3. The resolution is actually clever. It's still heart hax, but it's got proper build up and has an actual mechanism to it.
Moreover, the animation is nothing to sneeze at (although the beginning of the movie might be summed up as Soul Society "sneezing").

Movie 3 is far from perfect, but it is definitely the best BLEACH movie so far, and I encourage you to watch it first without getting spoiled by my review. Spoilers after the jump.
Remember how Movie 1's subtitle was Memories of Nobody? It would have made more sense as the subtitle of this movie, since its central theme is memories. It revolves around everybody forgetting Rukia's existence, and subsequently Ichigo's own existence. This premise accomplishes two things. One, it provides a way to explore character relationships, the reason Bleach was ever likeable to begin with, and with cinematic dramatic weight to boot. Two, it's the only proper reason for Soul Society to ever treat Ichigo as an enemy, which is one of the only potential plot bunnies in the BLEACH universe with a shred of tension anymore (that's pretty much why the Gotei 13 should have remained antagonists after they rescued Rukia--half of them just don't work as protagonists; Byakuya and Mayuri, for example).

Speaking of Mayuri, the movie opens with him getting sliced upside the head with a mysterious memory-scythe, wiping away what vestiges of "sanity" remained in his skull--though with exchangeable organs like his, you can rest assured he's got a brain backup stashed somewhere. Crazed and agitated, he lashes out against even his artificial "daughter" Nemu, not recognizing her. Kenpachi arrives to subdue him, but that's when the lab erupts into a devastating flood of ectoplasmic snake-fluid that smothers Seireitei in Kubo's dream substance, leaving half the citadel white.

Think about the average shmuck shinigami's reaction to this. "Encased in slime by a crashing wave of soul-serpents" has got to be a bizarre goddamn armageddon, even for Soul Society, where the apocalypse is always a day away, and it always one-ups the last for sheer horror. And this is just the beginning.

It would seem the villains have successfully retrieved  whatever contraption Mayuri had just completed, and they're using that glowing bauble to lay ruin to Seireitei! Well, I didn't say the movie would throw us too many curveballs, did I?

One wonders what on earth it was Mayuri was planning to do with that power before it fell into the antagonists' hands. One also wonders how it was the antagonists managed to know what Mayuri was up to before hatching their scheme.

The villains of this here picture are not your typical too-cool pretty boys with a grudge and disposable minions. They're former friends of Rukia who are childishly naive and destructively possessive of her, their shining star, the nice, brilliant girl who would give them names--the very locus of their self-worth.

This is the dude with the scythe:

And his sister, his hot, floating sister

Dem legs.

She's hot except whenever she pulls a face that makes her look like she's a Thundercat:

So, Rukia comes to Seireitei to see what the whole commotion is about, and the two of them appear before her. A swipe of the scythe, and Rukia's eyes goes blank; her "existence" has been erased. She's forgotten about her life as a shinigami, and everyone else who's come to know her has forgotten about her. Which means that Rukia is all theirs. Isn't that wonderful!?

The scene shifts back to Karakura. Kon attempts to decipher a note Rukia left (she'd left the world of the living a while back), but is shocked to discover that Ichigo has no recollection of this "Rukia." Odd that Kon was the only one to retain his memories of Rukia from the outset, but I guess it makes sense, since she's basically all he ever talks about. In any case, Ichigo's memories snap back after a little prodding. Ichigo visits Urahara, who's also forgotten her, but sees her name in his customer records. Urahara suggests this strange phenomenon might be connected to the havoc in Seireitei, and so Ichigo and Kon head off through Urahara's portal to Soul Society.

Yes, Kon finally gets some screentime in this movie, promptly reminding everyone why it is he slid out of show in the first place. I mean, he's not a particularly terrible or annoying character; I think most people can tolerate him, if not like him. It's just that he's so insanely one-note you can't really do much with him as a writer. His goal is obsessing over sexy women. That's it. Rukia just happens to be his primary fixation. He works in some parts of the movie, but whenever he pipes up during a serious emotional moment or tense action scene, he detracts from the tone.

Ichigo and Kon land in Seireitei, and Ichigo slices up a soul-snake, which succeeds only at attracting attention to the strange Hollow mask-wearing intruder. Ichigo is shocked to discover that Renji, perhaps the closest person to Rukia, has all but forgotten about her, too--apart from brief flashes of memory that cause Renji to panic and lash out. Then, of all the captains they could have had confront Ichigo as an enemy, they chose Komamura, which is a pleasant surprise, since he's sorely underused. Though he does seem a tad out of character here, attacking the intruder with no questioning or appeal to reason.

You know... just how is Ichigo so good at swordsmanship anyway? He wasn't using super speed, and it's not like he's taken kendou training or something. Before the series started he was a bruiser, and I'm thinking too much about this, aren't I.

Rukia awakes in her childhood home, the 78th Rukongai district, with her two friends. Her two friends are ecstatic that their Rukia is up and about, and now would she hurry up and tell them the names she'd promised to give them all those years ago. Rukia honestly tries to remember, but can't. Then she asks, what is it I've been doing all this time? I can't remember. The woman responds, in a moment of childish confabulation: Why, you've been asleep all this time, Rukia!


I like this scene a lot, because it demonstrates this time around that our antagonists aren't sniveling malcontents bent on establishing a new order through any means necessary. They're innocent, playful, even loving. But their "evil" is born from their adolescent selfishness and callow view of the world. From the point of view of children in the Rukongai, shinigami are mean bullies. Now that they've the power to destroy the bastion of elitist shinigami meanies and recover the Rukia they want, nothing's going to stop them. Rukia is all that matters to them.

Ichigo is healed from his wounds (sustained from tussling with Komamura) by none other than Hanatarou. It's a short cameo, and the encounter is quite contrived, but Hanatarou's stating he feels like he's met Ichigo before confirms that not everyone's completely forgotten him. Some vestiges of memory remain as an uneasy feeling of familiarity.

Ichigo decides to pay the Kuchiki manor a visit in order to speak with Byakuya, another who ought to have retained some memory of Rukia--especially since he's got a picture of his dead wife Hisana (who looks exactly like Rukia). Ichigo tells him "You did anything you could for your little sister, even if it meant bending the rules!" Now whose memory is faulty? Or is this him being EXTREMELY diplomatic?

Sadly, Renji's rash lunkheadedness is quite in character.

"I should have remembered you were never the type to listen to reason!"
There's a word for that, Ichigo. It's called moron.

Renji, if he tells you you've got a bankai... why would he lie? He knows everyone's names, he even knows the name of your captain's ex-wife. He's going out of his way not to fight any of the Gotei 13, and repeatedly says he bears no ill will (and not in the simpering villainy Aizeny way). Why, it's almost as though the only logical conclusion is that Ichigo is telling the truth.

And it's not as though tampering with memories is unheard of among shinigami.Remember when Rukia used that memory-wiper thing early in the series to status quo-ify things?

By the way, this isn't complaining about some plot inconsistency. I'm arguing that Renji's denseness is perfectly in line with canon lol.

Byakuya sets himself to unleash his zampak, but he pauses, then tells Ichigo the district of Rukongai where Hisana was born. If even Byakuya, who's got all the emotional intuitiveness of an empty salt shaker, can grasp that Ichigo might not have evil intentions, then Renji, whose mind must be screaming "RUKIA" from underneath the thick layer of blubber that comprises his frontal cortex, is extra dumb.

However, as Renji convalesces in bed, he's accosted by the materialization of Zabimaru, who chides him for forgetting he'd achieved bankai while risking his very soul for Rukia's freedom. It mirrors closely the scene in Soul Society Arc after Ichigo broke Zabimaru during their battle.

Ichigo finds Rukia, alongside her two nameless friends. Rukia starts to remember him in flashes and freaks out, so the guy with the two attack him, shouting "Shinigami!" as a slur. It's all his fault!

After this skirmish, Rukia demands to know what she's really been up to all this time. The woman cries that she doesn't know--they've been gone from Soul Society for a hundred years.


Dejected, Ichigo mopes. Kon whips him back into shape through his raving Rukia mania, and Ichigo thanks him. Finally, Kon is good for something. Then Ichigo fights Ikkaku, who wants Ichigo to prove himself a genuine  "shinigami substitute" in battle. Hitsugaya also attacks Ichigo, probably because Hitsugaya has a stick up his ass so huge people wonder which end of him pee comes out of. Renji comes to his senses and rescues Ichigo--and not a moment too soon!

Renji's head tells him Ichigo is the enemy (lol Renji, ), but his SOUL knows he isn't. Just like when Ichigo and Renji swore an oath on their souls at the same instant.

Then, Urahara and Yoruichi confront Yamamoto and the captains.

I don't get why Urahara came in his flashback garb. Is the idea that he came in that captain's haori, they'd all recognize him more readily?

Urahara explains: The memory lapse phenomenon is caused by the peculiar ability of a particular Hollow which he just so happened to have once researched in his lab.


That Hollow's scythe-tail can slice out memories, but in order to have wiped away the existence of a victim in others' minds altogether, it must have received power from an external source. As for why they all still remember Mayuri, it's because he fashioned a back up of his brain/memories. Makes about as much sense as anything else. It doesn't explain, however, how the Hollow in question wriggled free of its confinement in the lab in order to set events into motion. The easiest inference is that once Mayuri took over as Head Researcher, he let it loose for lulz. I mean, the dude blew up his own squad subordinates on a whim just to catch an intruder in the explosion. I wonder if his colleagues forgot that little nugget, too.

Actually, that raises the question of why they didn't use "Holy shit, where are Aizen, Tousen and Ichimaru!? Three captains are missing!" as a plot point to implicate Ichigo more. I mean, they must have forgotten everything that happened during Soul Society Arc, right? Which would include Aizen's betrayal. Oh well, whatever, let's just assume they were all too busy chasing after the intruder and swinging their swords impotently at soul-snakes to take a roll call.

Renji asks Ichigo why he wants to save Rukia, and the answer is simple: Because, when Ichigo needed it most, Rukia saved him by giving him shinigami powers and allowing him to protect his family. Even though there was no guarantee she would survive the exchange.That is, and always has been, the reason he fights.
Renji strives to remember this amazing woman, and finally succeeds.

Meanwhile, Rukia gets the two siblings to admit their plan, the banishment of shinigami away. When Rukia sticks up for shinigami, she melts down into a tantrum and explodes with dark energy, afraid those evil shinigami will take Rukia's attentions once more.

Renji unleashes his bankai and takes Ichigo on a ride up to the battleground aback it. Ichigo waits for the precise moment that an explosion blows up behind up to bankai himself. Trailer bait!!

Ichigo tells Rukia she's not the type who'd throw away her pride as a shinigami, and the floaty woman lets slip that Rukia was indeed a shinigami, causing her once again to go berserk with desperate grief. There's only one way now, the siblings decide: They must fuse with Rukia and be one with her, forever.

The unholy result is Dark Rukia, the lynchpin of the movie.

Here it is, the best part. Just watch the video.





Apart from Byakuya's appearance, I think this is the best scene in all of official non-canon Bleach. Byakuya and Renji may have given her up for dead once she was beginning to turn into a Hollow, but Ichigo knew better. And Ichigo repaid Rukia for giving him shinigami powers, by using the very same technique to restore her own, and expel the Hollow's possession effect once and for all.

Rukia runs to the siblings' dying forms, as they apologize: this must be their punishment for lying to Rukia.

As the Hollow's ability's effect fades away, the memory of how the siblings had come to be possessed by the Hollow returns to Rukia's mind. A shinigami possessed by the Hollow attacked the three of them one day, and the siblings drew out the Hollow into themselves to save Rukia.

The little kids understood only that it was a shinigami that drove them and Rukia apart.

The Hollow meant to devour one of the kids as a new host, but Rukia intervened, and it latched onto her as a better candidate.

The little girl stabs the shinigami in the leg with his sealed zampak, and the last thing Rukia sees before she faints is the shinigami slashing at them.

The Hollow, now occupying two bodies at once, transported itself and them back to Hueco Mundo in surprise. And it took a hundred years for the two to return to Soul Society after mastering the power of the Hollow possessing them.

Now that she remembers everything, she also remembers the names she'd given them: Shizuku (the guy) and Homura (the girl), together meaning "brilliant flame." Rukia insists that she herself was not all the two had left--they have always had each other.

Oh yeah, and while all that was going on, the Gotei 13 were fighting Cthulhu (which is apparently what emerges when you give one of Mayuri's inventions a tap on the side).

Tell me that isn't meant to be Cthulhu. Go on.

Ichigo closes out the movie, reflecting that while memories may vanish temporarily, the bonds of friendship he has forged are unbreakable.

Have fun when Tsukishima rolls around, Ichigo.

The end credits gag: Kon is still encased in dark ice, and everyone forgot about him.

This is rather uncomfortably on the nose, isn't it? This might as well be Kubo's inner world.


Well, what do you know, real bonds of friendship between characters we already know. Movie 1 tried to do that with a one-off original character, and Movie 2 had Hitsugaya's weak-ass pathos with his former friend turned one-off villain. But those two ideas would have worked with proper execution. I think the main thing that put me off of Movie 1 was their "like Senna yet!?" screen-whoring, not to mention the unbelievable blandness of the villains. It just wasn't interesting. Movie 2 was plain idiotic in its execution; a movie should not make you scream "Oh for fuck's sake, WHYYYYY" every two minutes.

Movie 3, on the other hand, has some meat to it. It explores some themes (the bonds that tie people together and the importance of memories). The behavior of the characters in this situation rings true.

And Dark Rukia is awesome.

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