Last week was a bit of a mess, mainly due to the unbalanced pacing cramming somber grief right next to incongruous comedy. It was like attending a funeral, then walking out of the cemetery and tripping forward into a circus tent, and it meant that a lot of important and pertinent details got glossed over. Ironically, the divide between wacky comedy and deadly serious drama is starker this week, yet “The Drop” works far, far better as an episode unto itself.
Partly that’s thanks to reversing the order, opening up with the wacky yelling and comedic nudity first, and leaving the big reveals for after the eyecatch. It also helps that, while I’m still not a massive fan of Bleach‘s typical humor, the jokes here land better with Renji in the mix. The lieutenant’s bro-tastic rivalry and friendship with Ichigo are charming on their own, but here it acts as a grounding force for both our hero and the audience. This familiar, comfortable dynamic lets both characters feel at ease in a bizarre and distressing situation while giving the viewer something to latch onto amid all the weirdos in Zero Squad. After so many episodes of nonstop action with Ichigo largely separated from the core cast, it’s a welcome shift.
It also offers the two of them some precious moments to reflect on everything that’s gone down. They’ve just seen countless comrades die, and there’s no telling when the Quincy will return for a repeat performance. I like that Ichigo initially feels guilty about getting the red-carpet Training Arc treatment while most of Soul Society is still clearing the rubble. Renji helps him get out of that funk in his brash way, and it’s a lovely reminder of the heart that can make the big fights work. I’m less enamored with the Zero Squad, who still feel like gimmicks more than people, and I could go my entire life without seeing another overweight character with a sudden weight-loss shtick, but as plot devices, they’re serviceable. Besides, the real meat of this episode all comes in the back half, and it packs a hell of a curve ball.
As a teenager, Zaraki was my favorite character for a long while, but since graduating high school, I’ve cooled on his particular brand of feral fight freak. He’s still a fun personality, especially as a chaos engine among the mostly put-together squad captains, and he can get some rad fights on occasion. Still, he’s overdue for some genuine development if he’s going to be critical to this ongoing story arc. So giving him one-on-one training to fully realize his potential was already a solid idea. What I wasn’t expecting was who winds up “training” him and the mountain of new revelations she brings with her.
Unohana’s just always kind of…been there. She was never very relevant in either of the past arcs she was present for, and her main job was to heal everybody offscreen after big fights. With how much the cast has expanded since the Soul Society arc, you could be forgiven for forgetting she was even around. Which makes the sudden reveal that she was not only the first to hold the title of Kenpachi but also the deadliest member of the very first Gotei 13, all the wilder. This vicious, unstoppable embodiment of death has just been hanging around in the background for hundreds of episodes, twiddling her thumbs beneath her oversized sleeves and presumably humming death metal songs in her head, biding her time.
Then there’s her “training” with Zaraki, which by everyone’s admission, is combat to see who will die first, and it’s a goddamn roller coaster. We find out Zaraki’s scar came from his first and only fight with Unohana and that she was the “important person” he named Yachiru after. There’s so much history that’s communicated between the two in just a few understated reveals before they’re hacking and slashing at each other with more blood lust than any of the Quincy delivered. It’s fast and chaotic on Zaraki’s side, while Unohana carries an unsettling calmness that tells you she always has the advantage, and her opponent/student just hasn’t realized it yet. The cherry on top is that final moment, revealing the true goal of this whole fight – Unohana will repeatedly kill and revive Zaraki until he finally unleashes his unrestrained power in the face of death. It’s a brilliant, quintessentially shonen move that fits the characters perfectly and had me clapping like a seal over the end credits.
It all works so well – and is delivered so stylishly – that it’s only in hindsight that it seems peculiar that this episode started with a naked Ichigo being manhandled in a hot spring. That shows how arresting this whole reveal is and has this arc back on track after weeks of questionable moves.
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