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Bleach finally looks as cool as it should in Thousand-Year Blood War

Ichigo’s back, baby

An image of Ichigo from Bleach. He’s holding his big sword up for a swing and is gritting his teeth as he does so. Image: Pierrot/Viz Media
Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

After roughly 10 years on hiatus, Ichigo Kurosaki is picking up his giant-ass sword once again, returning for his final bout in Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War. The expectations for its return on Hulu are stacked high; the original is a staple among anime fans everywhere, and is often grouped together with One Piece and Naruto as being part of the “big three.” And after watching an episode, everyone finally looks as cool as they should in Thousand-Year Blood War.

Made by Pierrot, the same studio that animated the series’ original run from 2004 to 2012, the new show doesn’t miss a single beat when picking back up. The first episode covers roughly the first five chapters of the Thousand-Year Blood War arc, and matches them pretty closely. And from the first frames of the new show, it’s clear those new to Bleach won’t find a whole lot to go by, and longtime fans may find themselves catching up as well. It appears Pierrot is just confidently hell-bent on picking up and finishing the series as if there was no break — and it immediately pulls you back into the world. We see a deep dark lab in the Seireitei in chaos, with pretty much no explanation of what’s happening. Characters casually mention series-specific terms like Gigai, Bankai, and Soul Reaper. Moments, like the fact that military-clad fighter Asguiaro Ebern is a Quincy, will have more oomph for those who know the characters and their significance in the larger world.

Uryu Ishida in Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War. He is half in a shadow and half in the light. He looks seriously towards the light from the window. Image: Pierrot/Viz Media

Most importantly: Before we see the original gang back together in their full glory, we see their powers. This looks like a blade of light, blue energy raining down, or small paper plane-like arrows darting across the screen. Each corresponds to a member of the main gang: Ichigo Kurosaki, Orihime Inoue, Yasutora Sado (Chad), and Uryu Ishida. When we see the four again, they save two Soul Reapers just in the nick of time. Seeing the four for the first time in so long is jarring; for a moment I feel like I lose control of any coherent thoughts and astral project back into a 15-year-old version of myself that screamed about these characters on Tumblr. That’s partially because I’m excited to see them back, but also because everyone just looks so dang good.

Seriously, let’s just talk about how fucking cool Ichigo looks in Thousand-Year Blood War. As an older anime, we didn’t get to see Ichigo and the rest of the cast age into more contemporary animation like we have with One Piece. Old, semi-stagnant fight scenes have been replaced with operatic high-flying antics that focus a lot more on the movement and feel like much more choreographed fight scenes to entertain, rather than filler to take up time in an episode. Nods to classic anime intros — each of the four main characters gets a splashy name card as they’re introduced — blend old anime tropes with a more contemporary style.

It’s a turn that feels befitting of its star. Ichigo Kurosaki has always been one of the coolest shonen protagonists. Unlike characters like My Hero Academia’s nerdy Deku or One Piece’s goofy Luffy, Ichigo has always felt a little bit cooler and more confident than the rest. And now it looks like he finally gets an animation that feels stylish enough for him and his final adventure.

New episodes of Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War simulcast on Hulu every Monday at 8:30 a.m.