Well, it took...good lord, just 2.5 weeks shy of a full YEAR to get through the entire Bount arc and all its related articles due to pandemic depression/UCP majorly screwing up my process/a surprising amount of other stuff taking up my free time (turns out getting through a video game every week or two helps majorly with editing burnout), but now it's all done - aside from individual plot sections and references on canon articles, I've gone through EVERY goshdarn aspect of this arc, forward and back, (almost) every episode reviewed a dozen times or more in the process of finally getting it accurately represented on the wiki.

And you know what? I went in expecting garbage, but have come out considering this to be one of the best and most unique filler arcs I've ever seen or even heard of, albeit with a couple flaws. Here's my long-awaited and -promised rant about Jin Kariya's Bizarre Adventure Kooky Quest better version of the Attack on Titan finale, divided into proper sections.

Overview/Recap

I realize that I'm probably one of less than a dozen people who's watched any significant portion of, much less the entirety of, one of the longest filler arcs to ever exist within the past few years, so if you haven't watched it in a while or at all, lemme get you up to speed. Immediately following the events of the Ryoka Invasion with Aizen's betrayal and Rukia's rescue, Ichigo and his friends get back to their "normal" lives, but are quickly thrust into a series of "games" orchestrated by three new Mod-Souls - Ririn, Kurōdo, and Noba, with Urahara eventually revealing himself as the mastermind behind them, having wanted to get Ichigo and his friends to practice teamwork skills since they largely fought separate from each other in Soul Society. Then the real meat and potatoes of the arc kicks in when the Bount begin their machinations, starting with just Yoshino and rapidly expanding to over half a dozen of them led by the enigmatic Jin Kariya, who's enacting a long-brewing plan involving Soul Society and with a mysterious need for the now-depowered Uryū. Eventually, Kariya reveals that he and his group want revenge on Soul Society, which they travel to and are almost all ultimately killed in after considerable effort on the part of Ichigo and his allies.

On the surface, that sounds pretty part for the course as far as shonen filler arcs/movie plots, especially those of Bleach, tend to go...but let's dive into why it's a lot better than it seems at first glance.

Fights

Given that Bleach is fully in the genre of power-up training-arc befriending-defeated-enemies fighting series by this point, I figure that it makes the most sense to talk about, well, the fights first. Now, I'll readily admit that I've yet to fully watch the Amagai and Reigai arcs yet (and with the latter, I'm already writing a will for the brain cells I'm gonna lose), but even having just read most of the plot summaries for them and with direct comparison to the Zanpakutō/Tōjū arcs, the Bount arc has a lot of memorable, interesting, and dare I even say unique fights for a few different reasons:

Two Shinigami with famous Shikai using only their sealed Zanpakutō instead? Impossible!

1. Limited Technique Options: Because this was still early in the series with a lot of the Shinigami only just introduced (and only a handful having done any serious fighting) compared to, say, the back half of the Arrancar arc where we got to see what over 80% of them were fully capable of, as well as Kidō still not being super fleshed-out/established (Sōkatsui, Shakkahō, Sai, and Byakurai are the only spells used during this entire arc, lmao) Pierrot didn't have all the options they would for later filler fights, e.g. Shikai and/or Bankai, post-training techniques and/or forms like Sado's true Fullbring and its techniques, and upper-level Kidō like Sōren Sōkatsui - as a result, characters are restricted to whatever they had shown off by the end of Soul Society, which is very rarely enough to actually overpower their Bount opponents, and thus rely more on strategy and outside-the-box thinking instead of just nuking the enemy to hell with some super-special-chocolatey-fudge-coated super technique or another.

A shot I never thought I'd see in a shonen anime.

2. Non-Optimal Conditions: A surprising number of the battles have the protagonists fighting in a weakened or otherwise not optimal state instead of being at 100% from the get-go to just wipe the floor with the Bount; this includes stuff like being drained from a previous fight/using up a lot of power just trying to survive while figuring out the situation, being poisoned beforehand to the point of barely being able to move, or just plain forgetting to bring their Zanpakutō along to fight with (sorry, no Keyblade summon-to-hand ability for ya, Rukia). This makes combat a whole lot more interesting because these limitations often force the good guys to make hard choices, fight dirty, or go for tactical retreats over fighting to the bitter end - compared to the later filler fights where a character we already know the full capabilities of is in good shape from the outset of a conflict and thus rarely does something we're not expecting (tying into the first point about power displays as well here).

The alliance I saw coming the least but enjoyed the most, by far.

3. Unique Team-Ups: Okay, look, I know a big emphasis of the series is on 1-on-1 battles, following the Shinigami code and all that, but we all know Pierrot defaulted to several specific pairings of the boys and girls for combat when the occasion arose in the bulk of its filler: Ichigo/Renji, Izuru/Hisagi, Hitsugaya/Rangiku, and Ikkaku/Yumichika being the most prominent of them. However, while all of those team-ups occur in this arc as well, not only are they comparatively brief and less forced-feeling than later instances, but I'd argue they're quite overshadowed by the other team-ups we get, all of which are contained exclusively to this arc and never repeated even in later filler, let alone the manga: Ichigo and Izuru? Orihime and Hisagi? Sado and Rangiku?! Each of these could've been disjointed and awkward disasters, yet despite all of these characters not being at their full development/potential or having been properly showcased yet, each and every one of their fights is entertaining, awesome, and complex owing to their interacting personalities and powersets (in Orihime's case, the anime assumes Koten Zanshun will be at least semi-frequently used going forward, so she actually DOES attack people, how about that), making for some of the best Pierrot-original battles in the entire anime.

For kids!

With all these in mind, I'd say my personal favorite fight is Rukia Kuchiki vs. Yoshi: Rematch: not only does it fit all three of the above criteria, it's far and away one of the most brutal conflicts in the entire franchise, only really surpassed by the gorefest of Thousand-Year Blood War, and it's also just about the only time a fight between two female characters hasn't involved any sort of fanservice elements and focused entirely on the combat as male-male fights usually do (more on that below). The biggest thing to me, however, is that Rukia ultimately loses; even though she started off in the aforementioned suboptimal state of still recovering her power and not even having her Zanpakutō on hand, you could be forgiven for thinking she'd come out on top in the end through plot armor...but nope, Yoshi absolutely wrecks her with physical and Doll strength, and it's only through Byakuya deciding to live up to the "brother" part of his "sneering elitist older brother" job description that Rukia doesn't bite the dust there and then (that and, well, filler). What a crazy conclusion, even if the reveal that Yoshi was just distracting the Gotei 13/provoking Byakuya on Kariya's orders kinda pivots the focus away at the very end.

New Characters

Anime filler gets a (not-unjust) bad rap for generally having bland, poorly-written, and/or repetitive original characters filling in the antagonist (and sometimes supporting protagonist) role, and Bleach is no exception: each successive filler arc introduces fewer and fewer original characters, to the point where the last one literally has clones of the good guys comprising 95% of the enemy personnel, and the overall quality of the writing for them tends to go down proportionally: Amagai is the only interesting and fleshed-out addition in his filler arc, Muramasa's a well-written tragic character but has to share too much screentime with his whiny master Kōga, and regarding Nozomi, Inaba and Yushima...I'll just reserve my textual screaming about them for the later review of THEIR arc, but they're a big part of why the anime almost died for good after their storyline wrapped up, so that should tell you a lot.

However, in my estimation, the Bount themselves don't fall victim to this nearly as much - there are definitely a few, primarily early on, who can be neatly categorized as the usual sadistic bully-types you expect to see from filler arcs, but they're mainly there to get the plot started and die pretty quickly as a result. The really interesting ones are those who survive to episode 79 and beyond, three of which I wanna primarily focus on below.

Yoshino Sōma

DEPRESSION!

Despite only being present for a little less than a fourth of the entire arc, despite only appearing in a fifth of the arc's episodes, Yoshino stands out immensely not only for being the first Bount to appear and for dramatically influencing the plot even after her death, but heavily influencing the overall tone of the arc as well. Right off the bat, she's different from what you'd expect out of an introductory filler villain; she's certainly got a mean streak and a willingness to kill innocents, even if she tries to make it painless, but just two episodes after she shows up, Yoshino goes in a markedly different direction by turning out to not only be the ex-wife of the big bad Kariya himself, but also abjectly opposed to his then-vaguely-defined evil plan and willing to help out Uryū, if only because he's so crucial to said plan...and then we get her extensive flashback in episode 74, one of my all-time favorites of the series, where I was shocked for the first of several times in the arc by Yoshino flat-out telling Uryū "I'd like to die" and then extensively detailing the build-up of her all-too-understandable and fairly realistic depression, one that, despite vowing to do his best to make hope shine in Yoshino's eyes once more, Uryū notably never calls overblown, irrational, or pathetic.

MORE DEPRESSION!

Think about it: of all the women you've seen in shonen anime and other kid/teenager-oriented stories, how many actually went through or displayed that kind of emotional depth, the sort largely reserved for the guys who are "supposed" to go through it while the girls stand by as eye candy with one-note token emotional struggle beats? Moreover, how many of them don't ultimately overcome that depression with the power of friendship or what have you, but instead succumb to it, knowing full well that it's not going to help anyone other than themselves (in the "finally knowing peace" way) and believing that it's their only way out? Because that's what Yoshino ends up doing: she puts up a valiant effort to stop Kariya before the worst part of his plan gets underway, but in the end she's happy to just...give up, without any plan to empower Uryū or his friends through her death to one day defeat Kariya in her stead - she just thanks Uryū for showing her compassion at the end of her life and slips away. It's completely somber, tragic, and heartrending, far outside the usual realm of shonen subject matter or depictions, and even compared to the canon female characters of Bleach with their complexities and complexes, Yoshino ranks above almost all of them for heartbreaking realism, in my book.

Yoshi

Beautiful but not sexy. Not really a hard balance to strike when you try!

On the opposite end of the unique female character spectrum, there's Yoshi, a type of character I'd love to see way more of. Why? Because unlike every single woman in Bleach and most other anime/manga I've watched and read, she's not sexualized in the least: her outfit covers her entire body aside from her arms and head with no emphasis on/accentuation of T&A, she never flirts with anyone, never gets hit on by opponents, never gets put in compromising body contortions...what she DOES do is consistently and frequently kick seven kinds of ass and be treated as a legitimate, dangerous threat by everyone she fights. You know, like most male characters do! Honestly, this should be the bar for female characters in manga and anime, as well as all sorts of other media, to clear and improve upon - it's telling and sad that Yoshi stands out just by being treated equally and validly as a character with her gender being extremely tertiary, and I'm honestly shocked she came from Pierrot of all studios.

It's called "being epic", sweaty.

But more than that, Yoshi's just awesome all around, even if she's objectively morally reprehensible with her Darwinist worldview and extreme sadism: unlike most of the Bount, she does all her fighting herself, no relying on Nieder to do the dirty work for her while she stands on the sidelines, and she's so capable and lethal while doing so that she gets the second-most fights of any Bount in the arc after Kariya himself, which is insane. She gets one of the tensest and most grueling fights in the series against Rukia, and when she finally kicks the bucket, there's no whining and/or screaming like those who fell before her - just a "thanks for the fun" to Uryū, who also gets the distinction of getting his only non-Hollow kill in the entire franchise against her, which is just as awesome to see. The only real complaint I have about Yoshi is that they could've given her a different name to distinguish her from Yoshino and, uh, the green dinosaur; otherwise, it really is 100% praise.

Jin Kariya

Doing it to 'em before it was cool.

This guy. Oh man, this guy. Going into this arc, so far as I was aware, Kariya was just another "I wanna destroy the whoooooooole world" with maybe a bit more justification than the average filler antagonist...but as soon as I saw him vibing on the top floor of an abandoned hotel, hands clasped and looking at the bright city below, and then monologuing to Yoshino about how the Bount were never going to fit in with the beautiful world, I knew I was in for something different. Kariya stands head and shoulders above Kōga, Inaba, Yushima, the Dark Ones, Kusaka, the whiny orphans, Kokutō, and just about every other filler villain I've ever seen in terms of depth, quotability, memorability, and overall writing strength - heck, I'd even rank him above Aizen (but my boy Yhwach still reigns supreme, ofc).

"We owe...a wretched existence...to YOU?!"

A significant contributor to this is the English dub of the anime: now, I'm not here to start a sub vs. dub debate/war, but I do overall prefer the English dub of Bleach over the original Japanese dub, and the Bount arc solidified that with several characters, most notable Kariya. Now, don't get me wrong, Tōru Ōkawa does a fine job, but perhaps due to Japanese dialogue relying on speech patterns in addition to vocal inflections and volume to convey tone, I felt like a lot of his scenes, even those with drastically different emotions on display, sounded similar to the point of interchangeable and not recognizable from audio alone. But then you get to the English dub...and honestly, I don't know how the HELL they got Troy Baker signed on to voice a filler antagonist, but whoever secured that deal should be president of Viz by now because oh my GOD did he bring a new level of quality and nuance to what could've been a one-note character without his skill and finesse.

Extremely villainous, Aizen-level behavior right here, folks.

Through Troy, Kariya gains an air of almost-genuine affability, class, and humor mixed with an analytical mind and a philosophical outlook on life...all of which then serve to contrast hard with his brutal fighting style and ultimate desire to destroy everything or die trying. Even putting aside the voice part and sticking just to the script, Kariya feels so much more human than your average omnicidal filler antagonist because, well, he only focuses on that part when it's relevant instead of constantly cackling about it: a good chunk of his screentime has him doing totally mundane things like smoking, fixing a broken clock, gambling, and just appreciating the beauty of nature around him, not because it somehow feeds into his end goal, but because he feels like doing it. Again, that really should be the bar, but compare this to Aizen where every second he's on-screen is spent monologuing about his plan/outlook on life and/or grinding people into the dirt with his oh-so-incredible power, and you'll start to see why this approach ultimately makes for the more interesting antagonist - instead of feeling like an inhuman force Ichigo and his friends have to overcome, Kariya's a person who needs to be understood as much as he needs to be stopped.

Let's see you live through this and not come out a bit jaded with existence.

And that leads into my next point, tying into the first thing I mentioned for this section: unlike all the other filler/movie bad guys of Bleach and a lot of other shows, Kariya as a character and what he plans to do make complete sense. It's not the usual "waaaah, someone was mean to me, time to end the world" or "I was born a sociopath, crimes are fun" tripe thrown in as a token explanation so we can get back to the fighting and turn off our brains - no, Kariya started out completely innocent and friendly, then he lived through a literal thousand years of suffering, torment, genocide, betrayal, and rejection from the Shinigami, Humans, and even other Bount, with every tragedy further hardening him as a person and giving Kariya every reason to say "to hell with it all, why should I bother" because he never, EVER catches a break. That's not to say he's justified in trying to wipe out all of existence - as Ichigo points out, that's completely unfair retribution even if he's suffered so much - but him reaching that mindset is completely understandable and, dare I say, all too realistic given what we've seen result from real-world oppression and genocide of innocent people just trying to live their lives.

Using your doomsday weapon as a power source for your OWN BODY is another level of baller altogether.

Finally, there's the fact that, in part due to the sheer length of the Bount arc, almost double that of all the other filler arcs, Kariya never falls victim to the usual filler villain trope of "look at this power I just pulled out of my butt to whup you with, MC!" He undergoes a few power increases over the course of the story, but they always have considerable buildup and even restrictions built in to justify them, and it's really his thousand years of combat experience and superhuman body that keeps him such a genuine threat to Ichigo and co. in a way that never feels like he didn't earn a victory fairly or like he was being protected by plot armor - heck, the strongest point he ever reached came from something he did 6 episodes prior, and even his defeat and death came about basically because he wanted it to rather than Ichigo having to pull more power out of nowhere. The same goes for his PlanTM - while it does start off fairly vague beyond "we NEED the Quincy", he's actually more than happy to just explain it to people aside from the crucial detail that is his desire to die/be killed at the end of it all, and he really does have to put in a lot of work to achieve his goals; no stupidity- or OOC-induced Ls for Ichigo and the Shinigami here, Kariya actually goes through a LOT of setup for each phase of his strategy, so nothing feels out-of-nowhere or rushed. Again, this really should be the bare minimum for filler plots and their villains, but for some reason only Pierrot has really cared enough to go the distance on it and for ONLY this arc; as such, Kariya comes out on top against almost ALL of them, and I really have no complaints regarding his character or anything he does. He really is that good.

Also, man what a pimpin' design he has.

Continuity and Plot

Look, ma, I'm breaking the timeline with my aesthetic!

So as far as timeline placement goes, the Bount arc is the white sheep of the filler arcs and movies: it's the only one that neatly slots in with the canon manga arcs, primarily by virtue of taking place between two of them that already had a "breather period" of sorts while all the others came out during ongoing arcs and, due to things like Ichigo's evolving Hollow mask design, could never properly fit into the canon timeline as a result (I mean, I wish Memories of Nobody could be canon, but for starters, Rukia and Ikkaku are in entirely different worlds when they're both supposed to be in in the Human World as part of the strike force) - in particular, the Arrancar/Hueco Mundo/FKT arc went on for so darn long that when the Amagai and Zanpakutō arcs began, they just kinda...cut away from the ongoing storyline to tell something most definitely out of continuity, and the Reigai arc even HAPPENING in the first place requires a retcon to the ending of the overall Arrancar arc.

Someone having limits on their powers? PERISH the thought.

Hence, the Bount arc is the only thing that can really fit, and while it doesn't do so 100% perfectly (in fairness, some of the details preventing it from such were things Pierrot had no way of accounting for at the time, like how Nigeki Kessatsu works), it does so surprisingly well, and with...respect for the source material? Sorry, that just sounds so foreign when talking about the Bleach anime, but it's actually true here. See, it could've easily been presented as an isolated scenario like the aforementioned Amagai and Zanpakutō arcs were, but instead it actually does incorporate the considerable status quo shift from the end of the Soul Society arc into its events: as things kick off, the Gotei 13 is still reeling from Aizen's betrayal and investigating/preparing for his future actions (to the point of questioning a few times whether Aizen himself is involved with Kariya's plot even though that obviously ends up not being the case, which I thought was a nice touch), Ichigo may have access to his Bankai but can't actually activate it for a while due to the power constraints of fighting in the Human World (though he can use the black Getsuga Tenshō without issue...something else I'll give Pierrot a pass/the benefit of the doubt on due to production timelines), and Uryū not only remains powerless, but still contributes significantly to the plot despite that and eventually gains access to a temporary restoration of them in order to kick some more butt - sort of the inverse of the later filler arcs where everyone has their latest power upgrade but no reasonable point in time to be using them outside Hueco Mundo/FKT.

It does take 30 episodes, but things DO start making sense at some point.

Then there's the overall plot. Now, I know that this arc is looooooong, and I'll readily admit that the pacing, especially in the first few episodes, leaves a lot to be desired sometimes...BUT, as mentioned above, all that extra breathing room let Pierrot create something that, for once, doesn't have any holes or contradicting internal logic, with every possible facet of the Bount being fleshed out extensively or enough to let the viewer fill in the gaps themselves for the more minor aspects. Absolutely nothing gets introduced or set up without a proper explanation later on, primarily around episodes 96-97, and the slow burn of the storyline means that not only does nothing get rushed through, but everything has impact when it happens - Kariya eventually gaining the power to destroy the entire Seireitei takes over 30 episodes of machinations toward that specific goal to achieve, and it's treated every bit as seriously as it should be by the Gotei 13, who have to go to pretty crazy measures to counteract and work ahead of him rather than just throwing Ichigo at him and hoping for the best. There may have been a happy medium way to condense the plot down to 30ish episodes instead and give it a brisker feeling, but personally I'm okay with slower pacing if the end product is high-quality and enjoyable, which this certainly is.

God, I...HATE THIS. How could I not?

However, I do have one major grievance with the plot, and that's episode 80. The only way I can describe this is that it's a one-off filler episode inside of a filler arc, and if that makes no sense to you, well, strap in. See, I genuinely don't know what the point of this episode is because it seems to be out-of-continuity to the rest of the arc: it doesn't line up tonally with the events of the previous episode AT ALL, being a gag comedy plotline following the incredibly serious and somber death of Yoshino, while the NEXT episode kicks off with the Bitto starting to attack people in Karakura Town at nighttime and Ichigo and his friends moving to respond the next day, which would logically be the day after Yoshino's death, except the events of episode 80 seem to take place the day after instead...it hurts my head trying to fit it in the chronology of the arc. But moreover, it also just isn't very good, especially compared to the rest of the arc - the premise is that the Mod-Souls are trying to prepare defense mechanisms so the Bitto can't harm the Kurosaki family, but what they come up with feels more like something you'd see from the Karakura Super Heroes episodes (mainly 50), they proceed to FAKE ATTACKS on Ichigo and co. to get them to take the defenses seriously, and when all else fails, Ririn and Kurōdo FUSE TOGETHER like something out of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann to create a more powerful form to actually attack Ichigo, Rukia, and Renji...and then they never use it again. It's so completely at odds with the rest of the arc in tone and content (in fact, no one even acknowledges that anything happened here in later episodes) that I truly can't understand why it was made at all instead of just moving right to the events of episode 81. Just completely bizarre.

Consistency, Restraint, and Tone

The final reason I hold the Bount arc in such high regard requires being split into three similar, but distinct categories of explanation in order to clearly state what I'm thinking, though I promise they'll mesh together as you read through.

Byakuya's pride refusing to let him work with the guy who whupped his butt less than a week ago? How about that.

First, there's the consistency permeating what happens during the events of the story. A lot of the time in filler, characters just kinda do things because they have to, rather than adhering to their established manga/canon characterizations, or inexplicably change their behavior in certain episodes so that events can take place in a specific manner for the sake of the overarching plot - a big example of this later on down the line is Byakuya's betrayal of the Gotei 13 in the Zanpakutō arc so he can deal with Kōga on his own terms, which, while in line with his prideful nature, is more than a BIT extreme for his character at that point in the story. Here, though, that problem is largely absent from the plot outside of a couple instances very early on before the Bount come into the picture. Everyone acts completely in-line with their canon or established characterization from episode 69 onward without flip-flopping just to suit the needs of the plot (for instance, Mayuri remains a sadistic psychopath and isn't much of a comedy source), and that remains true right through the final episode or their deaths, whichever comes first: the plot proceeds according to THEIR actions rather than their actions occurring for the sake of the plot, if that makes sense.

This is the absolute strongest Kariya ever gets - and look at that, Ichigo can handle it WITHOUT going nuclear or using the power of friendship!

Second, I touched on this a bit in the fights section, but there's a surprising amount of restraint in what the arc aims for and showcases, primarily in terms of power levels. We're not quite at the FKT-era state of "everyone has a nuclear option of a technique to use", so the Bount have powers that, while impressive and versatile, never seem unbeatable or broken, not even Kariya - compare that to Amagai, Kōga, and Inaba/Yushima all having at least one absolutely busted ability or weapon that lets them nerf the heavy-hitters of the series in order to keep their plans going, and you can see how the Bount having to rely on tactics more than "muh power" is pretty refreshing. Similarly, captains doing any fighting is still a BIG deal, unlike later arcs where Hitsugaya's all but guaranteed to show up in order to job to the newest bad guy - for the majority of the arc, it's lieutenant-level fighters like Renji and the strike force going up against the Bount and holding their own or barely losing, so it's legitimately hype when Byakuya steps up the plate against Kariya, who's just spent the better part of 20 episodes thrashing everyone he's come across, and proceeds to actually MATCH him blow-for-blow in their incredible fierce and destructive fight. That's something that I wish could've been maintained in the rest of the series too: powerful characters actually mattering when they show up to throw down. Sado actually being a threat in the conflicts and even getting some dubs of his own is also incredibly satisfying compared to Pierrot making him the designated punching bag for bad guys later on.

Ichigo may have won here, but not against the type of enemy he wanted to fight.

Finally, and most importantly, there's the overall tone of the story and its elements; simply put, the Bount arc is depressing. Filler always ends with the bad guys losing and the status quo being restored, but here things are different because, well, Kariya's plan was to lose from the start...so he spends and betrays the lives of his few comrades, sacrifices hundreds of innocent Humans, and makes it all the way to Soul Society to gain immense power JUST so someone can put him out of his misery. This extends to the supporting cast as well: Yoshino, Koga, Ran'Tao, and Cain all emphasize how this suffering and hardship ultimately meant nothing in the end because nobody won. You might find that confusing since, well, Soul Society's obviously still intact by the end so Ichigo and his allies did win the literal battle, but notice how there's not really any celebrating after the fact, with Ichigo and his friends basically being told to GTFO once they're healed. Know why that is? Because Kariya and the Bount are the only villain in the entire franchise that the Gotei 13 and the Seireitei created - Aizen began his god-aspiring machinations basically because he wanted to, Yhwach grew up a bloodthirsty narcissist without any involvement from the old Gotei 13 at all, and I've already made my feelings clear on the paltry excuses used by other non-canon villains to "justify" the harm they end up causing...but Kariya is ENTIRELY their fault, a ticking time bomb of their own making that very nearly led to the destruction of EVERYTHING, and so in the end there's no partying, no "aw gee willikers Ichigo, thanks a whole lot for saving us yet again", just a feeling of "wow, we REALLY screwed up, mother of god".

Disenfranchised malcontents living in poverty deciding to violently rally behind someone who says he's gonna completely upend the status quo? Nope, never heard of it.

This extends to the setting and presentation of the plot too: because the Bount arc starts fresh off the heels of the Soul Society arc, long before the anime (and manga) would start putting tons of emphasis on the Seireitei/Gotei 13 being super cool and lots of fun to be part of over the Human World being boring and not selling merchandise, Ichigo's Human friends and Karakura Town still get a fair amount of spotlight and inclusion in the first half or so of the arc - shout-out to Keigo very nearly dying when the Bitto attack him, something I don't think we'd ever come CLOSE to seeing in any of the later arcs. That alone is a stark contrast to what would start happening in later filler and even canon arcs, but it's the treatment of Soul Society that I find particularly interesting. See, the Soul Society arc had established pretty bluntly how crappy it is to live in the Rukongai, how the Seireitei is kind of an elitist society run by a military faction that doesn't overly care about the people living outside its walls or really operate on morality over laws (something that Ichigo won't be changing for another few arcs), and that's actually preserved here; Kariya gets the ball rolling on invading the Seireitei simply by appealing to the frustration of the residents of Kusajishi about how they needlessly live in poverty under a corrupt, broken system, and Rukia observes as much when she's in the area prior, while later filler and even the manga just kinda ignores all of this in favor of showing the Gotei 13 partying or whatever.

You will never see anyone hesitate to enter the afterlife like this ever again.

Furthermore, after a certain point in the story, Ichigo coming to Soul Society is no big deal at all - hell, in one of the last standalone fillers he basically goes there just to do laundry - but HERE, him and his friends returning to Soul Society is treated as an appropriately big deal, one the Gotei 13 honestly weren't expecting but at least appreciate. And then there's the aforementioned end of the arc where they leave: normally this part would have Ichigo and co. partying with their friends in the Gotei 13, showing they're all friends and all good with each other after whatever grueling battles they just came out on the other side of...but here, Ichigo, Orihime, Sado, and Uryū return to the Human World alone. No fanfare. No celebration. No one aside from Ukitake there at the Senkaimon to see them off like at the end of Soul Society - in fact, the other captains and lieutenants are watching this from afar around the Seireitei with a somber atmosphere about them, because they know that while it's good the Seireitei is still standing at the end of the day, Ichigo and his friends just cleaned up their mess, and they all know that they screwed up majorly for this to even happen in the first place, rather than Ichigo having just saved their bacon from something outside their control. All told, it gives the Bount arc a completely different vibe than the other filler arcs and even the rest of the canon story.

Conclusion

So, uh, yeah. That's my essay on what I now consider to be the most underrated/underappreciated part of Bleach. I might be a bit biased in favor of some things (specifically, I know not everyone cares about the Human World part of the series as much as I do), so feel free to disagree with me down below.

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