The Time Skip in anime and manga serves as a great writer's tool. It allows you to inflict sudden and drastic changes into your cast. They can grow in age or power and have brand new looks in a relatively short time. This can also serve as a convenient jumping on point to new readers/viewers. It's pretty much a Shonen Jump standard. The Naruto anime series had it's time skip years ago in early 2007, One Piece was just this October, and a week after BLEACH has followed suit in BLEACH Ep. 343. All the Big Shonen Trilogy have made the leap, but how does BLEACH stand out?
I purposely held off on my review of BLEACH Ep. 343 until now, because I already follow this series in the manga. I thought it best to wait till the anime series caught up to a point where some action was going. Most of the Shonen series have the protagonist return from a time skip with improved powers and abilities that the reader just can't wait to see. Tite Kubo took a different route by having a hero with absolutely no power upon his return. Even this first episode points out to you that this is Ichigo Kurosaki, he's a student, and there's nothing special about him. It's a bold choice, and you can't really hold it against Kubo for trying something different.
Normally, the standard time skip in anime is a two year jump, but there have been far greater ones (i.e. Dragon Ball) and shorter ones.BLEACH went in another new direction with the rather oddly specific 17 months. There's a short flashback that shows you what lead to Ichigo's now ordinary life, but it more just serves to tease you with some really cool stuff you missed. You would then be mistaken to try going back one to Episode 342 to watch those scenes because of the filler arc. The audience would actually have to go all the way back to Episode 309.
The main cast has no major alteration to their design. Ichigo, Uryuu, and Chad look the same. The only change to Orihime is her hairstyle, and she no longer wears her Shun Shun Rikka in her hair. How could you really make this cast look older and in school when they've always appeared as the largest fifteen year-olds in history? It would've been like an episode of 21 Jump Street. The only design changes you really find are in the hairstyles of the supporting cast. My favorite being the longer hair on Tatsuki.
The arc has had one filler episode, so far; but it's also introducing some new characters that are entertaining to watch. We have the Xcution members, the villain Shukuro Tsukishima, and Ichigo's new boss, Ikumi Unagiya. Ikumi is a fun new character, but you're not going to get to meet her until Episode 344. I'm just concerned she's going to eventually disappear as many other characters often do in BLEACH.
The plot of Ichigo is a story about a young man who is obsessed with protecting the people he cares about. He's fooling himself by thinking he's happy to be a normal person, but now he's forced to watch as others do all the fighting. For a while, this entire Lost Shinigami Substitute Arc was feeling uncomfortably similar to the filler Bount Arc, but if you're patient and stay with the story. It takes Ichigo into some great places emotionally with a kick ass new design down the road. It also clears up some interesting little questions from the earlier stories, and Karin Kurosaki, Ichigo's little sister, seems to be up to something.
I hope you join in on this series, and it should be interesting to see where Kubo takes Ichigo once this arc closes. I honestly look forward to seeing that outcome. What are your thoughts? Are you enjoying the Lost Shinigami Substitute Arc?