It’s been seventeen months since Tsukushima beat his retreat, and Ichigo began his Fullbring training inside Yukio’s video game world. As the New Year rolls around, it seems even Hollows feel the goodwill and give the Soul Society some R and R, so plans are made for a get-together and some calming kite-flying. Unfortunately, ‘non-competitive’ doesn’t seem to exist in the Reaper lexicon.

Meanwhile, things are much mellower for Rukia without Ichigo around, as she prepares for a ceremonial dance her late sister once performed with elegance. Unsure her own dancing will ever compare, you get the feeling she’d much rather be out slaying Hollows with her old friend any day. Still, it’s a shame we miss out on the heart of this vulnerable moment in her life, as we don’t get to see her step up to continue her family’s tradition.

Though this episode gives a much needed breather, it doesn’t do much to cushion the blow of diving into Ichigo’s torturous training with Kūgo Ginjō. Sensei’s intentions come into question as he carves away layers of his student’s bravado, firing off the harsh truths of his innate dependence on his friends. Blinded and cut off from Orihime’s healing, his Fullbring emerges in force, and Ginjō, apologising for the theatrics, reveals that this was his plan all along. But his troubling bait and switch act lingers, opening the door for Ichigo’s anxieties to be left even more exposed as Tsukushima returns, and pits friends and family against him.

The villains ultimately injure the impact hoped for from the show’s final arc, and twists in the narrative prove predictable from the beginning. But while Tsukushima himself is quite tame as an adversary, he holds most of his influence as a gateway to Ichigo fighting without the support of his friends, as well as some brilliant visuals. It’s a thrill to see the members of Xcution souped up with a portion of Ichigo’s Fullbring, and his Getsuga Tenshō clearing the sky of a storm is a stunning display of his returning power. Considering this, and his enemies seeming weedy by comparison, it’s hard to see the rationality behind the reunion with his Soul Society compatriots, but this doesn’t mean seeing Rukia stand beside Ichigo once again isn’t touching all the same.

With Tsukushima vanquished and his friendships restored, you see how much Ichigo has matured. The whole of his journey up to this point feels present at once in a heart-warming end to the series. Despite a moving goodbye to Rukia, Ichigo reassures that they’ll see each other again, hinting that this also isn’t the last we’ll see of him, the Soul Society or his friends. But as a possible permanent ending, it’s one that leaves you cheerful and content.

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