I've been a bit hard on Bleach these past few weeks. Partly because I have a lot of hate in my heart, but mostly because it's a series with a lot of potential–a rich mythology, likeable characters, terrific monster design–that spends too much time running after its own tail. The Bount plotline seemed to herald a change in the right direction, but I remained skeptical; maybe that potential was empty, a come-on from a eunuch, a line that, no matter how well-presented, had no place to go by nowhere.

I can't say I'm ready to rent a hotel room, but "Episode 71" was–um–okay, I'm just going to leave the increasingly uncomfortable sexual metaphors behind here and say, good show, Bleach. Damn good show.

With Uryu still stuck in the hospital (his dad's, apparently), Ichigo and the others settle into guard duty waiting for the next strike. There's a dripping water faucet in Uryu's room that drives Rukia to distraction, but when she and Ichigo try and fix it, they only make the problem worse. Water pours out faster and faster, overflowing the sink and spilling out on the floor. The rest of the group comes running with buckets, and then Orihimie hears a noise in the bathroom–a rumbling–and she opens the door. More water from the shower rushes in. Before anyone can move, the water rises and envelops Uryu, suffocating him. Ichigo is only able to save him by switching to his Soul Reaper form and slicing Uryu free. The problem is, though, he can only disperse the water, not defeat it. And there are so many other faucets on that floor…

"72" has the usual bad comedy, with Kon snapping and Lirin mocking him, as well as Renji and Ichigo yelling at each other, but none of it distracts from easily the coolest threat I've seen on the show this arc. The water "dolls" are eventually revealed to be under the control of two new Bounts, Ban and Ho, who look like a pair of grade schoolers; they're spooky enough on their own, but what really clicks is how cleverly the writers exploit the threat they represent. As they tell the heroes, water is everywhere. No matter how many times Rukia uses her powers to beat it back, or how fast they run, they can't escape it. And as far as cliffhanger endings go, having the group finally make it outside the hospital–only to discover it's raining—actually had me pumped for next week for the first time I can remember with Bleach. High marks all around.

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Death Note finished up last week, and normally, TV Club only covers first-run shows (exempting the classic stuff, natch). But since Cartoon Network is re-airing the series from the first episode, and since I was gonna watch it anyway, we'll make an exception this time around. As others have noted, there's something fun in going back to the beginning, once you know how it all ends up.

In "Rebirth," we meet Light Yagami for the first time, a brilliant high school student whose frustrated by the constant crime reports on the news and bored out of his mind at the tedium of the day-to-day. Luckily (?) for Light, the Shinigami Ryuk is bored too; there's not much for him to do in the Shinigami Realm but nap and gamble, so Ryuk, after tricking his boss into giving him an extra Death Note, drops his first notebook into the world of the humans. Light sees it fall, and the gears start turning; the over-achiever with an exaggerated sense of self gets the power of death, and wackiness ensues. Like Ryuk says, "Humans are interesting."

"Rebirth" does an expert job of setting up its premise as engagingly as possible. Light reads the rules inside the Death Note–and while those rules would eventually get a bit too convoluted, how elegant they are to begin with! Write a name in the notebook, picture the face of the person who belongs to that name, and they die of a heart attack in 40 seconds. For the especially creative, you can even work out a cause of death; Light only uses this once in the first episode, having a jerky biker get run over by a truck, but that level of control will become hugely important later in the run.

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The look of Death Note is strikingly different from any other show in the anime block, lots of shadows and grays. You can see that paying off in the conversation between Light and Ryuk in Light's bedroom; it's spooky in a way that never seems forced. I love the look of Ryuk as well, appealing in a way that never completely stops being unsettling. Already we see how the animators bring action to the actual use of the Death Note. Basically just a guy writing names on paper, but here it has an operatic force, almost like an Argento stalk-and-slash sequence without any direct contact between attacker and victim.

But what really makes Death Note work is that it takes its central premise in such a surprising direction. Given the male-empowerment fantasies that populate so much of pop culture on either side of the ocean, it seems inevitable that a show (or manga) about a teenager who can kill anybody he wants would immediately turn into a wet-dream of revenge and sadism. Instead, Note gives us an anti-hero obsessed with justice–a kid growing up in a world that demands constant perfection from him–and shows us the monster without wallowing in the muck.

It'll be nice to meet L next week, although knowing his eventual fate will take some of the fun out of it.

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No big action in "The Messenger From Kyoto" on Code Geass. At least, not any robot fighting action. Just soap opera and political maneuverings. Shirley finally gets up the nerve to act on her crush on Lelouch and asks him to go with her to a show. Lelouch agrees, but is still puzzling over the invitation when he and the Black Knights go to meet with the Kyoto forces who sent them the Guren Mk–II. The Knights need Kyoto's backing to achieve their goals, but the Kyoto people are understandably suspicious about the anonymous "Zero" at the Knights' head. Their leader manipulates the situation to seemingly force Zero to reveal himself, but once again Zero has the edge through his Geass powers, taking control of the guard robots and dominating the room. Still, he does ultimately show his face to Taizou Kirihara, the clan chief; the two have a history together, and when Kirihara learns Zero is Lelouch, he willingly gives the Knights Kyoto's backing.

Later, Lelouch walks to the concert hall where he was supposed to meet Shirley. He's too late for the show, but he finds Shirley standing out in the rain. Shirley's father, the man who sent her tickets to the concert, died in the Narita landslide. She breaks down in Lelouch's arms, and the episode ends with a kiss.

Seeing Zero neatly out-maneuver the Kyoto forces was fun, and having his actions finally come back to haunt him by hurting someone he (possibly) cares about sets up some nice drama. But I'll be honest with you; the moment that stuck out the most to me in "Messenger" had nothing to do with Zero, Lelouch, Shirley, or anybody from the main plot. There have been indications that Nina, the shy green-haired girl who runs in Shirley's social group, is developing a crush on Princess Euphemia. This week, the indications decided to stop being so coy, and we get a brief scene of Nina masturbating to Euphemia's picture.

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This was bit of a surprise, I'm not really sure what to make of it. It's tastefully done–all in the shadows, suggested mostly by her breathing and facial expression–but it's just so out of place. Nothing in the series thus far had suggested this level of explicitness, and it certainly doesn't do anything to forward the plot. It's just… curious.

Shin Chan had a first tonight–instead of three individual segments, we get one long story concluding the final segment from last week. Shin, a high school student who hasn't grown an inch in ten years, is the school's champion boxer, but to win the heart of his one true love, he's decided to give up the sport. Which is unfortunate, because Sergei Iyamabitch, the Russian champ, was going to be Shin's next opponent; with Nahara out of the picture, Boo has to take Shin's place. Unsurprisingly, Boo can't box, and Sergei kills him. This forces Shin to ultimately recant his change of heart, do some training montages (under the watch eyes of Boo's ghost), finally defeat the Russian lugnut and his "Train Bang" punch, and win the affections of a much too tall for him hottie.

Clearly, somebody's seen Rocky IV. It's a refreshing change of pace to see Shin stick with one plot for so long; the jokes don't come quite as fast as usual, but the rewards of an actual story, even one as silly and predictable as this, somewhat make up for that. Deciding that Boo needed to "die," and covering his return by having him be a ghost, has a certain charming ballsiness to it. It's not completely hilarious, but it's just surreal enough to work.

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Grades:

Bleach, "Episode 72": A-

Death Note, "Rebirth": A

Code Geass, "The Messenger From Kyoto": B+

Shin Chan, "Raging Bullshin/Million Dollar Boo-by/Grade Nine Hope": B

Stray Observations:

—Best exchange from "Rebirth": Light explains his intention to kill every bad person on the planet, and Ryuk says, "You'd be the only bad person left." And Light says, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

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—So, am I being a prude here about that Nina scene? I'm not offended by it, merely nonplussed. (God, how long I've been waiting to use that word.)

—Shin quotables:

"The last guy he fought is in the hospital. Dying of cancer."

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