I just want to clear something up right away before there’s any confusion. I’ve been giving the Bleach manga the exact same score that I just gave to the German art-house film Faraway, So Close! and I want to make sure that there’s no confusion as to whether I actually think these are equal pieces of art. Obviously, that film is of far more substantive value and engages me at a more appreciable intellectual level than Bleach could ever hope to accomplish. It is without question a better piece of art. It’s in its own league compared to Bleach. However (and this statement applies to all of the reviews I do so let it be your guide for understanding how my scoring system works), Faraway, So Close! also overreaches itself intellectually and doesn’t hit at the same kind of gut, visceral level as better art house films (like its predecessor Wings of Desire). I hold serious movies to much higher standards than I do a manga series that is explicitly for children. Faraway, So Close! demands your critical attention so it gets it (for better or worse). If a work is meant to be taken seriously intellectually, that’s how I approach it critically. If a work is simply meant to enjoy it, then a significant portion of its grade will be based on how much I was able to enjoy it. Bleach is a fairly enjoyable shonen fighting series and succeeds at its goal. Faraway, So Close! is an almost-great film that ultimately misses its goal but remains a beautiful film. Hence, they both get “B”s. That’s the end of my rant on my grading process.

We finally discover exactly what Kukaku Shiba’s plan is to get the Ryoka into the seireitei. She’s going to use a massive cannon to shoot them over the seireitei‘s walls. However, there is an invisible forcefield around the walls and the ryoka have to learn how to focus their kido (spiritual energy) into a specially designed sphere that will allow them to pass through the forcefield (rather than explode on impact). Everyone but Ichigo picks up the trick quickly enough although when he finally learns how to do it, his massive kido nearly destroys the practice space until he figures out how to decrease it to manageable levels. While all of this is going down, the thirteen captains of the Soul Society are holding a meeting to determine the fate of Gin Ichimaru for allowing the ryoka to escape alive. He tries to play dumb, but it’s obvious that what he did was a grave offense to the other captains and that he knows more than he’s letting on. Their meeting is interrupted however by an alarm declaring intruders in the seireitei (which I’m assuming we’re supposed to think means the ryoka but I have a suspicion that there are other forces at play). When it’s finally time to shoot the ryoka over the seireitei, things are going according to plan until the group actually hits the barrier where their shield dissolves and the group is split into four parties and shot in separate directions into the seireitei. The four groups are 1) Ichigo and Ganju, 2) Orihime and Uryu, 3) Chad, and 4) Yoruichi (with Chad having basically sacrificed his ability to be with the group to make sure Orihime and Uryu were together).

Once everybody lands, no one is in any immediate danger except for Ganju and Ichigo. Chad causes an enormous crater but finds shelter in a tree before any shinigami can arrive at the scene. Uryu and Orihime have shelter and no one suspects Yoruichi of being anything since he’s a cat. However, the second they land Ichigo and Ganju are greeted by two members of the eleventh squad, Ikkaku Madarame and Yumichika Ayasegawa. Ganju knows that he’s outclassed and runs away (while being chased by Yumichika). His story in the volume ends with him being cornered at a massive pit where Yumichika offers him to either by his sword or to fall to his death in the pit. Ichigo chooses to stay and fight Ikkaku. They draw first blood simultaneously with both striking a blow on the other. However, Ikkaku reveals that he hasn’t shown his zanpakuto‘s named shenkai form yet which is a spear that also funcftions as a nunchuk spear thing (and is the coolest shenkai yet). He proceeds to beat the holy hell out of Ichigo until he slices open Ichigo’s arm which brings out Ichigo’s survival instinct and he turns the tables on Ikkaku and appears to kill him when Ikkaku turns down an offer to surrender after being critically wounded.

This paragraph of analysis will mostly be me talking about the anime (which was four episodes for this volume instead of the normal two or three which is part of why it took me so long to find the time to watch it all. I can read an entire volume in an hour. It takes nearly two to watch four episodes of the show so it came down to finding the free time) and things that I thought were cool in terms of changes/stylistic differences and some new things I don’t like. I really don’t like the new opening theme song that started on episode 26 or the video that was used for it. It just made the show seem like way more of a conventional shonen fighting anime and it lacked the quirky urban fantasy aesthetic that I found so appealing about the beginning of the show. I know that the series is going to continue moving further and further away from the things that I loved about it though so I need to hurry up and get over it or just give up on the program. There were a lot of things in the final episode of the anime that I watched that weren’t in the manga but I’m assuming that most of it was just the anime editing in parts of the rest of theryoka’s story that we won’t see until volume 11 so that Ichigo wasn’t one of the only characters that we kept seeing. Also, I did appreciate the way that the fights are easier to follow in the anime because sometimes I think Tite Kubo makes exactly what’s happening in the fight scenes a little too vague and it’s hard to get why someone went from suddenly winning to losing.

I could go on this whole rant about how tired I’m starting to get of this whole “Ichigo gets his ass kicked and then miraculously gets much stronger” narrative device that Bleach seems hell bent on using or the way that no one else in the ryoka has done anything remotely useful since they awakened to their spirit powers (which seems like ages and ages ago). I think I might have spoiled something for myself on wikipedia where Uryu actually does do some fighting next volume which is good because I think Ichigo is a cool dude and a serious bad-ass but I like the other people in his nakama just as much as him. Also, Tite Kubo really needs to slow down on introducing so many new characters. I know I’ve made this complaint before but it got out of hand this volume. There’s just a never-ending stream of new people to learn about and there’s not enough substance to their character for them to stick in my mind for the less than a few pages they are on at any given time even though they could become more important down the road.

Final Score: B

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