Tag Archive: Bleach


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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It blows my mind that I’ve now read 79 issues of Bleach, and I’m still so microscopically behind in the overall plot of the series. The last issue to be published in Japan was #490 to put this into perspective. Now, if I maintain the momentum I’m at (which is reading 79 issues in a little over a month), I could theoretically catch up with the manga in about six and a half months. I don’t really see that happening because there’s not even a guarantee that I’ll still be this invested in the story a month from now. Our heroes have finally reached the Soul Society, and for better or worse, Bleach has officially become a very different comic from the quirky urban fantasy that I was unironically enjoying when I first began this series. I can already see how it’s becoming a more standard shonen series. The universe is still intriguing so I don’t care too much (though having watched the professionally translated anime as I’m reading the shoddily fan-translated manga, I’m growing tired of how shitty the translation work is in the version of the manga I read), but I can definitely see where this jarring transition rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Also, Tite Kubo keeps introducing an endless stream of new characters without giving any of these newbies a chance to really develop which is becoming semi-distracting.

Ichigo, Uryu, Orihime, Chad, and Yoruichi (from now on, this group will be referred to the “Ryoka” because that is the term in-universe for people who enter soul society without being cleansed by a shinigami) make it through the portal between the regular world and Soul Society by the skin of their teeth. However, their first test in Soul Society comes the second they land in the slums of Soul Society where the newest souls live. When they try to enter the Seireitei (the inner circle of Soul Society where the shinigami live), a massive wall appears along with a giant named Jidanbo who challenges Ichigo to a duel. Ichigo easily dispatches the giant (he spent five straight days training with Uruhara after he learned the name of his zanpakuto and has gotten immensely stronger), but a far more serious threat immediately emerges. The shinigami captain who was taunting Byakuya Kuchiki last volume (about the execution of Rukia), Gin Ichimaru, appears and slices off the giant’s arm (who was letting Ichigo and his nakama as respect for defeating him). He is preparing to execute the defenseless giant when Ichigo steps in to protect the honor of a man he just defeated. However, despite his zanpakuto being about as big as a dagger, Ichimaru easily defeats Ichigo and the door to Soul Society shuts behind them.

Ichigo’s decision to risk his life in order to protect Jidanbo earns the Ryoka the respect of the souls living in this section of Soul Society, including Shibata, the little boy whose spirit had inhabited the parakeet way back in the beginning of the series. Ichimaru’s arrival (and the re-closing of the gate) means that the security near the gate will be even tighter than before and the Ryoka will need another way into the seireitei. Yoruichi (who seems to know everyone in Soul Society) investigates the slums trying to find a person named Kukaku Shiba. As they’re investigating Kukaku’s whereabouts, a young man on a boar arrives (along with henchmen who are also riding boards) named Ganju Shiba that hates shinigami even more than Uryu did. He picks a fight with Ichigo and they fight roughly to a draw (and we learn that Ichigo is a pretty decent martial artist even when he doesn’t have his sword). However, the clock rings 9 and Ganju retreats under mysterious circumstances. The Ryoka is finally able to find Kukaku Shiba, who lives out in the middle of the Soul Society countryside in a house with a pair of giant fists holding a banner and a massive “chimney” behind it. It turns out that Kukaku Shiba is a woman (and a bad-ass one at that). She agrees to help the Ryoka get into the seireitei on the condition that they bring her brother along as a guide. Of course, the brother turns out to be Ganju and Ichigo and Ganju resume their fight (which Kukaku violently stops). And we finally learn her plan to get them into the seireitei. She’s going to shoot them in with a giant cannon.

This volume presents a bit of a conundrum. A lot of the material was really cool. We learned more about the hierarchy of the Soul Society. Specifically, we know about the fuedal Japan caste system that separates the shinigami from the regular souls (and also that Rukia and Renji both came from the lower castes originally. Also, we see the darker sides of Soul Society. Even in death, you aren’t reunited with your family which means that the things Ichigo and Rukia told Shibata when they cleansed him weren’t true (though you always got the idea during those scenes that Rukia was holding something back). You learn that the souls in the slums have a very low opinion of shinigami and that some people, like Ganju, don’t think that any of them are good. We know a little bit more about the process that is going to be used to execute Rukia, and through the introduction of a character named Aizen (whose true nature has been ruined for me by being roughly ten years late to this particular dance), we get hints that Rukia’s execution is certainly not normal and that someone may be pulling the strings to make it happen. However, for all of this cool stuff, the plot has gotten too complicated without becoming more substantive to back it all up. There were many, many new named characters introduced this volume, and to be honest, none of them really struck me as particularly interesting or compelling. I’d say Ichimaru was pretty bad-ass but he was introduced last volume. I’ve read where Tite Kubo just introduces new characters when he has writer’s block, and that unfortunately just means there could be dozens and dozens of flat and one-dimensional characters before I know it.

I’m going to stop now because I have to review an excellent German film, Wings of Desire, that I just finished and I want to have the energy to give that my full attention. Anyways, I’m still willing to put my time into Bleach and I don’t think that the quality has dropped in. Actually, besides the way that Tite Kubo introduced a million characters without really saying anything about them, my only complaint about this volume was the way that the other members of the Ryoka whose names aren’t Ichigo contributed jack squat to the proceedings. I like ensemble pieces, and by giving Ichigo a nakama of friends with super-powers, I thought that’s what Bleach was doing. If they all just sit around and watch Ichigo do bad-ass things and don’t commit any acts of bad-assery themselves, it’s not very entertaining. One man heroics get stale. I hope the rest of the Ryoka have their time to shine.

Final Score: B

I have something sort of embarrassing to admit. While I’ve been watching/reading Bleach and Elfen Lied (as well as reviewing them on here), I’ve been reading Naruto off and on (I can’t sit through the anime. I just can’t do it). Even when the adventures/villains in Naruto are cool in that “appeals to my inner child” kind of way, the series suffers from one absolutely major problem that I had to stop reading the books because it bothered me so much. Generally speaking, most anime do a good job of introducing new powers for the heroes. The series quickly establishes a set number of superpowers that our protagonists may have and through training or duress (but in those situations, the powers have been alluded to in the past like becoming a Super Saiyan) they gain others. Villains can suddenly gain new powers but that’s for plot twist value. In Naruto, it seemed like four or five new abilities were introduced in every single fight like the author was just pulling the universe’s rules out of his ass. It really bothered me and thankfully,Bleach has managed to not fall prey to that anime shortcoming (though Ichigo’s status as a “determinator” is still pretty ridiculous).

The last volume ended with Uruhara’s assistant Tessai severing Ichigo’s soul chain saying that the only way he can become ashinigami (and now not become a Hollow) is to forcibly regain his soul power in the short time he has left before his transformation. Put under a binding spell, Ichigo is dropped into a massive pit with three days to get his powers back. We see some quick scenes where Chad and Orihime are being trained (in far less “life-and-death” stakes) by the talking cat Yoruichi (I’m just going to assume there’s a story there) to awaken their own spiritual powers at will rather than under moments of great duress. Similarly, back in the Soul Society, we learn that (as Rukia predicted) she is to be executed in 25 days, most likely at the request of her brother Byakuya (though that isn’t made clear). We meet to other members of the Soul Society hierarchy. One’s name is Gin Ichimaru (I think) and Kenpachi Ziraki. I just looked it up. They are captains of different divisions (like Byakuya). Ziraki taunts Byakuya about Rukia’s fate but the incredibly swift (and I’m assuming powerful) Gin stops their from being any potential violence. Back in Uruhara’s shop/training area, the 72 hours come and go and Ichigo makes no progress in regaining his powers. As the last of his soul chain is devoured, he begins to transform into a hollow and Tessai decides it’s time to kill Ichigo before he becomes what one would assume would be an absurdly powerful Hollow.

While Ichigo’s body is becoming covered in the Hollow “material” (?), he begins to have a vision of a strange man in a cape in a world of boxes. The man tries to tell him his name but Ichigo is unable to hear it. Suddenly, the world begins to dissolve around Ichigo and the man implores him to find the box with his shinigami powers (at which point Ichigo remembers Ishida’s story about how shinigami‘s soul ribbons are red). Ichigo finds the hilt of his zanpakuto (though not the blade). In  a massive explosion, he destroys the giant implement Tessai was going to use to kill him and emerges out of the pit in his shinigami robe. He also has a Hollow mask on but with one quick bash of his sword’s hilt, Ichigo is back to his normal bad-ass self. He passes his second test and now must do his third and final one which is to knock the hat off of Uruhara’s head who draws his own zanpakuto (which means he’s hiding something about himself). Uruhara nearly kills Ichigo when Ichigo sees his zanpakuto‘s spirit again and finally learns the swords name, zangetsu. It becomes a massive sword whose type I can’t really name and Ichigo easily (in one swing) knocks off Uruhara’s hat (and would have killed Uruhara if he hadn’t put up a shield). Seven days later (after Chad, Orihime, and Ichigo all say goodbye to their families), they return to Uruhara’s shop one last time (along with Uryu) to finally enter Soul Society. Uruhara has created a massive portal but he gives them a dire warning. They only have four minutes to make it through. Any more and they’ll be stuck between the world’s forever and thus they head out with Yoruichi as their guide.

Once again, Bleach continues to expand the mythology of the series and I still enjoy it. It hasn’t become overly complicated but it also isn’t mind-numbingly simple like say the mythology of DBZ. The way that their weapons are apparently sentient spiritual beings reminds me at least a little bit of Soul Eater (though those weapons were straight up people. Kind of. I never really understood how the hell that all worked). And while it still bothers me that it took Ichigo simply learning his sword’s name to quickly overpower Uruhara (who is perhaps the “Big Good” of the series to the “Big Bad” that is [for now] Byakuya), at least it was a suitably bad-ass moment. And while I can’t make up my mind whether or not his current zanpakuto (when it’s named) looks cooler than the sword when it was unnamed, I definitely know that Renji’s flail-sword was much more bad-ass. However, the art-work (on the show especially cause it had color) where we see Ichigo with both the soul reaper stuff and the Hollow mask with all of the bandages flowing off of him cause of Tessai’s spell was one of the best drawn scenes from the series so far. It really sold how bad ass that whole moment was.

I could probably write a little bit more but I still have to review Glee from last night plus do my “Song of the Day” post so I’ll draw my rantings about Bleach to a close. We began the Soul Society arc the second that Rukia ran away from Ichigo’s house and three volumes later, I’m still enjoying this story. Maybe things will change when we actually reach the Soul Society, but I’ve even enjoyed the scenes that I’ve read that have occurred there. There’s this interesting feudal Japan thing going on that lends it an air of mystery (at least to me as a non-Japanese person), and there are certainly bad guys and good guys in the group. The series teased us that Renji was the real psycho of his duo but we’re quickly learning that title (of villain if not psycho) goes to Byakuya, and that there might be people within the Soul Society that are even worse than him. Tite Kubo keeps crafting a really cool world and as long as this world remains interesting and I keep learning awesome new things about it, I’ll keep giving this series my attention.

Final Score: B

 

While I’m still sick and feeling especially miserable, I think I’m finally feeling well enough to try and catch up on all of the blogging I’ve let fall behind this week. It’s kind of gotten a little bit on the ridiculous side. Still, no one wants to read something that I wrote when the sinus pressure in my head was making me feel so buzzed that I felt like my head could detach itself from my body and float away at any second (actually, maybe people would want to read that). One of the posts that I’ve been meaning to write since about Tuesday was my review of the seventh volume of Bleach (only 45 more volumes to go!…)which is what I would describe as the beginning of the infamous Soul Society arc whose ability to generate anger in the anime community only seems to be matched by the interminable length of the Namek arc in Dragon Ball Z (something like a good 90 episodes) and the 85 straight episodes of filler between the end of the Naruto story and the beginning of Naruto Shippuden. I can already see where this show is laying groundwork for future problems, but they haven’t arrived yet and I’m honestly still intrigued by the world that Tite Kubo continues to craft around the Bleach story.

The last volume ended with two soul reapers, Renji Abari and Byakuya Kuchiki (Rukia’s brother), arriving on Earth to arrest Rukia for the crime of letting a human steal her powers and to kill Ichigo. First, Uryu shows up to try and save Rukia but he quickly gets incapacitated by Renji. Renji is about to finish Uryu off when Ichigo arrives (who learns that Rukia is missing because she had tied Kon behind the toilet to keep him from spilling the beans). While Renji is initially nervous at how massive Ichigo’s zanpakuto is (the size of a zanpakuto is directly related to the spirit power of its wielder), he quickly discovers that Ichigo has no real control over his power and doesn’t even know the name of his zanpakuto (whatever that means). Basically, Ichigo is just releasing all of this power without even realizing it and without any control over what he’s doing, he might as well be wielding a massive stick. Renji evokes the name of his zanpakuto which transforms itself into a massive flail/sword hybrid. It’s pretty cool looking. He nearly kills Ichigo with it. Just when he’s preparing to deliver the lethal blow to Ichigo, Ichigo experiences the same kind of massive power surge he had when he fought the Menos Grande. His wounds begin to heal and then even with his basic, unnamed zanpakuto, he turns the tide of the battle and nearly defeats Renji. However, before he can win the fight, Byakuya intervenes, moving so fast that neither Ichigo or Renji realize he’s attacked Ichigo until Ichigo has collapsed in a pool of his own blood. At this point, Rukia agrees to go to the Soul Society in order to spare the life of Ichigo whose soul power and shinigami powers have all been robbed by his nearly fatal blow from Byakuya.

Before Ichigo dies from his wounds, he is rescued by Kisuke Uruhara who continues to prove that there is far more to this man than meets the eye. Uruhara takes Ichigo back to his shop to tend his wounds (with what I’m going to call magic pills for lack of any explanation as to how they miraculously cured him) and explains to him that if he wants to rescue Rukia, he’ll have to let Uruhara train him (for ten days) before he attempts to enter the Soul Society to save her. Chad and Orihime are also being trained (by talking cat Yoruichi) and though they want Uryu to train alongside them, he refuses, instead opting to open a mysterious box for his own private training. Ichigo goes down to a massive cavern beneath Uruhara’s shop for his training where Uruhara forces his spirit out of its body. Ichigo is no longer a shinigami so he’s just a normal ghost, with a spirit chain connecting him to his body and none of his superhuman powers (or his sword). Ichigo’s first test is to fight the little girl that works at Uruhara’s store, Ururu. Ururu is powerful enough to take on full-fledged shinigami and if she hits Ichigo, it would kill him. Still, during the fight, Ichigo’s survival instincts kick in which allow him to summon back the speed he needs to tap into his spiritual power though he still can’t be a shinigami. Then, Uruhara has his assistant sever Ichigo’s spirit chain. It is is slowly receding back to his chest and when it reaches the end, Ichigo will become a Hollow. That’s how long he has to figure out how to get his shinigami form back.

I would complain some more about how much I hate this whole “Ichigo gets his ass kicked and then suddenly goes Super-Saiyan” trope that is quickly becoming the heart of the fighting scenes of this series (seriously, he’s like Vegeta. He gets the hell knocked out of him until he just explodes on everyone. Well, Vegeta meets Goku), but that whole moment where he tapped into his power again led to him getting completely annihilated so I’ll let it slide. Bleach is great about doing this one thing very well. Ichigo became uber-powerful and destroyed the Menos Grande (well injured it and made it retreat anyways). So, when he started to “no sell” Renji’s attacks and just obliterate Renji’s defenses, you just assumed that’s how that scene was going to end. He was going to fight off these shinigami for now. And then Byakuya stepped in and it wasn’t even a fight. I’ve got to give it to Tite Kubo to have Ichigo just completely “job” a fight like that (sorry for all of the pro wrestling terminology here) to Byakuya. It wasn’t even a fight. Byakuya just destroyed Ichigo. In Dragon Ball Z, there were fights where the lower-level Z fighters would just eviscerated, but it almost never happened where the the Saiyans didn’t even at least put up a fight before losing. So, I like that I know there will be plenty of fights where Ichigo just doesn’t stand a chance.

I could probably write a little bit more about how I enjoyed the way that the training scenes have both subverted and played straight the tropes of shonen training moments, but I still have to write about Glee (one of the best episodes of the season), a concert write-up for work (The Boxer Rebellion), and I also have to do a write-up for an interview for work that I should have done this week but I’ve been too sick. Plus, I just realized that I’ve had the same three movies at home from Netflix for like two months now and I need to watch them so I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth from that company. It’s kind of ridiculous just how far behind I’ve allowed myself to fall there. I’ve been busy with work (which makes me not want to do a ton of writing when I’m home), plus I’ve been playing a lot of Xenoblade Chronicles lately. Like a ton. I think I’m already close to the 30 hour mark in the game (and hilariously not very far in the actual main story for that many hours). So, let’s just say that despite my concerns about where the story could be going, I’m still really into Bleach and I hope it stays that way for a while.

Final Score: B

I have a headache and my entire body aches plus I’m running on very little sleep, so I’m probably going to try to keep my blogging to a minimum today. I still have to do my Game of Thrones post for last night’s episode as well as my “Song of the Day” post (which I’ve fortunately already picked out). However, after I finish this Bleach review (which I’m going to try and keep short) as well as those two, I’m putting the computer down and probably just falling asleep for 12 hours. I’m mildly concerned that I’m coming down with the flu or something because I have a slight tickle in the back of my throat and literally a couple minutes ago, one of my ears started to hurt a little bit. I actually did physically exertive work at the office today so I’m just praying I’ve worn myself out really bad and that I’m not really sick. Either way, I need to get this Bleach review done. Without question, it’s easy to say that this particular volume of Bleach will be a turning point for the series (for better or worse) and many of the events herein will have long-lasting consequences down the road.

After their fights with Hollows that awoke their spiritual powers, Chad and Orihime learn from Uruhara that their contact with Ichigo allowed them to tap into their natural spirit powers. They don’t have much time to chat though because Ichigo and Uryu’s duel is drawing far more Hollows than Uryu had anticipated and things only get worse when a giant Hollow rips apart the fabric of space/time and emerges. This Godzilla sized Hollow is known as a Menos Grande, a type of Hollow so powerful that only elite shinigami have a chance of defeating it. Ichigo goes in head-first without a plan cause he’s a hot-blooded shonen hero archetype (think Goku but not quite as naive) and proceeds to get flicked away. Even Uryu’s spirit bow can’t dent it. However, Uryu learns that by touching Ichigo he can magnify the size of his bow greatly. Before they can use that plan to attack Menos Grande, it readies a massive beam weapon and for reasons I don’t really understand Ichigo charges the Hollow again taking the blast full in the face. This suddenly causes his power level (Spirit power or whatever the in-universe term is. I just hear Radditz yelling IT’S OVER 9000!!!) to increase drastically and Ichigo is able to not only withstand the attack but wound the Menos Grande enough for it to return to Hueco Mundo (whatever that is). Ichigo collapses because expelling that much spiritual energy is nearly destroying his body and Uryu (his rival) nearly sacrifices himself to help Ichigo release the energy in a safe manner. Days later, things have returned to normal in Karakura town when suddenly Rukia runs away only to be confronted by two Soul Reapers, Renji Abari and her brother Byakuya Kuchiki, who have been sent to capture her for the crime of transferring her powers to a human (and to also kill Ichigo).

So here were the things I really dug about this volume. Once again, we got an idea of the darker side of the Soul Society. We saw it through the death of Uryu’s grandfather, who wanted to finally bring peace between the Quincy and shinigami but was simply left to die when he was attacked by Hollows. We also meet the almost comically evil Renji Abari who seems to take way too much pleasure in hunting down one of his former comrades (and I’m desperately trying to bite my tongue about how he behaves in the last episode of the anime which I’m assuming occurs in the next volume). While Renji and Byakuya are the only two shinigami we’ve met in the manga besides Rukia, we also met another one earlier in the anime (during Memories in the Rain) that wasn’t much more sympathetic than Renji (though he eventually decided to spare Rukia). I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. This series strong suit lies in the way that it subverts your expectations of a shonen fantasy manga. When the series eventually becomes more conventional (and therefore more predictable), it’s going to lose some of that magic that makes me capable of enjoying something that is as clearly meant for young teenagers (at most) as this franchise.

I have one last thing to say before I go watch Game of Thrones (apparently last night’s episode was really messed up. Can’t wait!). This was the volume where we finally start to see the writing become plagued with Ichigo doing something stupid but getting away with it because he’s just so naturally powerful. I don’t like those kinds of shonen heroes. Edward Elric and L are great shonen protagonists because they use their brains more than their brawn. I just really don’t buy into those whole “gets by by pure force of will alone” plot devices and I know that Ichigo lives and breathes on them. Now that Uryu is sort of one of the good guys now (and we’ve learned more about his tragic backstory), I’m already beginning to find him to be a little more interesting than Ichigo which is definitely not the way that you want your protagonist to be thought of.

Final Score: B

So, my manga consumption has slowed down a little bit this week. I’ve had a couple concerts, and I’ve just generally been sort of busy (I’ve been playing a ton of Xenoblade Chronicles which also begun to eat up a ton of my free time). Anyways, it took me a little longer to read this particular volume of Bleach than it has the others. It’s a shame though because I feel like this is the volume where the various story threads are starting to come together, and we’re going to get a look at the bigger picture of where this series is going to go (in terms of it being a team-oriented shonen fighting series). This has become my mantra of the franchise, but I still really enjoyed this genre and while it’s not my favorite so far (that award goes to Memories in the Rain), this is definitely the moment when you realize that the series won’t entirely be about Ichigo. He’s got companions (oh no. Is Ichigo the Japanese version of the Doctor sans time travel… that metaphor quickly went nowhere) or he will have them anyways. He doesn’t actually know that the spiritual powers of his friends have awakened yet which is too bad for him because they were pretty bad ass moments even if Orihime’s powers are super lame.

Last volume ended with the introduction of Uryu Ishida, a mysterious kid in Ichigo’s class who has the power to defeat Hollows and hates shinigami. We quickly learn this volume that he is the last member of a group long thought to be extinct called the Quincy (humans who battle Hollows but rather than cleansing them and sending them to Soul Society, they simply kill them). He challenges Ichigo to a duel to see who can defeat the most Hollows using their particular style. Releasing a Hollow bait, Uryu summons dozens of Hollows in to the world for he and Ichigo to fight (Uryu isn’t worried that they’ll harm anyone because he’s so confident in his Hollow slaying abilities). As Ichigo and Uryu battle Hollows, other residents of Karakura town soon realize that they have powers of their own. Ever since they were saved by Ichigo (in different incidents), Tatsuki, Orihime, and Chad can all see ghosts and Hollows with varying degrees of accuracy. When a Hollow attacks Chad and Ichigo’s sister Karin, Chad finally accepts his inner strength (he has inborn pacifist issues from his father) and a giant armored arm replaces one of his normal arms and he defeats a Hollow (and then passes out). Orihime and Tatsuki are also attacked by a Hollow, and the manga teases you by making you think Tatsuki is going to get powers next when she fights back against the Hollow, but she is quickly overpowered and Orihime’s powers manifest which are six fairy things which give her a magical shield, healing abilities, and the ability to tear a Hollow in half. She too defeats the Hollow attacking her and passes out just as Uruhara shows up with Chad who he has rescued.

One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed the most about this series is the art design (which while Elfen Lied is certainly the superior manga, Bleach runs circles around it in terms of aesthetics), and this was maybe the best drawn volume yet. There were a ton of Hollows this time around, and they all had interesting designs. Ichigo and Uryu mowed through plenty of them (and even more in the anime which was in rare animation form [and by that I mean it looked better than normal]) and we also had the Hollows that Chad and Orihime battled. I also thought it was nice that we got some more back story with Chad (which I’m sure will be revealed in more depth later on) as well as something deeper with the relationship between Orihime and Tatsuki. I just wish that stalker lesbian Chizuru wasn’t around because she seems like a really offensive stereotype. As for Uryu, he’s kind of a lame villain at the moment, but the philosophical debate between the methods of the Quincy versus the methods of the Soul Reapers could make for interesting drama down the line if I didn’t already know that Uryu becomes friends with Ichigo later. There was some stuff in the anime at the end that wasn’t in the books but I’m assuming that will just happen in the next volume like it did last time.

I’m going to keep this review short (because I have to review Tuesday’s Glee cause concerts made me fall way behind this week), but I do have one last comment before I draw things to a close. I really hate how every comic book/manga feels the need to make the main female heroine/sidekick have an enormous chest, and Orihime has most certainly fell prey to the most common superpower. It’s such a sexist and annoying tradition of comics and I wish it would go away. It also doesn’t help that I’m just not crazy about Orihime (especially compared to the more interesting Rukia and Tatsuki), and maybe this is just giving me another reason to dislike her. I’m pretty sure that the incident (besides Rukia’s initial transferal of power to Ichigo) that sets the majority of the rest of the series’ plot in motion is going to be happening soon so for better or worse, Bleach is about to change forever. I hope I can still enjoy the manga after it happens.

Final Score: B

I feel like there’s the distinct possibility that I could find myself in a very repetitive place for my reviews of Bleach by consistently saying at the beginning of the reviews that we haven’t gotten to the place in the story where it starts to suck yet. Regardless, we’re still at the point in Bleach where I’m still enjoying it as much as I can any conventional shonen manga. Though, honestly, calling Bleach conventional at this point actual does the series a bit of a disservice as I still believe that it’s basic premise is pretty original and the world that Tite Kubo has imagined for these heroics is intriguing urban fantasy fare. This particular volume started out a little bit on the filler side with an adventure that only served one over-all myth arc purpose (I’m assuming anyways), but at the end, it managed to introduce a new character that I know is going to turn out to be very important (because I’ve watched past this part in the anime years and years ago). Even though the majority of the volume was filler, it was still fun filler that managed to subvert exactly where you thought the story was going to go which is something that I think Tite Kubo does very well.

A popular ghosthunting show (Tite Kubo accurately predicted the surprise popularity of that phenomenon about a decade early) visits Karakura Town, led by the charismatic Don Kanonji. It’s one of the most popular shows in the country and the entire town attends the show. Ichigo’s family are big fans so even though he suspects that Don Kanonji is utter BS, he attends the program. However, it turns out the hospital that the show is being filmed at is actually home to a Demi-Hollow, a “plus” that is slowly transforming into a Hollow. It also turns out that Don Kanonji can actually see ghosts, and though he thinks he is exorcising the spirit by prying open the whole in its chest, he is actually speeding up the process of turning it into a Hollow. Ichigio is forced to transform into his shinigami form and battle this Hollow with the help/burden of Don Kanonji who truly believes himself to be a hero and helps fight the Hollow despite his very limited powers. After the Hollow is vanquished, Don Kanonji is forced to face the truth of what he’s really been doing to the spirits he’s encountered. At school the next day, Rukia keeps getting calls on her beeper from the Soul Society about Hollows, but when they arrive, the Hollows have already been vanquished. It turns out that another student at Ichigo’s school named Uryu Ishida has been destroying them. He has high Spirit Energy as well and can summon an energy bow from mid-air. He claims to be something called a Quincy and openly expresses his hatred for shinigami.

One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about this volume is that Tite Kubo hasn’t been afraid to embrace some of the more humour aspects of the series. Bleach is such a moody and brooding protagonist (he’s one tragic backstory away from being Sasuke from Naruto) that the series can sometimes take itself a little too seriously for what is essentially a children’s manga, and in both the anime and manga for these volumes, there were plenty of moments that made me laugh. All of the bishie sparkles coming off of Don Kanonji when he thought he was going to die were pretty hilarious because it was such an obvious tongue-in-cheek reference to the anime convention. Similarly, the scene where they post the test scores (which worked for me better in the anime) was great because it sort of subverted the Japanese stereotype of everyone doing well in school (that is regularly reinforced by me becoming more popular in Persona 4 when I get good grades). Ichigo’s friend Asano’s reaction was just so absurdly over the top that it just had me laughing out loud on my couch which doesn’t generally happen when I’m watching anime. There were no notable differences between the anime and the manga during this section other than the last episode of the anime I watched continued on into the action of the next volume of the manga so I’ll just discuss that later.

I like Buffy the Vampire-esque “go to high school, save the world” stories. I have ever since I started reading Harry Potter in elementary school and that pleasure has managed to not disappear even though I’m now 23. At this point, Bleach does that well, although admittedly the “high school” stuff definitely takes a backseat to the “saving the world” stories. Unfortunately, I know that the series eventually completely abandons that whole high school thing when Ichigo goes to Soul Society (spoiler). It’s a shame because not only do I really like these main characters (even Ichigo who I seem to remember really disliking the last time I tried to watch this show), I love the supporting cast down to the most minor people. The show has a quirky identity at the moment, and I’m not looking forward to the point where it abandons what makes it special to become a more standard shonen series.

Final Score: B

When I decided to read the Bleach manga initially, it sprang from Netflix’s sudden decision to remove all of Bleach from their Watch Instant service. It probably wasn’t that sudden and I likely just missed the “Available until Apr. 1st” notification, but regardless, just as I had finished watching the first disc of the series on Instant, it was suddenly gone the next day. However, I recently acquired a subscription to Hulu Plus (mainly because I wanted to start watching the cult hit Community which I’ll do my first review of for the entire first season simply because the manner I initially began watching the series in wasn’t conducive for my traditional disc-based reviews), and Hulu has the entirety of many anime on their site for streaming purposes, and Bleach is one of them. I actually finished the third volume of the Bleach manga on Friday, but I’m waiting til now to review it because I’ve decided to watch the anime while I’m reading the books. So, from this point forward, whenever there are any major additions added to the anime that weren’t in the manga, I’ll mention them at the end of my plot recaps. This particular volume was the first time that happened but more on that later.

After defeating the mod Soul that inhabited his body (mostly thanks to the help of Uruhara Kisuke), Ichigo placed the Mod-Soul into a plush stuffed lion which they’ve named Kon (cause it’s short for the kanji of mod-soul or something like that. It doesn’t translate well). As Ichigo leaves for school one day, he looks at his watch and learns that it’s June 16th, the day before the anniversary of his mother’s murder. As Ichigo goes off on a family outing with his sisters and his obnoxious father to pay respects at his mother’s grave, Rukia (and Kon in her purse) follow along to keep tabs on Ichigo. After confronting Ichigo about the possibility that a Hollow might have killed his mother, Ichigo tells Rukia that he feels like he killed his mother because he chased a ghost to the river bend which led to his mother’s death when she tried to save him. As they’re having this confrontation, the same ghost of a little girl that Ichigo saw all those years ago appears in front of Karin and Yuzu (Ichigo’s sisters). Karin is soul-sensitive and can see the ghost, but it is a lure used by a very powerful hollow to trap people with high spirit energies. It was this same Hollow that murdered Ichigo’s mother.

Ichigo and Rukia arrive at the scene just in time to save Ichigo’s sisters from being devoured by the Holow, known as the Grand Fisher because he lures his prey with bait. After realizing exactly who this Hollow is, Ichigo enters the fight with reckless abandon which proceeds to result in him getting his ass kicked. However, Ichigo is probably anime’s biggest example of a determinator this side of Son Goku so even after being impaled with several razor sharp talons on multiple occasions, he doesn’t back down. Even when the Grand Fisher turns his lure into the form of Ichigo’s mother as a trap to stab Ichigo both literally and metaphorically right through the heart, Ichigo uses that opportunity to chop the Grand Fisher’s arm off. It was a bad-ass moment indeed. However, Ichigo is unable to defeat the Grand Fisher (who flees conceding the tie) and collapses after he’s expended nearly all of his spirit energy. That’s basically the whole volume which was the fight against the Grand Fisher/the exposition leading up to why it mattered. In the anime, a subplot is introduced involving a Soul Reaper from the Soul Society who comes to Earth to investigate why Rukia hasn’t returned to Soul Society yet. When he finds out she gave all of her powers to a human, he tries to arrest her but the fight with the Grand Fisher makes him change his mind and he leaves our two heroes in peace.

So far this has probably been my favorite volume. I finally felt like I knew a little bit more about Ichigo besides the fact that he is a certified bad-ass. The scenes where Tatsuki recounts her childhood memories of Ichigo and his mother to Orihime were well done, and seeing how Ichigo’s inability to protect his mother shaped him into the hero he’s become adds more context to why this otherwise brooding and moody 15 year old would suddenly decide to be a hero. Also, there just a layer of mourning and darkness to the whole proceedings. Ichigo has lived his whole life feeling guilty for his mother’s death and he finally finds out that it’s his high spirit energy that caused her to be targeted in the first place. But rather than going the easy way out and having him immediately conquer the demon that took away his mother, Ichigo loses the fight. The demon flees so basically it’s a tie, but Ichigo didn’t win and in his mind, that’s a loss. It should be interesting to see when the Grand Fisher will return because I’m positive I haven’t seen the last of him. I also really enjoyed the anime-only stuff about the Soul Reaper that was sent to arrest Rukia. I wonder if that was meant to foreshadow future events in the manga that the anime writers felt wasn’t probably contextualized in Tite Kubo’s original work.

I have no shame in how much I’ve been enjoying Bleach so far. If I were unironically enjoying something like Naruto (which I’ve watched and it’s painful at times, especially that 85 episode long filler arc), there might be a problem, but so far Bleach has been a refreshing twist on standard shonen conventions. I can easily understand why it’s one of the most popular anime/manga franchises alongside One Piece and Naruto. I know that sooner rather than later, it’s quality is going to start crumbling around me, but until then, I take pleasure in the fact that I can just sit back, turn my brain off, and enjoy the fantasy adventures of Ichigo Kurosaki (and soon, his nakama of friends). It’s a bad-ass dude doing bad-ass things in a world with an interesting back-story. What isn’t there to like so far?

Final Score: B

If Bleach really does end up going wildly downhill as every other fan I’ve talked to tells me, it will be really disappointing because I have thoroughly enjoyed (with no sense of irony) these first two volumes. I like shonen fantasy series, and this one has a pretty cool premise, and Tite Kubo has done a really cool job of slowly introducing more and more aspects of this world’s mythology. I’ve got an admitted soft spot for urban fantasy so that also probably has something to do with the fact that I really like the story so far. I mean, let me qualify what I mean by “really like.” I’m enjoying this as much as I can anything that’s primarily meant for like kids (that’s what shonen means as a demographic. for “young boys” though as virtually every anime fan in America will tell you, shonen programs (like Dragon Ball Z or Full Metal Alchemist) have plenty of cross-demographic appeal. I’m not getting any intellectual stimulation from this series at all (unlike say, another shonen franchise, Death Note) but it’s fun, and I still haven’t gotten to the part where it supposedly gets terrible, so I’m going to enjoy this series while it lasts.

The first volume ended with Ichigo’s school friend Yasatoro “Chad” Sado adopting a parakeet that is actually the home of a “whole,” a spirit that has yet to be sent over to the Soul Society. The parakeet’s soul is a very young boy who watched his mother murdered in front of him by a serial killer. The young boy accidentally caused the serial killer to fall to his death, and when the murderer came back as a “hollow” (evil spirits that haven’t been sent on), the Hollow murdered the boy and has mentally tortured him since then by promising to bring his mother back to life if he could avoid the Hollow for three years (which is something the Hollow can’t do. Because Ichigo is forced to momentarily care for his ailing sister Karin (who was injured by a psychic blast from the tortured mind of the young boy’s soul), Rukia is forced to temporarily battle the Hollow alone, even though she’s using her “gigai” (human form) and isn’t at full strength. Eventually Chad helps her but since he can’t see the Hollow, their effectiveness isn’t very high despite Chad’s enormous strength. When it looks like Chad and Rukia are getting the upper hand despite their limitations, the Hollow pulls a trick out of the manga bad guy playbook 101 by revealing an ability he had been hiding the whole fight. He summons these frog like creatures which spit leech like creatures which the Hollow could remotely detonate as bombs. Just when things are looking hopeless, Ichigo shows up and promptly kicks the Hollow’s ass. Because the Hollow was evil in his past life, he is sent to Hell by a massive door that opens up which draws a knife-wielding disembodied fist that drags the evil spirit away.

The last half of the volume is the beginning of a new story arc which introduces another layer of Soul Society life and technology which is starting to show that maybe they aren’t quite as good as the heroics of Rukia make them seem. Whenever Rukia uses her glove thing to force Ichigo’s soul out of his body so he can be a Shinigami, his body is just lying around unconscious and is therefore completely vulnerable and very suspicious. Rukia visits the shop of a man named Kisuke Uruhara who sells weapons and technology to Shinigami. Rukia thinks she’s bought an artificial soul to place in Ichigo’s body when he’s fighting Hollows. However, it turns out to be one of the last remaining mod-souls, a group of scientifically bred warriors that the Soul Society had created to fight Soul Reapers. However, it didn’t work out and so the Soul Society abandoned the project and destroyed every mod-soul they could find. This one escaped somehow, and when he enters Ichigo’s body, he absconds with it as Ichigo is fighting a Hollow. Ichigo (in his Shinigami form) and the mod-soul inhabiting Ichigo’s real body are forced to work together to fight another Hollow, and eventually Kisuke Uruhara shows up and forces the mod-soul out of Ichigo’s body. However, Ichigo and Rukia decide to spare it because they know that they’d be killing something that just wanted to be free by destroying it.

I”m one of those people that is really into universe building. I know several people who tire of George R. R. Martin’s never-ending descriptions of the politics, geography, religion, and history of Westeros but that is 50% of the enjoyment I get from his A Song of Ice and Fire books. So, I really appreciate how Tite Kubo is making the Bleach universe seem like a pretty multi-faceted place. Yeah, occasionally, we’ll spend like four damn volumes of the book on just one fight, and this is a fairly early Hollow in the series (so I can’t imagine what it will be like when we fight enemies that are actually supposed to be threatening). However, I always feel like I’m learning something new about the world where this series takes place, which is essentially our own but with magic teeming behind the veils of perception we can’t see past. And at no point have I felt like any of the twists about the events of this world are dumb or uninteresting. Yeah, there have been plenty of standard anime conventions used (especially during the fight scenes), but they are part and parcel to this particular genre, and while I know they are derivative, it isn’t really keeping me from enjoying the series yet.

I’m starting to wish that I knew more about these characters. I really like Chad. The whole gentle giant trope is a favorite character archetype of mine, and Rukia always tends to make me laugh, but Ichigo still seems pretty ill-defined. However, this is a shonen manga and character development is almost never very important. That tends to only really matter in shojo or seinen pieces (though Full Metal Alchemist had pretty satisfying character development as did Death Note), so I may be disappointed if I expect too much from this series. Anyways, I’m only two volumes in out of the 52 that have been written thus far, so I’m obviously still far too early in the series to make any judgments, but so far I’m having fun reading it, and that’s what really matters.

Final Score: B

 

Literally, for the first time in many, many moths, I’ve added a new top level category to this blog. I rarely even add subcategories these days because I’ve covered so many different bases over the last year and two months, and it had been ages since there was a new high level category. Well, I’m finally covering completely new ground for this blog by reviewing my first manga series. It’s not the first manga that I’ve ever read. That award goes to Death Note, and I’ve read bits and pieces of others since that one, but it’s the first one that I’ve read in the time that I’ve had this blog, so new steps are constantly being taken I guess. I’m kind of embarrassed that I’m reading this particular manga because Bleach is a pretty ridiculously popular manga/anime and it has a very vocal hatedom that it’s just your stereotypical/conventional shonen fighting manga. I’m lazy and thinking that I may just stop italicizing manga and anime every time I write them even though I’m supposed to because they are foreign words. Anyways, this series is notable for being around for a long time (over ten years) and for having story arcs that tend to drag a bit (like Dragon Ball Z!), but I love me some anime and manga, and I can’t really call myself an otaku if I don’t really know much about one of the most popular franchises out there. So, without further ado, Bleach, a series that starts out well enough and is enjoyable in a shonen way with a unique aesthetic/identity and a cool premise.

Ichigo Kurosaki is a 15 year old Japanese high school student with decent skills in martial arts and one supernatural gift. He can see ghosts. One day (and I apologize if I accidentally mix in details from the anime which I was going to watch instead until it was randomly taken off of Netflix with no warning), after helping a troubled young ghost deal with her passing by scaring away bullies who were vandalizing her spirit’s resting place, Ichigo is visited by a young woman in a kimono named Rukia Kuchiki who claims to be a type of spirit known as a shinigami, or Soul Reaper. Her job is to help good spirits, known as “wholes” move on by sending them, and to defeat evil spirits, known as “hollows” in battle, before they can devour wholes or attack living humans. Rukia sensed great Spirit Energy at Ichigo’s house, which is a sure indication of an impending hollow attack, and during their conversation, one attacks Ichigo’s home and nearly kills his two sisters (one of which, Karin, can also see ghosts). After showing immense personal strength by breaking a Soul Reaper spell that Rukia had cast on him, Ichigo is given Rukia’s powers when she nearly dies protecting Ichigo from the rampaging hollow. This awakens Ichigo’s natural strengths and he handily defeats the Hollow where even Rukia, the seasoned shinigami had failed.

The next day, no one else in Ichigo’s family can remember the attack, but a completely human (sort of) Rukia shows up at Ichigo’s high school as a new student. It seems that while she had intended on only transferring half of her powers to Ichigo, he took all of them, and she’s stuck in her current human form (called a gigai) until her power returns. She now expects Ichigo to take up the mantle of a Soul Reaper until she can return to duty. While he bristles at the work and responsibility at first, he quickly changes his mind when he sees a spirit of a young boy nearly being devoured by a Hollow (whose ass he proceeds to briskly kick). Ichigo’s first real challenge arrives though when a school friend, the shy and truly bizarre orphan Orihime Inoue is attacked by the Hollow of her long-dead brother who had refused to pass to the other side because he wanted to look after her. However, by staying behind, he was devoured by a Hollow and subsequently turned into one himself. Ichigo doesn’t actually defeat this Hollow, but instead it voluntarily sends itself, when it realizes it nearly killed its own sister. The first volume of the manga ends with the introduction of another of Ichigo’s friends, a gentle and quiet giant of a teen named Yasutora “Chad” Sado, who has adopted a baby parakeet which Rukia and Ichigo recognize as a whole that is being targeted by a very malicious Hollow.

So far, I don’t understand the hatedom, but I also know that the general consensus towards the series is that it starts out promising but then it slowly starts to nose-dive with arcs that never end and plot twists that don’t make any sense so I’m probably just not at the point where it gets bad yet. Honestly though, I definitely enjoy it. I mean, I’ll always have a soft spot for anime and manga, and I think Bleach has a really neat premise. Here’s this kid who could see ghosts (so that’s cool) and he was a good fighter but not super natural about it. But then he gets his powers from another supernatural being and has to learn how to do her job. It’s got elements of urban fantasy as well as some of the more superhero tropes of your typical shonen manga. I think the characters are genuinely likeable. At this point, Ichigo seems like a relateable high school student who suddenly has all sorts of new responsibility heaped on him which is an archetypal trait of many young superheroes. I also just really enjoy the whole urban aesthetic of the series which abandons some of the more obviously feudal Japan/science fiction things that are really common in a lot of the most popular manga franchises. Do I think this is remotely as good as Fullmetal Alchemist or Death Note? Hell no, but so far, I enjoy it.

This series has been running for like over a decade now so I hope it’s obvious that I’m not going to just read it straight through. I would be burned out and then some especially if I come to agreed about the considerable arc fatigue this series is rumored to regularly suffer from. I left all of my books in WV… literally all of them so I have pretty slim pickings on what to read while I’m up here. I’m going to try and find places on the internet where I can read manga for free (like what I’m doing with Bleach) without having to illegally download anything as well as try and find things for comic books so that maybe I can go back and actually start reading more of The Walking Dead cause I still don’t know why I had stopped reading that as regularly as I was last semester. It was just starting to get good. Anyways, if you’re looking for a good introduction to manga, I think that you could do a lot worse than Bleach and I look forward to seeing how this series progresses. I’ve seen the first story arc on DVD ( so the first 2o episodes) so I think I actually know where the story will be going for a while.

Final Score: B