Everybody's keeping secrets in this volume. Kon, while in Ichigo's body, has discovered that Ichigo's father is a Soul Reaper, one who seems to know Urahara pretty well. Both Urahara and Ichigo's dad know about Vizards (rogue Soul Reapers who've acquired Hollow powers) and Arrancars (Hollows who've had their masks removed and who have gained Soul Reaper powers). Uruyuu is told by his father that he can get his Quincy powers back, but he has to first agree never to gete involved with Soul Reapers again. Ichigo is trying to deal with a new student at his school who wants him to join the Vizards - in fact, he claims that Ichigo is already a Vizard, since he's beginning to show the symptoms. Ichigo is terrified, because he can feel the Hollow part of himself growing stronger. He's afraid it will overwhelm him.
He doesn't get a chance to deal with his fear before a pair of Arrancars arrive and start killing people - Chad and Orihime try to deal with the problem before Ichigo arrives, but they are seriously outclassed. Ichigo, fighting with the Hollow part of himself, also has problems, but luckily Urahara and Yoruichi arrive in time to keep the whole group from being killed. Afterward, in addition to worrying about the Hollow part of himself, Ichigo has to deal with his guilt at failing to properly protect Orihime. Rukia fans will be happy to know that Rukia turns up and talks some confidence into him.
After 22 volumes, I still enjoy this series, even though it's getting pretty complicated. I'm glad that Kubo actually chose to do something with Ichigo's hints of Hollow, which started showing up many volumes earlier, rather than just letting them go unexplained and unused. It's going to make things tough on poor Ichigo, but stories are often at their most enjoyable when their characters are having the most problems. I'm also interested to see how things turn out with Uryuu (is he really going to avoid all contact with Ichigo from now on?) and Orihime (who seems to want, more and more, to be able to contribute more during fights, rather than just as a healer afterward).
The revelation about Ichigo's dad, which actually occurred in the previous volume and was only continued in this one, was the most surprising for me - he's been such a goofball throughout the whole series, so it's weird seeing him as a strong warrior. Kubo's revelation, through Captain Hitsugaya, that there are three classes of Menos was interesting, but seemed a bit tacked on - Ichigo had been around several Soul Reapers and former Soul Reapers during that time when he fought a Menos alongside Renji, and no one had ever even hinted at different classes of Menos back then.
I like that Kubo is still able to come up with great character designs. Yammy, the biggest of the two Arrancars in this volume, wasn't my favorite sort of character design, but his design fit his personality ("brute force can deal with anything"). I really liked the other Arrancar's design - Ulquiorra is pretty and sad-looking. Sure, he could probably grind Ichigo into the pavement, but that doesn't mean I can't admire how he looks. As for the two Vizard in this volume, there's something about their designs that just creeps me out.
I know that I mentioned that Rukia fans will like that she shows up for a bit, but the appearance that got me excited was Urahara. Urahara not only appeared several times throughout this volume, he got to act mysterious (in his talk with Ichigo's dad) and he got to briefly battle one of the Arrancars. If it weren't for the fact that, according to Hitsugaya, an Arrancar like Ulquiorra is probably stronger than Captain-class Soul Reapers like Urahara, I would've liked to see Urahara and Ulquiorra fight. Unfortunately, from the sounds of things, even Urahara would probably die in a one-on-one fight with someone like Ulquiorra.
As far as extras go, this volume continues the funny story involving poor Hanataro using sketched comics inserted between chapters. Other than that, there's nothing much. However, for those who like to buy manga, this volume is fairly thick (a little over 200 pages) and has one of the best manga prices out there, $7.95. Basically, if you like Shonen Jump titles like this one, you're in luck - I don't think there are any other publishers out there that sell manga as cheaply as Viz does its Shonen Jump titles. Of course, you pay in the long run, because these titles often run for more than 20 volumes...
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Naruto (manga) by Masashi Kishimoto; Naruto (anime TV series) - Naruto, a young ninja, is determined to become the best ninja in his village, but he must first learn teamwork and better fighting techniques in order to survive all the tests he needs to pass in order to become a full-fledged ninja. Those who enjoy Bleach's battles, characters with amazing abilities, and fantasy elements may enjoy this manga series. Like Bleach, this series features action, humor, and drama.
- Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie (anime movie) - In a world where alchemy is considered science, Ed and Al, two young brothers, have broken the primary rule of alchemy, the law of equivalent exchange, in an attempt to resurrect their mother. As a result, Ed lost an arm and a leg, and Al lost his whole body. Now they're on a journey to discover the Philosopher's Stone and use it to restore their bodies. Those who'd like another series with fantasy elements that features humor, drama, and action may enjoy this series. Both the anime and the manga are good, although the anime is very different from the manga after a certain point. Once you finish the anime, there's also a movie that wraps things up in a grand battles and multi-world spanning way - it's not advisable to watch the movie before finishing the anime TV series.
- D.Gray-man (manga) by Katsura Hoshino; D.Gray-man (anime TV series) - Akuma are monsters born from the souls of the dead that are mistakenly recalled to the world of the living by their loved ones. The Millennium Earl uses Akuma as weapons in his quest to destroy the world. Standing against him are the Exorcists of the Black Priest Organization. Among them is Allen Walker, who has been cursed since his youth with an anti-Akuma weapon as his left arm and an eye that sees the former souls of Akuma. Those who like Bleach's villains (Hollows of various sorts that feed off of the souls of the dead and Soul Hunters who take on some of the abilities and characteristics of Hollows) and mixture of comedy, action, and drama might like this series. FUNimation has licensed the anime series, but it has yet to be released in the US.
- Saiyuki (manga) by Kazuya Minekura - In this fantasy series, the peace between humans and demons has been broken - experiments conducted by a corrupt and evil demon are causing all demons to go crazy and kill everyone, especially humans. Genjo Sanzo, a gun-toting, trash-talking monk, is teamed up with Son Goku, a young-looking 500-year-old food-loving demon, Sha Gojyo, a half-demon, half-human with red eyes and hair, and Cho Hakkai, yet another demon. They are told to deliver a sacred scroll, the Maten Scripture, to India. Those who found Ichigo's feeling that he can't trust the Hollow-aspect inside of himself interesting may enjoy this series, in which the demon and half-demon main characters fear that they could go blood-thirsty and insane at any moment. There are several anime adaptations, prequels, and sequels for this series, as well as alternate manga retellings, and a manga prequel and sequel. I didn't want to list them all (it gets confusing), so I suggest that, if you're interested, you click on the "Saiyuki" link that I've listed and look through Anime News Network's list.
- Blood+ (anime TV series) - Although most humans don't know it, humankind and Chiropterans, monsters that feed on the blood of the living, are at war. An organization known as the Red Shield tracks down Chiropterans and exterminates them. Saya believes she is an ordinary high school girl until she comes upon several Chiropterans at school one day and is encouraged to fight them by a mysterious man named Hagi (sometimes spelled Haji, which I prefer) who claims to be her Chevallier. Saya, who had had no memory of her life beyond the past year, begins to re-discover her past and her role in the fight against Chiropterans. Unfortunately, her formerly peaceful and idyllic family life is gradually destroyed beyond repair. Those who found the Hollow part of Ichigo, which is strong, scary, and not human, interesting and who enjoy the sword-fighting in the series may like this series. Saya, like Ichigo, has to learn to deal with and control the more dangerous part of herself that has stayed dormant for so long.