Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bleach (manga, vol. 23) by Tite Kubo

Ulquiorra and Yammy report back to Aizen and their fellow Arrancars, not all of whom are happy that they let Ichigo and the others live. Meanwhile, in the world of the living, all the Soul Reapers try to find places to stay. Renji goes to stay with Urahara, Rukia stays with Ichigo, Rangiku stays with Orihime (Captain Hitsugaya follows, although he doesn't actually stay at Orihime's), and Ikkaku and Yumichika don't immediately have any place to stay. After the events of the previous volume, everyone needs some time to sort through their stirred up thoughts and emotions. Orihime, for instance, is trying to cope with her feelings of jealousy over Ichigo and Rukia's closeness - she's happy that Rukia was able to get Ichigo out of his funk, but she's upset that she couldn't help him herself.

Meanwhile, the Arrancars travel to the world of the living and decide to kill anyone who has any spiritual pressure whatsoever. Hitsugaya has to fight the Arrancar Shawlong (hardly any of this fight is shown in this volume). The Arrancar D-Roy goes after Chad but is stopped by Ichigo, who hurts Chad's feelings by not accepting his help in the fight. After Chad leaves, Rukia comes and backs Ichigo up. For the first time since the beginning of the series, readers get to see Rukia as a Soul Reaper, and, for the first time ever, readers get to see Rukia's Zanpakuto in action. Rukia's white Zanpakuto turns out to be powerful enough to kill D-Roy before he even realizes he's in trouble. The battle between Ikkaku and the Arrancar Edorad is also shown at length. Although Yumichika is present for the battle, he doesn't interfere, and Ikkaku's attempt to do the fight without using Bankai almost gets him killed. In the meantime, Rukia and Ichigo have been confronted by yet another Arrancar, Grimmjow. Rukia is the first to get attacked, and she doesn't fare well.

After the main story, there are three additional short manga. In the first, rather bittersweet one, Ichigo passes by all the nice, ordinary activity of his friends at school on his way to visit a ghost, only to discover that the ghost he was going to visit has disappeared (possibly eaten by a Hollow). Ichigo reflects on his powerlessness and wishes for the strength to protect everyone he cares for.

The next short manga takes place just before the beginning of the series and shows how Rukia found out she was going to be assigned to the world of the living for a month. The things that are said and done in this short manga take on more significance if one has read the series from the beginning and knows that this won't be the quick and easy assignment everyone thinks it will be. One detail I found interesting was that Byakuya wasn't told about Rukia's assignment before she left - she thought he might find the news too trivial to bother with. While Rukia finds out about her assignment, Renji finds out that he's been promoted to Assistant Captain of 6th company, something he decides to tell Rukia after she gets back from her assignment.

The final short manga is only 3 pages long, and its only purpose is to be humorous. The Society of Female Soul Reapers, which consists of Yachiru, Nanao, Isane, Soifon, and Nemu, has a meeting to decide upon a new design for a Soul Pager for female Soul Reapers. Although everyone is supposed to submit a design that will appeal to all female Soul Reapers, nearly every woman's design fits herself best. Rangiku's is sparkly and has a butterfly, Isane's is made tough enough to survive being dropped from a height over over six feet, and Soifon's is a cross between a bee and a cat (a tribute to Yoruichi, her idol). Nemu's suggestion was pixelated and referred to as obscene - my imagination conjured up all sorts of horrible possibilities, and her expression made me laugh. So, which design won? Yachiru's - her suggestion was an edible Soul Pager made of chocolate, candy, and gum. It sounds like a bad idea to me, but Rukia seemed to like it.

I really enjoyed this volume, although some things were a little painful to read, mostly because I hate it when characters I like are hurting in some way. I'm not entirely sure that Ichigo was aware of how much he hurt Chad when he told him to leave the fight. Since Chad is such a rock, it was hard seeing his shock and pain when the thought came to him that Ichigo doesn't trust him to back him up in a fight anymore. The way Chad sees it is probably not how Ichigo sees it, but that doesn't change the fact that Chad was hurt by Ichigo's attempt to keep him safe. Orihime is another character I like who was in some pain in this volume. Orihime is a really good and sweet person - watching her try to work through her feelings of jeolousy made me want to hug her. By the way, guy readers will probably go wild for this part of the manga. One, Rankgiku is so well-endowed that she makes Orihime look flat-chested. Two, Rangiku is bathing at the beginning of Orihime's confession, meaning that Rangiku was naked. Sure, nothing shows, but still. Three, when Rangiku comes out of the bathroom to tickle, hug, and talk to Orihime in order to make her feel better, she's still wet and naked. Can we say major fanservice?

The battles in this volume were fun. I actually thought that Ikkaku was going to die, and I started tearing up when Yumichika asked for a company funeral to be prepared for him. Although Ikkaku's Bankai was nice and came at a good spot during the fight, I found Rukia's battle with D-Roy to be even more exciting. As far as the actual battles went, Ikkaku's was more impressive and went on longer. However, Rukia's battle wins, for me, in excitement, because her strength was so unexpected. It's easy to forget that Rukia has Soul Reaper abilities, because she's spent so long without them, and I'd always had the impression that she wasn't very strong. In this volume, it's revealed that Rukia is actually strong enough to be a seated officer, but that Byakuya kept her from becoming one because the work is so dangerous. Rukia's Zanpakuto's ability, although deadly, especially when an opponent doesn't expect it, seems rather limited, but I'm still looking forward to seeing more.

Besides the three short manga at the end, the only other extras are the occasional sketches after the chapters. Each sketch is part of a continuing story about Kon and Hanataro.


  • Shaman King (manga) by Hiroyuki Takei - Manta, a rich but wimpy kid who can see spirits, meets Yoh Asakura, an apparently lazy shaman. They become friends, and Yoh gains Amidamaru as a spirit partner (spirit partners can lend their skills to shamans, and Amidamaru was a samurai). Gradually, Yoh befriends others, participates in battles against other shamans, and sets out on the path to becoming the Shaman King. Those who'd like another series that includes deep and sometimes painful friendships, lots of battles, and spirits might like this series. There is also an anime based on this manga, but I haven't seen it yet and can't say how similar it is to the manga.
  • Rurouni Kenshin (manga) by Nobuhiro Watsuki; Rurouni Kenshin (anime TV series) - During the violent Bakumatsu era, the assassin known as Hitokiri Battousai paved the way for the Restoration, killing many. Years later, this man, now known as Rurouni Kenshin, has given up killing and chooses to wander from town to town. After he helps a woman named Kamiya Kaoru, his wandering life becomes more rooted, at least temporarily. Kenshin is willing to fight to help others, but he does whatever he can to avoid having to kill. Those who'd like another series that includes swordfighting, action, and friendships between warriors might like this series. As in Bleach, the characters in this series will sometimes fight nearly to the point of death for pride, honor, or a need to protect someone.

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