Manga-ka: Kubo Tite
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: June 2009
Synopsis: “Orihime’s return from the Soul Society is interrupted by the Arrancar Ulquiorra, who has a different, terrifying path for her. Using duplicitous tactics, Ulquiorra convinces Orihime to accompany him to Hueco Mundo, which brands her as a traitor in the Soul Society’s eyes and therefore unworthy of rescue. Ichigo refuses to abandon his friend, and sets out to storm Hueco Mundo to set her free! But can he win when the entire world is against him?!”
Swords were clashing and powers soaring here in the twenty-seventh volume of Bleach, but as has been consistent in the recent story arc, it’s the character development that really makes the book a rewarding read.
Taking off where the last volume ended, Orihime is confronted by the enigmatic Arrancar Ulquiorra, who orders her to come with him in exchange for the survival of her friends. Unable to resist the terms, she goes with him but on surprisingly lenient grounds. By Aizen’s orders, Orihime is given the chance to say goodbye to one person of her choosing before being taken to Hueco Mundo, the land in which the Hollows and Arrancar dwell. Her decision leads to visiting an unconscious Ichigo, who had suffered injuries in a recent battle with the invading enemies that even his newly honed skills could not defeat.
As in volumes before, Orihime is a character in which Kubo Tite’s skill as a writer really shines through, moulding and shaping a layered and emotional young woman, whose as every bit loyal and optimistic as we’ve come to expect, but with an honestly rendered side of vulnerability and humanity as well. Her goodbye to Ichigo is short but potent, revealing a side of her that, though while not a huge surprise, was still refreshingly delivered from a character who always puts others’ well-being before her own.
Of course when news of her abduction reaches the rest of the cast, they immediately spring into action to bring her home. To their dismay, however, Soul Society pulls back their support leaving only Ichigo prepared to rescue their missing comrade. It’s easy to hold the apparent insensitivity against Soul Society, because it’s also easy to forget that the fondness held for Orihime by her friends is not a factor for Soul Society, where the life of one human woman is pittance compared to the lives of millions in a war between Hollow and Shinigami.
Returning characters are an added treat to the story, including classmates from Ichigo, Uryuu and Orihime’s high school. Though not directly involved in the battles, and generally out of the loop for their own good (or ignorance in some cases), in this volume their concern for the missing Orihime leads Tatsuki to attack Ichigo in an emotional bout for answers that she’s long since deserved. I was surprised at the frankness but very impressed by the developments thereafter, simple as they were. Good ‘ol Uruhara, even your smallest of actions bring pleasant new twists to the story.
Following this a couple pages of parental interaction proves teasing for further speculation and my Uryuu Ishida fangirl-side is well appeased by his reappearance after a gruelling training regime in order to regain his lost powers as a Quincy. In true shonen-style, the newly reunited team heads out to face unknowing odds in the nest of the enemy to save Orihime, and though I find the battles one of the often least compelling parts of the series (though still strong in their own right), I eagerly look forward to seeing how each character has advanced since they last fought.
Though another traverse to another world to save another girl feels a little conveniently contrived for the story, there’s been more than enough exciting stones set into place for me to not to be interested in where things are going. Between likeable characters, pleasing artwork and a variety of plot points ready to come together, Bleach remains one of my favourite currently running series and always offers solid entertainment with shonen-style flair.