Manga-ka: Kubo Tite
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: September 2009
Synopsis: “Ichigo, Chad and Uryû are determined to rescue Orihime from Aizen’s vile machinations. But though the Arrancars’ fortress is in sight, the would-be heroes must first pass Tres Cifras–the land of the disgraced Arrancars, who see destroying Ichigo and his friends as a way to redeem their honor!”
Cue the next damsel-rescue quest. Ichigo, Chad and Ishida have made their way into the world of the Hollows and their volumes of training are finally being put to the test. With new powers requiring exposition, and an entire world of potential new characters, the lead cast takes their official plunge into Bleach’s next giant battle arc.
Chad and Ishida both have their time in the spotlight, giving ample perspective on the evolution of their powers during the previous volumes. Chad’s arm remains as super strong as ever and… well, super strong, a little under-whelming in originality but there’s already been a tad of foreshadowing that there could be more to his abilities. Ishida, recently regaining his Quincy powers, is now able to shoot a multitude of arrows at once and his confidence is back in full semi-egotistical form (and I continue to love him for it). The two step forward to take out the first encountered monsters, a feat that while entertaining and expose-relevant, feels a little lackluster when it’s apparent that the foes are small pittance.
This volume also had a great balance of advancing plot and circumstantial humour to keep readers grounded in the now instead of the big-bad greater scheme. The introduction of a new and bizarre trio of Hollow misfits brings some much-appreciated laughs to the otherwise drama-centric portion of the story. The ‘leader’ of the group, a young Hollow named Nel, quickly becomes attached to Ichigo, and having already realized they’ve inadvertently betrayed their fellow Hollow, the trio swiftly make themselves a part of the rescue-Orihime party.
Into the realm of the baddies they go but first they must traverse a desert that makes up the bulk of the Hollow’s world. Fortunately for Ichigo and co. (and Shinigami fans), some old favourites appear to lend a hand as the newly combined group makes an easy entrance into the grand fortress that makes up the Arrancar’s stronghold, displaying a nonchalant attitude on the bad guys’ part that foreshadows some harsh battles soon to come.
Already inside the fortress is Orihime, taken captive in the previous volume. There’s a bit of needless explanation into the complete breakdown of the hows and whys of her ‘voluntary capture’ but it does give some insight into her seemingly laidback attitude about her current predicament. It’ll be interesting to see how her outlook changes as her friends get ever closer to her location but her original captor, the enigmatic Uloquirra remains stoically confident of their alienation of her from Soul Society and the true goal of their leader, Aizen. I also worry about some female Arrancar who’re prepped for some nasty treatment of Orihime, one of whom already dangerously reminiscent of a sadistic shoujo bully with something to prove.
At the end of the book though, it’s this growing cast of new characters that has me most excited for future volumes. Nel and her weird friends are sure to bring some more laughs, and the number of new bad guys stacking up doesn’t feel very daunting when shonen rules leave us confident our heroes are going to cut through the first batch within a couple volumes. All seem to have their own interesting quirks and personalities that, for better or worse, will definitely make for some interesting confrontations.