Manga-ka: Kubo Tite
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: March 2010
Synopsis: “Ichigo and his friends are moving ever closer to the center of Hueco Mundo and rescuing Orihime. But their battles against the Arrancars are testing them in ways they never thought possible. Can they keep their honor in a world where it doesn’t exist, or will Hueco Mundo leave an indelible mark on their souls?!”
With a split-off cast and an unknown amount of bad-guys around every corner, it’s apparent that things are well in place for a string of confrontational battles. This shonen-standard does spell potential disaster in terms of being repetitive but thus far Bleach is keeping this Heuco Mundo arc engaging with fast-paced, overlapping battles that play off the traits of each character.
While the previous volume was a treasure-trove of eye candy for fans of Uryuu and Chad, this volume caps off Chad’s battle with this opponents before leaping headlong into a Rukia-centric instalment. She finds herself in the presence of a familiar face – Kaien, her old team vice Captain whose life she was forced to take after his body was taken over by a Hollow. Taking up the bulk of this book, her battle with Kaien is as mental as it is physical, fighting with the sense of guilt that’s plagued her since his death. This is used against her in a bevy of flashbacks and sneak attacks that lead to the inevitable reveal of the truth behind this situation. As interesting as these elements are, what really steps up this mini-arc is the diversity of the fight itself and its conclusion. It doesn’t rely on repetitive back and forth sword-clashes.
Standing out fantastically amidst the fight-oriented parts of the story is a brief encounter between the captive Orihime and the enigmatic, Urloquirria. The exchange is short but potent; it really makes readers feel the despair and sense of futility that has begun to encase Orihime despite her hold out for hope. On the flipside, a short revisit to Renji and his cohort allow pause for humour.
Kubo Tite’s art continues to be another of the repeatedly enticing elements of the story. However now thirty volumes in, while the consistency of the art shows a keen comfort in his element, the artist also seems like he’s getting a little lazy at times. Most notably on proportions that just look too distractedly off. In this volume Rukia’s normally petite hands are so tiny in some images, including a chapter cover, that she could punch herself between her big eyes and still miss pupil. It’s a small quip and honestly one that wouldn’t even be so distinctly noticeable if not a part of such an otherwise near-flawless shonen tapestry of speed lines and blood streaks.
What helps Bleach immensely is it only dwells on each scene long enough to get every ounce of worth from it without staying long enough to strangle it of life, and its cast of engaging characters helps pulls this off. But with a story that isn’t afraid to brutally suggest an unfortunate end for said characters, and actually pull off believability to that effect, there’s plenty of suspense to drive forward the action sequences as well. It’s do or die in this world and as the cast races to save Orihime, readers won’t find themselves nearly as eager to see her rescued (though not for lack of caring).