Manga-ka: Tite Kubo
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: September 2010
Synopsis: “After healing Ichigo’s terrible wounds so that he can face the diabolic Grimmjow at full strength, Orihime must watch from the sidelines as the two battle. Orihime tries to convince herself that Ichigo will be all right, but she can’t help but be worried about him. And when Grimmjow taunts Ichigo into releasing his Hollow self, her confidence in her friend begins to waver.”
Bleach’s bulk cast members are set aside in this thirty-second volume as the stage is set upon by lead hero Ichigo and biggest-personality bad guy, Grimmjow. Alas to fans of Uryuu, Chad, Renji or the other Shinigami but there’s still some reason to feel some excitement as the injuries start tallying and the blood starts to boil. Not to mention it’s about darn time they got to it.
Thusly the bulk of this volume is the awaited second-go at Ichigo and Grimmjow’s battle. Interlaced with their fight are flashes back to Grimmjow’s past, specifically his evolution to Espada. It’s neat getting the opportunity to learn more about an antagonist, yet at the same time they chop up the action sequence a little unevenly. To their credit though they add a cinematic flair to the storytelling that ends up making Grimmjow a surprisingly sympathetic figure even as he heartlessly attacks the fight’s bystanders and vies for Ichigo’s blood on his clawed fingertips.
Also sprinkled amidst their fighting are stints of Nel cheering on Ichigo in her usual oddly-adorable goober covered way while Orihime stares woefully and eventually chimes in. Orihime’s role right now is a mixed bag. On one hand the way she’s written for emotionally is strong, in the sense that it feels grounded and understandable. I liked the way it was mixed into the story and used to enhance the suspense instead of distract from it. On the other hand, watching her stand helplessly by and simultaneously hamper Ichigo’s ability to fight all out is frustrating.
As for the fight scene itself, Kubo Tite continues to show off his strengths and adrenaline-pumped, speed-centric fight scenes are still them. The fight begins with the classic sword versus sword but when Grimmjow transforms into his stronger state, the stacks between claw and sword become that much more exciting. It can get to be a bit much when it’s essentially almost an entire fight scene dedicated to one mid-arc fight scene however – one can imagine it’s less trying in this multi-chapter format then consecutive weekly instalments at least.
This volume’s last chapter is a pleasant surprise. Separate from the story at large, it’s an exposition chapter titled Death on the Ice Field staring the pint-size power house, Hitsugaya. The chapter is brief but it shows readers a glimpse of his childhood, including friendship with fellow Shinigami, Momo, and the opposite affection other children held for him. His relationship with the old woman who raised him and his subsequent decision to become a Shinigami is a good emotional-punch finish to the book.
In terms of plot progression, you could probably skip this volume and hardly miss a thing. Jump forward to the end when another potentially even more dangerous Espada pops up and you’ve got the gist of what happened. Cool fight scene, worth a read but sort of a write off in terms of anything substantial. Still can’t knock the epic factor – a hack-and-slash fight between pride and powers that proves the real proverbial bread and butter of the series during this new damsel-rescue arc.