Warning: spoilers for both volumes of these series!
Naruto volume 51
Author: Masashi Kishimoto
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
Sasuke finally takes on Danzo, the leader of Konoha, determined to interrogate him about the Uchiha clan and what really happened between the political factions of Konoha and his brother, Itachi.
In this volume of Naruto, we have the showdown between Sasuke and Danzo, a true battle of superpowers - especially considering the firepower Danzo's got on his right arm and the abilities Sasuke's been able to wring out from his Sharingan. Meanwhile, a doppelganger of Sai delivers some startling news to Naruto: that Sakura's confession of love in the previous volume was just a cover so she could go and kill Sasuke by herself. As Sakura breaks away from her fellow shinobi to go after Sasuke, Naruto sneaks away from the watchful eyes of Yamato to follow suit. The end of this volume leads up to a Team Seven reunion that is sure to be explosive in a multitude of ways.
The Sasuke/Danzo fight might seem very long to some, but considering Danzo is the man who gave the order for the Uchihas to be murdered, it is only apt that Sasuke pull out all the stops in kicking his ass. Personally, I enjoyed the look into Sasuke's new abilities with his Sharingan as well as the ninja he has become since pursuing revenge for his family. He is definitely not the little gloomy boy from the beginning of the series. Also, he has become a better, craftier ninja; he is able to use genjutsu effectively against Danzo by using it as a foil to figure out the older man’s abilities. Obviously, Naruto is gonna have to bring his top game in the next volume or he’s going to look pretty week in comparison to the Last of the Uchihas (okay, second to last).
To contrast all of the fighting and bloodshed are the scenes involving Naruto learning about Sakura's true goal concerning Sasuke and his reaction to it. Understandably, the boy is overwhelmed. I only wish there had been more of Naruto in this volume, but it is looking like he'll finally be grabbing back the spotlight next volume (and maybe this time, my library won't wait several weeks to buy it, grumble grumble). It’s also nice to see Sakura reclaim some sense of agency after last volume’s embarrassment of a love confession that ended up being a smokescreen so she can get to Sasuke and kill him. Reading Sai’s explanation of Sakura’s actions makes me really feel for her in a way I haven’t in a long time. She has always been one of my favorite characters, and my favorite kunoichi overall, so seeing her take the initiative and approaching Sasuke on her own ability makes me a happy fangirl. The fact that a Team Seven match-up is going down next book only makes me more anxious to see these kids together again, all grown up and ready to fight each other because they love each other. Oh, those dysfunctional teenage ninjas.
Author: Tite Kubo
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
While the Soul Reapers are entrenched in bloody one-on-one battles with the Espadas, their sworn enemy Aizen is preparing to make the next move in his elaborate plan. The battlefields of Hueco Mundo will soon give way to another battlefield where the price of losing will prove to be infinitely higher.
Ah, Szayel Aporro Grantz. The Mayuri of Hueco Mundo. Naturally, the two of them were destined to rumble to the death in the sands of the world of Espada. It’s a shame that his time in this volume is so devastatingly short. Meanwhile, poor Renji and Ishida are forced to only watch, too creeped out by Mayuri to lend a hand. While they duke it out scientist to scientist, Kenpachi and Nnoitora are also battling it out while Yachiru, Orihime, and Ichigo stand on the sidelines. Like the other dueling pair, Nnoitora and Kenpachi seem well-matched - so much that Kenpachi is forced to shed his eye patch, thus releasing the seal on his energy and making him much stronger than before.
For a while, it seems to be like it will be an entire volume of Nnoitora and Kenpachi slashing and hacking at each other. Yawn. The battle was definitely drawn out past its expiration date. But then two things happened: Nnoitora died, bringing with it an involving back-story about the troubled stubborn Espada; Orihime is kidnapped yet again, heralding the beginning of the invasion of Karakura Town. But the captains of Soul Society are waiting for Aizen's forces and have planned accordingly. As Ulquiorra is ordered to take care of Ichigo after the paths between the living world and Hueco Mundo are sealed, one thing is abundantly clear: shit just got serious. It's a shame it took so bloody long to get to this point!
Having said that, this volume finally made me get interested in Nnoitora as a character - although in an ironic twist, it happens to be in the same volume of his death. Still, seeing his life as a younger Espada alongside a grown-up Nel brought some much needed depth to the Nnoitora we know and, for some, love. I had found it hard to love someone I barely knew, and still cannot say I love his character since as soon as I got to know him, he went away. This seems to be a running theme with Espada; only in the moment of defeat do we as readers get to know them best. Overall, it was a book of Bleach that was hampered by an overextended fight scene but helped by a dramatic twist in the story that gave the plot a swift kick in the backside. Could we possibly be able to leave Hueco Mundo before too long? (Ha!)