Bleach volume 36
Author: Tite Kubo
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
Turn Back the Pendulum: Find out what happened in the Soul Society one hundred years ago. Kisuke Urahara is the new captain of twelfth company—now if only he could get along with his assistant captain. And Soul Reaper captain Shinji Hirako suspects something sinister is going on with his second in command, Aizen.
Spoiler warning: Review contains spoilers for the Bleach series so far. Read at your own discretion if you aren't up-to-date!
This is quite possibly the volume of Bleach I've been waiting for all year, because it contains the first half of one of my most favorite story arcs in Bleach so far: the Turn Back The Pendulum flashback arc that looks back at the history of Soul Society and of certain characters like Urahara, Aizen, Gin, Shinji, and the rest of the Vizards. Normally, whole volumes dedicated to nothing but back story drag on and are immensely boring, but not this one. Until this point, readers haven't gotten a good grasp on the Soul Society politics and events that led to such pivotal things as the birth of the Vizards or Urahara's expulsion from Seireitei, so volume thirty-six is a much needed (and very entertaining) primer on the history of a certain group of characters whose actions may have very well put the entire Bleach series into motion. After the kind of dry thirty-fifth volume, this book is a blessing in disguise.
There is a surprising amount of familiar faces in this volume, even considering it's a flashback to the old days of Soul Society, mostly because of the places they are. Urahara as team captain - and Hiyori as his second-in-command? Mayuri in prison? A young Gin covered in blood – okay, in retrospect, that's rather typical of the creepy fox faced shinigami. But it is so interesting to see some of my favorite characters in unfamiliar positions, a lot of them looking younger than I'm used to, like Byakuya, who looks like he has just stepped, fresh faced, from the pages of Peacemaker Kurogane, complete with youthful ponytail. Tiny!Nanao is so cute (although it throws her relationship with Kyoraku into a new, slightly creepy light). Still, even the younglings were recognizable enough that long-term fans won't have trouble picking out who's who from the bunch.
The mark of a good flashback arc, especially one like Turn Back The Pendulum which just drops itself in the middle of the opening sequence for the battle at Karakura, is the impact it leaves in readers' mind with its revelations of past events and how they affect the current storyline. Given the rather stunning reveals in this book, I think Turn Back The Pendulum succeeds at being a flashback arc that makes a difference and puts the series following it in a whole new light. I'm sure after this arc is finished in volume thirty-seven, readers will be looking at people like Aizen and Hiyori and Urahara with fresh perspectives, now that we've seen them in their old lives.
Overall, this is Kubo at his peak in terms of both artistic style and storytelling; long term fans who reach this point will be so very glad they didn't drop Bleach during one of its rough patches because this book is a huge payoff for fannish commitment. I understand that this arc was rather dropped out of the blue in the middle of a dramatic moment for Ichigo and friends, but considering everything that comes after the conclusion of this arc, I don’t think there would have been an opportune moment to introduce all of these flashbacks without heavily setting back the story, so better to start it now than after the fact. It’s a solid volume of Bleach that has a healthy mix of the series’ trademark humor and dramatic action, and hopefully a return to form for the series in whole.