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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Manga Review: Bleach GN 55

Bleach volume 55
Author: Tite Kubo
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
198 pages
The peace is suddenly broken when warning sirens blare through the Soul Society. Residents there are disappearing without a trace, and nobody knows who's behind it. Meanwhile, a dark shadow is also extending itself toward Ichigo and his friends in Karakura Town . . . (Source: Viz.com)
Spoiler warning: Review contains spoilers for some events of Bleach's 55th volume.
Bleach is back in the swing of things: new arc, new antagonist, same Ichigo and friends. But this time, this may be the last battle for Kurosaki and the whole of Soul Society. A new group of dangerous warriors have descended upon the various realms of Bleach, intent on wiping out those who won't join them. 
The name of this story is the Thousand-Year Blood Arc, and as Tite Kubo sets the stage for the series finale, the body count is already steadily rising. It's the beginning of the end for this shonen superstar and it still manages to demand your full attention as ever before.

Volume fifty-five of Bleach opens with a routine examination of the Hollow situation in Karakura Town that goes horribly wrong for rookie Shinigami Yuki and Shino. Lucky for them, they're saved from the monstrous Hollows by resident Deputy Shinigami, Ichigo Kurosaki, but this event only ends up portending the trouble yet to come. 
As people are disappearing from Rukongai, completely baffling the Shinigami sent to investigate, a mysterious troupe of men face off against General Yamamoto and a man who looks like an Arrancar brazenly steps into Ichigo's home and takes him on in a one-on-one battle.
This is a really bad volume to pick up if you have never read Bleach before; a lot of what is going on will make little sense to new readers. If one was to make a top ten list of most continuity-driven volumes, fifty-five will certainly rank among the top. The mythos mentioned in this latest installment is heavily referential to Soul Society, Rukongai, and the Quincy, as well as the past story arcs set around Hueco Mundo and Seireitei.
Speaking of Hueco Mundo, I was pleasantly surprised to see it again in the manga. I had been assuming that once the battle against Aizen concluded, we would never return to that barren desert - but we do, and a lot of familiar faces. Nel! Pesche! Halibel! Although I find the visual framing of her captivity troubling and overly sexualized for no good reason. They couldn't have restrained her some other way? Come on.
I found this latest group of antagonists, the Vandenreich, to be ruthless and cruel and bloody and certainly not adverse to taking lives to reach their goal. And the uniforms certainly provoke a comparison to those of Nazis, if their behavior doesn't do so as well. It seems that after all the Spanish surrounding Aizen's fortress of Hueco Mundo, Kubo decided to switch to German for the Vandenreich. 
It's too bad a lot of them are lacking actual personalities, not lasting long enough on the page to create lasting impressions - a far cry from Ulquiorra and Grimmjow and their gang.
The Vandenreich certainly spooked Soul Society, especially after killing so many of their best and brightest, but they have yet to knock down Ichigo Kurosaki - which makes me wonder how damn special his Ban Kai actually is. Is it because Ichigo isn't exactly your typical Shinigami and has powers the VR can't comprehend? Or has Kubo overpowered him to the point that even Seireitei's greatest enemy by date can't touch him? How boring.
I find Vandenreich's Ebern's ability quite interesting, though. Aufreide certainly is visually stunning as well as friggin' huge in the sky, even if Ichigo was able to fight off its effects. Plus, it very much shows what his ability is meant to do: make Ban Kais disappear. I'd love to see explained how Aufreide works and how a Shinigami's ultimate attack can be made to go away like that; hopefully, Kubo bothers to do this!
Along with the one mentioned above, there were quite a few moments in this book where Kubo masterfully framed the action in a single panel, creating a striking iconic moment worth noting. I love the moment when Ichigo kicks Ebern out of his room, and when Yuki finds Hana in the grasp of some humongous Hollows (we're talking Attack On Titan size here!), and also at several points during the funeral. They either handle an emotional situation with a deft hand or defuse an unwanted arrival with Bleach's trademark off-key and often physical humor. I bet Ichigo gets his sweet kick from his dad.

At this point in the new story arc, there are a lot more questions than answers. A lot. Like, I'm not even sure what's going on! Soul Society is still investigating although they are certainly on high alert, especially Yamamoto, and Ichigo is only starting to put together the pieces, although I think he's farther along than any of the other Shinigami. If this is to be the last arc of Bleach ever, Kubo better start stepping it up sooner than later. Let's have Bleach go out with a bang, not a pained whimper.