Out of Bloom: With Ichigo trapped in Hueco Mundo, the Soul Society comes under attack by a mysterious group of warriors calling themselves the Vandenreich. The Soul Reaper captains valiantly stand up to the invaders, but this is a battle they might not be able to win! (Source: Viz.com)
Spoiler warning: Review contains spoilers for the Quincy War story arc so far.
I have no idea why Byakuya is on the cover. I mean, I know why because he's handsome and fangirls love him and wail every time a sword gets close to his face, but I would argue that his story in this volume is heavily eclipsed by others and is not the heart of the book. No, I would give that honor to everyone's favorite old man Shinigami, Yamamoto, Commander of Soul Society and GQMFer of Seireitei. It is Yamamoto who single-handedly moves this series forward at a time when our resident hero is currently unable to perform his duties.
Once again, Ichigo Kurosaki has been sidelined, although not because he wants to - and he's certainly doing his best to escape his latest prison! However, Quilge Opie's powers have Ichigo good and trapped, resistant to all of Kurosaki's best abilities. Considering his "letter" is J for Jail, it's no surprise that Quilge has been successful at keeping Ichigo from swooping in and rescuing Soul Society from the wrath of the Vandenreich's elite.
And as soon as we spend time with Ichigo's despair over not being able to help, we are thrown back into the chaos of Soul Society, which seems to be falling to Vandenreich's assault. Mayuri's department has become non-functional, leaving Ichigo in the dark as to what is exactly going on. I don't exactly know why certain folks in the department have turned on each other, although it seems pretty obvious they are being controlled by outside Quincy forces. Or there's a Shinigami turncoat, but I doubt Kubo wants to do an Aizen 2.0 story arc so late in the game and so close to the end. And who else digs Akon's little horns?
Before Yamamoto takes the stage and dominates this book, the action is split between Byakuya, Renji, and Zaraki, who continues to be awesome. After all, Kenpachi took down three Stern Ritter folk down by himself. He doesn't even matter that one of the Vandenreich calls him a monster; now that he's got worthy people to fight, he's happy. I imagine that if Ikkaku and Yumichika were watching him, they would approve of Zaraki's fighting spirit.
Byakuya's fight against As Nodt is very much entertaining and explores Byakuya's outer shell and his inner fears. He has always been the epitome of being cool, calm, and collected on the battlefield, even when his enemy holds his Senbonzakura. Thinking about a frightened Byakuya blows the mind. Naturally, As Nodt finds the vulnerable point in Byakuya's armor, that being the one person Byakuya cares about most in Soul Society: Rukia Kuchiki. It might be his unerring love of Rukia that brings him down.
(Also, for the record, I refuse to call Byakuya one of the dead. I know Kubo is usually pretty reluctant to kill off major characters, so I'll wait until the official Seireitei coroner's report on Kuchiki-san!)
I am thoroughly impressed by the chapters centered around Yamamoto and his fight with Lord Yhwach, as well as the flashbacks sprinkled throughout them. He really is a fascinating character, with a lot of back story that comes from having lived such a long time. His Ban Kai is just as impressive and, frankly, bad ass. If folks like Rukia and Hitsugaya are masters of ice-based zanpaktou, then Yamamoto is the undisputed master of fire-based zanpaktou. One does not simply mess with Tenchi Kaijin and get away with it. I am so glad Kubo is exploring Yamamoto's character as well as his connection with his underlings. After all, they're so loyal to their commander. It's about time we saw why.
The visuals in Bleach usually pass without mention, but dang do some of the visuals in this volume deserve mention. I loved As Nodt's fear-based thorn attack and how it effects Byakuya. The image of him dissolving into bugs is very powerful, as is the following image of a single cherry blossom falling in front of Rukia - a signal of Byakuya's Ban Kai dissolving.
Really, in this latest volume, when it came to Ban Kais and the more dramatic panels, Kubo really hit it off with his artwork. For a shonen series that has been running for almost sixty books, the fact that Kubo can still make some incredible visual moments is impressive.
I've been slowly becoming more and more taken with the direction that the Quincy Blood War story arc is going in. I don't think it's as good as the Hueco Mundo/Karakura arc just yet, but it certainly does not lack ambition. Now, if only Ichigo could break out of his prison long enough to recapture his role as main protagonist of Bleach! If he doesn't get out of there in time, there's no way of knowing if Yamamoto's fierce ability can save Soul Society from the Quincy army, especially considering the twist at the end of this book. Hurry up and save them, Kurosaki!