Search This Blog

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Manga Review: Bleach GN 58

Bleach volume 58
Author: Tite Kubo
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
207 pages
The Fire: As the Soul Society struggles against the mysterious group of warriors calling themselves the Vandenreich, Captain General Yamamoto joins the battle. With his Bankai finally revealed, Yamamoto takes down the Vandenreich’s king. But is the battle really over…?(Source: Viz Media)
Spoiler alert: Review contains spoilers for the sixty-eighth volume of Bleach and major events leading up to it. Read with caution!
This latest volume of Bleach literally came out of nowhere, but it had to happen sooner or later. It's one of those events that throw the series' respective universe into absolute chaos for the greater good, and actually succeeds at it. It's on the same level as Aizen's initial betrayal of Soul Society and major character deaths. As certain characters go head-to-head, the result of these fights rock every resident of Soul Society and beyond. This is a must-read volume of Bleach for so many reasons.

The previous volume of Bleach featured what seemed to be the end of the battle between Yamamoto and the leader of the Vandenreich. However, in a very Kubo move, the first chapter of book 58 turns those events on their head and reveals that Lord Yhwach is alive and well and ready to fight just as hard as his double. Not only does Yhwach reveal that he's been in contact with Soul Society's most dangerous prisoner, Sosuke Aizen, but it is his Quincy blade that takes the life of the Captain General, bringing an end to the era of Yamamoto.
Meanwhile, Ichigo Kurosaki finally breaks free of his prison and enters Soul Society. He stumbles across a dying Byakuya, who in an uncharacteristic act of humility requests the Deputy Shinigami's help in saving all those currently fighting the Quincy invasion. When he goes one-on-one with Yhwach, it ends in a retreat on the part of the Quincy army and leaving Ichigo heavily battered and with a broken Tensa Zangetsu, standing in the battle-damaged grounds of Seireitei.
It is painfully clear how much Yamamoto made up the back bone of Soul Society, both emotionally and physically. His absence is felt acutely across the board by all divisions as they struggle to repair Soul Society and heal the fallen shinigami from their battle against the Quincy; there is no one not affected by the passing of Yamamoto, who had been their leader and father-figure for so long.
The loss of their Captain General has left SS paralyzed with grief, unable to function normally, scrambling for a way out of the darkness while still addressing the ever-present Quincy threat. Tensions are running high, with captains and vice-captains snapping at each other over every issue big and small. Naturally, Tite Kubo uses this moment of crisis to introduce Soul Society's super shinigami squad, straight from the Soul King's royal palace, so they can lend the troubled group a helping hand.
The arrival of Squad Zero, an elite group of shinigami who, when combined, are apparently stronger than all thirteen divisions, is another typical Kubo move: introducing a new batch of characters who are amazingly integral to the plot when things get hairy. They are all typical Bleach oddball characters, with exaggerated personalities and outrageous character designs. Personally, I think Senjumaru Shutara aka "Great Weaver" is the most interesting of the group, and has an outfit that costumers should be clamoring to put into their future cosplay schedule.
At first, the Squad Zero team seems like a cop-out, an easy way for Ichigo to advance through weird training and interact with stronger characters that haven't been seen in any previous volumes. Then again, Soul Society has a harsh hierarchy system; it makes sense than some sections would be more segregated from the general population than others. Even if Soul Society's Seireitei seems detached from those in Rukongai, the royal palace and its surrounding islands are even that more detached, literally floating above SS's heads and unseen in the clouds unless you know where to look.
Plus, as Tenjiro Kirinji aka "Hot Spring Demon" points out to Soi Fong, it is the thirteen divisions' jobs to protect Seireitei while it is Squad Zero's job to protect the royal palace. If Squad Zero has to come down to Seireitei to assist in the defense of the ground level, something serious must have happened. And yes, I would definitely classify a frontal assault of Soul Society by a massive Quincy army that has left their shinigami leader dead as 'something serious', to put it lightly.
They even call the Quincy more dangerous than Aizen, who they also call pure evil. An army that's worse than pure evil? That's a rather big deal. It all feels like the final battle for Soul Society, both as an army of trained, highly skilled shinigami and as an institution that people rely upon to keep the balance of the world of the living. Only now, the shinigami meant to protect Seireitei have failed, and it is up to the elite of the elite to bring back some clarity and control to the situation.

With a black cloud hanging over Soul Society, the action has shifted to the palace in the sky and the realm of the Soul King, where Ichigo will train to restore his Zangetsu and become strong enough to defeat Yhwach once and for all. We are getting deeper and deeper into how Soul Society works, seeing more of the various levels of its defenses, and it is absolutely fascinating. It's going to be interesting to see how the hierarchy of captains and vice-captains are shook up by the loss of Yamamoto as well as the current war against the Quincy. If this is how Bleach plans to end - in a blaze of blood-soaked action and sparkling world-building - then I'm glad it's ending the way it is.