Bleach (Chapters 668-674) – Review Discussion
Reviewed by: Tom
Synopsis: Ichigo Kurosaki was born with the ability to see Ghosts. When his family is suddenly attacked by a evil lost soul, known as a Hollow, Ichigo becomes entangled in the world of the Soul Reapers, after life beings that hunt and exterminate the Hollows. Ichigo dedicates his life to saving the innocent and helping the tortured spirits find peace.
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
But now, the Soul Society is in great jeopardy as the Quincy King Yhwach has returned. He’s begun his final assault against the Soul Reapers, killing Genryusai and taking control of the Seireitei. Now he makes his way to destroy the Soul King Reio himself as near everyone is powerless to stop him. Ichigo, with renewed strength, makes his return just too late as Yhwach destroys Reio and absorbs the Soul King’s powers. Now all of creation has begun to crumble into nothing. With the world hanging in the balance, it’s up to Ichigo, Chad, and the rest of the team to stop Yhwach before everything and everyone they care about is nothing but dust.
Bleach has lately been accused of pandering to its fans. Specifically that this final arc has devolved into nothing short of fan service: A constant barrage of call backs and characters in order to please the die-hard fan base by giving them exactly what they want; one last look at every single character and even a few cameos/surprises from people who’d never gotten a moment to shine. It’s admirable, in theory. I can see a version of Bleach that plays out quite well with this angle, giving each character a final moment to shine with incredible battles and visual flare.
The trouble is Bleach doesn’t know how to execute this ambitious final hurrah. It feels to me like Tite Kubo is both interested in pleasing fans, but also wants to rush us towards the inevitable conclusion. What that ultimately creates is a Bleach that feels stretched out, padded in order to generate a massive finale that has no real soul or care put into it.
With Chapter 668 we discover that Gerard’s sword, once chipped, unleashes retaliatory attacks on whomever struck it (namely Kenpachi here.) the explanation is round about, and kind of confusing as Gerard spews dialogue about hopes and fears and how his body and sword play a role in all that, but at the heart of it is the basic idea: damage dealt back to the attacker.
The chapter shifts away from that into some incredible art as Kenpachi and Gerard trade blow for blow. It’s the one area in which I think Bleach still holds up quite; the sheer effort put into the art. No matter what I saw about the story, or how much I slam Kubo’s fights for lacking proper progression, reveals, reversals etc. His art has always held up (even if some of the designs are rather awkward.)
Hitsugaya tries to intervene and help Kenpachi, who is clearly outmatched. But Hitsugaya is knocked away by Kenpachi who refuses the help. Byakuya and Hitsugaya then both discuss their enemy and how Kenpachi is at such a clear disadvantage that he has already removed his eye patch. Byakuya is even forced to admit that they’re all tired from their previous battles and running out of time to defeat Gerard.
Despite Kenpachi’s insistence that he’ll handle the battle himself, Hitsugaya comes up with a sneak attack plan to freeze Gerard. Unfortunately Gerard catches wind of it, and before the two can complete their plan he takes them both down, as well as Kenpachi. As Kenpachi lays defeated, Yachiru appears before him. This is the first time, I think, we’ve seen Yachiru since she pulled a Yoda and faded from existence. I guess it’s being implied that Yachiru is some manifestation of Kenpachi’s Zanpakuto, or something. So far Kubo hasn’t felt the need to really explain it. My suspicion is, assuming we do get an explanation, it’ll be a heavy handed and quick one that is glossed over in favor of fast forwarding to the rest of the fights. I’m also willing to say I think we simply won’t get a concrete explanation in the manga at all. Either way, Yachiru shows up and reminds Kenpachi of the power of Bankai, closing out the chapter.
With that Kenpachi enters his Bankai mode, changing his skin to a deep red. Gerard goes to crush Kenpachi only instead to have his arm chopped clean off. Again, I have trouble finding any surprise within Bleach thanks to so many of these battles coming down to 180 reversals. It’s frustrating how pronounced this issue is. It’s something all Shonen struggle with, but Bleach has taken this innate issue with the genre to a whole new level. Thankfully, there’s a couple chapters coming up that I’m actually pleasantly surprised by. But we’ll get to those in a minute.
Kenpachi does further damage to Gerard, cutting the guy’s forehead and slicing through his shield. He even manages to knock Gerard clear off the rising city, but Gerard then sprouts wings that prevent his ultimate fall. Gerard begins to lose it, as it seems most villains do when met with sudden overwhelming power, and goes in for one final strike that ends instead with Kenpachi chopping this menace in two.
I guess what’s frustrating me the most about Gerard as a villain isn’t so much his power, which borders on nonsensical but whatever, let’s not think too hard on this, instead its our heroes inability to understand how it works that sets me off. We watch as hero after hero brutally murders Gerard only to see him get back up, bigger and stronger every time. Why is no one trying to incapacitate him? It would seem the most logical course of action for dealing with someone like Gerard who constantly and consistently returns from sure death. It’s aggravating to see our heroes try the same tactics again and again, even if it is Kenpachi (Then again Byakuya and Hitsugaya will prove to be no better.)
With Chapter 670 it looks like the battle is over (Yeah, sure.) and Hitsugaya and Byakuya both comment on how tough it’ll now be to get through to Kenpachi as he’s gone beserker. But then Gerard rises up and reforms into a larger menace. He unleashes a devastating attack on the city, chopping an entire chunk off to fall back down to the soul world. Hitsugaya saves it, barely, but takes another attack from Gerard.
Kenpachi goes to counter Gerard’s incoming attacks, but his body explodes with blood as Yachiru explains she unleashed too much of his power and his body couldn’t handle it. Gerard’s attack hits and crushes Kenpachi. Byakuya manages to save Hitsugaya and urges him to rest as the last of his ice flowers crack apart into nothing.
But instead Hitsugaya reveals that when the last of his ice pedals fall he’s not out of power, rather he’s finished transforming with Daiguren Hyorimaru and emerges from the vapor as an aged version of himself, now a beautiful bishounen (and the fan girls went wild.) I think this moment, coupled with another later on, makes me whole heartedly agree that Bleach has entered pure fan service mode. Many of these reveals come, essentially, out of nowhere and feel driven by a need to give the audience everything it could ever want one last time.
With Chapter 671 Hitsugaya explains he’s aged like this because he doesn’t have full control of the Daiguren Hyorimaru (Well isn’t that convenient for the ladies.) Gerard attacks Hitsugaya who can now easily chop through Gerard’s sword and shield as if they were nothing (Again with the 180s). Gerard points out that by chipping, or cutting his sword Hitsugaya will unleash powerful retaliatory attacks, but they don’t happen. As it turns out Hitsugaya’s attacks have frozen the sword and shield, preventing them from releasing hopes and dreams. I’m not even going to touch this. I’m not convinced there’s any logic behind Gerard’s abilities, how they work, and how they can be stopped and I’d rather not injure myself trying to rationalize what is clearly a pretty irrational concept.
So, moving on, Gerard instead prepares to fire a giant energy bow at Hitsugaya, who freezes him. But Gerard, surprisingly breaks free. Despite the irrationality and confusing mechanics of Gerard, I actually like this chapter a lot. We aren’t doing full 180s that leave characters snapping back and forth between the brink of defeat. We’ve got an actual back and forth battle with people properly countering attacks without the need to make it all ultimate doom and gloom every other page.
So Gerard breaks free and grabs Hitsugaya, but Kenpachi grabs Gerard’s foot and forces him to tumble forward. Just then Byakuya has finished preparing his attack and unleashed One Bite Thousand Blade Flowers, stabbing thousands of swords into Gerard’s head, bringing an end to this conflict. I think that made a really solid conclusion to the fight. These three are forced to work together and overcome a seemingly insurmountable enemy, displaying hope in the face of impossible adversity. Unfortunately Kubo doesn’t know when it’s best to quit.
Ruining the conclusion of the last chapter, we have another 180 reversal as Gerard gets up again, this time even more powerful. We, mercifully, get a break from Gerard: the never ending string of 180s, and move back to Ichigo. Ichigo arrives before a sleeping Yhwach and attacks, slicing our super Hitler in two. Unfortunately it was nothing more than a dream, as Yhwach awakes indicating that Ichigo was too late to slay Yhwach as he slept.
Meanwhile Uryu is still battling it out with Jugram and it’s not looking good for our four-eyed friend. He initially thinks he has the advantage now that Jugram has lost Yhwach’s power. But as it turns out Jugram is far more suited for battle with his own abilities and we cut away just as the battle gets going (Boy Uryu is just robbed for page space these days.)
The real Ichigo (Will he please stand up?) arrives to confront Yhwach with Orihime at his side. Orihime is excited that she can finally aid Ichigo in battle after all this time, after every fight where she’s been nothing but a damsel in distress (Too bad Ichigo doesn’t really take advantage of this.)
We begin Chapter 673 by flashing over to Rukia and Reiji who give us a little comic relief by believing Hitsugaya’s current form is in fact just Hitsugaya’s previously never before seen, or heard of, older brother. (And Hitsugaya plays along with it.) As they’re all deciding how to proceed against Gerard everyone feels Ichigo’s spiritual pressure activate; indicating he’s about to confront Yhwach.
Coming back to ichigo, Yhwach begins spouting crap about being Ichigo’s real father (I guess since he, technically, engineered Ichigo’s birth?) but Ichigo isn’t having any of it, insisting he only sees Yhwach as the man who murdered one of his parents.
Ichigo then lunges for Yhwach but his powers are too great, blocking each of Ichigo’s attacks with ease. Finally Yhwach rises, ready for the true battle to begin.
The last chapter we’ll cover today is 674. In it Ichigo charges in again, but isn’t doing so hot against Yhwach who points out that he isn’t even taking advantage of Orihime’s presence. Seriously. You have allies Ichigo, use them, has this entire manga taught you nothing about friendship and utilizing the strength of your comrades?
Anyway, while Ichigo remains thick, we go back to Rukia and Reiji as they’re both nearly killed by Gerard but saved by Byakuya. He suggests they go to help Ichigo, not so much because he thinks they could help (We all know they can’t.) but rather because Byakuya is coming around to the idea that they cannot defeat Gerard. This causes both Hitsugaya and Byakuya to launch into a several page dialogue about why they continue to fight. We flash over to Uryu again, who’s down for the count. But he gets back up, believing he still has a shot at winning.
To close out the chapter we discover that both Ichigo’s Dad and Uryu’s Dad have arrived to kick some ass. Well, if anyone wasn’t convinced we weren’t already in full fan service mode, they should be now. It’s certainly a fun idea seeing these two pull into action, but as we never once got a hint of their potential involvement their inclusion screams of checking off yet another box in the “lets make sure every fan is satisfied” checklist.
As a long time Bleach fan, having followed the manga for a solid 8 years now (on and off before that), I can’t help but feel a little sad that this is what we’re reduced to in Bleach’s final arc; an endless string of characters pulled from every corner of the manga for one last blow out, no holds bard, everything will happen battle. In all honesty I’d rather a well put together story that included half as many characters, but had real depth to it and strong character development. As Bleach continues I feel like some of the deeper aspects to the series are lost in favor of sheer spectacle.
That’s it for this session! Please let me know what you’re thinking of Bleach in the comments below! Are you enjoying Bleach still? How do you feel about this current arc? If anything, what would you like to see improved?