Bleach (Chapters 683-686) – Review
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.
So that’s it. Bleach is over and all we have left to discuss today is the series abrupt conclusion. In some ways I’m sad to see it go. Bleach was a series I’d started in college and enjoyed immensely during those difficult years. But in others I’m glad it’s over. This last arc had become a culmination of everything wrong with Bleach and something only die-hard fans, completely wrapped around Kubo’s pen, could truly appreciate. The story devolved into constant 180 twists and turns, continued to repeat near the same tired formula presented since the soul society arc and had long stopped feeling genuine and intriguing. Characters popped in and out at Kubo’s whim, existing only to do something cool with no concern for a coherent, powerful, gripping narrative. Powers and abilities spiraled out of control leaving a giant mess with little that felt truly compelling. Perhaps it can even be argued that Bleach became an example of what happens when a manga is stretched well past its prime. Where the blame lies for Bleach’s tumble from grace isn’t entirely clear. Some would be keen to place it at the feet of the slavish entity of Shonen Jump itself. A magazine known for grinding Authors into powder, forcing them to milk their manga dry and rarely allowing authors to end stories upon their own terms. Or perhaps it’s all on Kubo, known for seeing story as little more than a vehicle to drive you from one ‘cool’ development to the next. With such little appreciation for his own characters and plot perhaps it’s little wonder the whole thing came tumbling down as the years went on.
But enough speculation. Let’s jump in for these final chapters and experience Bleach’s sudden and abrupt conclusion.
Jumping back into the story things are looking bad for Ichigo. Despite his return from certain defeat he’s again standing on the edge of it. Yhwach taunts him, asking how Ichigo could possibly dream of defeating him. Renji continues to attack, activating his Bankai which is then completely torn apart on the very same page, Yhwach reminding us he’s already destroyed all Bankai in the future. Yhwach prepares to bring about an end to Renji and Ichigo himself, but Aizen jumps in, attacking the crazed villain. The panel work here is a bit weak, tightly focused on characters to the point where backgrounds, like many chapters of recent, are often missing entirely. Without a sense of scale and world these events feel hollow, lacking a sense of passion or even tension. At times it can also be difficult to discern exactly what’s going on.
Yhwach mocks Aizen, who attempts to take Yhwach down with his own Hado 99 attack. However, in a twist that surprised no one, Yhwach has broken Aizen’s Kyoka Suigetsu already. He strikes Aizen and sends him tumbling down into the ruins bellow. Ichigo attacks again but it’s all futile as Yhwach has seen every event that is to come. He shatters Ichigo’s sword into shards and then blasts a hole through Ichigo’s chest that even Piccolo would be proud of.
Yhwach bids farewell to Ichigo as he rips apart all of the soul society, but Aizen reveals himself as Ichigo, having fooled Yhwach just long enough for Ichigo to strike Yhwach from behind with a powerful Getsuga Tensho, rending our super villain in two.
Yhwach, split in two, melts away beneath his mass of black and eyes. Aizen praises Ichigo and we get a brief explanation for how Aizen knew to use Kyoka Suigetsu to mask the real Ichigo from Yhwach, and how impressed he is with Ichigo’s ability to read the situation and that the illusion had no effect on him. In a 180 twist that, again, surprises no one, Aizen is struck by a reviving Yhwach.
Yhwach again reminds us, and Ichigo, that his power is to alter the future. He can even rewrite the future and prevent his own death (I have issues with this as we go on, but more on that later.) He attacks Ichigo and knocks his sword away (why not just break it again?) and grabs Ichigo using his oozing blackness. He declares that he’ll now destroy everything and fuse it into one beneath his power. Suddenly Uryu arrives, armed with the Deus ex Machina arrow presented to him by his father a few chapters ago. He strikes Yhwach with it and we learn that anyone struck with it briefly loses their powers (So why didn’t Yhwach see this coming?)
Ichigo runs for his sword and charges up to take one last swing at Yhwach. But Yhwach is already regaining his power (jeez talk about a tiny window) and Uryu believes Ichigo’s strike won’t make it in time. However Yhwach is unable to stop the blade because he realizes the dream he’d had when he was sleeping, where Ichigo killed him, was no dream, but a vision of the future. Ichigo chops Yhwach down, bringing about an end to his nigh unstoppable menace.
This whole conclusion feels wrought and poorly thought out. If Yhwach really is truly omnipotent then surely he would’ve seen all this coming. Now, I know a possible explanation here, at the very least concerning Ichigo’s final attack actually killing Yhwach, is that Yhwach mistook a vision of the future for a dream and his arrogance/misunderstanding is entirely his undoing. That said, if his power is to also rewrite the future, surely, now that he’s regained his power after that brief window of opportunity, he could undo his death? We saw him revive after Ichigo and Aizen worked together, why can’t he do that again here? It’s a conclusion that requires you try to work out very little of the mechanics, otherwise it just does not hold up under true scrutiny. In fact, the only reason he doesn’t revive again is because Kubo was given just two more chapters to close it all out. And that’s actually probably for the best as Yhwach and his minions have revived so many times from certain death that it long ago stopped Bleach from seeming gripping but rather comically bad.
Flashing forward to sometime after Yhwach’s defeat, we find Shunsui Kyoraku talking about how they’ve nearly finished reconstruction on the soul society. The very next page he divulges that it’s been ten years and we get a shot of the rebuilt soul society, fully recovered from the crazy battle with Yhwach. A subordinate calls for the Captain General, and he bids farewell to the grave of Ukitake.
We then spend the next several pages catching up with the more popular characters in a “where are they now?” kind of way. Mayuri, Nemu, Kenpachi, etc. all get a few pages to show us how they’re doing post time skip. By the end of these two time skip chapters, however, plenty of characters go without such a catch up. If anything this conclusion speaks to just how absurdly large and unwieldy Bleach’s cast of characters became. There’s no way to deliver a satisfying ending with a cast of one hundred plus characters. In fact, even these popular characters often get no more than a handful of panels.
Apparently everyone is heading to some big meeting. It’s all very jovial and borderline comedic as everyone is back to their more silly selves. Once everyone finally makes it to the meeting hall we learn that finally, after all this time, Rukia has been promoted to Captain! It’s a feel good moment, and despite all the trouble and missteps this manga has gone through, it still means something to long time fans and stands out amongst everything else wrong with these final chapters.
Meanwhile, in a control room a few lackeys end up picking up reading that indicate spiritual pressure similar to Yhwach’s! Dun dun dun!
Picking up from an entirely different place than where we left off we meet an orange haired little kid getting yelled at by another kid before running off and disappearing. I don’t entirely understand what this scene is about as the rest of the chapter sort of ignores this page. It’s like Kubo is teasing us about Kazui’s character, yet didn’t actually have anything for the kid to do, so we get a random page that has nothing to do with anything. Perhaps it’s even more insulting that of the three color pages Bleach gets for its finale one of those in wrapped up in this meaningless waste of page space.
As quickly as we touch on that we’re again off to check in on Byakuya. He’s rushing off to see what those readings of Yhwach’s spiritual pressure were about. He’s joined by Sui-Feng and they race toward the location. As they arrive they find Mayuri and shortly there after Yhwach’s spiritual presence bubbles over, a black mass emanating from the ground.
Meanwhile, back at the Kurosaki Clinic, Ichigo greets both Rukia and Renji. They’ve all gathered, along with the rest of Ichigo’s family and friends, to watch the World Heavyweight Title Match, which Chad is participating in. Elsewhere Uryu watches the match on his phone, even though he can’t be hanging out with Ichigo and the others. Switching back to Ichigo, he calls for Orihime to come because the match is starting. She rushes out of the kitchen but wonders where Kazui is. The manga doesn’t go much into it, but it’s painfully obvious that Kazui is Ichigo and Orihime’s kid.
Ichigo then asks where Rukia’s kid is, but apparently their little girl wandered off. Switching back to Kazui he spots a small black hole in the wall that seems to be emanating with Yhwach’s power. The boy puts his hand inside and elsewhere Yhwach’s power is destroyed utterly. It’s painfully apparent that Kazui is meant to be a protege with immense power, and that Yhwach’s resurfacing last chapter was little more than set up to show us just how ridiculous Kazui’s latent ability is. The big question is– Why? Outside of a cheap joke about the kids being stupid strong, or perhaps a nod to Dragon Ball’s Gohan this adds little to the finale and feels like a waste of page space especially when what little closure we’re getting on Ichigo and everyone barely feels like enough.
Aizen, trapped back beneath the Soul Society and again chained up, comments that the last of Yhwach’s power is finally gone. Flashing back to when Ichigo had defeated Yhwach we discover that Yhwach, after having been sliced in two, still had enough power to grab Ichigo’s blade. With his dying breath Yhwach comments on how Ichigo has sealed off the chance for the world to exist without fear. That the chance to merge life and death into one is now gone. He pins the blame on Ichigo and says that it’s disappointing, as everyone is still forced to live in a constant state of fear for death now and forever.
Back with Aizen in the present, he challenges Yhwach’s premise, pointing out that without fear people will not search for hope. That people who persist through fear embody courage. His words appear over a panel of Ichigo and Rukia and that’s about all the closure we get for our two main characters. It feels hollow, lacking, and Aizen’s speech comes off as such a try hard attempt to inject some of kind perverse poignancy into Bleach’s final moments. Of course, this isn’t how we actually end things. No, Bleach’s final pages are far more fitting in with Bleach’s current mindset.
Back with Kazui a black portal appears behind him and from it Ichika Abarai, Renji and Rukia’s kid. She introduces herself as a Soul Reaper Cadet and asks who Kazui is. And it’s with the final page he reveals himself to be a Soul Reaper too, shocking the hell out of Ichika and thus ending Bleach’s final chapter.
Yep. That’s it. Bleach’s final pages feel more like a jab, a joke at the expense of Naruto’s ending. And while I’m someone who sits in the camp that Naruto lost itself in its final arc, I do actually feel Naruto had a much more satisfying ending, sitting in a place that could please both die-hard fans and those who’d begun to lose their love for the series. Bleach’s ending feels either like a mockery of Kishimoto’s efforts or perhaps even a poorly realized knock off. Or perhaps it really is Kubo bucking for a Boruto like continuation. If anything this final chapter shows that Kubo long ago lost what made Bleach Bleach. It’s frustrating, disappointing, and altogether depressing that Bleach, a manga originally labeled as one of the ‘big three’ in the Shonen Jump magazine became a manga incapable of escaping its own trappings and so unconcerned with the story that Kubo couldn’t even create his own, unique, ending.
That’s it for my series of Bleach reviews! Please let me know your thoughts on Bleach’s conclusion in the comments below!