It’s been years since I read new Bleach chapters. For that reason alone, I was incredibly excited to hear that Tite Kubo penned a special Bleach One-Shot, with 73 pages to boot! The ending of Bleach was bittersweet; manga readers had to digest a massive amount of new information in a final arc. Not only that, but the anime has yet to adapt the series’ last chapters. While this obviously gave some hope, it also felt like the series couldn’t rest. Ironically, given the principal role of Bleach’s Shinigami, the story felt like a soul left to wander the Earth eternally. Bleach’s last chapter dropped on August 22nd, 2016. While the anime is set to return in 2021, many of those years passed with no updates.
Broadly, my thoughts fit in a sentence. I liked what I saw, I am glad I saw something, but I am also confused. Bleach has always impressed me with its character design and world-building. While it isn’t uncommon for anime to tackle themes around souls and the afterlife, Bleach was different. Unlike other shonen anime, it had a sort of melancholic air about it. Entire episodes would contain solely sad music. Characters would suffer, and that suffering took center stage. Ichigo even lost his powers for a time and the audience got to watch his crisis of character after falling back to Earth.
It is because of that track record (and, let’s be honest, nostalgia) that I expected more from this chapter. Let me be clear, the Bleach one-shot is good, but it’s clearly an introduction to something more. It makes me excited for more but somewhat unsatisfied. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend doing so here before reading this review.
Old and New Characters
The Bleach one-shot opens with a quick re-introduction to the newest characters of the series. These are the children of controversial pairings Ichigo and Orihime and Renji and Rukia. The former couple’s son, Kazui, lives in the world of the living and seemingly has the ability to manifest Shinigami powers atop his human body. Ichika, Renji and Rukia’s daughter, is a soul training as a Shinigami in the Soul Society. As for the rest of the series’ mainstays, they come together to perform a ritual. This ritual, the Konso Reisai, occurs for the souls of captains who die. 12 years prior to the one-shot, in Bleach’s final chapter, many more captains than ever died all at once. This acts as the plot premise that brings all of the Bleach characters (and a few new ones) together.
This portion of the chapter was pretty expository and mostly allowed Bleach’s massive cast to show their faces. There is one new character, Atau, that I found incredibly interesting. He is the vice-captain of the seventh company and the only mute Shinigami in the series. He releases his Zapakuto by writing on it in blood and it’s one of the most interesting sword release styles of the series.
Apart from him, the other new character of note is Yuyu Yayahara, the eighth company’s vice-captain. She’s obsessed with “gyaru” culture and is basically what would happen if Casper the Friendly Ghost were a Gen Z e-girl.
From Edo to Electronics
This is a minor detail of the first half of the chapter, but Soul Society now has technology on par with the real world. This is something I’ve gotten used to after Naruto/Boruto did the same with their world. Despite that, it felt aggressive in the chapter. Shinigami have cell phones that somehow connect to the real world, people use holograms, and Rukia even watches TV. I don’t hate it on face. But, because there was so much new technology, it required multiple panels of explanation. In a 73 page one-shot, I would expect each page to have a bit more value and not see an entire page dedicated to “soul pagers.”
A Somewhat Disappointing Premise
The premise of the one-shot looks likely to bring exciting fights, but I am not personally a fan of it. To summarize, during the ritual, several monsters attack the soul reapers. After a brief scuffle, Szayelaporro Gran, the Espada defeated by Renji, Uryu, and Mayuri appears. According to him, he has escaped from Hell. This has some interesting implications and connections for the series. Many may not have heard of the one-shot story published prior to the movie Bleach: Hell Verse. In this chapter, Bleach: The Unforgivens, the arrancar Szayelaporro, and Aaroniero are shown in hell after dying at the hands of soul reapers. We’ve always known that hollows can go to hell if their sins in life were too much for purification by a Shinigami’s sword.
This chapter seemingly confirms that the events of the Hell Verse movie are cannon and incredibly relevant to the story now. But that isn’t the disappointing part. That comes from Szayelaporro’s explanation of the Konso Reisai’s actual purpose. Apparently, powerful spirits have reishi too dense to be absorbed back into Soul Society for reincarnation. The ritual, in order to prevent those powerful souls from lingering forever, casts captain-class souls and above into Hell. Now, those former characters have broken from Hell.
Why This Plot Doesn’t Hold Water
The reason I dislike this plot is twofold. For one, Bleach actually had a “former good guys become evil” arc as the filler, and I hated that filler arc. The other, more important reason is that it doesn’t make sense with the world of the series. It doesn’t make sense that no one would be aware of what this ritual does to captains and the risk inherent to it. Kyōraku, the current Captain-Commander, is aware of an “old wives’ tale” about captains’ souls being cast into hell, but somehow never thought about it. It just feels incredibly unlikely that no one would make a note of this. Especially when the villains at the end of the series are powerful enough to break open hell’s gate, it feels odd that this possibility never came up.
I think this plot will end up creating some incredible fights and might even round out deceased characters. But, I can’t help but feel skeptical at its premise entirely. One of the characters stated to exist in Hell, Yamamoto, shouldn’t be there in the first place. He was killed by a Quincy with an energy blast. Previously, the series made it very clear that Quincy eradicate souls with their attacks and don’t allow their souls to re-absorb into Soul Society. This likely means several things about the series need to change. That means more panels for explanation and (likely) more inconsistency down the line.
Extreme Power in Fights to Come
The good news for action lovers is that the fights of this arc will be amazing. Yamamoto and Unohana are incredibly strong as are the many people who died in the last few arcs of Bleach. Since the manner of death no longer seems to matter, we could see any fan-favorites come back. Even more, Ichigo, while confusingly sporting his old Zapakuto and not his new, dual one, is quite powerful. In a subtle hint at Ichigo’s power, he slashed the chains of hell in just his Shikai form. Previously, it took the power of Ichigo’s complete Hollow transformation to manage the same feat. This is the bare minimum level of power it takes to open Hell from within.
While brief, this indirectly tells us that the antagonists of this arc are likely much stronger than what was previously a top class of destructive capability. Even Szayelaporro, who is fodder in comparison to fighters in the previous arc, looks much stronger and sports horns similar to Ichigo’s strongest hollow forms.
Ultimately, this chapter was solid. The arc that follows will probably be pretty good too. I think Bleach is running into a classic problem for battle Shonen; the powers got too powerful and Tite Kubo needed to be incredibly creative in creating new villains. This isn’t the worst way I’ve seen it done, but it remains to be seen if the arc will hold up. Personally, I have hope that this arc will be absolutely perfect and wash away every worry I’ve had. At the very least we’re going to see some incredible action.
Images courtesy of VIZ
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