What They Say
The battle against the Wandenreich continue…
Mayuri’s battle against the monstrous Pernida concludes, but there are still plenty of opponents left. Sick of dodging shots from the Quincy sniper, Captain General Kyoraku turns to confront him in a battle between the head Soul Reaper and the strongest Stern Ritter.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
While the bulk of this volume is a stand-alone battle between Captain General Kyoraku and Stern Ritter Lille Barro, there’s no real way to discuss its contents without also discussing the surrounding story. The way this arc is structured doesn’t leave much room for discussing individual story beats since there are so few pauses between the numerous fights. Before I get into why this is a problem, I have to say that the volume by itself is pretty good.
While the first few chapters cover the end of Mayuri’s fight against Pernida, Kyoraku’s fight takes center stage for most of the volume. Kyoraku’s always been one of Bleach’s more interesting side characters, so it’s nice to see him finally get a moment to shine. There’s a certain charm to the way he hides his power with his laid-back attitude and friendly nature, but his skills are on full display here. His ability to make children’s games reality doesn’t seem strong, but it puts him in a lot of interesting situations thanks to his clever use of the various games. When Lille forces him to release his Bankai, we see exactly what kind of power he was hiding. His Bankai allows him to put both himself and his opponent in a situation where they’re symbolically forced to reenact a play involving two friends fighting and injuring each other. Kubo’s greatest strength has always been his ability to design cool powers, and this is no exception. Beyond being a clever evolution of his Shikai, Kyoraku’s Bankai is just cool, even if it’s not Kubo’s best.
Lille is far less interesting. His power is initially introduced as being able to snipe anything he sees, but keeps turning into less clearly defined abilities until he ends up taking an owl-like form that shoots giant energy blasts and has nothing to do with his previous abilities. His personality isn’t much better; his only defining traits are that he’s proud of being one of the strongest Quincies and is religious. Secondary villains like him don’t need to be super complex characters, but he still falls short by that standard. Most of the Espada were pretty one-note characters, but they all had memorable personalities and voices that just isn’t on display here. Even so, this volume is a pretty solid battle taken on its own. The problem is, it can’t be taken on its own.
Most of the Thousand Year Blood War Arc has been an almost nonstop series of fights against more named enemies than I can count. While that makes for some cool action, giving virtually every named character still alive a one-on-one fight wreaks havoc on the pacing. All these fights start to blend into each other since there’s no breathing room between them; even a big battle like this isn’t as memorable as it should be since there’s so many already. It doesn’t help that the individual battles rarely have much story impact beyond taking two characters out of the fight. The arc has been going on for nearly 200 chapters now, and Ichigo (who barely even appears in this volume) hasn’t even reached Yhwach yet. For comparison, that’s twice as long as the period between Aizen’s arrival in the Fake Karakura Town and his ultimate defeat. Having battles between secondary characters still starting at this point just becomes tedious, regardless of how well executed the individual fights are. I understand wanting to give every character the spotlight-quite a few of these characters deserve it-but doing that for nearly two dozen characters over such a long period diminishes their individual moments and makes the arc feel bloated and slow. Giving tertiary characters like Nanao a backstory (she arrives to help after Lille survives Kyoraku’s Bankai) would be fine under normal circumstances, but just comes off as unnecessary so late in the game after so much has already happened.
The artwork fares somewhat better. Kubo’s art continues to emphasize every movement in battles, and favors striking individual panels. Kubo’s always been excellent at creating memorable panels by contrasting blacks and whites, which is on full display here. Kyoraku’s shadow games and black kimono provide a nice contrast to Lille’s pure white outfit and bright energy beams. The backgrounds are still minimalistic at best and nonexistent at worst, but that still helps draw attention to the characters fighting and their various attacks, even if it also means the setting has virtually no personality to it. Kubo’s strengths as an artist still far outweigh his weaknesses, even if the weaknesses are noticeable.
It’s difficult to give a solid score for this volume by itself. The content itself is pretty good on its own; Nanao and Kyoraku’s backstory is reasonably well executed and the central fight has the same general coolness we’ve come to expect from Bleach, but all of this is haunted by the structural flaws of the arc as a whole. It’s a case of good content being dragged down by everything leading up to it. I’d still recommend this volume to Bleach fans, but it’s far from Bleach’s best.
Content Grade: C+
Art Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Text/Translation Grade: B+
Age Rating: Teen
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: November 7, 2017