Bleach is back? Bleach is back!

I never thought I’d see the day or say the words, but there’s a new Bleach chapter this week! It’s been five years since the controversial and sudden ending to my favourite manga, and like many I hadn’t ever thought it possible that Tite Kubo would return to this story beyond the occasional artwork and a season of Burn the Witch (which is also a lot of fun and I’d highly recommend if you haven’t tried it already) but what a gift to receive on the 20th anniversary, and in very Kubo-fashion it begins with a monologue about dying goldfish.

In all seriousness, this opening page actually served as a good reflection of the main theme being explored here (which has always existed in Bleach): balance – the balance of power, and of what happens when the powerful vanishes and the weak overtakes and becomes stronger and the roles reverse, and the consequences that come from that shift.

That’s cute, he’s opening a roaring mouth to the underworld.

What stood out after reading the first few pages was just how naturally this continues from the ‘final’ chapter of 686. What once was the definite end to the series now feels like the end of one chapter, and this the beginning of the next. Of course, there’s the timeskip and the status quo has changed forever, but this still feels Bleach and not Bleach: Next Generations or even a sequel, per say. Kazui and Ichika get their fair share of screentime, as you’d expect, but they’re not the main characters of this story – this is still about Ichigo and Soul Society and everyone else as well. It does appear Kazui is an important individual in the universe of Bleach already, but what more can you expect of the child of Ichigo and Orihime, two of the most broken characters in this world? From what we see of him, he seems cute, cheerful, and is fantastic at sticking his nose where it probably shouldn’t. Only two years before this one-shot he stuck his hand in a hole in the wall and eradicated the last of an almighty genocidal god, and now he’s transporting innocent souls to the depths of Hell, which he promises is fine because “everyone’s in there”. Now I’m just imagining him sneaking out at night, travelling to the depths of Hell and chilling with shinigami and twisted hollows of distant past, not thinking twice about the ramifications of his actions.

Ichika, on the other hand, isn’t quite as pivotal to the overarching story here, but the way she fits like a glove into the world of Bleach is nice to see. Not only her, but every returning character in this chapter feels correct, like they’re exactly where they should be, doing what we expect they would. Time has passed but the characters are still doing their thing, and I love to see it.

It isn’t Bleach if Mayuri hasn’t had a sensational outfit change.

If any of you remember my posts from when the Bleach manga was running in its final years, you would know Mayuri is my absolute favourite character. While he may be the most morally bankrupt ‘good guy’ in the series, he’s up there as the most entertaining and acts as a good outlet for Kubo to go wild with his fashion and whatever scientific concepts he wants without limits. I loved how Mayuri was used in this chapter, both for his humour in his new invention, but also how it served as a nice way to get a glimpse of most of the Gotei 13 and their division barracks (something we didn’t see from many of them in the series). It was quite surreal actually seeing all the captains and lieutenants interacting within manga panels after resigning myself to never seeing it happen again, but Kubo has given us this gift and I couldn’t be happier! The fan in me loved seeing everyone pop up and give their bit, bantering with others and reminding why I like them all so much.

When I heard about this anniversary one-shot I was expecting it to be much like this: a lot of familiar faces just enjoying a peaceful life, being funny and silly. If that was all this was I would have been satisfied. I had my expectation low to save myself disappointment from expecting too much, but I can’t imagine many would feel underwhelmed by what actually followed.

The best kind of nightmare fuel.

The idea of the Konso Reisai, although completely new, also sits nicely into the lore of Bleach. Without any captains having died within its stated timeframe there’s been no need to mention it until now so it doesn’t feel like a retcon. And while it could have been used as just an excuse to gather the characters together, it turns out to be a ritual that shakes the foundations of what we know about the series.

I liked that the captains and lieutenants were separated, so the former were able to get some spotlight when they often are shunned by enemies too powerful for them to contend with. Just as I was enjoying seeing everyone together for the sake of it, we see what must now be one of my favourite hollow (or rather ghoul/beast if we you want to use the correct terms) designs maybe ever show up, smack Renji (typical, poor Renji), and bring all its twisted looking friends to be fodder. And what a good fodder opportunity it was.

If he wasn’t a new fan favourite already, now he sure is!

A highlight for me in this scene was seeing characters like Akon get their rare moment of action, and his back and forth with zombie-robot-Kira who is even more emo than ever with his hoodie and staying on border patrol. But it was actually seeing the two new vice captains in action that was my favourite; Rindo Atau had me curious from his first appearance earlier in the chapter and how he contrasted from Iba, but then we learn he is in fact deaf and writes his release command onto his sword in order to use shikai, I was sold. That’s such a creative way to work his deafness into his abilities, and was just as cool as the page that follows when he summons birds from paper versions and they obliterate one of the ghouls from hell in maybe my favourite sequence of this already packed chapter.

And then there’s Yuyu Yayahara, the very fitting lieutenant to Lisa. I’m already envisioning Shunsui making up any excuse to pay a visit to his old division from time to time to be merry over what it’s become, only for Nanao to drag him back to his duties. This Gyaru girl should stick out like a sore thumb amongst all the other characters we know already, but her first impression was so strong that somehow it works; she’s definitely another cool addition to the cast with some nice powers to boot (are her nails her zanpakuto?).

Szayel, you’ve never looked cooler.

In a one-shot that I didn’t think would even have one, then shows up our villain: Szayel Apollo Granz! No espada has gotten as much screentime after their death as him: he’s gone from dying in the Arrancar arc, to then showing in the Hell Verse movie chapter, to being explored in great detail in the Spirits Are Forever With You light novels, to appearing as a figment of Mayuri’s imagination in the end of the Thousand Year Blood War, to now showing up here. Kubo loves this man more than any of the fans do, I reckon, but finally I think I get it because he looks cool as hell here. From his grand re-introduction, to his intentionally funny confrontation with Ichigo, to his hellish new appearance, I was onboard with what he was giving us, and then he went and decided to drop a truth bomb so heavy it shook not just the characters involved, but the fanbase at large: Soul Society has been sending their captains to hell after they die.

Another contender for favourite panel of the week.

We’re all shocked. It seems too cruel to be true, but when you bring it back to the goldfish analogy at the start and how the balance of souls is always brought up in Bleach by way of the quincies and the multiple realms, it makes sense that in order to possess great power, it must come with great ramifications. And that is to be removed from the cycle of rebirth and sent instead to reside in hell. Wild, crazy, shocking, but oh this provides countless opportunities. So many characters could re-appear. So many bankais could be shown off that we never saw the full scope off. So many characters from the past could make an appearance now that we know they still exist in some (possibly mutated, ghoulish) form. Yamamoto, Unohana, and Ukitake were all names dropped here and I would love to see them all get another chance to show off their skills. In one translation we got mention of the Warden of Hell – could this be a potential main villain and the arm/sword we saw when the first Hell Gates appeared to kill Shrieker? And even beyond delivering on that, this revelation also lends nicely to motivations of Aizen and Yhwach, where the former wanted to become an immortal God and the latter to destroy the concept of life and death itself; doing so would have freed them from an eternal fate in hell as result of their power, so if they happened to be aware of their eventual fate that is another nice potential detail.

And then you’ve got how this ties back to the Hell Butterflies. While Kubo probably didn’t plan this from the very beginning, it’s a nice touch and calls back to something that has been around largely unexplained since chapter 1. Hell itself was only briefly explored in the very beginning of the first arc and never heard of again (within canon), until now. And the reason why these mouths to hell have opened up makes sense, with the lack of Aizen and Yhwach around to restrain them. It all ties nicely with what was already established and explores something many fans have been desperate for but never thought it would happen: a hell arc.

The End… or not?

And just like that, we end of a cliffhanger, and although this was billed as a one-shot it without a doubt feels like the beginning of a new arc – because it is! For now we’ll call it the ‘Howl from the Jaws of Hell’ arc, partially because it sounds insanely cool but also because the official Viz version chose not to translate it for some reason. Either way, we end with a promise of Kazui being up to no good and having a lot to do with this hell business.

It was amazing to read Bleach again, and knowing it’s very likely it will continue is some form is the best news ever. Not only that, but those in Japan can see the exhibition this winter, we’ve been promised a second season of Burn the Witch in the future (which, if you didn’t catch, is set in the same year as this one-shot – crossover imminent with Ichigo as as a translator visiting London?), and although there hasn’t been much news of the returning anime, we know that will come around eventually. After years of suffering, Bleach fans are finally thriving. We had so much already to look forward to, and now a hell arc in the manga as well? It’s a chance for our favourite deceased characters and those from important (and unexplored) parts of Soul Society history to make an appearance – a golden (and possibly risky) opportunity and many a fan’s dream.

Finally, just as nice to see as the chapter itself is the positive response to this returning one-shot and Bleach as a whole as of late. After years of it being slandered each and every week, it’s cathartic seeing it getting praised by old and new fans alike recently. I never was a hater – I always thought Bleach was great in its own way and still believe that. Bleach has always been cool. But the cherry on top? Now it’s cool to like Bleach again.

11 Comments

  1. Ah, what a great time to be a Bleach fan indeed! Thank you so much for this incredible treat Samu ♡. Reading your review brings back too many good memories, what incredible times we were living in and didn’t even know. I remember being inside an Animate in Tokyo when they announced Bleach would be coming to an end and one of the most disconcerting things I found was that in every Jump store I went in, there were almost no Bleach merchandise at all (only keychains and pins in some forgotten area in the stores, really sad). It really felt like Bleach was being purposely pushed away, you know? So in a way, it feels like a vindication to have this oneshot!

    Same as you, I absolutely loved how this didn’t feel at all like a ‘Next Generation’ type of sequel (blergh) but rather like a series being picked up after a long hiatus. I also got so emotional with Mayuri’s appearance–one of my favorites too! His Urahara bashing/one-sided competition and extraness never gets old. And Ikkaku being Ichika’s sensei and calling her a shitty brat is possibly one of my new favorite things.

    If–fingers crossed–Bleach does indeed continue, this saga has the potential to be one of the coolest ones so far, it really feels like this was the direction this series was always meant to go. On a side note, Szayel’s appearance made me wonder if there are other Arrancar in Hell and I’d low-key have a heart attack if we got to see Ulquiorra and Grimmjow again. Plus, a part of me always mourned the fact that we only had such a short glimpse of Unohana’s badassery. I really hope our story continues! Once again, thank you so much for making time to come back and write your impressions!

  2. Aww, I remember your Bleach posts. I read them to keep following the story after it became a bit too repetitive for it’s length for me to keep directly reading but I still wanted to follow the overall story and world building.

    So, thank you for those!
    IMO, fans of a series always deserve to be excited by new material when there’s so much room left for story.

    Danny
  3. Tite Kubo seems more interested in trying new things than finishing them. He’s great at setting up a plot and the world but what do we get as payoff? More cliffhangers! More questions than answers! More whacky haircuts!
    He draws and draws and draws tons of new characters but never fully develops them which is a shame. Some of them are interesting in their own right at their introduction but with each stretched out battle they gradually become these one note Kubo-brand personalities: arrogant, eccentric, sarcastic, tetchy, emotionless, insecure.

    Don’t get me wrong, I really like the big weird world he’s written. An organization of Shinigami tasked with reaping souls and fighting Hollows among other duties. Swords that are a part of you and force you to face your inner demons. The fusion of traditional clothing and customs with modern day technology. A big hearted 15 year old who just wanted to protect his family and later on his extended family.
    Where our characters and the story end up leaves me with the feeling of more could’ve been done with this.

    Urahara's Hat
  4. I’m confused. I thought he lost his powers via Ywach. How did he get them back? At the end of it all, all he had was the old Zangetsu, but did he lose his other hollow powers and the like? Isn’t Zangetsu supposed to be two blades?

    Anonymous
  5. I’m perplexed. I assumed he lost his abilities as a result of his encounter with Ywach. How did he reclaim them? At the end of it all, he had nothing but the old Zangetsu, but did he lose his other hollow powers and the like? Isn’t Zangetsu meant to be made up of two blades?

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