Author: Tite Kubo
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Jump)
Volume: Volumes 40 and 41 (ongoing), $9.99 each
Vintage: 2009 by Shueisha, June 2012 by Viz Media
Genre: Action, fantasy, supernatural
As the Thirteen Court Guard Companies continue to defend Karakura from the Arrancars, Ichigo and Co. remain in Hueco Mundo, still trying to escape without leaving anyone behind. This has led to a final, brutal showdown between Ichigo and Ulquiorra, who will not let the Soul Reaper leave with Orihime until he has defeated him in battle. Ichigo is doing well to start off. His training and the time he has spent in Hueco Mundo (he’s “leveled up” so to speak) have enabled him to at least see Ulquiorra’s attacks now, even if he can’t do much to retaliate. Unfortunately, he opens his big mouth and boasts about it, and Ulquiorra decides to show him just how wrong he is. Orihime does what she can to help, but she is taken hostage by Loly and Menoly, out for revenge. Out of nowhere, Yammy comes charging in and starts causing trouble, knocking out both Menoly and Loly, and threatening to take out Orihime. A friend arrives in the nick of time, and sends Yammy plummeting down through Hueco Mundo. With someone there to protect Orihime, Ichigo decides to get down to business and activates his Hollow form. It’s not enough, however, as Ulquiorra rises up and breaks through Las Noches’ canopy, then announces the highest ranking Espada are not allowed to release their ultimate form inside Las Noches because their power could completely destroy it. Ichigo can barely keep up, even with Getsuga, and Ulquiorra releases a powerful Cero blast that nearly knocks him out, prompting Orihime to go up after him to make sure he’s safe. Ulquiorra, annoyed that Ichigo won’t simply give up when he is so incredibly outmatched, decides to show the Soul Reaper what true power really is, and releases his second Resurrection form. With Ichigo out for the count, perhaps permanently, Uryu faces off against Ulquiorra, while Orihime attempts to revive the man unconscious at her feet. On the sidelines, Rukia continues her fight against Rudbornn and his never ending skeletal army.
As Orihime calls out to Ichigo with a desperate plea, something remarkable occurs. Ichigo’s body rises up and transforms into a powerful creature, looking every bit the Hollow. And almost as mindless, as he begins dishing out powerful attacks without regard for his friends’ safety. Even Ulquiorra is surprised by the amount of power of Ichigo’s new form, but as Ichigo moves to make the killing blow, he is stopped by Uryu. Sensing Uryu as a threat, Ichigo attacks his friend, giving Ulquiorra time to launch a counter attack. But rather than kill Ichigo, the attack knocks the creature out, and Ichigo suddenly returns to normal. Ulquiorra demands that Ichigo finish things, but he refuses, and a severely weakened Ulquiorra simply turns to ash and blows away. Down below, Yammy interrupts Rukia’s battle, leaving her, Renji, and Chad to face off against the giant Espada who has a surprise of his own ready for them. The story shifts back to Karakura where the Soul Reaper captains continue to fight against the Espada sent down by Aizen. Hitsugaya fights Halibel, but as they both control water, it is difficult for either to get the upper hand. Soi Fon and Omaeda face off against Baraggan, a veritable God of Death who can control aging with a touch, or a breath in his released state. His released form is a terrifying visage, and his powers of decay and death appear unbeatable.
The story continues to plod along here, with near agonizing slowness. Fortunately, Viz has seen fit to begin pumping these out two every month, which is helpful in terms of the story’s pacing. Though I must admit, I skipped the three volumes prior to volume 40. Two by accident, as I have the previous two volumes here, but misplaced them and forgot to read them. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even notice, nor was I lost. I do enjoy Bleach, but holy crap does it move slow as molasses sometimes. Volume 40 is almost entirely Ichigo versus Ulquiorra, and I swear that fight was just being set up in the last volume I read. I’m going to guess 38-39 focused on Karakura. At any rate, their battle really does take up near the entire volume, with just a handful of scattered pages for the others in Las Noches, though they’re mostly reacting to the spiritual pressure and after effects of the ongoing battle far above them. Of note is Ulquiorra’s genuine surprise that Ichigo’s power comes from him wanting to protect his friends. This is a point the Espada continually berates him over through the series, and yet at the end he finally recognizes Ichigo wins because he has something Ulquiorra doesn’t – a heart. The end of the battle takes up about half of volume 41, then the story moves back to Karakura and the struggling captains. Even without the restrictions on their powers they are having trouble standing up to the Espada. So, of course, it’s time for the ultimate ultimate attacks. There’s always more power somewhere. Which is the nature of a series like this, so it’s certainly not unexpected. Somehow, Kubo manages it well and provides (at least somewhat) valid reasoning for why these powers aren’t used right off the bat to end the battle quickly. Things are looking quite dire, but each captain has a way of handling pressure, Hitsugaya in particular, who remains as calm and cool as the ice that surrounds him. Things are certainly exciting, but the ending is still a little ways off. Aizen hasn’t even made an appearance yet (that’s around volume 44, I think). The art remains strong, as Kubo continues to improve his skill with so many volumes now under his belt.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.