Author: Tite Kubo
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Jump)
Volume: Volumes 46-47 (ongoing), $9.99 each
Vintage: 2010 by Shueisha, September 2012 by Viz Media
Genre: Action, fantasy, supernatural
Genryusai attempts one final attack to weaken Aizen, and Ichigo comes in for the kill immediately after. Unfortunately, although he hits, he doesn’t bring Aizen down, and he’s missed his one and only chance. As Aizen’s wounds heal, he reveals the true source of his power – the Hogyoku embedded within his body. An astonished Ichigo is made to listen as Aizen recounts all the formative encounters in Ichigo’s life, from his first meeting with Rukia, to his recent battle with Ulquiorra, and claims to have orchestrated each and every one. Not only that, Aizen claims to have been carefully monitoring Ichigo’s progress from the moment the teen was born. Before Ichigo can get any real answers out of Aizen, one of the biggest answers appears right before him – Ichigo’s father, Isshin, appears in full Soul Reaper regalia. He knocks some sense into his son, then Isshin launches an attack on Aizen while Ichigo handles Gin. Gin isn’t messing around, and he quickly activates his bankai, which allows his sword to stretch for an incredible eight miles. Its length isn’t the problem, however; it’s the speed in which it grows and shrinks. Meanwhile, the Hogyoku begins to alter Aizen’s body, and the former captain explains its true power to Isshin. As his body begins to change, Urahara and Yoruichi finally arrive to join the battle. Unfortunately, Aizen’s power just keeps growing as his body finally transforms into a powerful armored creature. Even the combined might of Isshin, Urahara, and Yoruichi can’t stop him, never mind Ichigo, who can’t even comprehend the level of power they’re faced with.
The trio of former Soul Reapers does their best to subdue and strike at Aizen, and Isshin even gets a powerful getsuga tensho in, but none of them can even perceive his spirit energy to know if they’re having any effect. Aizen is simply too powerful, and he’s not even done transforming yet. With Gin growing tired of playing with Ichigo, and Isshin, Urahara, and Yoriuichi struck down, the protective shell around Aizen falls away to reveal his human form now fully fused with the Hogyoku. They open the Senkaimon Gate and prepare to head straight for the real Karakura Town. Isshin takes Ichigo in after them, but before he’s ready to face Aizen, Ichigo must learn the final getsuga tensho. They pause in the Dangai, where time and space are altered to give them a significant advantage with Ichigo’s training. Ichigo is given about three months, or an hour in the real world, to convince Zangetsu to teach him the final getsuga tensho. Inside the world of his sword, Ichigo meets an unfamiliar form of Zangetsu’s, who refuses to teach Ichigo anything more because he has lost all hope and stopped progressing forward. Zangetsu brings out Ichigo’s inner Hollow as well, and the two combine into Zangetsu’s true form for a brutal battle. Back in the real Karakura Town, Ichigo’s friends who can sense spiritual energy, mainly Arisawa and Asano, have woken up to find their town has moved into some mountains and all its citizens are sound asleep. Aizen comes across them, and decides to use their deaths to lead Ichigo to his next stage of power. They’re not alone, however. Don Kannonji, though incredibly ineffective, is at least a decent distraction, and occupies Aizen long enough for Rangiku to arrive.
Yes, it did just take about a volume and a half for Aizen to transform…back into himself. Well, himself with black eyes and long hair. Volume 46 consisted of a lot of wholly ineffectual attacks on a man growing more powerful every moment, though I half suspect the attacks were meant to force the change somehow. There’s also the revelation about Ichigo’s father, though that’s really only news to Ichigo since all the other characters and the readers already knew about his identity as a Soul Reaper. What’s most important in the 46th volume is Aizen’s confession that he’s been manipulating the events of Ichigo’s life since he was born. That he’s been carefully cultivating Ichigo’s power for his own purposes, whatever they may be. Which means everything that has happened to Ichigo for the past 46 volumes of manga has all been a part of some grand scheme of Aizen’s. Now, the idea of a powerful villain manipulating the life of the hero is nothing new, but it does put a new twist on things, especially if Kubo had that all planned out from his first chapter (I rather doubt that, though it probably didn’t take long to form once the series got into full swing and Kubo knew he’d have the chance to tell a story of that size; but it has been a good several years since I read the early volumes). Volume 77 cements early on just how insanely powerful Aizen is. Not even some of the most powerful Soul Reapers in existence can detect his spiritual energy anymore. And he is so rightly confident in his power that he doesn’t even bother to doge attacks anymore; he knows nothing can harm him. Well, nothing yet, anyway. Because Ichigo’s busy trying to tame his inner Hollow so he can use his sword’s ultimate attack. Though he won’t ever learn it if he can’t push past his fear of his own power. There’s not a whole lot else going on in these two volumes. Kubo gets across how terrifyingly awesome Aizen’s power is quite well; even Gin appears slightly startled by it. And, true to shonen form, Ichigo has hit a wall and must go through an intense inner struggle to break through to the next level of his power. The only thing left to wonder is how long it will take, and what will be left to protect when he’s finally ready to face Aizen.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.