If one song completely sums up volume 26 of Bleach, it’s Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best,” as blasted at full volume in Karate Kid. Every energizing chord is pumping through the pages here, because this one’s all about training. That’s right, love it or hate it, there comes a time in the life of every shonen manga cast member (okay, a lot of times) during which they’ve got to put their noses to the grindstone and, well, grind.
The odd tranquility of training spans most of chapters 224-233, weighing the pressure of an uncertain future on everyone from Chad to Orihime. Elsewhere, Ichigo is still trying his best to fully harness his rough, slowly developing Vizard powers, which are going to come into play sooner than later. That time arrives with the sudden appearance of a few Arrancar in the vicinity, triggering a series of battles that we only grace the tip of in the last couple of chapters.
The highlighted showdown is a rematch between Ichigo and Grimmjow, who wants to take care of his previous oversight: letting Ichigo live. Ichigo uses this opportunity to show the progress he’s made in such a short period of time, but even that might not be enough to take down one of the toughest villains he’s faced yet. The rest of the crew quickly has their hands full, as well, and we’re taken back and forth between the various Arrancar struggles.
Volume 26 is both refreshing and kind of frustrating at the same time. While it’s nice to get some breathing room between a near endless succession of bouts, the training sequences aren’t all that different from the traditional fights. They’re still full of bold, SFX-laden splash pages, turnabout surprises and constipated grimaces of determination. It would be silly to say that nothing happens here, but some of it definitely gives off a sense of Kubo biding time and getting some simple chapters out while he concocts the next Big Moment. It’s the type of sensation I normally only get from an anime adaptation of a long-running series, even if it isn’t anywhere near what one would consider “filler.”
Bleach is still great at pacing chapters out so the volume ends on a positive note, sinking in that gnarled hook once more. In that respect, I suppose all of that training did its job, because I’m ready to get on with the story and see what happens next. Maybe when Kubo takes another break from all the action, he’ll use the space to move things a long in other ways, as well. Then again, as a conflicted fan of shonen stories in general, I know that might be asking a little much.
Publisher: Viz Media
Story & Art: Tite Kubo