It’s hard to believe I just got done reading the 22nd volume of Bleach. Sure, I can believe that it’s gone on for this long, but it’s hard to swallow the fact that I’m still reading it, and it’s still a good read. Tite Kubo has shown a lot of maturity throughout the saga’s run, and not just in the art department either. The storylines are consistently dramatic without hammering it home too heavily, the characters manage comic relief that’s not as eye rolling as one would expect, and the action (in classic fighting series form) has only gotten more ridiculous over the years; in a good way, of course.
Most surprising of all is that nothing’s stagnating at this point, stuck in some comfortable limbo of narrative, since Kubo tends to keep things moving and shaking. In this volume, Ichigo Kurosaki – who still manages to show up in the nick of time when his friends are in a perilous situation -has a whole pot full of troubles that are really starting to come to a boil. First and foremost is his battle against the Hollow within, apparently triggered and strengthened by his work as a Soul Reaper. It couldn’t have come at a worse time either, because new powerful enemies have landed in our world, and they’re hungry for very specific souls.
A couple of Arrancar-a sort of Hollow/Soul Reaper hybrid, to put it simply-are looking for Ichigo, and it doesn’t take long to find him. Only a small portion of their potential strength is shown during their first battle, and their ominous arrival is a big enough problem to bring about the return of some old friends from the Soul Society.
Bleach is obviously gearing up for some massive fights in the coming volumes, but what’s here-the initial exhibition round between Soul Reaper and Arrancar-is a good enough taste of things to come. It’s almost funny how strong the enemies are becoming; at least judging by the way those in the Soul Society describe them. There must be a running bet between the big gun creators in this genre to see who can break the power level Richter scale the fastest.
If you’re still early in the manga, or getting your Bleach fix from the domesticated run of the show, then it’s safe to say that the contents of later chapters are reason enough to stick with it for the long haul. Following sprawling shonen series like Bleach, Naruto, One Piece etc. can be a somewhat arduous process regardless of how absorbing the stories may be, but there’s enough reward in Tite Kubo’s spirit world epic to keep you reading for a long time.