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Bleach 429-430

December 14, 2010 2 comments
[scanlation by Binktopia]

(429) That’s a little too uncomfortably tsundere, Ichigo.

Run, Lucci. I think he likes you.

With Karin having already established her relevance in this arc, Yuzu stakes her own claim, by… revealing a good test score. Actually, if she is to be involved in any real capacity, I’d prefer for her to stay cheerful, at least on the surface. Bleach is at its worst when all its characters are intensely angst-ridden, so even if Yuzu follows up her spirited boasting with a moment of concern, her initial cheerfulness is hugely appreciated.

Also, she is just adorable

This business with Inoue and Ishida sensing some disturbance in Ichigo’s Force is treading a fine line as Kubo attempts to sensibly reestablish Ichigo as a dominant protagonist. Despite major character flaws and poor storyline choices involving her in the past, I really hope for Orihime to get the bulk of the focus here. The rivalry between Ichigo and Ishida is best suited to playful, comedic school scenes; their relationship in serious scenes is too distant, sometimes inappropriately sarcastic, and it always drags the story down. Granted, Orihime has made more than her fair share of negative contributions to the story, but her character is multi-faceted enough to be appropriate in both comedic and dramatic scenes, and she seems to be the better option to transition the main group back to serious plot.

On a completely different note, what the hell is wrong with the art lately? Non-backgrounds and white space-attacks aside, post-timeskip Bleach chapters have looked like they were fashioned from static.

xrhrxhhrxhhrhxrCAN'T HEAR YOUR SHIRTxcxhhrhxhr

So much for Inoue being the impetus for Ichigo to take action. Instead, Uryuu had to go and get his arm blown off. For all my criticism and wariness about the inevitable return to serious plot, I have to say that I’m pleased with the layout of the last two pages of this chapter. The panel structure and the dichotomy between the situations of Ichigo and Ishida was handled effectively. I can only offer so much praise, though, because that purported business card bears a slogan that is laughably juvenile. It doesn’t look like much of a business card, either, actually. It looks more like a credit card.

Good credit limit, brutal interest rate

(430) These first couple pages of Orihime swooning over her fantasy version of Ichigo are very amusing and outright enjoyable, but that enjoyment is short-lived, as she must return her thoughts to more serious matters. Kubo clearly has the comic timing, fashion sense, style, and suitably interesting character quirks to put together a good (likely romantic- or school-) comedy series. It’s such a pity he’s doing this instead.

Uh… just because Ichigo didn’t come to dinner immediately does not mean he must be masturbating. I just want to put that out there.

Who's the perverted one, again?

The reappearance of Ryuuken would seem to reaffirm the importance of Isshin in this arc, as well as perhaps that entire older generation. Even if more characters aren’t involved, though, the rivalry between Ryuuken and Isshin is enough to propel the story forward at this point. Bringing him back into the fold was a good choice.

Introducing a substance similar to (yet decidedly different from) Reiatsu may feel like a pretty cheap attempt at variety, but that introduction is redeemed by Ryuuken’s excellent direct approach. For once, the audience isn’t being led around with vague allusions and half-truths; Ryuuken is calmly, even bluntly stating the facts, and furthermore offering his own reasonable hypotheses as to who is responsible for harming Ishida and what can be expected in the near future. His straightforward demeanor is exactly what this scene required.

Analyzing Ryuuken’s hypothesis itself, it would be immensely pleasing for this arc to center around the core group of human characters. The mere mention of Chad is promising, as he has never gotten development remotely befitting of a character as comparatively interesting as he is. Hopefully, the focus will remain on him, along with Ichigo, Inoue, Ishida, and the Kurosaki family, rather than involving too many new faces or Soul Society rehashes.

Ichigo struggling with an overwhelming sense of powerlessness is enjoyable to watch, not in a sadistic way, but as a character examination. Unfortunately, we’re treated only to a handful of panels highlighting this internal strife before he decides to rely on the aid of a complete stranger. I understand the notion that Ichigo is desperate to save his friends, and that he’s prepared to do anything for that cause, but I feel that he was far too quick to turn to the Xcution business card. Whether this is a criticism of Ichigo’s weakness as a character or Kubo’s weakness as an author, I’m not entirely certain. Perhaps both are to blame.

Noblesse Oblige

Final Flash: While I’m still far from thrilled at the prospect of dramatic plot, this transition has been handled about as well as it could have. Ryuuken’s appearance and dialogue was the standout section from this two-chapter stretch.

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Bleach 427-428 (plus special chapter)

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment
[scanlation by Binktopia]

(427) I’m still put off by everyone’s uniforms looking like they’re sewn from white noise.

In a turn both unsurprising and unfortunate, Ishida silently admits to himself that Ichigo still has an aura reminiscent of Reiatsu, though he should have none. There has been no doubt that the series would soon leave behind lighthearted school life and return to Soul Society-style action, but this still feels too soon. The last few chapters have taken huge positive strides away from the dull, uncreative “one-up” action of the last few years, and there’s still plenty of life left in this kind of a plot line.

The cover page is Inoue licking frosting off of her face? Come on, Kubo. Leave fanservice to the harem series.

Not all food is bad, though; that ramen looks delicious.

Top that, Toriko. ... no, seriously, please do. I'm hungry.

Ichigo’s possessiveness towards his “break room” is a great little moment of comedy.

Ikumi’s flushed stutter over being called “sis” is cute. She brings excellent levity to this series.

This Lucci-lookalike is after information on Ichigo’s dad. That’s pretty depressing, as it’s exactly the kind of storyline to being out the unpleasantly serious side of Ichigo, as well as just generally adding angst to the overall plot. The less drama this series presents, the better.

Ichigo “shouldn’t know a thing about [his] family,” no less. I can’t help but let out a long, exasperated sigh. Here comes the tedium.

I come from CP9 bearing gifts of 'boring'

As if this situation wasn’t serious enough, Karin is at Urahara’s shop, with a completely dour look on her face. I was ready for her to be a part of the main plot, but I was hoping for something a bit more cheerful.

(428) The color pages are rather unimpressive. There’s a rough, sloppy quality to them that just isn’t pleasing to the eye.

Between Izumi supporting her own chest with crossed arms in the last chapter, and gracelessly leaning over the table in this one, it’s becoming exceedingly clear that her primary function is “doujin fodder.” The point has been made, Kubo; please back off a little.

Yes, we noticed. Go pander to Rule 34 somewhere else.

Mr. would-be Lucci urges Ichigo to go to Urahara’s shop, and ominously hints that Ichigo will see something amusing there. Deliberately vague characters like this are so frustrating. If this character knows everything that’s going on, what’s so impossibly difficult about merely letting Ichigo in on the secret? Instead, the protagonist has to be sent off on a wild goose chase. This instance is just one of an endless string of intentionally vague characters, so I don’t blame Kubo any more than other authors for pulling this stunt, but given how ineffective this trick is, I also don’t blame him any less.

Introducing new characters by merely saying their name is a surefire way to lose my interest. Riruka and Kutsuzawa could yet turn out to be decent, but there’s nothing exciting about their names, so why highlight their introduction so heavily?

Then again, they might not turn out to be too decent, if their opening dialogue is any indication. What a predictable exchange.

Is Kutsuzawa going to end up being the brother of the mustached man working at Urahara’s shop? Everyone knows mustaches are a genetic trait, after all.

Urahara’s cheerful tone is unbelievably irritating when there’s an obvious serious subtext being avoided. If he was just a cheerful character, I wouldn’t mind, but the whole “smiling face, serious personality” persona has not only been done before, but it’s been done considerably better.

Karin’s short response to the mention of her brother could belie some feelings of resentment, which could provide an opportunity for character growth. Unfortunately, it also provides an opportunity for considerable drama.

"Every day, he protected me from horizontal lines."

On the other hand, Karin shows some admirable determination, in deciding that it’s “her turn” to take care of Ichigo. I cannot overstate how much I hope she develops enough to be able to do so, rather than serve as yet another damsel in distress.

After another insipid “how much do you really know?!” remark, fake-Lucci finally introduces himself as Kuugo Ginjou, and the chapter abruptly ends, despite a notable lack of content.

(Hell Arc special chapter) What’s with the first page of this chapter? Is Kubo offering me options for background of the week?

Oh boy, Espada. We certainly didn’t get enough of them for years.

Szayel’s interrogation of this new character is a little bizarre.

What, is this Hell not Hispanic enough for you?

I can’t appropriately describe how hilarious I find Shuren’s underlings. I’ve sat here for minutes trying to write punchlines severe enough for how poor those character designs are, but no one-liner can possibly do them justice. How utterly laughable.

After a complete non-fight, Shuren teases the plot of the movie by alluding to Ichigo being required to open the gate of Hell. As if I needed a reason to avoid a Bleach movie, this has cemented that I’ll keep my distance.

Final Flash: A rather lackluster series of chapters. The canon story is heading in a fairly dull direction, but it’s still passable; it’s certainly average at worst. The bonus chapter, while substandard, can’t be judged too harshly, as it is entirely a movie tie-in.

Bleach 426

November 15, 2010 3 comments
[scanlation by Binktopia]

I’m really enjoying the humor in Ichigo’s abrupt, jerky movements lately. A couple chapters ago, he intercepted Keigo with a deadpan headlock; here, he flies in from off-screen and shoves one of the delinquents’ heads to the ground. This is effective communication through artwork, which is something I never would have been able to say about Kubo before the timeskip.

Pop quiz: Name that wrestling move

The obnoxious intruder is nonchalantly eliminated by both Ichigo and Ishida, and his now-removed teeth serve as the backdrop for the chapter number. That was clever.

Good dichotomy established by Kubo, as the competitive relationship between Ichigo and Ishida is played out through dialogue while the art shows them cooperating to rid themselves of the intruders. It’s nothing new, but considering Kubo’s questionable writing talent, there’s no shame in relying on established plot devices.

I actually had to look up who Yoko-chin is, and even after that I don’t really have strong memories of his involvement, but the punchline he delivers about Ichigo’s obvious flashback was worth bringing him back. Good comedy in the first half of the chapter.

This random lady is Ichigo’s boss? What excellent news! Ichigo working for someone other than Urahara further distances him (and the overall story) from boring Shinigami plot.

Oh dear, another small group of people that performs assorted tasks for those who require assistance? If there was such a thing as a reasonable limit on this kind of plot device, then Jump would have long since exceeded it, what with Gintama, Sket Dance, and Medaka Box.

Ikumi has a son. Not only does he provide a nice (if easy) little piece of comedy, but he immediately makes Ikumi’s introduction one of the most successful and interesting in the entire series.

Our Rob Lucci lookalike makes his grand entrance, but pleasingly, his menace is tempered by the fact that he has oddly brought a bowl of ramen to Ichigo’s workplace. This scene isn’t perfect (there’s still no excuse not to draw backgrounds, especially indoors, when it could just be a wall), but it’s much better than I would have expected of this character’s return.

Do you always carry ramen around with you?

Final Flash: We still have yet to truly establish a sense of direction since the timeskip, but I’m not complaining about that. This was good comedy and acceptable seriousness.

Bleach 425

November 4, 2010 4 comments
[scanlation by Binktopia]

It’s official: Ichigo dreams about Renji. I can hear the fanfiction community in a stir already.

Great start to the chapter. This kind of comedy feels right at home with Kubo’s style. I’ve often said that I’d love for Bleach to be canceled and for Kubo to turn around and write a school comedy, but if he can just make this series take itself less seriously, the remaining few years will be satisfactory.

Any good day begins with attempted patricide

Ichigo became a mercenary? This is pretty funny stuff. Settling on the soccer club gives the story a great opportunity for more comedy. The further away we’re taken from huge swords and ridiculous plot twists, the better.

It’s even a pleasure to see Inoue, who, between being revered as an idol and exiting the school from the second story, has shown more charisma and likability than in all 424 previous chapters combined.

Her facial expression is the real punchline

Ichigo’s phone call, seemingly to Kisuke, could serve as the bridge back to Soul Society-related plot. I sincerely hope it doesn’t, and that whoever Ichigo (and Inoue and Tatsuki?) works for leads to new, more interesting responsibilities in the real world.

These punks blocking the gate provide exactly the kind of low-level conflict worth our time, and the way Ishida intervenes is a perfectly suitable combination of aggression and comedy. I don’t know what long-time Bleach fans make of this, but as someone disgusted with where the manga went over the last two or three years, I find this new direction (however temporary it might be) welcome and enjoyable.

Twist of the week

Final Flash: Easily the best Bleach chapter in years. My experience with post-Future Arc Reborn is keeping my excitement limited, as Kubo could drop a Hollow in the middle of all this at any time, but so far the timeskip has worked wonders.

Bleach 424

October 28, 2010 5 comments
[scanlation by Binktopia]

That Jump cover… wow. Don’t look excited to be back or anything, Ichigo.

Ichigo… Ichigo! Good morning, Ichigo! Come on, sleepy head! Get up! (Does anyone not think of this when an opening scene shows a character waking up?)

The color scheme of the cover spread and the liveliness of Ichigo’s house are evocative of the old Bleach, from way back at the beginning of the series. Let’s hope Kubo felt nostalgic about quality, too.

There’s been a timeskip, apparently. Hmm… a timeskip… haven’t some other series done that?

At least Ichigo's hair isn't retractable, and I don't see Sakura anywhere

Joking aside, this timeskip has the potential to be the most story-relevant and meaningful of the Big 3. Unlike the other two, Bleach has the chance to completely change its tone and direction. The story is as close to a blank slate as any series could be after 400 chapters. Will Kubo actually opt to go down a different path? Probably not, but the option is there, should he want to be adventurous and make these next few years worth something. Frankly, even if he sent the story in a new direction and produced a story as lifeless as what we’ve suffered through for the last few years, Kubo would deserve immense respect just for breaking convention and not relying on established success.

Of course, I don’t see any of that happening, but I want to remember this moment as the fork in the road before Kubo steered us right back into the ditch.

Ichigo told Chad and Inoue (among others) what happened while he was sleeping? That’s so many levels of bizarre. What were you doing sleeping around a whole bunch of people? Why can you sleeptalk so accurately? (EDIT: The Binktopia translation has since been corrected, to Chad and Inoue themselves telling the others while Ichigo was sleeping.)

I hope the mention of Karin’s improvement and increased responsibility is more than just a casual aside. The main cast needs to be shaken up, and not only Karin would be a bright addition, but such a move would fulfill some plot potential from early in the series.

Ishida running in the hallways, presumably to take care of a Hollow, presents another interesting storyline possibility: Ichigo, now powerless, faces an identity crisis as he tries to leave his previous fame and importance behind him. As his former colleagues and allies continue to fight, Ichigo fights against the depression naturally associated with his irrelevance. Once again, do I see this happening? Certainly not, but I can dream.

Background of the week

Ichigo shooting down any semblance of loneliness or dependence on his now-former life is disappointing. I’m not asking for Bleach to suddenly turn into an emotional, introspective work, but a little character emotion outside of “callous shonen hero” would do a world of good.

At least Kubo hasn’t failed to remember that Ichigo is still a very fit young man. Chasing down a thief is a bit of a cliché, but compared to the gigantic attacks from the last few years of Bleach, I’ll gladly take any semblance of subtle, subdued action.

There I was, about to compliment Kubo on his art, for angling the “camera” below the bag so that the zipper also somewhat looks like a scary set of jaws… when the full-page shot of this mystery character reveals that Rob Lucci is now making cameo roles.

CP9 of th-- ahem, Twist of the week

Final Flash: A completely acceptable chapter, but nothing actually happened, so that isn’t saying much. The “new,” post-timeskip Bleach will be judged more fairly when the real action resumes.

Bleach 423

[scanlation by Binktopia]

It’s too early to see Aizen again. No one misses him, nor does anyone miss the plot that accompanied him.

Aizen’s sentence being raised from 18.800 years to a tidy and convenient 20,000 years is amusing. It’s also reminiscent of Hayate no Gotoku!, when it’s decided that Hayate’s debt of 156,804,000 yen is too difficult to say, so it’s rounded… up.

Hayate could escape this, though

Yamamoto is alive. Huh. Ukitake’s comment that Yamamoto is currently irreplaceable speaks strongly to why he’s been kept alive; it was the easy way out for Kubo to keep Yamamoto alive, rather than deal with the serious scenario of a power vacuum in Soul Society. Unfortunately, in this case, the easy way out is also the less interesting option.

Replace that text bubble with "FORESHADOWING"

One chapter of Kurotsuchi and he’s already gone off to do more research. I suppose that fits his character, though.

Seeing Hitsugaya train reminds me that I probably would rather see more Aizen than more of this whiny little nobody. It’s not the fact that he’s the de facto Bleach female fanservice character; it’s that all his popularity-driven focus has produced absolutely no results. He’s still the same useless character who can’t protect one (incredibly irritating) little girl.

Matsumoto has every reason to feel sad. Her love was killed off for absolutely no good reason.

Ichigo is taking his loss of Shinigami powers in surprisingly good stride, which itself is a little upsetting.

Background of the week

The scene between Ichigo and Rukia, who is already fading away from Ichigo’s awareness, is rather well done. How Ichigo recovers from this will be crucial; if he continues to take it in stride like nothing has happened, it will feel like all the time spent on the Soul Society characters (Rukia in particular) was wasted, but similarly, Kubo can’t have Ichigo go too far in the other direction and be overly dramatic. This kind of storyline requires the kind of delicate balancing of a character’s emotions that I don’t have the confidence in Kubo to be able to pull off properly.

Twist of the week

Final Flash: Why can’t Bleach just end right here? This would be fine.

Bleach 422

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment
[scanlation by Binktopia]

Kurotsuchi Mayuri? Characters laughing? Apparently Aizen died last chapter. That could have been made a little more clear.

The Visored are here, too, as well as Unohana. This is like a casting call for anyone more tolerable than the characters we’ve had to endure for the last year.

Background of the week

Leave it to Kubo to make even his most interesting characters boring. Why don’t we get to see everything that happened with Zaraki and Byakuya? Certainly, that would have been far and away more exciting than watching Aizen turn into a butterfly and yell at people.

Probably the Spirit King

Judging by the non-Deicide title, I guess Aizen really is dead. What a completely anticlimactic end to the arc. That’s rather pathetic, really.

Ichigo being excited at the prospect of explaining everything to his friends is fine. Good, even. It’s long been obvious that he was up to something; he might as well ditch the secret identity facade. On the other hand, Ichigo showing sadness when thinking of Aizen is absolutely infuriating. This trend of obviously evil characters later being redeemed must stop. Let evil characters stay evil! Kubo lessens the impact of Aizen’s defeat by writing him as someone misunderstood, and any status that Ichigo gained by having a hand in Aizen’s demise is now lost. Besides, what message is Kubo sending readers by doing this? “You wasted the last few years following this guy as your villain, because he wasn’t that bad after all.”

Ichigo’s pondering of what Aizen could have wanted is even more preposterous. Has everyone, author included, forgotten that the Hougyoku is a plot-rewriting, series-breaking artifact? If all Aizen wanted was to be “just a Shinigami,” he could have done that. Absolutely idiotic.

More comparatively acceptable people. I’m having a hard time recognizing this as the same 3-character series I’ve been reading all year.

It's okay, I barely remember them, too

Ichigo had a seizure and died! Hooray! Now we can focus on… oh, wait, he’s just having some kind of stupid breakdown. Probably something Hollow-related. Cancel the celebrations.

Twist of the week

Final Flash: Frustrating as it was, I’ll take subtly terrible instead of overtly terrible any day.