Bleach-binge Part 5: The Right Arm of the Giant Writes Faster Than the Left
It’s interesting to look back at the “humble” origins of the Quincies. They posed an interesting counter-view to the Soul Reapers, believing that Hollows should be destroyed for the sins they’ve committed rather than being absolved of sin and sent to Soul Society. They are a group driven by revenge for fallen comrades and loved ones, sympathetic, but in their hate-fueled quest they not only were destroying the souls of what once were human beings, but causing imbalance between the worlds of the dead and the living. When the Quincies become the main antagonist group in the series 50 volumes from now, that misguided but sympathetic context will be all but forgotten, replaced with a bunch of freaks that lust for revenge, power, and bloodshed. Here, the Quincies are presented as flawed but virtuous, their reasons and approaches understandable and human, which makes the idea of a contest to determine whether a Soul Reaper or Quincy could do a better job cleaning up Hollows a more interesting and weighty affair as a clash of philosophies.
Uryu himself, however, is too misguided and callous to be likable, much less sympathetic. He puts people at risk for the sake of pride by drawing Hollows to Karakura Town, knowing full well the risk that would pose to Ichigo’s friends in particular. He notes that he wants Ichigo “to be crippled by [his] own despair;” by putting his friends and family at risk, he intends to make Ichigo feel helpless to save them and feel inadequate. It’s a despicable prospect, downright villainous. The next volume attempts to recoup some sympathy for Uryu by having him claim he didn’t intend for things to escalate so badly, but the fact he put lives in danger for the sake of pride and a superiority complex undermines the context behind his actions and the Quincy heritage that’s supposed to make him sympathetic.
Also, why does he even have Hollow bait anyway? How does it work? Who made it? Why would they make it? Hollow bait is the first truly unexplained and asinine macguffins that the series has employed, making absolutely no sense when you actually think about it and the ramifications of such a tool. That there’s no justification for it and no explanation of it just adds insult to injury, and further diminishes Uryu’s credibility as a rival.
That said, Hollow bait is useful in triggering long built up and extremely satisfying character development from the supporting cast. This volume is all about Chad and Orihime and payoff on their character arcs, which have been developing ever since they were first introduced. Chad in particular gets very well fleshed out through the flashback with his Abuelo, which both explains his gentle personality as well as give him a compelling reason for him to want to protect people. Kubo expresses Chad’s inner thought and reflections in white text in black bars breaking up fragmented scenes of silent action, giving the impression Chad is thinking all this as the fight is unfolding. It builds up beautifully to a really good use of negative space when we see a completely black page with “Give me the power” in small text dead center, representing both the helplessness Chad is feeling is this moment as well as providing contrast to the next full page spread, showing a gigantic explosion decimating the Hollow next. The arrangement of the layouts and compositions in this volume are catered to getting the most emotional payoff out of these characters’ situations and delivering the full brunt of impact to the readers.
Similarly, Orihime’s developing supernatural awareness as well as her closeness to Tatsuki and Ichigo have been given consistent focus throughout the series, and here we finally see her being able to fight back herself. It’s such a great moment when, upon reflecting on all Tatsuki’s done for her as she assaults Orihime under mind-control, she extends her hand to her face and promises that she’s going to be the one to protect her now. The Shun Shun Rika are a crazy power that perfectly fits Orihime’s eccentric and dynamic personality, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see her defeat a Hollow by herself and protect someone she cares about. Orihime’s character development up until this point has been driven on her own terms which makes her powers feel earned and the moment deserved. It’s a real shame that this ends up being Orihime’s only real fight in the series, because if her character had continued to evolve, and her resolve to become strong and protect those she loved didn’t devolve into her just becoming the group’s defacto healer, she might’ve ended up as one of the best Jump heroines instead of frequently regarded as one of the very worst since the Arrancar arc.
While the set-up is frustrating, the excitement and catharsis delivered by Chad and Orihime’s fights and character development justify it and make the volume a darn fun read, boasting arguably some of the best moments in the series. Will the next volume boast a similar claim to fame when we square our focus back on Ichigo and Uryu? And will I really be able to read and write about 69 more volumes of this series in less than two days? Read on and find out!
Continue to Part 6 –>