Bleach-binge Part 6: The Bleach Hexalogy Overture
I was a bit harsh on Uryu in volume 5. Re-reading this volume, and the series justifies why he went to the lengths he did and calls him out for being a dumbass in an organic way. It’s easy to see why Uryu, so desperate to prove the strength of Quincies, would make an over-zealous error in judgement in his attempt to show up Ichigo. He didn’t mean for people to get hurt, and situation spiraled out of his control and far beyond what he could’ve imagined. It doesn’t change the fact he intentionally used Ichigo’s friends as pawns in his plan, putting their lives at risk, but after Ichigo calls him out on that we see that he realizes the error of his ways.
Uryu is humanized well through the compelling relationship he had with his grandfather, and his hatred and complex for Soul Reapers stemming out of their refusal to help his grandfather fight Hollows leading to his death is sympathetic and well-justified. That he is not forgiven for what he’s done and called out on it feels appropriate, and sets up Uryu for a redemptive himself that feels earned by the time it’s delivered.Ichigo’s rebuttal that instead of trying to show up Soul Reapers the best way to honor his grandfather would be to fight alongside them is a logical direction to take the character and is a shonen moment that feels meaningful in the context of the story rather than another iteration of the stereotypical “friendship” cliche. Uryu making amends for his wrong-doings by risking his life to save Ichigo’s is also a very powerful redemptive moment that completes the character’s arc as presented in this story arc, while still opening up opportunity for future character development in the future as an ally of Ichigo’s. The volume ends with Uryu coming to Rukia’s aid when Renji assaults her, which when contrasted with his feelings towards Soul Reapers at the beginning of the volume, feels like a satisfying progression and maturation of his character within the volume itself. Honestly, Kubo should have saved him for this volume’s cover, because this is very much THE “Uryu” volume. The development of Uryu in this volume provides an emotional grounding to the volume that makes the content feel weighty and worthwhile, and that sense of completeness in regards to his character arc makes this volume stand out.
Unfortunately, this volume takes a step back in a few unfortunate ways. While Ichigo and Uryu joining forces makes sense in regards to the latter’s character arc, it ignores the ramifications of how Quincies destroying souls messes with the balance of the universe AND that not all Hollows are necessarily evil and the job of a Soul Reaper is to cleanse them of sin so their souls can be saved. By this point, Hollows have been completely reduced to being generic monster fodder instead of the tragic souls they were initially established as.
Menos Grande is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of how far the idea has been led astray. Menos Grande are somehow an amalgamation of “hundreds and hundreds” of Hollows. There are so many problems with this. First off, claiming a character is more powerful because it’s “hundreds” times more powerful than another is a cheap and pointlessly over-the-top way of characterizing a new threat, upping the power-creep to unstably high levels much too early on. Second, the notion that Menos are so strong that one Soul Reaper can’t take them on and the Royal Task Force has to intervene is laughable in retrospect considering how much of a joke they are made to be later on. The Menos Grande has an artificial power level that is not justified by the circumstances in which it is introduced and not corroborated by the events of the next arc, which creeps the power levels of the Captain-class Soul Reapers so high that a Menos poses as much threat to them as an ant. Kubo’s insistence of justifying the strength of his characters through comparing their level of threat in terms of multiplicity is a problem that will infamously persist in the series past this point, but first really rears it’s ugly head with the introduction of Menos.
The bigger problem with Menos is the ramifications it has on the series’ mythology. A Menos Grande existing by design mean there have been “hundreds and hundreds” of souls Soul Society hasn’t cleansed or accounted for. That there are multiple Menos Grande and hence hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of souls yet uncleaned and returned to Soul Society makes the prospect that Soul Society eliminated the Quincies because they were causing unbalance in the universe makes them look utterly hypocritical and incompetent, undermining the tragedy and moral ambiguity the series tries to present with the affair. Furthermore, the idea that “hundreds and hundreds” of souls have somehow been fused makes Hollows seem more like shapeless and bestial creatures. They feel less like people who have become monsters, to being just flat-out monsters. Emphasizing this is how the Menos seems incapable of speech unlike other Hollows we’ve seen before, only uttering out guttural growls. At this point, it feels the series has completely forgotten the origins and tragedy behind Hollows in favor of reducing them to being run-of-the-mill monsters for the heroes to slice apart and blow-up, and in the process of doing that, turns Bleach‘s initial unique premise into a more standard monster-of-the-week affair.
Or it would have, if the series continued to focus on Hollows, but this volume also begins the transition from fighting monsters to fighting human-looking opponents by setting the stage for the Soul Society arc. It’s not an inappropriate time for the series to have begun such an arc. At this point the series had lasted a full year of serialization, so it was appropriate to expand the scope of the world and introduce a more dangerous and personal conflict at the start of the second. It’s set up well enough too. Rukia has taken a backseat to Ichigo and his friends in terms of focus for the most part, but each new arc informed something new about her personality and her status in Soul Society. The series also made note of her frustration at her unable to regain her Soul Reaper powers, especially in this volume with her inability to defeat a Hollow on her own and her feelings of inadequacy after witnessing Ichigo drive back Menos. The idea that she’s been influenced by Ichigo’s friends and forming close friendships with them is harder to swallow because she was never shown spending time with anyone besides Ichigo before this volume. The romantic implications also ring false considering Ichigo and Rukia never had an intimate moment to make such emotions believable, though to be fair Rukia herself quickly denies the allegations and the series never teases a romance between the two for the rest of the series (though the IchiRuki shippers still cling to this scene, no doubt). Point is, enough pieces about Rukia’s characterization and uneasy contentment with life in the world of the living came together enough by this volume to finally bring her to the focus and maker her internal struggles the centerpiece of an arc.
While the shift to focus on Rukia feels organic, the characterization of two Soul Reapers who come to claim her are shockingly incongruous with how they’re presented later on. Byakuya is mostly silent, so you don’t get much of a sense of him in this volume, but Renji…ho boy. Renji is like a completely different character from who he’s characterized as later on. He’s mean-spirited, lusts for blood, and is seemingly out to KILL Rukia and is gleeful at the prospect. Kubo clearly hadn’t thought out his character and relationship with Rukia yet, and that becomes a problem when Kubo later tries to make Renji sympathetic in a sob-backstory with Rukia later on. Renji becomes a likable character, but only after Kubo retcons this initial personality of his with a reasoning that, quite frankly, doesn’t really justify it.
Unfortunately, I won’t be going on to pick apart the Soul Society arc at this time. Yes, I’m afraid I have to admit defeat and call it quits on the Bleach-binge for now. I underestimated how busy I am with preparations for school this week, and just haven’t been able to find enough time these past two days to sit down and read and write quickly and consistently. Besides, my approach was a little too ambitious and I spent way too much time writing these reviews instead of reading through the books. If I ever do one of these again, I’m going to adopt Nick’s approach and limit myself to writing only what immediately comes to mind in a limited time-frame. I’m a man of my word, however. Since I didn’t complete this, I will subject myself to the Bleach filler arcs and movies and write about them, though I can’t promise when exactly I’ll get around to that. Still, I enjoyed re-reading and writing about these early volumes, and I hoped you enjoyed reading my thoughts on them. I would really like to return to writing up an entire manga in this format sometime when I’m far less busy.
But even though we’re putting it on hold for now, rest assured, Bleach-binge will return in some form one day. I might not have been the biggest fan of the series, but it was a part of my life for a long time, and I still have plenty I want to say about it. And for the fans of Bleach reading this, whenever you’re feeling down the series over, just remember that “spirits are ALWAYS with you!” and have yourself a good “Bohahahaha!”