Story/Art: Tite Kubo
Translation/Adaptation: Joe Yamazaki
What They Say:
In order to protect his friends, Ichigo puts everything he has into his sword and begins the final battle against Yhwach. Can Ichigo finally put an end to the thousand-year war between Soul Reapers and Quincies?!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Well, it’s finally here. After 74 volumes and almost exactly 15 years, Bleach has finally reached it’s ending. I wish I could say it’s the ending the series deserved, but it’s not. Instead of a proper, satisfying conclusion, Bleach’s final volume feels rushed and pointless, with only a few bright spots to carry it.
First off, there’s the issue of Yhwach as the final villain. He’s had a decent presence in the arc and has done a solid job of selling himself as a real threat, but this volume is where things go too far. His power to see the future was more than enough to make him a significant challenge to fight, but revealing that he can also manipulate the future to do whatever he wants is a step too far. Half of his actions in the final battle seem to be something happening to stop his opponents while Yhwach stands there and says he planned for that to happen. There’s no momentum or energy to him since he doesn’t pull off any insane feats like Aizen, and his power comes off as more lazy than anything else. Going back to the Aizen comparison, Aizen often pushed the limits of plausibility with how he constantly planned for everything, but that at the very least felt earned. Aizen was an intimidating force because he didn’t even need to use his overpowered Zanpakuto to win his fights; Kyoka Suigetsu was just icing on the cake. In comparison, Yhwach’s power is poorly defined (changing the future doesn’t explain a lot about how he does it) and comes off as more of the author doing whatever he wants. Rather than intimidating, Yhwach ends up being forgettable compared to Aizen or even Byakuya during the Soul Society arc.
It doesn’t help that the plotting for most of this volume is haphazard and rushed. The basic formula is the same-Ichigo fights the big bad and loses initially before rallying with help from his friends and returning to save the day-but the execution here is downright sloppy. We only get a couple of chapters of Ichigo’s new powers before Yhwach destroys them (we don’t even get to see what the new Tensa Zangetsu does), which is really lame considering how much the series hyped up Ichigo’s new training and learning his true power. In the end, he doesn’t even win using that power. Isshin and Ryuken just randomly show up with some McGuffin that we’ve never heard of before that can disable Yhwach’s power. Beyond being a lazy way to end a fight and an out of nowhere twist, relegating Isshin and Ryuken to the role of delivering a plot device is a waste of both of their characters. Because of that, the final battle ends almost as soon as it begins, and far too soon for it to leave any real impact.
Even the return of Ginjo and Tsukishima, which Kubo foreshadowed way back at the beginning of the arc, is rushed so badly that it leaves almost no impact. They just show up to help Ichigo recover his power, then leave after exactly four pages. The Fullbringers weren’t exactly fan favorite characters, but their appearance here is so random and brief that it almost makes you wonder why Kubo even bothered to include them in the arc.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t addressed the fights that were still going on at the end of the previous volume, it’s because Bleach barely addresses them. The fight against Gerard just ends randomly when Yhwach recalls all the powers he had given to the Stern Ritter, and Uryu vs. Haschwalth doesn’t fare much better. The parts we get are solid, with some decent back and forth between the two and interesting powers, but it also ends unceremoniously and is undermined by the arc’s bloated structure. There are some good ideas in there about Uryu admiring Ichigo’s ability to act out of passion instead of cold calculation, but it doesn’t amount to much because of how little Uryu’s actually done in the arc. Until very recently, he’s been a virtual non-entity, just standing around and talking. Trying for some kind of payoff here feels like we’re being given the conclusion to a character arc that we didn’t know existed in the first place. It doesn’t help that Uryu’s ultimate role in the final battle is so negligible that it could’ve easily been given to any other character without anything changing in the slightest.
I’ve been pretty harsh so far, but this volume isn’t all bad. Ichigo’s initial fight with Yhwach is pretty solid, for one. We get to see a bit of how his powers have changed, and it’s fun seeing the ways he combines the abilities he gets from his unusual heritage, like combining a Cero and a Getsuga Tensho. Aizen also steals the show in his brief role in the final battle. His completely unflappable cool and seemingly endless plans are as entertaining as ever, and it’s just fun seeing him fight alongside Ichigo against a common villain. If it had gone on longer and ended better, this could’ve been the best fight of the arc. I especially enjoyed seeing Aizen pull a “since when have you been under the impression that this wasn’t my plan” on Yhwach during their fight, which is just fun no matter how you slice it. The epilogue is also about as satisfying as it could be given the story leading up to it. The way it introduces Ichigo’s son and Rukia’s daughter really does feel like the series has come in full circle since it started, especially with the title of the last chapter being “Death & the Strawberry.” Unfortunately, none of this is enough to make up for the rest of the volume’s failings.
After so long and so many high points, Bleach deserved better than this. It’s a shame to see what was once a titan of Shonen Jump end so poorly and so abruptly. There are a few high points here and there, but none of them are enough to justify the slog it took to get here or the rushed conclusion. Instead of arising out of what’s already been set up, most of the plot points in this volume just seem to exist for the sake of moving things along as fast as possible, and the action is too weak to smooth over that fact. So much of what Kubo spent time setting up for this feels wasted, as though he decided to drop all of that for the sake of rushing to the end. On the whole, the Thousand Year Blood War arc has failed to justify its own existence. The pacing is abysmal, the villains are a step down from before, and the remaining plot reveals just aren’t worth the time it takes to get to them. I don’t want to conclude this on a completely negative note, so I’ll end by saying that much of the series is still worth reading. Long as it is, I’d still recommend it for people looking for a good action series. Just read/watch up until Aizen’s defeat, then skip the rest.
Content Grade: D+
Art Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Text/Translation Grade: B+