Bleach Special Anniversary Chapter. Script and Art by Kubo "My character designs are better than anyone's" Tite.
It's hard for me to put into words, just how much Bleach means to me. Back in my teenage years, it was the first Shonen series I ever read as it released, and reading the new chapters on the day they came out was always a highlight of my week. It was through reading those chapters, and writing up my thoughts in a now dead Facebook group that I first cut my teeth as a comics reviewer. It was through those reviews that I first met people that today I consider to be some of my best friends (Shout out to the 00 Club!). So, it's safe to say that without this series, my life as it exists today would be very different.
Which is why it hurt all the more when the series ended, and the fans who had spent more than a decade reading were left... unsatisfied, to say the least. Furious would probably be a better word to use.
So, now, many years later on the 20th anniversary of the series' release, to be gifted a new chapter is really quite special. The fact that the chapter is also FREAKIN EXCELLENT is just the icing on the cake.
The fact that the chapter STRONGLY hints that the series may return for at least one more arc is a little too much to process right now...
So, shall we dive in?
The chapter begins simply enough. It's been 12 years since the end of the 1000 Year Blood War, and Soul Society has moved on. But, they haven't quite said goodbye to those grim events, just yet. You see, there's something of a tradition, in the Gotei 13: 12 years after the death of a Captain Class Shinigami, their fellow Captains will capture a single Hollow and sacrifice it before the grave of their departed comrade. Because Hollows suck, and Captains deserve some respect.
And so, with two of these ceremonies complete, and the spirits of Captain Commander Yamamoto and Captain Unohana Retsu appeased, only one ceremony remains. Only Captain Jushiro Ukitake, the sensible half of the greatest bromance in Manga history, remains to be pacified.
Knowing how integral he was to the survival of the Seireitei, the Gotei 13 decide that Substitute Shinigami Kurosaki Ichigo deserves an invite to this final ceremony, and also to the Hollow Hunt that proceeds it.
What could go wrong, right?
Yyyuuupppp. The Hunters quickly become the hunted, as the Vice Captains are attacked by a group of Hollows, whose Reishi the Shinigami are unable to detect. Of course, they're easily subdued, they're only Hollows after all...
Just when things start to look TOO easy, who should return, but our old friend and winner of the "most f***ed up death in Bleach" award: Szayelaporro Granz!
And he's got a message for the Shinigami, one that NO ONE is ready to hear!
Hot DAMN, it's good to have new Bleach content. Honestly, I wouldn't have minded if this chapter had just been a quick "Where are they now?" showing some of the characters we came to know and love over the years, and where they ended up after the traumatic events of Bleach's final arc.
But this? I was not ready for this. Now, it's true, we did get to catch up with a few old friends. We also met a few new ones, which was great. But to get a tease like this, for a potential new arc, after all this time? That was more than I ever could have hoped. And the fact that it was such a BRUTAL tease, makes the whole thing even better. The idea that any Captain Class Shinigami that dies, cannot truly rest, because their Reishi is too powerful. The idea that instead they're all banished to hell forever? That is just... So freakin' wrong.
Then, we get name-drops for both Aizen and Yhwach, the series' two primary antagonists, and cap it all off with a brief 'appearance' by Ukitake? I mean, it was almost too much. I had to sit in silence for at least five minutes after I finished the chapter, so that I could put my thoughts together.
I don't know if this is really a tease for the Manga's return, or just meant to show us that even though we're no longer seeing it, all our old friends from the series continue to get into crazy adventures... but I REALLY hope we get more from this storyline, because this one chapter managed to get me more excited than any manga chapter has in a VERY long time. Fingers crossed, I guess?
Overall, this was a fantastic return to one of my favourite fictional universes. I've said it many times, but Kubo's character design skills are, in my opinion, unrivaled. While this chapter was mostly intended to let us catch up with old friends and tease this new plot, Kubo also took the time to introduce some new characters, like Rindo, the Mute Vice Captain. Who, obviously incapable of uttering his Zanpakuto's release phrase like the other VC's, instead writes his on the side of the blade as he draws it; a really fun and interesting twist on the mechanics we've seen so often. And then there's Yuyu Yayahara, who already annoys the crap out of me, but who also has one of the coolest Zanpakuto we've seen from a Vice Captain:
Honestly, just seeing more from these two new additions is enough to make me want more from this series... and that's before the dire hints that maybe our lost friends aren't resting quite as easy as we'd hoped.
So, while I'm done writing for now, I really hope this isn't the last I get to write about Bleach, for all of you people here. Because, honestly, the fans deserve more!
If you want to read this chapter, it's available now, on the Shonen Jump app!