After the long distraction of the Bount arc, Bleach is once again able to return to its main storyline and the battle against Sosuke Aizen.
Battered and bruised following their latest battle, Ichigo,
Chad, Orihime and Uryu return home to Karakura and to some semblance of normal
life. Ichigo has been officially recognised as a substitute Soul Reaper
and continues to battle hollows alongside his normal life, but things are no
longer the same. Uryu has lost his Quincy powers following his actions in
Soul Society and Ichigo struggles to come to terms with the ever growing dark
power inside him, but all is not lost for them. A mysterious group calling
themselves the Visoreds approaches Ichigo and offer to teach him to how to
control his inner Hollow...on the condition he abandons the Soul Reapers and
joins them. The Visoreds have the same Hollow masks and powers the dark
Ichigo has, so they're not all talk, but can Ichigo abandon his Soul Reaper
friends to quell his dark side? Meanwhile an unexpected raid by Aizen's
servants Ulquiorra and Yammy leaves Orihime injured and numerous humans dead,
with Ichigo unable to defeat them on his own Soul Society decide to send a team
of Soul Reapers under the command of Captain Toshiro Hitsugaya to aid his
defence of Karakura town. It's just in time too, as Aizen is close to
perfecting the development of his Arrancars - extremely powerful hollows with
Soul Reaper powers - and some of their number decide to carry on where Ulquiorra
and Yammy left off with a further raid on Karakura! This time the force
has only battle on their mind, and with the sixth most powerful of the new
Arrancar - Grimmjow Jaegerjacques - amongst their number does even Hitsugaya's
group stand a chance?
Whilst the Bount arc wasn't too bad as filler storylines go, it's good to get back to the nitty-gritty of the battle against Aizen. This volume is quite important in terms of the overall plot of Bleach with several game-changing revelations and the first appearance of Aizen's main foot soldiers, the Arrancar. The design work on the Arrancar is pretty good, managing to combine the monstrous appearance of the Hollows with the humanoid enemies Ichigo has been facing over the last couple of series. This creates a new set of villains with plenty of character and allows for some impressive moves and transformations. The Visoreds are also intriguing, as very little has been revealed about who they are, what their intentions are
or how they obtained their powers. Of the new characters the short-tempered Visored Hiyori steals the show, providing an antagonistic counterpoint to the existing cast and providing plenty of comedy in her interactions with Shinji.
Story-wise the volume is more interesting than
action-packed. We get to learn a bit about the Arrancar and see
Aizen in his palace in the Hollow world Hueco Mundo, and we find out
more about why Ichigo and Uryu have the powers they do and how they can
restore control of them. There's plenty of mystery about the
Visoreds and Aizen's true motives and things really start to move
towards the inevitable big battle between Soul Society and the Arrancar.
The action when it comes in this volume is pretty good, with Ichigo's
initial skirmish with the Visoreds and the appearance of the Arrancar
providing plenty to get your teeth into. The volume ends in the
middle of a big battle too as Grimmjow's Arrancar face off against
Hitsugaya's advance team, giving the opportunity for Ikkaku and Rukia to
show off some awesome new moves. It also shows how powerful the
Arrancar are, and in their released state their power is sufficient to
even overwhelm Soul Reaper captains. This adds a good sense of
danger to proceedings as well as a little uncertainty, as you are no
longer sure who will win in certain situations.
My main issue with this volume is one of the same ones that I had with the Bount arc, the mod-souls Lirin, Kurodo and Nova. These three characters are all similar to Kon and were introduced in the Bount arc for their ability to detect Bount spiritual pressure. With the Bounts gone they no longer have any purpose and are not in the manga at all, but instead of being written out they have remained in the anime storyline. This leads to them frequently being crowbarred in to the plot, and in this volume they attempt - and fail - to fight off Arrancar on two separate occasions. Their presence is really no longer necessary, and with the true storyline mostly sidelining even Kon for the most part, three more pointless
and largely powerless mod souls does nothing to improve the story. There's also a feeling of calm before the storm with this volume, with a lot of setup and some skirmishes that preclude a much bigger conflict. This means that there's a lot still to come and it's a bit disappointing that the volume ends in the middle of its first major battle.
Bleach Series 6 Part 1 delivers another good and thankfully filler-free set of episodes which actually move the story and characters on for the first time in a while. There's more setup and background than actual fighting this time round, and when the big fight does start it's cut off in the middle. This may put action fans off somewhat but look beyond the battles and this is one of the more interesting parts of Bleach since the Soul Society arc. It's a shame that the Bount detector mod-souls are retained as they're completely extraneous, but overall this is a decent volume that starts the build up to the big battle with Aizen in assured fashion. Good stuff.
Textless opening sequences, trailers and production art galleries.