A rich source of somewhat futuristic, quasi religious outfits for cosplay, Bleach by Tite Kubo is a popular Japanese manga. While it doesn’t veer as widely between the intense and the juvenilely silly as does Naruto, it does share a fascination with overly endowed female fighters. The central characters start as teens who refine their raw capabilities into serious fighting (and healing) skills. On the downside, the stories become repetitive: a new villain with several costumed sidekicks come on the scene, the heroes acquire new skills and/or supporters, and then the villain and sidekicks are vanquished. Why introduce new characters and their special battle moves only to kill them off a few pages later?
Volume 37: Two parallel threads continue: the present day efforts to protect Karakura on Earth and to rescue Orihime from Aizen’s realm, and the unfolding betrayal by Aizen 110 years ago. I much more enjoy the latter (not later!) thread; in retelling the Soul Society’s history there’s no need to top the previous issue’s battles. The highlight of the present day battles between King Barragan’s Fracciones and the Assistant Captains was Charlotte Chuhlhourne, a muscular queen (of the male kind) with flowing black locks. Kind of a waste of an over-the-top cross dresser just to learn the real name of the Fuji Kujaku.
Volume 38: All fighting in the present day. The battle moves from the assistant captains to the captains. Pretty skewed view of military tactics when most of the battles are one-on-one between fairly evenly matched combatants. The ever-escalating arms race is pertinent. Ironic touch having a Japanese-styled character killing a whale character: was it for research purposes only? And what’s with going to battle with the girls hanging out? I question the mechanics of using a two-handed sword grip around the girls. Wonder Woman at least had a breastplate to support hers; I suppose when you’re a warrior you don’t worry about living into a ripe old age and the delights of saggy boobs.
Volume 41: [See notes] Uliquiorra’s final understanding of ‘heart’ at the end of Chapter 353 segues into Chapter 354 titled “Heart” starting with (literally) big-hearted Yammy Llargo (Espada 10 / 0). I’ll bet that “Llargo” was meant to be a play on ‘large’… but in phonetic Spanish that name would be ‘yar-go’. Each of the ten Espadas (0 – 9) governs a different cause of death. For example, Uliquorra controls nothingness, big tits woman controls sacrifice (she sacrificed her clothing), Yammy controls rage, and the Barrangan (sp?), the old guy, controls senescence (aging).
Volume 45: On first glance, Orihime in the cover piece of Chapter 387 looks to be puffing a big cloud of smoke stoner-style. On closer examination she’s inhaling cotton candy (no-hands). And the battle with Aizen continues. Given Bleach’s track record I have to think that this isn’t really the end for Aizen (or for the Soul Society), but personally I’m tired of the beautiful dude with one long lock of hair artfully dangling down over one eye. As for Wonder-weiss, I find the character unpleasant and not in a good way. He (she?) is locked in a shell a la the severely autistic but with a special power (a la the idiot savant); the kid is a plot device but with no particular attention paid to him.
Volume 46: A little one-on-one combat, pause for a little chit-chat with attempts at deifying omniscience on the part of Aizen, and resume fighting in order to show off a new capability – or in the case of Aizen a new look for the cosplayers along with the new powers.
Volume 47: Most of this volume is killing time while Ichigio acquires yet another level of power in a timeline of his own. On page 47 at the beginning of Chapter 407 the reshaped Aizen looks pretty fey – long flowing hair; unnaturally long, thin legs with feet that look cloven; and a ruff-like high collar. The sketch between Chapters 409 and 410 depicts Aizen as a liquor (sake?) bottle and Gin as a snake; not sure whom the daisy in the foreground represents (Orihime, the most logical candidate, wasn’t in either chapter). Between Chapters 411 and 412 the bottle and snake are facing off against a cat – Matsumoto without cleavage (thank goodness). At the end of the volume (in shades of a One Piece story arc with Luffy in an afro wig in a boxing match) we have “Fro Man”, a Deputy Soul Reaper, whose sword’s zanpakuto is “Earth Catfish”. His sole purpose appears to be comic relief – he runs away when he senses Aizen’s power. Ouch. At least he wasn’t shown eating watermelon or tap dancing.
Volume 49: Hmm, the saying: “If you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all” should be understood to include “If you don’t have something to write in your introduction, then don’t bother”. Weirdness in the schoolyard, and Oriihime – and the bully gang with the bad accessories – doing the stupid comic relief. Then there’s Dude / Ikumi Unagiya (eel shop) trying to be supermom. At least we find out that Ichigio likes chocolate – presumably real chocolate (i.e. >65%) and not wimpy milk chocolate or white not-chocolate. I did find funny the scene with Urahara providing Karin (Ichigio’s younger sister) with snake oil products to stave off spirits at inconvenient moments. The title of Chapter 432 is “The Soul Pantheism”. Ginjo demonstrates his powers in a scene that’s not intentionally funny but is for anyone familiar with how Mork from Ork drank orange juice.
Volume 50: Ichigio gets to learn a new way to wield power and Bleach cosplayers get more details on the new characters’ outfits – most notably maid-Lolita, all-things-cute (except her wise-ass demeanor) Riruka. I wonder if the Riruka cosplayers carry dollhouses. Riruka prefers royal milk tea in the style of Henri Charpentier, a fancy ‘Salon de The’ in the Ginza district of Tokyo – though on the cuteness scale I think that the finger sandwiches with a British tea are cuter than the Crepes Suzette specialty of Henri Charpentier – I’d use ‘flashy’ and ‘dramatic’ to describe the latter’s table-side crepe preparation. Henri Charpentier probably has royal milk tea on its menu – but it’s a Japanese (in a British style) not French. Chad needs to ditch the soul patch, and is it just me or does he look less ethnic than he did when he was first introduced? (He still has the intellectually challenged look of Sylvester Stallone – who’s Italian American rather than ‘mestizo’… which I’m guessing was the translator’s stab at using the English equivalent for a Japanese word that cannot readily be translated.) Will Rurika come to the office riding “My Little Pony” someday soon? In the top right frame on page 135 Rurika has incongruously old looking hands – but that’s made up for in the scene in which we see her jewel-encrusted fingernail tips.
Volume 51: What’s with obscuring the right eye? Jackie has a flap from under her cap – a kind of curtain, Yukio has a big chunk of bangs (which magically shift sides in some frames), and Kutsuzawa has a diagonal headband in place of an eye patch. Chad makes a statement by parting his bangs just enough for uncovering his right eye. Ginjo goes way out with his greaser look… and then there’s the Mohawk / space helmet look worn by Tsukishima’s intended-to-be-comic-relief sidekick Sushigawara / Shishigawara. (Sneezing dinner across the table with sufficient liquid to drench one’s dining companion? Not funny or remotely plausible. Projectile vomiting would be possible but the first blast would include a reasonable amount of solids – and would still not be funny in the moment. Tite Kubo uses the Sushigawara character to indulge in cheap toilet “jokes”.) Yukio’s power is a variation of Tron – a movie worth seeing for a more complete rendition of stuck in the machine. “The Love Gun”?? What’s up with that? I wonder if it’ll see more than a few frames in future volumes… otherwise why bother? It’s not even sufficiently rendered to make good cosplay fodder – or was Kubo giving fans an opportunity to extrapolate? Jackie’s Dirty Boots? Oh puleeze. Then there’s Riruka’s maid’s cap with a back that looks like a pair of saggy boobs or hairless testicles; either way, ewww. Riruka and Orihime both have unobstructed vision – but you can’t hide doe eyes.
Volume 52: Orihime comments on Riruka’s donut diet… before opening wide to partake of a fully loaded hot dog for breakfast. Given that a hot dog is a very odd choice in a Japanese comic, one has to wonder if Tite Kubo and company chose it for its phallic properties. A bit later Ms. Ikumi comforts Ichigio by (s)mothering him by pressing his cheek into the side of her suddenly unnaturally globular breasts – individual boob definition just doesn’t happen when wearing a snug t-shirt and a support bra. The acquisition of Fullbring is too easy; the story turns it into a gimmick with little in the way of philosophical underpinnings.
Volume 55: Strikes me as very odd to have neo-Nazi Quincies led by a Visigoth fighting the Japanesey Soul Reapers… and as even odder in the next volume in which the Quincy hit squad (have to have those one-on-one battles between the Quincies and the Soul Reaper Captains (and assorted underlings)) is expanded to include Japanesey cute characters (to provide the requisite comic relief in the midst of heated battle scenes). (For example, the big eyed, long haired, button nosed “Bambietta Basterbine” – a diminutive, illegitimate deer with gender identity issues? (Bambi was male, ‘etta’ is female, and bastard is more often male.)) The volume opens with a couple of generic juvenile (in age as well as actions) Soul Reapers whom I had a hard time distinguishing from the similar background characters – at first I thought that one of the pair was Ichigio’s younger sister or school friend… maybe they should wear name tags (instead of the tart tin cap worn by one – what a way to accessorize). Oooo – the Vandenreich… scary… not. I felt that the killer from within, Aizen, was a lot scarier. The Soul Reapers definitely save more on laundry by wearing black. And what’s with the icy monastery-like fortress hangout? Definitely not a comfortable way to hide while preparing for genocidal revenge. A character named “Ludaas”? Is that like ‘lead ass’? I appreciated the bit with the recording of one character’s humming used by another as a ringtone. Little Nel popping up on Ichigio’s shoulder and telling him “I will… watch your back” might be okay if it weren’t for Nel’s suddenly starry eyes… ewh.
Volume 56: Oh enough with the German references already… German and Japanese are so dissimilar that the German terms are unmistakeably ‘other’; since English has strong German roots, when the German is left as-is in the English translation it’s hard to tell what’s German and what’s English with a twist. For example, the Dieter-like (old Saturday Night Live skit) douf fighting Ichigio announces (but of course) that he’s going to enter “a Quincy’s final state, Letz Stile” – ooo, is that like the Bratz Dolls? Disappointingly no. ‘letz stile’ is German for ‘last style’. Though this gets back to a general complaint regarding the shonen manga proclivity for telling one’s opponent the names of your fighting moves and super powers in anticipation of using them. And his Letz Stile? Let just say that it wasn’t even last year’s style; TLo’s bitter kittens would not look kindly on his 2-D platform shoes, knickers ballooning out above his knees, and his matchy-matchy accessories. But then later in the volume we have the self-named “Bazz-B”, a tall, super skinny black dude with alternating black and white teeth (instead of grills), a fro caught into five braids at right angles to his head creating an asterisk effect, shades obscuring his eyes (and perhaps his eyesight – shades of the black and blind Soul Reaper traitor?), and jodhpurs. Per an oblique subtitle, his official name may be “Nanana Najahkoop”… as if that has any meaning in English. Maybe that’s to balance out the “Bazz-B” which has jazzy overtones in English but has nothing to do with a character who self-professes to know nothing about music or any other form of art.
Volume 57: More fighting between the Germanic uber-Quincies and the Soul Society members – only now with even more overt Judeo-Christian overtones. For example in addition to the Quincy Cross there’s the Church Song and the Sanctuary Praise tears apart a Quincy’s enemies with “God’s Light”. While American entertainment (e.g. Star Wars) has likewise often had a Christlike main hero (who has likewise been Caucasian rather than Arabian), it has kept the religious iconography to a minimum. Instead of gratuitously introducing characters who get killed a few pages later, this volume goes further and introduces characters (members of the Stern Ritter) who’ve already been killed.
Volume 58: Have I mentioned before that Bleach has too many characters? Even if the names were Anglicized I’d still have problems working out the references to bit part characters from early volumes. Further slowing reading are names such as ‘Isane’ which easily gets misread as ‘Insane’ – especially since all of the lettering is in uppercase. The battle between the Soul Society and the uber-Quincies comes to a temporary halt less than a third into this volume; the rest of the volume is given over to recuperation and building of new powers. Speaking of new characters, the five who make up Squad Zero are (supposedly) comically over-the-top. While they do provide more range for cosplayers, they are unfortunate stereotypes – including the jolly fat lady and the jive-shucking afro dude. Bleach doesn’t go as far as One Piece in mixing juvenile jokes with serious moments… but in catering to a preteen male demographic from a Japanese esthetic they both have their eye roll moments – and this volume is no exception.
Volume 59: Somehow Gatonden’s (‘Bowing Pig Palace’ – not anything remote feline-related) really obese hostess / chef who then becomes Barbie-doll proportioned after pouring huge amounts of spiritual energy into her cooking is creepy rather than comic relief… especially since the reality is that the slenderizing effect of her cooking would apply first to her breasts and cheeks rather than leaving them billowing and bouncy. While the second member of Zero Society isn’t creepy, I did find him hard to understand – a bastardized Japanese version of a hip hop DJ with a permed mullet mohawk and wearing a long, puffy vest? ‘Love it’ graffiti and Vegas showgirls and neon? I liked the storyline featuring Kenpachi Zaraki; the one around Ichigo’s father less so – it would have been better off without lines such as “…your boobs are glistening. I like it!”
Volume 60: This volume has much less jarring, cheesy comic relief and overly endowed women – but in exchange we have creepy Quincies with neo-Nazi (proto-Nazi?) overtones and an amusing nod to Max Mara in a little end-of-chapter sketch of a Quincy mother.
Volume 64: This volume was a long battle scene with one-shot villains not worth getting to know.
Volume 68: From a previous story arc, the villain Aizen is put back into play; consequently this volume is much better read after the those in the earlier arc (Vol 22 – 48).