Volume seventeen of Bleach ended with the beginning of Rukia’s execution, and that’s where the 18th one picks up from. Things seem pretty dire for Rukia at this point.
Volume eighteen contains nine chapters, starting with chapter one hundred and fifty and finishing with chapter one hundred and one hundred and fifty-eight.
The execution of Ichigo’s friend Rukia has begun, yet Ichigo himself is nowhere in sight. In a matter of seconds, the power of one million zanpaku-tô will slice through Rukia as punishment for sharing her Soul Reaper powers with Ichigo. Is this really how things are going to end?!
The Sôkyoku is released in chapter 150, ‘Countdown to the End: 0’. Rukia accepts that she will die, and silently thanks everyone who had an affect on her life. Before the Sôkyoku strikes, however, a familiar face shows up and stops it.
Ichigo stops the Sôkyoku – something that possesses the power of a million zanpaku-tô – with a single zanpaku-tô in chapter 151, ‘Deathberry Returns’. Captains Kyoraku and Ukitake then destroy the Sôkyoku, whilst Ichigo rescues Rukia – despite her protests.
When Renji shows up in chapter 152, ‘The Speed Phantom’, Ichigo entrusts Rukia’s well-being to him. Whilst Renji escapes, Ichigo makes short work of three assistant captains without even using his zanpaku-tô. Byakuya then clashes blades with Ichigo.
Whilst Byakuya fights Ichigo in chapter 153, ‘Empty Dialogue’, Soi Fon attacks Captain Ukitake’s subordinates. Ukitake tries to stop her, but he and Captain Kyôraku find themselves confronted by the head captain.
Yoruichi comes out of nowhere and drags Soi Fon away from Ukitake’s subordinates.
In chapter 154, ‘”Flash Master”‘, Captain Unohana had rescued all the injured Soul Reapers and used her zanpaku-tô to move them away from the battlefield. She also declares that there is somewhere she wants to go.
Yoruichi and Soi Fon fight, with the latter getting reinforcements from the punishment force. Yoruichi makes quick work of them.
Elsewhere, Ukitake and Kyôraku prepare to confront the head captain.
The head captain’s sheer presence renders Kyôraku’s assistant captain, Nanao Ise, totally unable to battle in chapter 155, ‘Redoundable Deeds/Redoubtable Babies’. Kyôraku gets her to a safe place, and then returns to confront the head captain alongside Ukitake.
As Renji escapes with Rukia, he lets her know that Ichigo is grateful for having gained the power to protect from her. He also says that she should believe in him.
The head captain releases his zanpaku-tô, Ryûjin Jakka, at the end of this chapter.
We discover that Komamura abandoned his fight with Kenpachi in chapter 156, ‘Welcome to Purgatory’, whilst Yumichika won his fight against Shuhei. With the head captain having released his shikai, Ukitake and Kyôraku do the same. Ukitake unleashes Sôgyo no Kotowari, whilst Kyôraku’s is called Katen Kyôkotsu.
In chapter 157, ‘Cat and Hornet’, Jidanbô has recovered from his previous wounds. Kûkaku Shiba appears and declares her intention to go and see Yoruichi.
As Soi Fon and Yoruichi continue to fight, Soi Fon releases her zanpaku-tô – Suzumebachi.
Soi Fon explains that anything hit by her zanpaku-tô twice in the same spot will die in chapter 158, ‘Sky Leopardess’. Soi Fon manages to land several blows on Yoruichi with Suzumebachi, but they are all in different places. She goes on to reveal a fighting style that combines hakuda and kidô.
Turns out Yoruichi already knows the technique – it is called Shunkô, and she uses it against Soi Fon.
This volume ends with a couple of character profiles – in this case, we get some information on Jûshirô Ukitake and Shunsui Kyôraku. Ukitake’s theme song is ‘Back to the Innocence’ by Jonathan Cain, whilst Kyôraku’s is ‘Por Una Cabeza’ by Carlos Gardel.
Even when Ichigo turns up and rescues Rukia, he still manages to get relegated to the sidelines for a little longer – the Soi Fon vs. Yoruichi and Kyôraku and Ukitake vs. head captain fights are very much in the spotlight for this volume.
Though saying that, all we really see from Yamamoto, Kyôraku and Ukitake are their zanpaku-tô. Beyond being told that Yamamoto’s zanpaku-tô is the most powerful one there is, we really don’t learn too much about their powers.
As such, the bulk of the action comes from Yoruichi fighting Soi Fon – and it’s a fairly impressive battle. Yoruichi single-handedly taking down the punishment force was pretty spectacular, though Soi Fon certainly got some great moments too – particularly with her zanpaku-tô and hakuda-kidô combination. Just a shame that Yoruichi is more experienced with shunkô, huh?
In the next volume, Ichigo will reclaim the spotlight as he fights Byakuya. It will be time to see if his training with Zangetsu gave him what he needed to fight evenly with Byakuya.