With volume nineteen of Bleach, we drawing closer to the end of the Soul Society arc. Ichigo has been in the background for the past couple of volumes, but he’s back with a vengeance for this volume.
There are a total of ten chapters in this volume, from one hundred and fifty-nine to one hundred and sixty-eight.
The long-awaited showdown between Ichigo and Byakuya Kuchiki has finally begun. Has Ichigo succeeded in mastering bankai, the highest level of power that a Soul Reaper can attain, to face Byakuya as an equal?
We start with chapter 159, ‘LONG WAY TO SAY GOODBYE’, in which the fight between Yoruichi and Soi Fon reaches its conclusion. It is through this chapter that we learn of Soi Fon’s devotion towards Yoruichi, and how she felt betrayed when Yoruichi left the Soul Society.
Chapter 160, ‘Battle on Guillotine Hill’, shows us that Ikkaku and Tetsuzaemon drinking together before resuming their battle. Of course, the main focus of this chapter is the fight between Ichigo and Byakuya. Ichigo tries to get Byakuya to use his bankai, but the captain feels that his shikai should suffice. However, Ichigo is prepared for that.
After countering Byakuya’s shikai in chapter 161, ‘Scratch the Sky’, Ichigo reveals that through his training he learned a technique that allowed him to fire a super high concentration of spiritual pressure from his blade – the Getsuga Tenshô. Byakuya then unleashes his bankai – Senbonzakura Kageyoshi. Ichigo is injured by the attack, but he still has plenty of fight left in him.
It is in chapter 162, ‘Black Moon Rising’, where Ichigo reveals that he has mastered bankai. Of course, he then uses it – Ichigo’s bankai is called Tensa Zangetsu. Most of this chapter is just dedicated to Ichigo using his bankai and saying how he achieved it in order to tread all over Byakuya’s honour because it is that honour that means Rukia should be killed.
The battle resumes proper in chapter 163, ‘THE Speed Phantom 2 (Denial by Pride, Contradiction by Power). Ichigo receives a huge boost in speed from his bankai, which Byakuya is only barely able to keep up with. Ichigo manages to wound Byakuya, but the captain remains determined to crush Ichigo and his power.
Ichigo’s friend make their way towards Ichigo’s spiritual pressure in chapter 164, ‘The One Who Changed the World’. They also learn of Rukia’s rescue.
Byakuya reveals the true form of his bankai, which abandons all defence in favour of offence – Senkei Senbonzakura Kageyoshi. When Ichigo and Byakuya clash once more, it can even be felt by Ichigo’s friends.
Byakuya seems to be getting faster in chapter 165, ‘The Dark Side of the Universe 2’, and he is able to pierce Ichigo with a kidô spell. As it looks like Ichigo is about to be struck down, he grabs Byakuya’s sword with his bare hand. Half of Ichigo’s face is covered by a mask…
Byakuya finds himself fighting a berserk Ichigo in chapter 166, ‘Black & White 2’, and he doesn’t fare too well. However, Ichigo regains his senses leading to one final clash. Byakuya uses Senbonzakura Kageyoshi Shûkei Hakuteiken, whilst Ichigo channels also his spirit energy into a final attack.
After their final clash, it is revealed in chapter 167, ‘Death Chamber’, that both Ichigo and Byakuya are heavily injured. Before he collapses, Byakuya reveals the reason never tried to save Rukia. Byakuya tells Ichigo that he won. Ichigo’s friends arrive shortly afterwards.
In the Central 46 chamber, Tôshirô discovers that they have all been murdered.
Tôshirô deduces that the Central 46 have been dead for a long time in chapter ‘Behind Me, Behind You’. Izuru appears, so Tôshirô gives chase. When Izuru mentions Momo, Tôshirô allows Rangiku to focus on Izuru so he can go back. Izuru unleashes his shikai, Wabisuke, in preparation to fight Rangiku.
Meanwhile, Momo arrives in the Central 46 chamber and Gin appears behind her.
That brings an end to the 19th volume of Bleach, which features one of my favourite fights from the entire franchise – Ichigo vs. Byakuya. We also have the conclusion of Yoruichi and Soi Fon’s battle, complete with a ship between the two due to Soi Fon’s adoration of Yoruichi.
This volume is all about Ichigo’s fight, though. Previous encounters with Byakuya portrayed him as a foe that Ichigo could not overcome, but it is here where he has gained the power to fight as the sixth company captain’s equal. That moment where Ichigo uses bankai for the first time is definitely one of the better ones in Bleach.
We also get shades of things to come with the appearance of the mask, though Ichigo regained his self pretty quickly.
Byakuya’s motivation is also revealed – he chose the law over his family, though it is through fighting with Ichigo that he realises things could have been done differently.
The last part of this volume is leading up to a major reveal, but that’s something to discuss for volume 20.