With volume twenty of Bleach, the Soul Society arc comes to an end. We have a big reveal in this particular volume, though I guess it’s not really as much of a surprise these days.
There are eleven chapters in volume twenty, starting with chapter minus twelve point five – a flashback chapter. The main story resumes with chapters one hundred and sixty nine through to one hundred and seventy eight.
The shocking truth behind the collapse of the Soul Society is finally revealed! The magnitude of the conspiracy is far-reaching, and the perpetrators wield staggering power. Is this the end of the Soul Society?
We start with chapter -12.5, ‘Blooming Under a Cold Moon’, in which the focus is on Tôshirô’s birthday.
Going back to the main plot, chapter 169, ‘end of hypnosis’, opens with Izuru and Rangiku’s fight. Izuru reveals the ability of his zanpaku-tô, Wabisuke, but Rangiku is able to counter with her zanpaku-tô, Haineko.
At the chamber of the Central 46, Gin has someone that he wants Momo to see – it is none other than Captain Aizen. Momo quickly learns that she really shouldn’t accept hugs from Aizen…
Tôshirô arrives at the Central 46 chamber in chapter 170, ‘end of hypnosis2 (the Galvanizer)’ to find Gin and Aizen. Tôshirô discovers the wounded Momo, and Aizen reveals that he had been manipulating her. Tôshirô unleashes his bankai, Daiguren Hyôrinmaru, only to almost instantly be cut down by Aizen.
Aizen and Gin find themselves with a third visitor in chapter 171, ‘end of hypnosis3 (the Blue Fog). It is Captain Unohana. Aizen reveals to them the ability of his zanpaku-tô, Kyôka Suigetsu – it is perfect hypnosis. The entire Soul Society had been under Aizen’s hypnosis, with one exception.
As Renji continues to run with Rukia, he is confronted by the blind Kaname Tôsen. He forces Renji and Rukia to the Sôkyoku Hill, where Aizen and Gin demand that he leaves Rukia and goes.
In chapter 172, ‘end of hypnosis4 (Prisoners in Paradise)’, 4th Company Assistant Captain Isane Kotetsu gets a message out to everyone in the Soul Society – Ichigo and friends included – whilst Captain Unohana tends to the wounds of Tôshirô and Momo.
Aizen draws his sword against Renji, determined to claim Rukia.
Renji tries to fight against Aizen in chapter 173, ‘end of hypnosis5 (Standing to Defend You)’. No matter how he tries, however, he is unable to land a blow on Aizen. When things look bleak, Ichigo arrives to prevent Aizen from killing Renji.
Ichigo and Renji work together to fight Aizen in chapter 174, ‘end of hypnosis6 (The United Front)’ – though not without the two of them arguing first. Once they focus on their foe, Renji has a plan that they put into action. It fails miserably, with Aizen easily cutting down both Renji and Ichigo. Rukia is left at the mercy of Aizen.
Aizen explains to a heavily injured Ichigo that he knew about their entry into the Soul Society from the beginning in chapter 175, ‘end of hypnosis7 (Truth Under My Strings)’. He goes on to tell him about a process called ‘Hollowfication’, which removes the barriers between Soul Reaper and Hollow – and is something we saw briefly when Ichigo fought Byakuya.
Kisuke Urahara created something that could remove the barriers – the Hôgyoku. He couldn’t destroy it and instead hid it inside Rukia’s soul. This was what caused her loss of powers.
Captain Komamura appears from out of nowhere and attacks Aizen.
Chapter 176, ‘end of hypnosis8 (the Transfixion)’ begins with a flashback showing how Komamura and Tôsen met and became friends.
In the present, Aizen stops Komamura’s sword with his hand. When Komamura uses bankai, Aizen easily defeats him with Hadô 90, Kurohitsugi. After that, he reveals how he manipulated the Soul Society into executing her, before extracting the Hôgyoku from Rukia. He tries to get Gin to kill her, but Byakuya gets her out of harm’s way.
It turns out Byakuya is the first of many reinforcements to arrive on Sôkyoku Hill in chapter 177, ‘end of hypnosis9 (Encompassed))’. Yoruichi and Soi Fon restrain Aizen, though he has three of the Soul Society’s gatekeepers – Kaiwan, Danzomaru and Higonyudô show up. However, Jidanbô and Kûkaku arrive to deal with them. Rangiku grabs Gin, and then the remaining Soul Reapers show up to surround Aizen.
A hole is torn open in the sky in chapter 178, ‘end of hypnosis10 (No One Stands On The Sky). A horde of gillian-class Hollows threatens to spill out, with something even bigger behind them. Aizen, Tôsen and Gin are enveloped in light called negaciôn – a technique Menos Grande use for rescuing each other, which renders them untouchable. As he departs, Aizen claims that he will stand atop the heavens.
With that, the Soul Society arc of Bleach is almost at an end – there are a couple more chapters to go, but that’s mostly just aftermath stuff that deals with the injured recuperating.
Throughout most of the arc, Sôsuke Aizen is presumed dead, and yet he just shows up in this volume as right as rain and reveals that he has a power that is utterly broken.
We are also able to see just how powerful Aizen is through his skirmishes with the various Soul Reapers who attack him. Stopping blades with bare hands, cutting down Soul Reapers in an instant and using high level kidô spells without chanting – Aizen is a truly fearsome foe that seems to be untouchable in this point of the plot.
It’s a shame we didn’t get to see Tôshirô use his bankai to its fullest potential, but I guess some sacrifices had to be made to clue us in on Aizen’s monstrous strength.
With the reveal of Hollowfication, we also learn a little more about what happened during Ichigo’s fight with Byakuya. Talking of Byakuya, after seeming to be rather cold-hearted, his rescue of Rukia shows that Ichigo’s resolve has had an effect on him.
As for the entire Soul Society arc – well, the action certainly picks up, that’s for sure. In exchange for that, we get introduced to loads and loads of characters, which means there are points where Ichigo is pushed to the background in favour of focusing on those new characters. This is most evident when Ichigo is undergoing his bankai training – it does get a little time devoted to it, but the rift between the Soul Society’s officers is what gets most attention during that time.
This is by no means a bad thing, at least during this arc – we know that Ichigo isn’t inactive and this gives a chance for other characters to shine. Only just as long as they are Soul Reapers, though – Ichigo’s friends just happen to be there…
All in all, the Soul Society arc is still a pretty enjoyable one, though. For those who enjoy their action, there is plenty of that to go around. The first arc of Bleach is very much about character development, whereas this one moves more towards being what one might expect from a typical shonen manga. Admittedly we do see character development within the Soul Society arc, but this almost always come during a fight, or at least as a result of one.
I have no qualms about a typical shonen manga, since I do tend to be partial to action – particularly when it involves swords. Still, I could see why some might not be satisfied to see Bleach go in that direction, but that’s what it has done, for better or worse.
The Soul Society did run on for a while, but if you thought that was long then you’d better prepare yourself for the Arrancar arc…
Volume 21 is where that particular arc starts, but before I start looking at that there will be some other manga that I’ll be sharing my thoughts on.