After seeing the return of a handful of Soul Reapers in volume twenty-two of Bleach, it is evident that they will end up fighting the newly-introduced threat of the Arrancars. That’s exactly what happens in Bleach‘s twenty-third volume.
This particular volume contains ten chapters – eight of which advance the plot, whilst two are chapters set shortly before the beginning of the series. As such, this volume contains chapters one hundred and ninety-eight to two hundred and five and two different chapters that are both labelled as zero.
The Arrancars, Hollows that have attained Soul Reaper-like powers, have descended on Karakura Town. Led by Grimmjow Jeagerjaques, they plan to eliminate anyone who poses a threat to them. And their deadly hunt doesn’t stop with Ichigo and the Soul Reapers – the Arrancars are after anyone with even a trace of spiritual powers!
This volume kicks off with chapter 198, ‘The Icecold Discord’ in which Ulquiorra reports to Aizen about events in Karakura Town. Another Arrancar, Grimmjow, calls Ulquiorra too soft for not killing Ichigo.
In the world of the living, the Soul Reapers who arrived previously (Tôshirô, Rangiku, Renji, Ikkaku and Yumichika) go to find somewhere to stay whilst they’re in they are there.
Rukia is able to stay with Ichigo by telling Isshin and Yuzu a fake sob story in chapter 199, ‘Ugly’. Elsewhere, Rangiku goes to stay with Orihime. Orihime uses the chance to talk to Rangiku about being jealous of Rukia, but Rangiku is able to offer her reassurance.
Grimmjow and a group of Arrancars – D-Roy, Shawlong, Edorad, Ilfort and Nakim – arrive in Karakura Town. Grimmjow orders them to kill anyone with a trace of spiritual pressure.
The Arrancars make their move in chapter 200, ‘Night of Sledgehammer’. The first clash occurs between Tôshirô and Arrancar No. 11, Shawlong. Shawlong is also accompanied by Nakim.
D-Roy tries to attack Chad, but Ichigo intervenes. Elsewhere, Ikkaku and Yumichika come face-to-face with Edorad, whilst Renji encounters Ilfort.
Ichigo tells Chad to step back in chapter 201, ‘Wind & Snowbound’, making Chad realise that Ichigo doesn’t have the same faith in him he had before. Rukia happens to pass Chad whilst catching up to Ichigo, and when she arrives where D-Roy is, she tells Ichigo to stay back.
Rukia reveals her Soul Reaper powers have returned, and she is the one to fight Arrancar No. 16, D-Roy. During the fight, she unleashes her zanpaku-tô, Sode no Shirayuki, in order to defeat D-Roy.
Ichigo learns that Rukia has the skills necessary to be a seated officer in chapter 202, ‘¡Mala Suerte!’, but Byakuya pulled some strings so she wouldn’t be exposed to the dangers that being an officer tends to entail. Arrancar No. 6, Grimmjow arrives shortly after the exposition.
D-Roy’s death doesn’t go unnoticed by the other Arrancars, though they are pretty dismissive of him.
Keigo ends up stumbling across Ikkaku fighting Edorad – Ikkaku offers to protect Keigo in exchange for a place to stay for the night.
Ikkaku fights Edorad in chapter 203, ‘¡Mala Suerte! 2 (El Monstruo)’. Yumichika merely watches on as he can see that Ikkaku is happy to be fighting a strong opponent.
Ikkaku is able to land a hit on Edorad. Following that, Edorad demonstrates the way in which Arrancars release their zanpaku-tô. In this case, Arrancar No. 13 releases Volcanica and formally introduces himself as Edorad Leones.
Grimmjow takes Rukia out with a single movement in chapter 204, ‘¡Mala Suerte! 3 (Monstruo Sangrienta)’.
Edorad reveals that when an Arrancar releases their zanpaku-tô, they also release their true power and form. Yumichika watches on and contacts the Soul Society with several requests, including to prepare a company funeral for Ikkaku.
Ikkaku is completely overwhelmed by the released Edorad’s power. Releasing his shikai, Hôzukimaru, has very little impact on the fight. Ikkaku does have one final technique up his sleeve, though: bankai.
Ikkaku uses his bankai, Ryûmon Hôzukimaru, in chapter 205, ‘¡Mala Suerte! 4 (Tempestad de La Lucha)’. As they fight, Edorad realises that Ikkaku’s bankai is pretty much just a huge chunk of energy with immense destructive power. However, Ikkaku reveals that his bankai is a slow starter and he needs to get in a few hits before it’s true power is unleashed. The chapter ends with Ikkaku and Edorad clashing.
Following that is the first of the two 0 chapters, ‘side-A the sand’. It shows Ichigo before he met Rukia, just going about his normal school life and interacting with ghosts.
The next 0 chapter is ‘side-b the rotator’, which focuses on Rukia before she leaves for Karakura Town for the first time. It also shows a few Soul Reapers reacting to Renji’s promotion to sixth company assistant captain.
Finally, there’s a few pages showing the Society of Female Soul Reapers trying to come up with a new design of soul pager for female Soul Reapers.
The action begins anew in this volume of Bleach, with Ikkaku and Rukia both revealing their powers. Ikkaku possessing bankai comes as a surprise, as previously we were led to believe that only captain-class Soul Reapers could master them. That suggests Ikkaku could easily be an assistant captain at least, but he seems to be satisfied as third seat of the eleventh company.
Seeing Rukia actually get to fight with a zanpaku-tô was great, too – after all, her role in the previous arc was damsel in distress. It’s a great step up for her, though it really doesn’t last long courtesy of Grimmjow.
Still, I really like Rukia’s zanpaku-tô, which is said to be the most beautiful in the Soul Society – a pure white blade with some pretty nifty ice powers. Admittedly not anywhere near the level of Tôshirô’s Hyôrinmaru.
The introduction of the Arrancar’s zanpaku-tô release was pretty neat, too – it does have a specific name, but let’s wait until that is mentioned in the manga before using it here. Anyway, it’s comparable to the Soul Reapers’ shikai and bankai, though in most cases neither of those change physical appearances. There are some pretty great Hollow designs, and having the Arrancar become more Hollow-like when they release their zanpaku-tôs makes for some pretty interesting sights.
A fairly decent volume of Bleach, particularly for those who like Ikkaku. I’m indifferent to him myself, so what I enjoyed most in this volume was seeing Rukia getting a chance to use her zanpaku-tô in battle.