Bleach‘s twenty-sixth volume mostly focuses on characters preparing for an upcoming major battle, so there’s plenty of training to be seen here.
There are a total of ten chapters in this volume, which starts with chapter two hundred and twenty-four and finishes with chapter two hundred and thirty-three.
Ichigo and his friends are training like mad, spurred on by the looming threat of Aizen’s wicked plans. But while Uryû and Chad increase their powers, Orihime finds out that she has to sit out the coming fight, leaving her friends without her protection. And Ichigo, despite his intensive training with the Vizards, can’t control his Hollowfied self long enough to battle. With the war against the Arrancars ramping up, can the team afford to have two fighters on the sidelines?
So apparently the blurb refers to them as ‘Vizards’, but when you look within the actual volume itself, the translation there is ‘Visoreds’. You’d think they’d try to keep that consistent…
Anyway, we start with chapter 224, ‘Imitated Gaiety’ where Tôshirô speaks with Momo, who has recovered from her prior encounter with Aizen. She naively asks Tôshirô not to kill Aizen.
Chad and Renji training together was an idea put forward by Kisuke. Kisuke notes that Chad’s powers aren’t like those of the Soul Reapers or Quincies.
Elsewhere, Orihime approaches the place where Ichigo is training with Shinji and the others.
Hiyori puts Ichigo through his paces in chapter 225, ‘Slip into My Barrier’, in order to increase the amount of time he can stay Hollowfied for – at this point, his mask vanishes after only four seconds.
Hachi is able to detect when someone passes through the barrier he set up – it is Orihime. She informs Ichigo about the situation with Aizen. After seeing Ichigo trying hard to get stronger, Orihime wants to do the same.
Yoruichi meets with Orihime in chapter 226, ‘Right of My Heart’ and tells her that Kisuke wants to talk to her.
We also are shown Uryû’s intensive training with his father, with specific conditions to be fulfilled before Uryû can regain his powers as a Quincy.
Rangiku meets with Ikkaku and Yumichika at Keigo’s place in chapter 227, ‘The Swordless Soldier’.
Meanwhile, Orihime discovers that Kisuke wants her to stay out of the upcoming battle against he Arrancars. The reason for this is due to the loss of Tsubaki, which means Orihime has no offensive abilities. Chad tries to object, but Orihime says that it is okay.
Aizen also happens to take an interest in Orihime’s abilities.
Orihime bumps into Rukia in chapter 228, ‘Don’t Look Back’. They discuss what Kisuke said, though not for long as Hiyori shows up out of nowhere to drag Orihime back the Visoreds’ place.
Hachi is able to revive Tsubaki for Orihime, though he does recommend that she should stay out of the fight. However, he doesn’t question Orihime’s resolve on the matter.
Yammy’s arm is healed and restored in chapter 229, ‘The Howling Tempest’. It is also revealed that Grimmjow has been dropped as one of the Espadas due to the loss of his arm (Tite Kubo really likes cutting characters’ arms off…).
Ichigo’s training with the Visoreds continues, though his progress isn’t too great. After training for a month, Ichigo can Hollowfy for only a little over ten seconds.
Aizen calls for a gathering of Espadas to witness the birth of a new Arrancar – Wonderweiss. Ulquiorra also prepares to move out, taking with him whoever he likes – including Grimmjow.
In the world of the living, Yumichika and Rangiku’s attempts to communicate with their zanpaku-tô are not going well.
Ukitake observes Rukia and Orihime training together in the Seireitei in chapter 230, ‘Dead White Invasion’. Shûhei approaches him, and they discuss the responsibilities of a captain.
Four Arrancars appear in Karakura Town – Grimmjow, Yammy, Wonderweiss and one who has yet to be introduced. They happen to drop in right by where Tôshirô and the other Soul Reapers are training. Grimmjow takes off, as his target isn’t present.
Tôshirô wastes no time and clashes blades with Yammy, whilst Ikkaku and Yumichika confront the new number 6 Espada.
Upon feeling the Espadas’ spiritual pressure, Ichigo forsakes his training in order to fight with Grimmjow again.
With the arrival of the Espadas, the Soul Society prepares to send reinforcements in chapter 231, ‘The Mascaron Drive’.
Ichigo immediately uses his bankai, and then Hollowfies with the intent of finishing the battle within 11 seconds.
Luppi decides he wants to take on all four Soul Reapers by himself, as they don’t seem to be providing much of a threat.
Chad and Renji want to go and fight as well, but their training has taken a toll so Kisuke goes instead.
Luppi goes to release his zanpaku-tô in chapter 232, ‘The Mascaron Drive 2’. Tôshirô immediately uses his bankai but Luppi is able to release Trepadora.
Grimmjow is heavily injured in his fight against Ichigo, and just as Ichigo is about the bring the battle to an end, his mask shatters.
Grimmjow seizes his opportunity to turn the fight against Ichigo around in chapter 233, ‘El Violador’.
Rangiku, Ikkaku and Yumichika struggle to fight against Luppi. Kisuke arrives to prevent Rangiku from being poked full of holes, but he is attacked by Wonderweiss.
Orihime makes her way from the Soul Society into the world of the living. As she passes through the dangai, Ulquiorra suddenly appears.
That brings volume 26 to a close, in which we see the results of Ichigo’s training (though not for long) as well as another fight between the Soul Reapers and Arrancars.
Orihime’s resolve to get stronger is nice, but nothing is really done with it during this arc. Orihime’s role for the rest of the arc is not a great one and considering the length, that is a very bad thing. She’s not a useless character, but she doesn’t exactly have the attitude of a fighter – considering at this point Bleach is all about the fights, it’s not such a great thing.
Orihime does get better after this arc, but that’s a long way away and so we end up left with a pretty poor impression of her. Let’s save my thoughts on that for the future volumes, though.
As for this volume… again, there isn’t much more to be said. Ichigo’s display of power whilst Hollowfied is impressive whilst it lasts, and Luppi is really the only one bringing anything new to the table in terms of abilities.
I suppose this volume does serve to show the strength of the actual Espadas compared to the Soul Reapers – Luppi is the first Espada who has released their zanpaku-tô, and even a captain struggles to deal with that.