Reviewby Theron Martin,
The sting of his unsuccessful battle against Grimjow still fresh, Ichigo seeks out the Visoreds to help him learn to control the frightful power of his Hollowfied form. What he must face off against to win control turns out to be more than he bargained for, however. Meanwhile, Uryu continues his own exercises with his father as part of his effort to get his powers restored, while Chad approaches Kisuke about getting some proper training of his own – and since Renji just happens to be hanging around doing nothing. . .
Aizen and his supporters have not been idle, however. As researchers and investigators back in the Soul Society soon discover, Aizen is scheming big, and that could have dire consequences not only for the Soul Society but also for Karakura Town, too.
Volume 30 covers episodes 122-126, a period in Bleach canon material where the story is still laying the foundations for the upcoming Hueco Mundo mega-arc and the even longer-term plot about Aizen's ultimate ambitions; in fact, this is the volume which reveals exactly what he is ultimately up to. Beyond that, its key contributions to the ongoing story are formally getting Ichigo involved with the Visoreds and finally forcing him to confront the Hollow-Ichigo persona which has been lurking in Ichigo's mind ever since Kisuke helped him restore his Soul Reaper powers a hundred episodes earlier. In other words, while this can hardly be considered a “key” volume, it does have some interesting and important developments.
The big reveal about Aizen's likely plan loses a bit of its punch because it involves an element of the Soul Society whose existence has never even been hinted at (in the anime, anyway) prior to this point. Granted, the revelation does expand the seldom-developed background lore of the Soul Society, but what Aizen will do to accomplish his goals ultimately has a much more immediate impact on the viewer because of that; in fact, the lack of earlier establishment made ramping up the more direct threat to the world of the living necessary to create any justification of tension for Ichigo and friends. This is hardly the first time Tite Kubo's story has pushed forward without laying the necessary groundwork first, and it continues to be one of the biggest flaws in his storytelling.
The business with the Visoreds proceeds more smoothly, if also more predictably. In typical shonen action fashion, the other Visoreds revealed anew here turn out to be a colorful lot with a broad mix of physical appearances, personality quirks, and argumentative tendencies; the influence of the silly bad guy groups who pop up in the Dragonball franchise stands strong here. Those looking for some insight into the backstory of the Visoreds will have to wait for a few dozen more episodes to pass, though their armaments, knowledge, and abilities displayed at this time certainly strongly suggest an intriguing past connection to the Soul Society. The progression of Ichigo confronting his Hollow self and his ensuing training regimen is all the kind of thing that any veteran shonen action fan has seen many times before, including loads of philosophical babble about instinct, determination, and fighting power which make one appreciate a streamlined approach like Gurren Lagann's all the more. The scene where Ichigo's Hollow side first gets goaded into revealing itself, and later scenes where his outward form is mostly Hollowfied, do make an impression, but they aren't enough on their own to make this part anything special.
Training/power regaining sequences for Chad and Uryu are briefer and staler, though the former does at least keep Renji involved. Orihime, contrarily, has more interesting developments even though she barely uses her powers through these episodes. The special nature of her powers has been hinted at before and gets another kick here. Various supporting cast members make occasional minor appearances, including the first appearance in a very long time by a character integrally involved in the first Soul Society arc.
Artistic and animation merits remain consistent with earlier material, with the only truly special touch this time being Ichigo's mostly-Hollowfied form. Some of the Visored designs are a bit too silly; so much effort went into giving each one distinctive appearances that the designer went overboard, including Shinji's awful bowl haircut, which makes him look like a reject from A Clockwork Orange. And really? A heart-shaped sword guard being used (by one of the Visoreds) in a series like this? Traditional Bleach flaws also remain consistent, such as the difficulty the production has with keeping Ichigo's appearance stable.
The soundtrack, with its dramatic techno themes contrasting with its sillier numbers, has always been one of Bleach's strong points; it is the elite of long-running shonen action series in that regard. Long-time standby themes mixed with the jauntier, vaguely Spanish themes associated with the Visored, while the Bount-specific themes from the previous arc pop up again at one point. Opener “Alone” ranks among the best openers in the series' first half even though its graphics use heavier-than-normal spoilers. Closer “Tsumasaki,” which was not, to my recollection, used in the Adult Swim broadcasts, distinguishes itself by featuring many of the Soul Reapers in “World of the Living” street clothes, which works much better for some characters than others. (Byakuya just does not look right that way, for instance.)
The English dub generally stays faithful in its scripting, although it replaced Hiyori's frequent “baldy” insults with ones that make more sense in English. The casting choices for the Visoreds (and yes, that is the spelling that the subtitles use) are dead-on with the original Japanese cast, though the regional dialect usage heard in the Japanese dub for some of the Visoreds gets lost in translation and not everyone may like the vocal styling Mela Lee uses for Hiyori. Most who are not totally enamored with the original Japanese performances should find the English performances here to be just fine, as they lose nothing in emotion, energy, or comedic inflection compared to the originals.
Each episode ends with additional installments of “The Illustrated Guide to Soul Reapers.” Other Extras include production art, clean closer, and a manga sneak peak.
The simplest – and perhaps most apt – way to describe Volume 30 is to label it as “typical Bleach fare.” While it does have some interesting developments, it does not do anything excitingly different or break any new ground. This volume is mostly playing it safe as shonen action series go as it waits for the bigger plot arcs to set up.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Ichigo's Hollowfied form, musical score, return appearance by a certain long-absent character.
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