Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 8th 2012
Ichigo Kurosaki once had the powers of a Soul Reaper: he could see spirits and fought to protect the balance between the living world and the spirit world. But ever since his last battle, Ichigo has been powerless—until his meeting with a mysterious man named Kugo Ginjo, whose power of "Fullbring" can supposedly bring back Ichigo's abilities. Now Ichigo is training with Ginjo and his allies to master his own Fullbring, so that he can protect his friends once more. It certainly looks like they'll need it: schoolmate Uryu Ishida has been hospitalized after an attack, while Orihime and Chad both experience strange events that leave only fuzzy memories in their heads. Could Ginjo's friend-turned-foe, Tsukishima, have a hand in these incidents? And could a sudden encounter with him force Ichigo into battle before his powers are ready?
It's been a while since Bleach did anything other than churn methodically through one fight after another. But the Fullbring arc, which began in Volume 49, sees the series doing things that haven't happened in years. This segment of the story introduces new characters, explains a new system of supernatural powers, and builds up the mystery surrounding the main villain. Of course, the fight scenes are as dynamic and stylish as ever—but still prone to lazy artistic shortcuts, while the characters still fall short of being truly deep and engaging. So in some ways, it's still the same old Bleach, but with a new supporting cast and a fresh storyline that breaks free of the hack-and-slash routine.
Not that it completely breaks free of routine—after all, why change everything when the series' formula still is reasonably successful? When it comes to tried and true material, Ichigo's training sessions fulfill the quota, with each of the Fullbringers using their combat abilities to help him develop his own. When Ichigo last fought, he was practically a god, so seeing him scramble around and struggle with a non-bladed implement is a refreshing sight. But the low-risk nature of these battles—they're against well-meaning allies, and set up in walled one-on-one environments—makes it hard to feel terribly excited about them. What's more, the characters introduce themselves and their powers, but fail to go beyond the surface. So when Ichigo challenges a Fullbringer who gets her power from her boots, for example, that's all we ever learn about her—at least for now.
These volumes fare better when the story develops in other areas, instead of just trotting out new battle scenarios. Ichigo's schoolmates take on this task, playing a key role in some of the more intriguing plot points: Orihime has a strange run-in with Tsukishima, asks the still-recovering Ishida what he knows about the man, and even the quiet, statue-like Chad has a few important things to say. A couple of flashbacks involving Ginjo and Tsukishima also add more knowledge—and more mystery—about the bad blood between them. Action and plot eventually cross paths in the later chapters of Volume 51, when Tsukishima attacks Ichigo and the Fullbringers, although the anti-climactic result of this confrontation reminds us that the best parts of the story still lie further down the road.
While most of Ichigo's battles add little to the storyline (aside from "he defeated so-and-so and gained more strength"), the flashy visuals do provide entertainment value. Even without his trademark zanpakutō blade, or the familiar faces of Soul Society and Hueco Mundo to fight against, Ichigo still puts on a show with dynamic fighting poses, lots of high-speed movement, and eerie supernatural waves emanating from his newly-chosen weapon. His opponents, with their unusual powers (one of them even takes his cue from 8-bit video games), also bring variety to the artwork. Meanwhile, the simple one-on-one nature of the battles makes them easier to follow than the overblown monster melees of past storylines. The background art could also be described as simple, but in this case that's a bad thing: Ichigo and company always seem to end up fighting in sparsely decorated rooms or open-space environments, which just smacks of artistic laziness. Outside of fight scenes, the artwork does what it's supposed to do: conversation scenes flow naturally from one panel to the next, and moments that are meant to be suspenseful provide just enough visual information to entice the reader, without giving everything away.
With major story developments happening in these volumes, dialogue serves a greater purpose than just choice words yelled out in the heat of battle. One would think that Fullbring is one of those convoluted special abilities that takes forever to explain—but instead, short paragraphs and a clear translation make it an easy concept to grasp. (Let's just hope Tite Kubo doesn't start tacking on special rules and exceptions as the story progresses...) The back-stories about Tsukishima and the Fullbringers are also summarized concisely, so that the story can move forward instead of getting bogged down in events from the past. Sound effects during action scenes are reworked into English for this edition, and while the lettering often stands out because of sheer size, the edited sound effects fit into the page without interfering with the art.
These two volumes of Bleach do what's necessary to please the crowd—but they don't try much harder than that. The early stages of the Fullbring arc come with equal parts excitement and mystery, but the new characters are a tad too superficial, focusing only on their outward abilities, while the battles are really just one-on-one training sessions set in a "safe" (and sometimes poorly drawn) environment. Despite this lack of adventurousness, however, the storyline still has room to grow, with plot threads about Ichigo's newly-developed powers and Tsukishima's sinister machinations leading the way. Right now, the series is settling for just-above-average quality, but there's lots of potential waiting to be tapped.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B
+ New characters and powers, a villain shrouded in mystery, and flashy fight scenes signal the start of a promising storyline.
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