Author: Tite Kubo
Publisher: Viz Media
American release date: September 1, 2009
Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Supernatural/200 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★
Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes
Having arrived in Hueco Mundo, Ichigo, Uryu, and Chad find themselves in the middle of a huge desert, facing Los Noches, Aizen’s residence/fortress. But the structure is farther away than it looks, as they find after running toward it for a long time, seemingly drawing no closer. Ah, the illusions of the desert! Meanwhile, Aizen has gathered his Espada in order to discuss current events. He tells them they have been invaded and not to underestimate the Ryoku, particularly Ichigo. Grimmjow doesn’t seem to be listening to his commander, and wants to head off to dispatch Ichigo immediately, and has to be reminded of his place.
As Ichigo et al take a break in the desert, a strange worm-like creature emerges from the said, with two other odd creatures on its back. It seems to be in pursuit of a small being, who screams in terror. Of course Ichigo can’t sit by and do nothing, so engages the pursuers, only to learn it’s just a game of Eternal Tag (because there is little to do in Hueco Mundo) and the person being pursued is just having fun. She turns out to be a little girl named Nel, who introduces her companions—Pesche and Dondochakka, all three of whom are Hollows. Nel takes an instant shine to Ichigo. Things seem to be going well until the Guardian of the White Sand appears to take down the Hollows for offering aid and comfort to the enemy.
Renji and Rukia appear unexpectedly, to Ichigo’s surprise. Rukia is angry with him for having left the World of the Living before they came back, saying he should have realized they would return to help. Coming to a crossroads, they decide to separate, in order to cover the different paths, promising to meet up afterward. Although Ichigo goes off on his own, Nel is soon running after him, crying. Dondo and Pesche want to follow Nel, but they confusedly end up going down the wrong paths, separating from each other in the process.
Aizen sends for Orihime and sends the others away in order speak with her privately, producing jealousy in two of his female followers, arousing their hatred for the innocent Orihime. Aizen shows off the Hogyuku to her, so now she knows exactly where it is as he tells her he needs her help. Now Orihime knows what she must do. Meanwhile, the battles with the Espadas begin.
Ichigo is determined to rescue Orihime at any cost… it’s what he does. He faces the challenge with the same relentless determination he showed in saving Rukia from being executed. He just does not know the meaning of failure. There is a lot being set up in this volume, sowing the seeds for what is to come. It’s interesting to note that Ulquiorra believes Orihime is one of them, having given her word to help. Those of us who know and have followed her from the start of the series know this can’t be true… can it? We know how honest she is, to a fault. But she is also timid. Is she going along because she gave her word or because she is afraid? Or does she truly have something else in mind?
Ulquiorra is an interesting character, obviously intelligent, and not insensitive to Orihime’s beauty and charms. At the same time, he is a hardened Espada. An interesting dichotomy indeed. I can find nothing redeeming to say about Aizen, though. Nel is also an interesting character, the sort of helpless innocent that Ichigo tends to attract, and whom he automatically defends.
Another great volume of Bleach, can’t wait to see the battles as they unfold.