Bleach 8 by Tite Kubo: A-

From the back cover:
Ichigo knows that to retrieve Rukia from the Soul Society, he’ll have to enter that world himself. But his fight with Rukia’s brother Byakuya showed, in no uncertain terms, that Ichigo still has a great deal of rigorous study and training ahead of him. Deep beneath Kisuke’s Urahara Shoten, Ichigo practices his fighting and hones his spiritual energies, and now he must face the most daunting challenge of all: preventing his Chain of Fate from consuming itself, or be forever transformed into a soul-devouring Hollow!

If I were to simply describe the plot of this volume, it would sound just like every other shounen manga out there: our hero, desiring to protect someone he cares about, undergoes a bunch of rigorous training and discovers hidden reservoirs of strength.

Somehow, though, Bleach manages to spin the standard themes in ways that make them seem new. I think there are a few major ingredients to this success:

1) The characters. As I’ve mentioned before, I like all of them. In this volume, most of the focus is on Ichigo, but there are a couple of fun bits with the supporting cast.

2) Genuinely funny stuff. Or stuff that appeals to my sense of humor, at least. The beginning of chapter 62, with Orihime and Chad attempting to summon their powers at will, is an example.

3) Cool things! There were no less than four distinct things in this volume that made me think “cool!” Usually it’s when a twist in the story coincides with a particularly good panel of art. The best example is in chapter 64, where part-Hollow Ichigo appears in his Soul Reaper garb.

I am really enjoying reading this series. I might have to break down and watch the anime at some point.

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