Bleach 30 by Tite Kubo: C+

From the back cover:
Ichigo and his friends are moving ever closer to the center of Hueco Mundo and rescuing Orihime. But their battles against the Arrancars are testing them in ways they never thought possible. Can they keep their honor in a world where it doesn’t exist, or will Hueco Mundo leave an indelible mark on their souls?!

Ichigo (who actually appears very, very little in this volume) and friends are still fighting their way toward rescuing Orihime. Chad and his nifty new arm are able to vanquish one foe, but not before another arrives who dispatches him in short order; Rukia encounters an Arrancar who looks exactly like Kaien, her former Assistant Captain, and must figure out what his true motives and origins are; and Renji faces off against a science-inclined Arrancar in a spot where his ability to use his bankai is blocked.

Reading this volume, featuring a gang that has split up and is currently engaged in one-on-one fighting, on the heels of a very similar setup in One Piece invites comparison, and it is not one that Bleach emerges from with the advantage. In One Piece, a sense of place and how the characters’ actions will help achieve the ultimate goal are abundantly clear. In Bleach, partly because we’re in a nebulous realm like Hueco Mundo, there’s really no clear idea of where anybody is, who they’re fighting at this moment, or how any of this is actually getting them closer to Orihime.

Kubo attempts to liven things up by having us believe that a couple of our heroes have died, but I honestly didn’t find any of this compelling in the least. A skewering in One Piece shocked me; a skewering in Bleach makes me go “ho-hum.” Really, the most interesting aspect of this arc continues to be Orihime’s relationship with Ulquiorra, an Arrancar who seems curious about her and humanity in general. I wish more time were devoted to that pairing.

In the end, this installment is somewhat of a disappointment. I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off hoarding Bleach and reading it in chunks rather than a volume at a time; perhaps then I’d be able to get swept up in the momentum and actually care about what’s happening to the characters I’ve followed for 30 volumes now.

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