Bleach Volume 2

Written by Tite Kubo
Illustrated by Tite Kubo

I seem to have been on a bit of a Viz kick lately, not that that's a bad things. I also seem to be reading a bit more shonen manga lately, which is probably more a reflection of a desire to read some different stories rather than a sudden dislike for my school-based shojo loves.

This is the second volume of the long-running series Bleach, which I actually approached first in anime form. Ichigo is a young man who can see ghosts, and when a horrible monster called a hollow tries to kill him and his family, he borrows the powers of a soul reaper, a being designed to kill hollows, to save the day.

Except that now he's inherited the powers, possibly permanently, and must continue to kill hollows before they harm anyone else.

In this set of stories, Ichigo's friend at school Chad has a special talking parakeet that a hollow wants to torture. Will the hollow kill someone close to Ichigo before he can save the day? Plus, Chad's always been strong, but is there something more to his power? The second half of the manga sees Rukia go shopping for soul supplies at a rather peculiar store. She's got a way to help Ichigo when he must go to the soul plane, but will the cure be worse than the problem?

This volume did not work as well for me as the first volume did. There's a lot less humor, which was part of the charm, as the idea of a duplicate Ichigo is played more for scare tactics than laughs. I understand there's a lot of drama in the idea of a rejected creation that just wants to live, but the idea of having your double fighting along side of you really strikes me as comedy gold, especially in a manga for a younger audience.

I also found the artwork to be a lot less clean than in the first volume. There are a lot--I mean a LOT--of action lines, distracting my eyes all over the place. I get that the characters are moving fast or exploding things, I don't need the artist to use up all their ink showing me. (I realize this is a convention of the genre, but the first volume did not do it nearly so much.) Kubo also uses a lot of tight little panels, which I think cluttered the page a bit too much for my taste.

However, that's not to say that I didn't like the art at all. Kubo's monsters continue to have interesting character designs, staying on a similar theme but managing to look different every time. The whole sequence with a a set of not-so-pearly gates was also well-presented. I also like the fact that she draws strong faces with expressive eyes. You can always tell what Ichigo, Rukia, Chad, and the rest are thinking, just by taking a glimpse at their features.

While this volume does have two battles in it, I can't help but feel that it's more about establishing conflict and mystery for later than telling the story in front of the reader. This might be partly due to the fact that I know what happens based on Rukia's decisions in this part of the plot. I feel like the second monster especially is only there because it's a shonen story and it requires a fight to happen once every certain number of chapters.

Overall, this second trade was not quite as good as the first. However, I know that I like the story, based on watching a good chunk of the anime,and I want to see how things play out in the original author's hands. I'm hoping that the art clears up a bit and there's more concentration on the story rather than the plot as I go along. A few more jokes about the quirkiness of the entire cast wouldn't hurt, either. Bleach is a long-running series, so there's plenty of time for it to settle in and find its groove. Even if it stays like this, however, it would still be an enjoyable read.