I never thought I’d say this, but here it is and I can’t deny it. Tite Kubo, writer and artist of the hit manga Bleach, has written what I consider to be one of the single most impressive issues of a manga that I have ever read. And I’ve read a lot of manga, folks(42 ongoing too).
It was looking down for Kubo as he slowly drudged through his last story arc. His bad habit of limited dialogue and minimal paneling was starting to feel lazy. Sometimes he’d even paint a whole page black for effect. By the time you finished a Bleach chapter you were only a minute from where you started and you felt like nothing really happened. And that’s where Kubo sort of hovered in my mind—a writer who could craft excellent characters and superb back-stories, but couldn’t do pacing worth a damn to save his life. I began to wonder if the editorial department would ever step in to slap him something fierce.
It seems someone has, in fact, done just that, and in this new story arc set a year later Tite Kubo has knocked it out of the park. In just one fell swoop it’s like he’s back on track and is reminding his readers why his characters really pop. Kubo has introduced several characters as enemies who all draw their special powers from particular items and each ability is associated with the nature of that item. This is exactly the kind of originality that led Bleach to become one of the most popular manga in existence. The pacing is there now and the writing could not be any better. The writing quality is so smart and full of emotional context that it really reestablishes Kubo as a talented writer of not just concepts and character creation, but of great dialogue and scripts. The chapter I’m referring to is the latest on this Dia De Los Muertes and in its liveliness it is nowhere close to being dead.
Chapter 471 is entitled Pray for Predators 2, a continuation of the last chapter only this one being severely different in both tone and structure. I’ll begin with the title because it really sets up the cleverness displayed in this kind of writing. Obviously we have a play on words where the word “Pray” is echoed in our minds by the word “Prey” in the context of predators. This entire chapter presents four different origin stories at once in which we are to see the tragic upbringings of these villains in order for the readers to empathize. However much Kubo wants you to pray for them, as the reader we already know they oppose our heroes and therefore have made themselves the predators and the main characters into their prey.
The structure of this issue is stellar and it revolves around a very intuitive style of cinematic pacing and presentation. Like I said earlier, we have four different characters’ origins being presented and for any writer that’s a lot of work. Especially when you have an 18 page maximum to do it in. But Kubo nails it by presenting each origin and each character’s affinity for a particular item in just two pages each. Separated in sequence so that no two pages of a single origin are back to back. One page hits hard with one character. The next another. Then another. Then another. Then back to the first. Repeat. All of this covered with an overarching narrative as well as each character’s own voice commenting about their natures with the idea of predator versus prey as their mantra. Each origin of each character comes with their own personalized background design that perfectly expressed their personalities, unique special abilities, and their specific items. It was eerie and sad, but terrifying at the end we see that this painful upbringing has led them to cope in vicious ways. Survival at whatever cost.
I’ve been a fan of Bleach for a long time and even when Kubo slacked off for a while or spent time off due to illness I maintained my watch over his series because I was already invested pretty far into it. But I have to say, without a doubt, that Tite Kubo has really turned this series around, and every chapter that comes out has me excited for the next. I’m constantly reminded why he’s a professional and how a good writer can always bounce back. If you are interested in Bleach, I strongly encourage you to check it out. It’s action-packed, supernatural, heroic, and friendship-centered drama that will grace you with original concepts, characters, and at the very least an exciting read.
With that, I leave you with my favorite line from it and a link to the chapter itself. Enjoy!
“‘The weak become meat for the strong to eat’. That saying is just an illusion to delude the weak into believing that if you work hard you can become the hunter. They’re not getting eaten because they are weak. They’re getting eaten because they’re too few. The predators end up being the ones with greater numbers. But all they have is their incompetence and loud voices. So who you really are, even though you’ve already realized it, you just sit there pretending you haven’t–We are scraps of weak meat.'”