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A Daily Dose of Music: Old School Thursdays


It's been 10 years?
Apr 09
// Hiroko Yamamura
You know you're Old School when you think of Bleach as new school anime. Can you believe it's been 10 years since Okinawa Japan's Orange Range's hit single Asterisk graced the opening of Bleach? 10 years? I know the anime wa...

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapters 610-613

Feb 01 // Josh Tolentino
Of course, "movement" and "things happening" doesn't always have to equate to people getting punched or cut, and in these chapters, we not only see what passes as an explanation of big boss Ywach's powers (but no explanation of his Mutton Chops, sadly), but also the death and rebirth of Ichibei, leader of the Royal Guard. Oh, and the Soul King gets stabbed, too. But first things first: Ichibei, namer of names in Soul Societ and a guy who gets to define what's what when it comes to powers, gets himself blown the hell up. Why? Even six weeks on, I'm not entirely sure. Ywach's power as the "Almighty" Quincy seems to be some kind of omniscience, an ability to know pretty much everything with his eyes "closed", and even more than everything now that they're "open". In this case "open" eyes mean revealing that they're really really weird. Like, with four pupils, each poking their way into the whites like he's The Undertaker. He's a literal "four-eyes" (or rather, with two sets, an "eight-eyes"), though not nearly as nerdy as the moniker might imply. I'm not sure how knowing all that would necessarily equate to the monk getting blown up, but with references to "raw power" being made, I'll just assume it's because he's too much for it. That fits the Bleach pattern, in any case. Interestingly, the Soul King also seems to have himself a set of extra pupils as well. Months ago, when his eyes were first shown, I had thought the extra pupils were just dark, and that he had the "star-shaped eyes" thing going that Nia from Gurren Lagann had. I was wrong, and the implications of that seem to be that, alongside Ywach addressing the King as "Father", Quincy and Soul Reapers are far more closely related than anyone suspected. Remember back when they just used to be the guys that used bows? Ah, youth. Speaking of youth, all our favorite protagonists, the humans (hah!) finally come face to face with Ywach, after getting a quick briefing from the suddenly resurrected Ichibei. As for how he got back to the land of the sorta-not-dead (I just now remembered that Soul Society is technically the afterlife), just calling his name does the job. It's like he's a Kamen Rider or something! And reinforcements are on the way. The remaining Captains, as well as Rukia and Renji, are gathering with Urahara to make their way up to the Royal Palace, now that the fight's over on the ground. Hopefully the humans will be able to put up a credible fight before they arrive to steal the show again.
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A Long Time Coming
While it's been at least six weeks since the last time we checked in with Bleach, various publishing breaks and delays have given us just four-odd chapters to work with, and given the pace Bleach tends to move at, it fee...

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapters 607-609

Dec 14 // Josh Tolentino
But let's talk about that "visual language" thing I mentioned first. Kubo's always loved high contrast. It's not a matter of so-called "laziness" that Bleach has become known for being a series that "hates" having to draw backgrounds and scenery, but that to its creator, a blank white or black expanse is the most beautiful background one can imagine. The lastest engagement, between Quincy god-king Ywach and Royal Guard Captain Ichibei Hyousube, has expressed Kubo's love of contrast in a fashion about as close to its logical extreme as ever. Considering that the true "logical extreme" of Kubo's art style would probably be a giant poster of a yin-yang, that's pretty close. All the components of a Bleach-style battle (at least, the ones not involving Ichigo) are on display here, and with three full chapters devoted to the throwdown between the two highest-ranked combatants in the series to date, the general structure of Kubo-format combat is much more clear here than usual. And the takeaway? Bleach hates even matches. It's always a see-saw with these guys, and for the last sixty-odd pages, the weight has been on the side of the mad monk. At every turn Ichibei's been laying the smack down on his Quincy counterpart, and looking crazier and crazier doing it. The scale of the attacks are immense, all giant hands and feet, with monk and buddhist motifs to suit the burly fellow's stature. For the most part, Ywach is completely unable to counter, sitting there and taking it, with a dash of trash talk. It's almost enough to believe that Ywach's being pushed, here, but that other component of a Bleach fight - fact that any early victory is a virtual guarantee of defeat - rears its head quickly enough, as Ichibei deploys his sword-brush, Ichimonji, and its Bankai (or "Shinuchi" as its original name was), Shirafude. Even here, the theme is black-on-white. The Soul Reaper, who wears a white cloak over black kimono, unveils a weapon that splashes ink like he was accenting a Street Fighter trailer, with the power to blot out the name - and thus the qualities - of anything it touches. On the other side is the Quincy, whose letter is "A" for "Almighty" (with a chuuni-style double reading for "Omniscient"), wearing his black cloak over a white western-style coat , who puts his power in his name. It's all very much on-the-nose, and in classic Bleach fashion, the most powerful of the "good guys" (the ones that are destined to lose, at any rate) are ones that look most "evil". Ichibei looks more and more monstrous in his hubris, and even his power set implies a sort of corruption. Ichimonji's ability to "blacken" things and Ichibei's control over the color "black" speaks to idiomatic expressions about pollution, of converting untruth into truth, and (literally) overwriting that which is "true" (Ywach's power and identity) with falsehood ("renaming" Ywach into a mere "Ant").  Of course, that's what a dude with power over names does, but messing around with meaning like that pretty much puts the bad guy back on top of the coolness pedestal. In Bleach's world, real winners don't have to mess around with the parameters of the match. And as if on cue, Ywach quits messing around, revealing the meaning of his "A", and, in Aizen-esque fashion, claiming that he's foreseen all of this. The echoes of his fight with Yamamoto are almost palpable this time around, but even if the fight was ultimately unproductive, Ywach made a good show of looking like he'd been put on the ropes. Now we'll see the stuff the Quincy leader's made of, and hopefully set the stage for the true heroes to start doing what they do (which is win for realsies).
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Doesn't matter if you're black or white
Longtime readers of Bleach will note that this "final" arc of the series - scare quotes here because you can never trust a Jump manga to end on time - has featured a number of breaks from author Tite Kubo's established p...


Annotated Manga: Bleach chapters 605-606

Nov 20 // Josh Tolentino
Seeing that the elder monk Ichibei Hyousube is most definitely not the protagonist of this manga, the smart money goes to the big boss, Quincy king Ywach. That doesn't mean the top Soul Reaper has to just lie down and take it, though, and their exchange is striking. As the fellow who put a name to everything in Soul Society, and likely moonlighter as a fighter in Sengoku Basara, Hyousube's monk-themed attacks and powers are suitably literary, as befits a man whose job it is to encompass things in words. Of course, the fact that we know about his ability to "cut" the essence of anything by thwacking its "name" with his big ol' calligraphy brush, means he's made a key mistake: He's explained his powers. Having this happen so early is pretty much a death sentence. Of course, that's hardly the point when all he needs to do is put up a good fight, so it'll all work out in the end. As for Ywach, well, getting the "name" of his arms cut in half doesn't seem to be affecting his mood much, so we can count on him getting the upper hand sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, we check in with faces old and new. Commander Kyouraku, who may or may not still be missing an eye after a much earlier tussle with the late Robert Accutrone, has a vague conversation with the long-absent Ukitake, who we last saw recovering from the battle against...Aizen?! Wow, it has been a while. Anyway, the lines spoken imply some other force may be at work now that the Quincy have made it to the Royal Palace. Elsewhere, Urahara sets the stage for the Visored - it's been even longer since we last saw them - to follow Ichigo and crew up to the Royal Palace, as well as introducing Yuushiro Shihoin, younger sister to Yoruichi. She's got a package to deliver to dear big sister, and it looks like it might help at some future point in Ichigo and crew's fight. Let's just hope they get there in time.  
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Talk To The Buddhist Palm
It's the moment you've been waiting for, Bleach fans. It's all come to this...a big fight between two senior citizens, an epic battle of who has the most magnificent facial hair and the saltiest opinions about kids today. Which grandpa will win?

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapter 604

Nov 11 // Josh Tolentino
The results aren't pretty, especially if you like seeing your characters without holes blasted through their torsos.  Nimaiya Ohetsu, who did oh so very well last time around, is stuck at the mercy of the newly revived elite four, who partake of Ywach's redistribution to come back to life. They even have proper angel wings now, with feathers and all, so you know stuff's about to hit the fan. And in this story arc's new tradition of overexplaining powers, we gain insight into the capabilities of Lille Barro, "The X-Axis", whose power is best explained as "OMG IT'S LAZER RAILGUN". Really, it is. He doesn't shoot bullets, but simply pierces everything on a line between him and his target with his...I guess it really is a gun-arm. Which leaves Ywach to take on the big monk dude Ichibei Hyousube, who's come up with the true name of everything in Soul Society. We'll have to wait until next round to see how unnecessarily complex his abilities are. Meanwhile, the most potentially intriguing plot point sits back down below, where the more characterful Quincies aren't about to take the bogarting of their powers lying down. Unless this is another red herring that'll see these folks facedown in the dirt after an unseen defeat (again), we may see them pick a different side when the final fight comes around.  
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Wings n' things
When last we checked in with Bleach, Quincy big boss and mutton chop aficionado Ywach had pulled a real jerk move by regifting a whole buttload of power from his Sternritter on the ground. The intended destination of this "take from the poor, give to the rich" approach to group dynamics was clear enough, and in this chapter, we deal with the repercussions. 

Annotated Manga: Bleach 603

Oct 29 // Josh Tolentino
Instead, it seems to be more capturing the feelings of Liltotto, as Ywach extends a less-than-helping hand to the Sternritter left behind in Soul Society, only to drain them all and use their power to revive the elite four. I suppose you could make the argument that from Ywach's perspective, all Quincy power extends from him, which makes it his to take back as he sees fit. Either way, it's kind of a dick move, considering that the Sternritter are still fighting. Well, not anymore, I guess. Besides this scene, which seems to remove Liltotto, Bazz-B, Nanana, the newly-named Accutrone (the Colonel Sanders-lookin' dude who shot Kyouraku in the eye) from the field, we also get a quick update on the other Sternritter. Candice, Meninas, and Pepe are all out as well, and most likely dead. On the Soul Reaper side, all we see is Renji, looking little worse for the wear. If the big fight is now all up at the Royal Palace, one can only wonder if Kubo will see fit to bring the remaining (and still popular) Captains and Vice-Captains up to tussle at some point.  
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What, indeed
This week seems to be one for short recaps, but where one recap this week was short because very little needed to be said that wasn't conveyed in a single panel, this week's installment of Bleach left me desperately wishing that the chapter title, "What The Hell" were a more apt descriptor of what actually went on in the pages.

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapters 598-600

Oct 10 // Josh Tolentino
To be perfectly honest, it's not much of a battle...yet. As per Bleach tradition, we're still in the trash-talk stages of the combat. There's much to be said along the lines of "When did I say THIS was the extent of my power?" from both sides. On the side of Ywach and his escorts, it was natural to expact that Bleach would saveYwach, Haschwald, and Uryuu to fight Ichigo and his crew, still in transit. This would leave the Royal Guard without an opponent, but it looks like Ywach's shadow has ample accomodations for Ywach's elite Sternritter, as well as the twin-tongued freak Nianzol "The Wind" Weizol. Nianzol squares off against Senjumaru Shutara, the Great Weaver and part-time spider-lady. It seems to me that Royal Guard members are selected for more than their fighting prowess, as Senjumaru's got some mad sewing skillz, able to booby-trap Nianzol's uniform while he's still wearing it. Though that goofy-eyed look might have made her job easier. The folks who definitely aren't easy, though, are Ywach's top four Sternritter. They also confirm by their existence, that the actual placement of your letter doesn't really matter as far as power levels go, at least not for letters besides the "A and B" used by Ywach, Haschwald, and Uryuu. Heck, in the elite four we've got an "M", Gerard "The Miracle" Valkyrie, the "X", held by the hilariously haired sniper, Lille "X-Axis" Barro, the "Death-dealing" Askin Nakk Levarr, who happened to be promoted in from the lower-ranked Sternritter, but is so very normal-looking that he's probably the strongest of the bunch. Bringing up the creep factor is "The Compulsory", Pernide Parnkjas, who wears a hood and has glowing eyes that make him look like he's cosplaying a Final Fantasy Black Mage. The Miracle and The X-Axis make short work of Senjumaru's minions, even putting a whole through her haid and leaving one of the creepiest corpses Bleach has yet seen. But of course, that's all a ruse, thanks to Senjumaru's apparent tapestry talents. The rest of the Royal Guard then arrive, setting the first fight with Oetsu, inventor of the Zanpakuto and a dude who keeps his swords in an aquarium. It's pretty cool seeing the top tier of power operate, though considering that any given Royal Guard member is said to outmatch the entire Gotei 13, their actions have felt somewhat "small" of late. But of course, the real fight has only just begun, and we can at least look forward to that.
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Breaking Wind
Since Ywach and his party of Quincy butt-kickers have entered the Soul King's palace itself, we shift focus. Now Bleach is all about the battle between the aforementioned and the Royal Guard, who are (allegedly) above all others when it comes to all things Soul Reaper.

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapter 596-597

Sep 21 // Josh Tolentino
Case in point, Pepe "The Love" Waccabrada, whose Vollstandig super-form is that of a naked, hairy, dark-skinned Santa Claus-Putti hybrid, the image of which may or may not be kind of racist (I'm still trying to decide).  Not only does he look gross, he also just tried to kill his fellow Sternritter in a bid to gain sole glory. Of course, it doesn't quite work out, though he manages to land a good sucker punch on Liltotto Lampered. He and Giselle get theirs, of course, and that's thanks to the freak-in-chief and his magic drugs. Apparently shooting up Giselle's mind-controlled "zombies" with Kurotsuchi's special stash brings them under the Captain of the 12th's jurisdiction, putting the controlled in (sort-of) friendly hands.  Heck, not even Pepe's "Love" can reach the Soul Reapers' hearts, because, according to Kurotsuchi, his zombies "don't know what love is". Which immediately made me think of this:  [embed]33047:4197:0[/embed] Ah, such is the dilemma of the zombie. Following that mildly conclusive update, we check in with the Soul King's court, where the Royal Guard - any one of whom is allegedly more powerful than all the other 13 squads combined - is getting punked hard by Ywach. Kirinji, the dude with the hot spring fetish and epic pompadour, can't land a hit on Ywach, though the mustachioed baddie isn't even trying to dodge. Same deal when Shutara - the top-tier tailor that gave Ichigo, Rukia, Byakuya, and Renji their turbans and capes - has her harem of sword-wielding minions take a slice. And as it turns out, the thing turning away all the strikes was a secret Sternritter, Nianzol Weizol, whose "W" stands for "The Wind". I guess we can guess what his gimmick is.
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What Is Love?
The continuing freak-off that is the Vandenreich army persists in the latest installments of Bleach, as if we weren't yet sure who the good guys were in this fight. Of course, being not-a-freak has never been an especially te...

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapters 594-595

Sep 06 // Josh Tolentino
The stakes, in this case, are a revelation of just how busy Giselle has been "recruiting" zombies for the fight. Now she's got Kensei, Rose, and Rangiku all up and in Kurotsuchi's face, just as he was about to start experimenting on his captive Hitsugaya. It's almost as if Kubo wanted to poke a bit of fun at a hoary old Bleach cliche: No one dies until they're given a funeral. And it's true. Heck, I used to call that particular cliche "No one dies until we see the body", but even that doesn't take, considering how dead-looking people can get without having to be subbed out.  As you may remember, Kensei and Rose were last seen having their asses handed to them by Mask de Masculine, the most fun of the Quincy Sternritter. They were implied to be killed as collateral damage during Kenpachi's duel with that "V" kid who did the meteor thing. But they're not dead. Just mind-slaved by Gigi, who at this point has gone missing. In the meantime, we're also introduced to another freakshow, Pepe "The Love" Waccabrada, who can control the minds of whomever his heart-shaped beam attacks strike.  The "L" Sternritter might have had a tough time, though. He's fighting Byakuya, after all. not even brainwashed young bloods with weird "69" tattoos on their cheeks can tip the balance that far. Plus, Byakuya's grown even stronger, what with all that hanging out around the Royal Guards and getting his sword fixed and a sweet fez fitted. He's even taken out three more Sternitter before the fight's even begun proper, once again leaving us with the strangely durable duo of the girl with the super-strength and the one whose lips detach and eat things all gross-like. Which, of course, is when Pepe himself delivers the twist: He plans to kill everyone and take the credit. Stopping him are...Giselle's remaining zombies? What? That actually makes sense, considering how thoroughly the series has evidenced the fact that all these Quincies are jerks who are really into in-fighting. Advantage Soul Reapers, I guess.
Bleach photo
Triple Threat
Now that we've reached this latest stage in Bleach's Quincy v. Soul Reaper freak-off, I'm pretty glad to see that Tite Kubo still has a good handle on how to escalate a fight. Because there's nothing quite like raising the stakes.

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapter 593

Aug 24 // Josh Tolentino
Perhaps it's because we're actually seeing a fight between major characters for the first time in a while. Or maybe it's thanks to the weeklong break Bleach took. Either way, seeing Captain Kurotsuchi duke it out with the "zombified" Hitsugaya is quite the thing to watch, and stands as a sterling example of classic Bleach fight escalation. Now, if only it weren't totally biting the "Izanami" sequence from Naruto... I am of course being facetious with that accusation, but it's hard not to notice the similarities at play between Kurotsuchi's sure-win gimmick and Itachi's use of Izanami to trap Kabuto in a hell of his own making. In the latter case, Kabuto was forced by Izanami to relive a time-loop until he found the genuine resolve to change himself and face his issues. In Bleach's case, it's one of Kurotsuchi's fancy new drugs, one that forces Hitsugaya to loop back whenever he wins the fight. It's a real dastard of a ploy, and perfectly suited to Kurotsuchi, since he's demonstrated before that he can make drugs to alter a person's perception of time, but perhaps its timing is just unfortunate in this case. It doesn't help that he ruins all the drama by over-explaining things in totally unnecessary detail. No, Kubo, we don't need to know how the side-effects of too much looping with the drug paralyzes one's sense of balance for exactly 30 seconds. The only important thing to know is that the chilly young prodigy is now at our resident freak's mercy. That kind of unnecessary jawing is why I had to qualify my comments about Bleach "looking good" to absolutely not include the writing or plotting. But still, it's fun to look at, innit?
Bleach photo
A true Storm of Swords
Bleach is lookin' good, if you don't mind my saying.  I don't mean that by the state of its plot or the quality of its writing, but I do think that this last chapter has put out surprisingly striking visuals, a strong contrast to the relatively lackluster panels of the last few weeks.

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapter 592

Aug 13 // Josh Tolentino
It's kind of funny. I always bang on about how Komamura was a top-class jobber in the Soul Reaper ranks all the way until he sacrificed his furry butt to take down Bambi, but young Toshiro has nearly as bad of a record. The Captain of the 10th's performance breakdown is quite dismal, and he'd be pretty much where Komamura is were it not for a handful of victories against an Arrancar flunky, a punk kid Fullbringer, and Tia Halibel. Beyond that, his history is one of either being defeated, run through, or almost killing someone a friend. But now the frosty boy's back, and like in the case of Komamura, it takes being turned "traitor" to give the guy a taste of success. Too bad his comeback has to come at the expense of Ikkaku, Yumichika, and that poor burly man's health. Such is the way of things. If nothing else, though, it looks like Kurotuschi may well be ready to take the field directly for the first time in quite a while. And of course, he does it FOR SCIENCE!
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The cutting edge
When last we left the latest melee on Bleach's order of battle, Captain Kurotsuchi's revived Arrancar seemed to have GiGi Gewelle and her zombie troops in the bag.  That is, until she brought out her trump card, a "zombie" Captain Hitsugaya, who was last seen half-dead following a tussle with Bazz-B and Cang Du. Will the frozen prince live up to his reputation as a (now-posthumous) prodigy?

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapter 591

Aug 03 // Josh Tolentino
Of course, if you're a longtime Bleach reader, you already know that to be true, at least as far as the rule goes that almost nobody is ever "ended", as in killed in this big, dumb manga. So long as you don't see the actual body, you can never count a Bleach combatant - especially not a heroic or even anti-heroic one - as dead. At least Naruto had the decency to bring its "dead" characters back as zombies rather than simply letting them recover off-panel. And now, even Bleach is trying out that particular angle, pitting GiGi's mind-controlled "zombie" Soul Reapers against Kurotsuchi's apparently resurrected Arrancar, whose names I can't even be bothered to look up. Look, all I know is that they made up some of the first fights the cast and co. had against Arrancar. And for a bunch of Z-listers, they acquit themselves well. Even the hyper-masculine dude (I really shouldn't have said I was OK with the occasional "flamer joke" last time) that Yumichika managed to kill manages to take down zombie Bambietta, who not long ago couldn't be beaten by any less than Komamura mounting a suicide attack. But I was getting to a bit about "not seeing the body", wasn't I? Remember whose body we didn't end up seeing recently? I was referring to this guy's. Actually, I think it's cute that GiGi went so far as to dress undead Hitsugaya up in a Quincy uniform.  Of course, we should remember that her "zombification" technique doesn't require a Soul Reaper to be actually dead to work (though Quincies need to be), so chances are good that someone may be able to snap the frozen princeling out of his strangely tan stupor before long.
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Zombie-on-zombie violence
This week's chapter of Bleach is all about endings. Not about the ending, of course, but about the endings of the fights that much up this big, dumb manga, and how they can, on occasion, not be the end.

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapter 590

Jul 28 // Josh Tolentino
Once again I'm almost shocked to see such a quick turnaround on a character who'd be little more than an afterthought in any other Bleach arc. I'm not one to try too hard to get into creators' heads when I do my reading, but this whole storyline has been rife with turns that smack of Kubo trying to subvert the expectations and internal conventions Bleach has built up over the years, at least on the surface level. In that context, having Sternritter's "Z" get loads more play than the "E"-level, achingly cute (and now dead) Bambi seems to be one such move. Unfortunately, one pattern that Kubo hasn't quite broken with much is having some unfortunate humor at the expense of Gigi apparently being a dude in drag. If you read these recaps regularly you'll notice I've been harping on this point of late. Anime and Japanese culture being what it is, I'm not necessarily opposed to the occasional flamer joke, but something about Gigi's treatment rubs wrong. It's probably due to having Yumichika just out him like some weird "takes one to know one" sort of point, then treating the moment like a trigger to make Gigi go full-crazy. It's unpleasant, especially combined with some of the weirder porn-language innuendo they've got undead Bambi spouting now that she's a zombie with strangely shaded skin. But enough about that, let's talk about Kurotsuchi. It's funny how he used to be Creeper King #1, and in the years since has been reduced to mere comic relief. And they never did get around that subplot from oh-so-long-ago that seemed to be shipping Uryuu and Nemu.  Still, the man can pull out the cool toys, and those toys include some real blasts from the pasts: Yup, if I'm not mistaken, those are among the first Arrancar the Soul Reapers fought during the Hueco Mundo arc and the opening stages of the fight against Aizen. If nothing else I recognize the big dude on the left and the lady right of center. I wonder who else Kubo has all Frankenstein'd up in the next chapters?
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Lewder by the week
What is it with Quincy and creepers? I mean, every army has one or two creepy types, but it seems to me that when Ywach summoned all the "true" Quincy to his side the only place that had them was the madhouse.  Well, whatever the reason for the Sternritter's unusually high nutball quotient, it seems that Kubo is grooming young Giselle "Gigi" Gewelle for a top spot.

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapter 589

Jul 17 // Josh Tolentino
But first, in another sign that Kubo is somehow anticipating both the complaints and desires of his readers, he addresses the, uhh..."two big issues" confronting the arrival of Orihime onto the field. I'm talking about her cleavage, of course, and the ridiculous outfit she wore to show it off. Last time I asked if that was some kind of joke...and it was! Specifically, it was all Urahara's idea! Bleach and its creator are more clever than we give them credit for, methinks. But on the other hand, Orihime doesn't actually change out of the offending garment, so between than and other comedic missteps this chapter I guess it still balances in favor of the "Bleach is dumb crap" camp. But enough about that, look who's back! I really missed Yoruichi, who we haven't seen in real action since she got creamed fighting Aizen. Of course, she's limited to being a glorified delivery girl with conspicuously exposed underoos this time, but the fact that we see her at all bodes well for getting her some action sooner or later. Speaking of action... Ikkaku and Yumichika continue facing off against Giselle and the zombified Bambietta, who in a frankly shocking twist, is confirmed to be dead. And yes, that is the shocking twist, not this weird, inappropriate harping on whether or not Giselle's actually a dude. Why they keep poking at that open wound in progressivism is beyond my foreign sensibilities. Returning to Bambi's apparent death (by Giselle's hand, no less), I'm genuinely surprised by the move, given that Kubo's typically taken a softer hand when depicting the fates of his cuter female characters. And let me tell you, Bambi was one of the cutest.  Think about it. Riruka was the only member of Xcution to get away unscathed, neither of Aizen's female Arrancar groupies were permanently killed off, Hiyori was the first Bleach hero character to get cut in half and still made it through that last battle, and the fates of Tier Halibel, Nel, and a number of other well-rendered ladies have been left deliberately vague. But confirming that Bambi is indeed dead and under the control of Giselle, a character that any captain would've crushed instantly in an earlier arc is a new step. Well, it's not an entirely new step, seeing as Giselle's the creepy member of the Sternritter the good guys have fought so far (As Nodt aside), so naturally, resident Soul Reaper Creeper Kurotsuchi and his so-lazy-you-don't-even-have-to-shade-it outfit are called up to set this match going. We'll have to see if he's learned anything new since the last time he did some fighting.
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Return of the Black (cat)
Y'know, when Urahara said that getting transport ready to take Ichigo and crew to the Royal Palace would take "a minute or sixty", he wasn't kidding. Or maybe he was kidding, since I took him about two weeks worth of chapters...

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapter 588

Jul 11 // Josh Tolentino
Part of the reason for that is standard spoiler-avoidance. Our recaps are more about commentary than synopsis. After all, it's more likely than not that anyone wanting to read a Bleach recap has likely already read the chapter in question, and going over it blow-by-blow would be a waste of time and space. The other reason, of course, is that not a lot "happens" in a given chapter of Bleach.a To crib a western comics term, Bleach is a very "decompressed" series, and lends a lot of its space to giving individual moments gravitas at the expense of the "eventfulness" of a given installment. Decompression isn't inherently a bad thing. Between the packed-to-bursting panels of the 1960s Silver Age newspaper strips to modern books printed with the intention of future collation into trade paperbacks and tankoubon volumes, it's all about space management, and the ideal approach is different for every story. Being decompressed works for Bleach, in my opinion, because I've noticed that for a series with such a low density of "plot" in every chapter, I'm never lacking for panels to capture for the recap. Compare that to the times I've struggled to find something, anything to grab that would make a decent header for the Naruto recap, Kubo Tite is a reliable provider when it comes to eye-candy.  Even now, where only two real events of consequence occur (plus one really icky event of negative social value), there's a wealth of visual information to pull just from the poses. Like where Tenjiro "Hot Springs Biker Punk" Kirinji faces off against Ywach, Haschwald and Uryuu, you can get all the details you need about the first stages of this fight without needing to read a word. Hell, you can even predict how it'll go, given that Tenjiro just challenged the final boss without the benefit of being the hero. Smart money's on him being dead by month's end.  The next event of consequence is the return of Bambietta Basterbine, Sternritter "E", great hat-wearer, and the cutest Quincy girl you ever did see. That is, until she got her ass kicked in service of finally giving Komamura a win, and now she seems to be dead, a zombie meat-puppet for Sternritter "Z", Giselle Gewelle. She's facing off against Ikkaku and Yumichika, and here's where we get to the icky moment I mentioned above. Apparently Yumichika's style sense is so strong that he can smell dudes a mile away, and it seems that Giselle is one such person. Why, exactly, any of that matters, is beyond me, and outing a trans character as some kind of shocking twist is unpleasant, to say the least. Oh, manga!  Ah well, maybe next week we can get past this and start fighting or something.
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A brilliant 'do
I was reading through a bunch of my old recaps for Bleach - reading your old writing is a great way to make sure you don't get too full of yourself - and realized that I spend a lot of time talking about Bleach in generalities, rather than tackling the specifics of a given chapter or episode. Let's do that again for a bit, shall we?

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapter 587

Jul 07 // Josh Tolentino
Let's make no bones about it: Bleach has been deadly serious for most of the last few months of stories. That "seriousness" is "deadly" in the sense that all these people saying Big Important Things mostly murder the sense of fun and remind us that a fight manga's strong point usually doesn't lie in writing and dialog.   Thankfully, though, Uryuu's departure from the scene has given Ichigo an opportunity to mope about his best friend turning coat (Really? They've barely spoken in a decade of chapters!), but thankfully Chad and Orihime are back to give him moral support, almost as if that's all they've really been good for most of the time. Naturally, he snaps out of it and does that hero thing where he declares that he'll do a thing, and then the rest of the story from here on in is about how no one can stop him from doing said thing. Speaking of funny stuff, how about Orihime's outfit? That has to be a joke, right? I mean, Kubo makes a point of using Bleach as a platform for his fashion-design ambitions! Seriously, at least the women from Dragon's Crown have an excuse, in that they're a bald-faced sendup of classic fantasy pulp art. Sigh. But hey, I'm talking about Bleach's sense of humor, which implies I was referring to some deliberately funny moments. And to be fair, there are a couple, mostly in Renji and Rukia's interaction with the Bazz-B of the Burner Fingers. Indeed, given that Bazz had a thing for Renji's hilarious eyebrows, they'd have been best buds had Renji had been nice enough to put compliment before insult. Oh well, at least we get to see a Burner Finger 4 in action, and that's cool, too.
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Lifting more than just busts
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Not a whole lot happens in any single chapter of Bleach. Oftentimes a given 16-20 page installment is little more than the next few steps in a fight, which can, at times, prove a ch...

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapter 586

Jun 28 // Josh Tolentino
Of course, I'm qualifying my statement here, since I used "should really be" in the first sentence. Clearly, I've implied that it isn't quite there, and for me, that's definitely the case. I mean, sure, I can appreciate a good badass action pose, and this chapter's full of them, from Bazz-B and his gangsta Quincy crossbow to the fact that we're seeing both Hisagi and Yumichika, two characters who I really wouldn't mind seeing achieve Bankai sometime.  They're certainly going to need it, seeing as they're fighting six-on-eight, and even low-end Sternritter like Candace and the girls can give top-flight Soul Reapers a run for their reiatsu. But going back to my caveat about this chapter, we see a repeat of one of Bleach's worst dramatic habits: the scene where Ichigo yells someone's name as they turn away from him. In this case the turncoat is Uryuu, who steps in to bar Ichigo from reaching Ywach and ending the war prematurely.  What kind of scene am I talking about? It's a familiar cliche of Bleach and dates back all the way to the first set of stories. You know what I'm getting at! It's those scenes where Ichigo is surprised and horrified to see someone he trusted turning they're back on him, and asks them why. They answer with some cryptic phrase and attempt to warn him off, only to have him interrupt with the equivalent of "I'm asking you a question!". Of course, the question is never answered and the person in question turns away, leaving him to yell their names at their back in despair. It happened way back when Rukia left for Soul Society, and happened again with a range of characters, even up to villain-tier and beyond.  Am I nitpicking? Sure I am, but there's not that much else to contemplate, outside of the common traits all invisible brawls take. Hopefully we'll this whole thing snowball into an ending, sometime.
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Lineup of justice
This latest chapter of Bleach should really be a celebration of Tite Kubo's mastery of "badass" moments, and in some ways it is. The Soul Reapers have rallied, and in unintentional homage to the tokusatsu tropes tha...

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapters 584-585

Jun 20 // Josh Tolentino
I find it somewhat strange to continue seeing the quartet of Bambi's groupies still in the fight, long after they had the misfortune of being on the mound when Ichigo finally stepped up to the plate. Really, at any other time in Bleach's history, or even in most other fight show fiction, characters of their caliber would've been wiped out, fodder to demonstrate the sheer puissance of whoever needed showing off at the time. Not even their own treacherous comrades can get rid of them! Bazz-B, the guy supposedly even stronger than the late, great General Yamamoto, went so far as to put a burner finger through the four girls in an attempt to Bogart the fight, but that wasn't enough to keep them from trying to snatch the glory of being first to get chopped up by the lead character.  And what a chopping session it would've been, since Bazz and the girls were joined by local DJ Nanana Najakoop, a floating dude named Pepe, and the gun-wielding evil Colonel Sanders fellow credited with taking Captain Kyoraku's eye.  But of course, it wasn't to be, as Bleach has never had much interest in the kinds of group fights that make up the likes of Naruto and others. Kubo's in it for the duel, and much as his brainchild's made a point of bucking tradition in this final arc, hot one-on-one action is the soul of this comic. Which, of course, brings us to the hilarious new plot twist designed to put Ichigo on the path to the final boss while setting up pretty much everyone for a duel of their own. What plot twist, you ask? Well, if nothing else, it's a twist that answers a couple of nagging questions, but these questions aren't the sort of thing one clarifies at a time like this. I mean, did we really need to know what the King's Key is? Actually, yes, we did, given that it was the thing Aizen was planning to nab for himself all those years ago. Turns out the key was..Ichigo. Or rather, the fancy duds he was wearing when he arrived on the scene. It seems the King's Key only responds to Reapers in the Soul King's Royal Guard. It's a smart plan, considering that the Royal Guard almost never leaves the King's side, but it's also kind of a boondoggle. Y'see, we make a big fuss over Ichigo's new threads and Kubo's continuing ambition to use his series as a platform for his fashion industry ambitions. It just so happens, though, that Ywach and his Quincies were doing roughly the same thing. Why? Because in a factoid that really should've been telegraphed better, clothes tailored by the Royal Guard contain their essense, and getting him to come down here was all part of the master plan. After all, the passage of Ichigo would blow open all manner of doors to the  Palance, and keeping them unlocked for an hour and a half. So now we've got the stakes, the venue, and the opponent (Ywach himself, with Haschwald and Uryuu folllowing. I think we'v got ourselves a final boss fight, folks.
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The gang's all here
I've got to hand it to the Sternritter: Though we've barely known any of them for more than a panel or two, they do make quite the powerful impression. That said, it's high time we spent these last portions of Bleach in the company of badasses we're more familiar with, yes?

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Music

A Daily Dose of Music: Old School Thursdays


No stopping the Soul Reapers
Jun 12
// Hiroko Yamamura
It's been a while, but I sure am excited to you on another trip down memory lane. This week we head back a good decade to the year 2004. It seems weird to think of 2004 as a decade ago, but time sure does have a way to get a...

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapters 582-583

Jun 08 // Josh Tolentino
To be fair, it's not like Bambi's groupies were especially uninteresting opponents. Kubo's always had a knack for making compelling female side characters - an irony given his seeming inability to grant his most important lady leads a level of agency appropriate to their heroine status. Let's not overdo it, though: Candace, Liltotto, Meninas, and Giselle are one-note cliches, but the thing with fight series like this is that it's better to be a fun, memorably executed archetype than a wasted opportunity, and the stories of Rukia and Orihime are practically defined by neglect at this point. But enough griping about characters that aren't even present this week (which is yet more evidence of the problem, by the way), let's talk about Ichigo being cool. Yeah, he's pretty damn cool, though his new duds are quite underwhelming. They're exactly the same as his old duds, except with a bandolier to hold his new swords, a funny thing considering that he was rarely drawn without his hand on Zangetsu anyway. I have to say I liked his previous duds, which looked exactly the same as his old dudes (and these new duds), except with those Fullbringer-esque strappy bits undergirding the standard Soul Reaper uniform. Of course, this is Bleach we're talking about, and Ichigo, to boot, so the uniform's nothin'. The true measure of our man will have to come around whenever he decides to show off his Bankai. That moment may be a while yet in coming, though, for despite a good showing from Bambi's groupies, Ichigo's clearly far out of their league, knocking them around barefisted even after Candace popped her Vollstandig power-up mode. Then again, the only thing that seemed to get stronger after she hit it was the stink of her dialog. I mean, really? Bragging about how you can "sextuple-wield" lightning bolts followed by no visible evidence of six lightning bolts? You done goofed, Kubo. That was a bad line, even for you. But what am I even doing, whining about a bad line or two and over-praising a cute group of mooks, when the most important event in Bleach history has just occurred?! Yes, the most IMPORTANT event. ICHIGO KUROSAKI DEMONSTRATED A NEW ATTACK Anyone who's kept up with Bleach will know how momentous that is, considering that in the decade-plus of Bleach's existence, its hero has only ever, ever known a single attack. The Getsuga Tenshou has been the bread and butter of Ichigo's fighting style since before it even had a name, and the funny bit is that it isn't even an original creation! Isshin, Ichigo's father, used it regularly! And despite all of Ichigo's many changes to power set - learning Zangetsu's name, gaining a Bankai, becoming Visored, losing his powers, dredging up a Fullbringer secret stash, rejoining the Soul Reapers, and everything, he's only ever used the trusty old Getsuga. But now he's got a new thing, courtesy of his dual-wielding. And it's....a cross-shaped Getsuga. Uh...yeah. OK, it's not much, but it's something, and finally, finally, we got something new, right? And besides, if we're considering a double Rasengan from Naruto as a valid variation, we've got to consider this one, too. Man, now I really can't wait to see what Ichigo'll have to offer in Bankai mode! *Yes, he used something called "Mugetsu" to beat Aizen, but I don't count that as a "new attack" since it was effectively a suicide move, and the internet is telling me that it was more an extension of the "Final Getsuga Tensho" anyway. So there.
AM: Bleach photo
Return of the Mack
The Mack is back, and by "Mack" we mean, "The Strawberry", because Bleach is once again graced by the presence of its lead character. It makes for quite the entrance, as Kenpachi, the one guy in this series nobody e...

Annotated Manga: Bleach chapters 579-581

May 22 // Josh Tolentino
If there's anything I've liked about this latest Bleach arc, it's that Kubo Tite seems fully aware that this is his baby's last hurrah. And like a 2nd-term President, he's been taking that "lame duck" period as an opportunity to do quite a bit of experimentation, fulfilling both the expectations of his audience and turning some of Bleach's most common cliches on their heads. Also, Glemy turned out to be an actual brain-in-a-jar. And I'd have thought only that Espada guy with the unpronounceable name would be the one! Plus, he's been throwing in some long-awaited promises, most recently seeing Kenpachi's bankai. And what a bankai it was. Have you ever wanted to see someone kicking a meteor's ass? That just happened. Have you ever wanted to see what would happen when a guy tries to imagine himself in Kenpachi's shoes? Lemme tell you, it wasn't pretty. Perhaps most importantly, have you ever wanted to see someone beating Kenpachi? Because that actually happened. And they did it on-panel to boot, rather than via that shock-frame showing that one Sternritter that mimics people copying Ywach.  To add insult to injury, everyone's favorite Hulk-equivalent was beaten not by Worf-ing against the final boss or a Kaiju-sized monstrosity like Yammy, but by Bambietta Basterbine's groupies. Yes, that gaggle of four girls that make Harribel's entourage look like a bunch of blushing bridesmaids. To think, the strongest guy in the 13 squads taken down by Quincies V, G, P T, and Z. With "V" being the late Glemy, the four other letters are claimed by Lilotto Lamperd, Meninas McAllen, Candice Catnip, and Giselle Gewelle, in that order. Unlike most groupie characters, though, these four seem capable of pulling their weight (compared, at least, to the Espada's Fraccion or your average vice-captain Soul Reaper). That said, their powers vary in creativity, with Meninas' "Power" and Candice's "Thunder" being exactly as implied. Lilotto's face-distorting cannibalism (aptly called "Gluttony") is appropriately unsettling, though I have to say Giselle's "Zombie" power, which mind-controls anyone she bleeds on, is a bit too similar to As Nodt's spit-based fear ability. Either way, seeing this quartet floor the man before he even got a chance to remove his eyepatch is a supreme indignity! Then again, that opens the floor for a check-in with some of the other good guys, with Shinji, Omaeda, an unconscious Soifon, and Momo (who you may know as Aizen and Hitsugaya's girlfriend) facing off against Bazz-B, the Burner Finger Boy. But none of that matters, really. Why? Because Ichigo's back, that's why. C'mon dual-wielding! Show these fake-Nazi punks what for!
Annotated Manga: Bleach photo
Face-melting fury
Welcome to the next evolution of our Shonen Showdown fight show recap! In case you haven't noticed, we at Japanator have sunsetted the Annotated Anime Roundup, and honored every show we cover with its own, solo post. Our reca...

Manga photo
Manga

Here are the 20 most popular manga


Confirmed: Pirates beat assassins
May 02
// Pedro Cortes
Last week on a post about the Attack on Titan manga reaching 30 million volumes sold, I wondered what the numbers were for other popular series. Several days later, Mangazenken posts which are the top 20 manga series based on...

Shonen Showdown: April 26, 2014

Apr 26 // Josh Tolentino
Anime Chris Walden Hunter x Hunter Episode 126 It's kind of a shame that we don't get to see Netero using his bodhisattva ability against any opponents before the King, because it's really hard to gauge just how strong it is. I mean, I'm pretty sure it'd annihilate most opponents and that the King is an exception, but I think I'd like to have seen one of the chimera ant commanders try to fight him while he was meditating in the middle of nowhere before this fight. That way we'd get a true sense of just how tough the King is. The battle seems very one-sided, with Netero not allowing the King to land a blow, but all of those Gungi games with Komugi seem to be helping him form a strategy while this is happening. Several episodes ago when the King is just starting to learn Gungi, the narrator mentioned that it would be Komugi that great affects the upcoming battle. Obviously she hasn't directly influenced it, at least not yet, but the King has definitely changed because of her. It's hard to say what the battle would have been like without Komugi's involvement, because the King would still have been tough as nails to inflict damage upon, but I find it hard to believe that he'd formulate strategies in the same way, even with ample time to do so. The King calculates the exact moment he is able to strike, taking Netero's leg. This is pretty much the beginning of the end, as now the King is aware that there is a viable strategy, and considering that Netero isn't consciously making biased decisions, it's going to happen again. And it does. The King takes one of Netero's arms, perhaps on the assumption that it would put him out of the fight, what with Netero seemingly having to place his hands together in order to launch an attack. While this is not the case, it does force him to use his strongest attack, the so-called Zero Hand, using a Buddha to creep up behind the King that fires a giant laser out of his face. By the looks of it, this laser seems to be fuelled by some kind of life force, because in the aftermath we see Netero looking like he's aged a good fifty years. Even his wounds have reopened, presumably because he no longer has the strength to force them closed. Now, I think there have been mixed opinions on the conclusion of this fight. Is it cheap that Netero stops his own heart, triggering an explosion due to a bomb that was presumably concealed within his own body? In my opinion, no, it wasn't. In fact, I think it's the perfect way for this fight to have ended. The King calls out his own bloodline and evolutionary abilities at the end of this fight, saying that he was not alone in reaching his position of King, and the strength that comes with it. It's this statement that makes it perfect, as the King, now known by his name of Meruem, disregards the evolution of the human species. Netero was also the product of thousands of years of evolution, both in his appearance and ability, as well as scientific achievement. The fact that we can produce technology such as explosives is proof of how far we've come, and so it is the perfect way for this clash of species to come to an end. Judging by the preview, we're in for a fun episode on Tuesday. Something that still bothers me is Meruem's lack of using a nen ability, and for that reason I believe he's not dead, even if he's not in any shape to fight after this explosion. It's hard to tell how strong this bomb is in comparison to the Buddha beam, after all. [Hunt for this show on Crunchyroll!]   Josh Tolentino Naruto Shippuden episode 360 As Kakashi's story closes in on the actual events of Naruto we're seeing  a more granular examination of his character. Now that he's out of the ANBU, gone is the true "ninja-ness" of the affair, which is disappointing, but inevitable. He's a teacher now, after all. That's not the end of it, though, as we see how Kakashi earned his formidable reputation, feared by all as the kind of Jonin Leader that sends everyone back to the Academy. That's how Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke saw him, and today's episode highlights why. In a way, it also explains why you really don't want to get a teacher that's into self-loathing.  Y'see, if they hate themselves for, say, indirectly leading his two best friends to their deaths, they tend to project onto you in an attempt to keep you from making the same mistakes. Them working out their PTSD means tough times for your unfortunate butt. But Kakashi wasn't always a hard-ass, so the episode takes care to show how his tough love does produce some positive results, though at the same time a favorable contrast to Guy's method is also drawn, showing that everyone's got a style, and the dedication eventually shines through. It's a nice moment, though I'd have liked to see how characters like Asuma and Kurenai trained their squads of Genin to get the full spread. Next week, Kakashi begins preparing for the biggest task of his life: Training the protagonists.   Pedro Cortes One Piece Episode 640 &641   As is normal for the start of a One Piece arc, the Strawhats split up to have their own adventures. It makes for some difficulties in pace management, as trying to juggle all these stories can be a pain. The issues for the next ten episodes or so will be bouncing between the colosseum and the rest of the crew. With Luffy’s block about to start, I expect there’ll be most of an episode spent getting the action completed, followed by cutaways for a few weeks. Most of these episodes is spent introducing the Tontatta, or the “fairies” of Dressrosa, both on Green Bit and the main island proper. You know that they’ll feature heavily in the future, as their grudge with the Don Quixote is pretty hefty.   Sanji also gets some heavy lifting, as he deals with Violet’s betrayal. We’ve always known his soft spot with women, but actually having it pan out is a surprise. It also adds another possible wrinkle into the inner workings of the Don Quixote family. It’s also surprising to see just how deep the Strawhats have fallen into Doflamingo’s trap. With her help, Sanji should be able to start getting the rest of the crew out of trouble. Well, everybody but Law. I think he’s in for some trouble.  Also, I think the Tontatta just said that Robin doesn’t wear underwear. Oh my.   Manga Pedro Cortes One Piece Chapter 744 - 745   These chapters waste no time with the awesome stuff. First and foremost, Sabo grabs the Mera-Mera Fruit and eats it, inheriting Ace’s fire powers. Second, we actually see him out of the Lucy outfit and…well, he looks like you’d expect, just older. Oh, and Koala comes back, which pleases me greatly. I’m hoping we see more out of her. Second, the legend of Usopp continues. The more this guy gets worshiped, the harder I laugh. The freed pirates cheer their savior, as he’s being held up by a giant.  Usopp’s reaction? The wounded sniper just wants to be put down, only the words he barely gets out makes him look even more awesome to the assembled masses. Such is the legend of Usopp.   The real trouble starts when Pika appears and grabs Doflamingo’s body. The separated head starts talking about activating the ‘birdcage.’ No, he’s not talking about showing the citizens of Dressrosa the famous Robin Williams and Nathan Lane flick of the same name, he’s talking about activating a technique that forces the citizens of Dressrosa to kill Doflamingo, kill one of his enemies or face death themselves. To make it even more amusing, Pika pulls the island and factory up into the air, further away from the heroes. I think this firmly establishes the beginning of the third act.  I’m loving this arc so far. Everything since the timeskip has been leading to this confrontation with Doflamingo. He’s surpassed Crocodile in terms of sheer dickery, as his manipulation of the island and the removal of the royal family is beyond even what the sand guy did in Alabasta. On top of that, Doflamingo is a bloody genius, so this should make things even more difficult to settle.  It’s a good time to be One Piece fan, that’s for sure.   Josh Tolentino Naruto chapter 674 Finally. Both heroes are now on the field, and Madara's pressed. Oh sure, he was pressed when Guy was practically killing himself to get a hit in, but now we're actually tasting some desperation in the final boss' actions. Of course, if I was fighting two guys, one with black lightning and the other able to summon up any flavor of Rasengan he likes, I'd be pretty worried, too. Plus, Sasuke's got a Rinnegan, now, and can read Madara's big secret: That there's another Madara flitting around, invisibly blocking and absorbing the worst attacks. It's yet another pluck on the harp of "Duality", since Madara's "Limbo" attack splits himself and his shadow, ensuring practical invulnerability to anyone that doesn't have a Rinnegan. That's done with, now, and the Big Bad is sweating. Enough to actually cut and run in an attempt to complete his Rinnegan set. Of course, doing that involves poking the crap out of Kakashi's Sharingan and teleporting himself into Obito's space to, y'know, dig out that left eye and murder Sakura. If there were a good time for heroic intervention, now would be it.   Bleach chapter 578 Kenpachi is a badass. Is there really anything else left to say? His sword's even bigger, and his power level is so crazy that a dude whose imagination is theoretically unlimited can't even imagine how strong he is. Of course, said dude kind of fails at being imaginative, so that might count as a handicap of sorts, but suffice it to say that Kenpachi is a badass.  In fact, he's so much of a badass that young Glemy literally cannot handle imagining what it's like to be as strong as Kenpachi is. And that's how he dies. He imagines being as strong as Kenpachi, and basically collapses under his own power. It's a twist on how Touma beat Areolus Izzard from A Certain Magical Index, but they work on basically the same principle: To defeat someone whose thoughts can be made into reality, force them to think of themselves being beaten - or force them to think of something they can't beat. Y'know, like asking a robot what love is.  Heh, that would've been a cool way to beat Glemy: Force him to contemplate the nature of love. Or this: [embed]32410:3876:0[/embed]
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Pincer attack!
Welcome to Shonen Showdown, the battlin' anime and manga recap that's graduated from Ninja Academy, and is now cleared to use proper dates in its titles! Check out that fully spelled-out glory! In honor of our new author...

Shonen Showdown 4-7-2014

Apr 07 // Josh Tolentino
Anime Chris Walden Hunter x Hunter Episode 123 Welfin's Missile Man ability is absolutely brutal. Every shot of those millipede legs was like a gut punch, even though I don't really consider myself a squeamish guy, but I suppose seeing insects burst out of someone's head is certainly near the top of the gross-ometer. You've got to hand it to Octodad though, because he goes beyond the call of duty in this instance and completely turns the tables on Welfin. It was also pretty amusing to see that Welfin is actually a coward, even with a power like that.  I'm not entirely convinced that Ikalgo knew that asking Welfin about his human life would help towards killing off the millipedes, but it definitely raises a few more questions for us. Seeing as Ikalgo was the one to raise the question, does this mean that he is also aware of who he once was? Could he be someone important? Part of me wants to make a baseless assumption that he's the archer hunter we saw die early on, but I hardly think projectile weaponry is proof of that. Even so, it could mean that we do see that guy later on, and perhaps even the past identities of the other ants. Will there be more ants like Colt that may be allowed to live after this arc concludes? Unfortunately, there's not a lot more to this episode as most of it was Ikalgo and Welfin talking. However, we do get to see where Palm has been kept, and she's definitely going to be all over the next episode. The episode preview certainly had some interesting footage of what we're about to see (read: spoilers), but even so, it's neat to finally get that loose thread resolved. Sure, it sucks that we aren't going back to the King or Gon, but at least what's going on is interesting. I'm just hoping that we don't drag this out any more than it currently is, just because we're nearing the end of the source material.   [Hunt for this show on Crunchyroll!]   Josh Tolentino Naruto Shippuden episode 357 I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm really liking this new turn for Naruto Shippuden. The focus on Kakashi and his time in the ANBU has resulted in more genuinely "ninja" moments in the narrative than there have been in years of the manga. I suppose it would be fitting that about the guy who would most exemplify the traditional image of a ninja in Naruto's world would be the last major cast member left who dresses even remotely like an actual ninja (insofar as ninja have a dress code anyway). But it's here, it's queer (for a Naruto story, anyway), and I'm happy to be watching it. With Kino/Tenzo's personal issues settled (and his voice actor reverted to Rikiya "Coyote Starrk" Koyama), the story shifts focus to the last actual ANBU member to make Naruto world history: Itachi Uchiha. At this point in the flashback, he's an 11-year-old wunderkind with a voice way too deep for his age or appearance, but he's got the makings of a great black-ops type. Even Danzo sees it, which is a real red flag when it comes to Naruto storylines, but for n ow we can just say that he's good at his job. In fact, the way things are going, we may be seeing more of Itachi, as this chronicle of the ANBU's doings shifts to the events surrounding the Uchiha massacre, which we all know set Sasuke's life on its path for the main story. Manga Josh Tolentino Naruto chapter 671 Speaking of the "main story" that I mentioned in the Shippuden recap, this particular tale gets itself a new wrinkle as Naruto continues his conversation with the Sage of Six Paths, who pretty much turns Naruto world history into a ninja-themed, peculiarly Japanese, peculiarly "anime" rendition of The Matrix and its greater mythology. I'm not kidding, this old dude is basically a good guy version of The Architect, though sadly he lacks that "Evil Colonel Sanders" vibe. Maybe I'll go into that in a future piece, but for now, let's just say I like Naruto's version of the Matrix story better. Anyway, the voice of (ninja) god gets further into the details about the true purpose of Ninshuu, and why the Infinite Tsukuyomi continues to be a bad idea (Hint: It's like The Matrix) for pretty much everyone. But of course, we all sort of knew that part, so the real takeaway here is the surprising revelation that at the same time as he's been telling Naruto what's what (using the simplest words he can), the old Sage's been having this very talk - or at least some version of it - with none other than Sasuke. Of course, since this manga is called Naruto, we don't actually see that side of the conversation. Hmm...if "Naruto talking to the Sage" was akin "Neo meeting The Architect", maybe Sasuke's conversation was closer to "Harry Potter meeting Dumbledore at King's Cross Station", or something unforgivably nerdy like that.  Either way, exactly what resolution Sasuke has come to at the same time as Naruto remains a mystery for now, and possibly a source of tension for whatever comes after they beat Madara for good.   Bleach chapter 575 It's funny, but the least interesting thing about recapping Bleach is trying to recap the fights themselves. Thing is, so little happens in a narrative sense during exchanges that take up these mid-fight chapters, and yet it wouldn't be right of us just to post entire pages and say "This part looked pretty cool". As a result, I end up doing that thing I do when I don't have anything useful to say, which is talk about what it's like to recap a show or manga in more general terms, like right now, where I opened this recap talking about how boring it is to recap a Bleach chapter mid-fight. But hey, at least Kenpachi managed to tease a smile out of young Glemy here, and it's somehow even creepier than that dead-eyed stare he had before. Good going, Ken-chan!
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Conveniently censored
Happy Monday, folks! It's time to get focused on fighting off the banality of the week with Shonen Showdown, the weekly recap that's using the title bar to conveniently censor the werewolf above! Don't look! It's a....comprom...

Shonen Showdown 3-9-2014

Mar 09 // Josh Tolentino
Anime Chris Walden Hunter x Hunter Episode 119 Hell yeah, super saiyan Killua! You know, the brief period at the beginning of the episode where Killua is laying into Menthorpepark might be the most shonen this show has been thus far. Sudden power up that allows him to move at lightning (sorry) speeds, crazy hair and even a ranged weapon. Even the time limit reeks of shonen shows, albeit this is Meleoron and his breath holding rather than a limit on Killua's power. Anyway, this fight was an insane teaser of what's to come, and the fact that Killua was happy to leave him on his own may give us a hint about how powered up Gon is. Awesome fight over, it's time to spend the episode with Octodad. I mentioned a little while ago that I didn't care at all for this little aside from the main fights, but he did a pretty good job selling his situation. He proves to be far smarter than he seems at first, and I think he's confrontation with Killua is the only reason he ever seemed like any other ant. He completely outwits Clawitzer, if you forget the one fumble when he assumed he couldn't break out of the elevator. Ah well, not even I considered that at the end of the last episode! Our time with Ikalgo also raises another point; we've yet to see a chimera ant besides the Elite 4 kill another chimera ant. Meleoron and that one guy who defected early on certainly haven't, and Ikalgo seems to have only killed humans, and even then this was via a host body. He's never killed anyone himself, and he's put in a situation where he has to kill one of his own kind. It's not that surprising that he would hesitate, because really, Clawitzer is just doing what he's told. It's in their nature to obey commands from higher up. Even though it would be of benefit to the humans he is working with, he can't bring himself to kill one of his own.  We're heading back to Morel and his super-exciting stand-off with the bagworm. Looks like we're going to be getting even more familiar shonen scenes, as Pouf seems to be copying Cell from Dragon Ball Z if that episode preview is anything to go by. Hyperbolic Time Chamber anyone? [Hunt for this show on Crunchyroll!]   Pedro Cortes One Piece Episode 634 & 635   This section of the Dressrosa arc is fairly slow, as it has to introduce a ton of characters. We get some more backstory with the extravagant Cavendish, the introduction of the buxom gladiator Rebecca and the proper reveal of Fujitora, the blind Admiral that we met earlier. The only event of note from episode 634 was Fujitora sending out the Marines toward Green Bit, i.e. the island where Law is supposed to handover Caesar to Doflamingo. Well, you could also include Bellamy’s reintroduction, but that’s spread into 635. Episode 635 fares better narratively, as we see more of what’s going on around the island. Law’s team preps to hit up Green Bit, Zoro chases after (and catches!) his sword, Kinemon searches for his samurai buddy, Sanji’s lovely date, Nami’s team protecting the Sunny and we end back at the colosseum. Again, nothing major, but at least we see what else is going on with the other characters. It seems easier on a page to split people up and have them working on different activities, but it comes across as choppy when you watch it on screen. Oh well. At the very least, we get a solid glimpse at Bartolomeo, who’s easily my favorite new character in this arc. Why? well, you’ll have wait until the tournament gets further on to find out. [You can watch One Piece over at Funimation!]   Josh Tolentino Naruto Shippuden episodes 353 and 354 We've got a hot double-banger of Naruto Shippuden this week, for whatever reason, and it makes for good effect, tying off this mini-arc and cementing the current filler season as one primarily concerned with Kakashi and young Yamato (née Kinoe) , with a side order of Danzo and more about when and how Orochimaru got into the position he was in when the core Naruto plot started - namely founding and leading the Hidden Sound village with his squad of freakshow mutant ninjas. Speaking of freakshows, the Iburi clan and their ability to turn into smoke owe it all to Orochimaru, leading to some well-directed (if clearly budget-conscious) fight scenes between Kakashi and Goto, an Iburi clansman and the anime version of Mortal Kombat's Smoke. Kinoe, now calling himself Tenzo, escapes with Yukimi, who can for whatever reason use her power to completely possess people and control their bodies, and she employs it to eat tons of food for free. A girl after my own heart, that one. But things are not meant to be, and a group of ninja that can turn into smoke would be far too convenient for a number of events in the main plot, so Orochimaru makes a deadly return, and acts so utterly evil that it's a hilarious contrast to the reformed Orochimaru we're seeing in the current manga chapters.  After a rather poignant scene with Kinoe literally attempting to catch blowing smoke with his wood (that doesn't sound right somehow), we end more or less back where we started, except for some new humanity injected into Kinoe's character. If I were in charge, I'd have this development somehow pay off when the actual manga checks in with Yamato, who was, last we checked, embedded in a gigantic tree. Will he be, like Anko, another unmourned casualty of the Fourth Great Ninja War?   Manga Josh Tolentino Naruto chapter 667 Today's turning of the tide is brought to you by Izanami! Izanami! The ultimate rehab program! Izanami! You can't get out of it until you're a better person! Literally! And it works, apparently, because Kabuto's seen the light and is focused mainly on healing Sasuke, while Guy, Kakashi, and Minato struggle to hold off Madara while Obito and Sakura get Naruto fixed up.  Perhaps the great draw here is seeing Guy cut loose with all the powers his unique style can conjure up, though I feel it's kind of weak that Madara seems fully aware of Guy's spectrum of abilities, even up to the point that he's aware of Guy's "Seventh Gate" transformation, which boils his sweat so hot it glows like a blue aura. That's something that fatally undermined Kisame's attempts to defend against guy in their final fight, but I was hoping that the Leaf's Blue Beast could come up with something that Madara wouldn't genuinely expect, even with all the "plot armor" a final boss character is equipped with. Of course, the next chapter seems to tease the opening of the Eighth Gate, which as far as we know, is basically a suicide mode. Will Guy join Neji on the memorial plaque ones everything's said and done?   Bleach chapter 571 More and more it feels like these final arcs of Bleach are about scratching persistent itches and addressing longstanding questions or even granting long-held wishes. I mean, look at it. We've seen Komamura finally kick some ass, Renji finally not job like the jobber king he is, and Rukia gets some of what she's due, with a bankai and everything. Heck, look further back and we even see Kenpachi hear something out of his sword! And now we deal with Yachiru. Forever Kenpachi's shoulder ornament and the obligatory "powerful tiny child" of Bleach's hero lineup, Yachiru's never lifted a finger in combat, yet managed to make Second-in-Command of Soul Society's strongest squad. She's gotta have something, and Sternritter "V", Gwenhael of the Vanishing, is the guy who will proof that theory. Of course, Bleach's obligatory jabbering is in store, and apologies to Kubo if this sounds harsh, but dude, we've seen people that can turn invisible before, in other media. IT'S NOT A NEW THING. Wasting half your chapter explaining this freaky old guy's power like it was the most complicated three-phase process in the world is not an efficient use of the reader's time and attention. Sure, I guess there's a twist in there, that his Third-Stage power makes him invisible to your memories as well, but seriously. At least we make a new friend this chapter. Everyone, meet Yachiru Kusajishi's creepy-adorable Shikai, "Sanpo Kenjuu". Now cut that weird dude up thrice!   Pedro Cortes One Piece Chapter 739 & 740 The real ish hits the fan in the Factory. First, Trevor gets incredibly pissed after being tricked and tosses a massive duck toward the central pillar. Strange, but oddly par for the course in One Piece. Trevor proceeds to blow up the little guys, forcing Usopp and Robin to lead the attack on Sugar. However, we find out that the toy soldier that’s been leading this rebellion is Kyros, the legendary gladiator and interestingly enough, Rebecca’s father.  Now it makes sense why everybody wants the toy soldier to be the one who defeats Doflamingo, as it’ll end up being a national matter as opposed to an international incident involving outside pirates. I imagine this is what could’ve happened back at Alabasta, but Crocodile ended up being too powerful for Vivi to deal with on her own. I expect the same thing to happen here, only Law might end up getting dragged into the final encounter. Elsewhere in Dressrosa, Zoro stays behind to fight Pika, which should be a good fight for him. This’ll be a solid challenge for him, unlike his last two major encounters on Fishman Island and Punk Hazard. Luffy and Violet press on and help Kyros out of a jam Gladius. They pull themselves up a floor and they are assisted by the costumed arrival of Kinemon. The samurai dresses up like Doflamingo, which fools Gladius into stopping his pursuit.  Anyway, Robin nearly gets Sugar to swallow the spicy fruit, but gets turned into a toy via one of her limb extensions. It’s interesting to see that working to her detriment for once. Now the only one left to save everybody (the toy soldier, Franky, Luffy, the entire revolution) is Usopp…who chickens out and runs away. Oh, Usopp, I’m disappointed. I’m hoping we’ll see the return of a certain masked hero to help him out of his cowardice.  
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Your face when
Hey there! It's time again for some sweet Shonen Showdown goodness, so put on your happy faces, everyone! Oh, maybe not that happy. OK, please take off your happy face now.  It's an extra full house this week, with ...

Shonen Showdown 3-2-2014

Mar 02 // Josh Tolentino
Anime Chris Walden Hunter x Hunter Episode 118 You know, I don't care for Ikalgo's search and rescue one bit. It's not even that Ikalgo's a bad character or anything, it's just that with all of this life-or-death fighting going on, I'm finding it hard to really get interested in having him search for one of the more annoying characters this show has offered us. Palm has had her moments, don't get me wrong, but let's just follow her advice and stop the search. Better yet, find a way to take over the body of Clawitzer.  Speaking of which, Clawitzer absolutely wrecks Ikalgo's corpse-body and promptly gets himself stuck in the death elevator. I'm not sure what exactly Ikalgo has in mind, but perhaps it does involve body snatching? I've no idea how he could even figure this situation out without having the lift destroy the other guy's body, but it would be a pretty good disguise to use against the wolf man. What's more, he already knows about Leomon's nickname, so he shouldn't slip up again.  But hey, we soon find ourselves back in Knuckle's company and GOD DAMN IT SHOW DON'T YOU DARE KILL HIM OFF. It was a nice touch to get all of that monologue as he approached Mentholcigarettes after seemingly provoking him into his explosive form. I also love how quick his commentary turns from his thoughts and feelings on Shoot, to essentially conceding to death with the big red guy winding a punch at him.  Not to worry though, because Killua enters the battle with a surprise thunderbolt, allowing Knuckle to pull off eight consecutive hits while the ant stands there completely dumbfounded. Now, what I want to know is why Knuckle immediately ran away to take Shoot to a hospital. What about his power? Did those punches cause Menthropeadope to go bankrupt? Or is he just confident in Killua's strength?  [Hunt for this show on Crunchyroll!]   Josh Tolentino Naruto Shippuden episode 352 Naruto Shippuden was pretty smart to spend its filler time exploring Kakashi's life, because I have to say, it's probably the most interesting filler arc in quite a while, not least because it's giving us an adventure that we can fit into the larger picture of Naruto's ninja world, rather than weightless escapades of your more typical filler involving the likes of Naruto and the key story characters.  The best part about this time focusing on Kakashi's time in the ANBU is that it's not just Kakashi's story alone. Two weeks ago it was Minato's story, focusing on how the Fourth Hokage entered - and tragically left - high office, and last week it was Hiruzen and Danzo's story, detailing the shadowed maneuvers and near-betrayals that opened the Third Hokage's second term. This week the story focuses on Yamato or rather, Kinoe - or is it Tenzo? Anyway, the young Wood-element ninja and future kohai to Kakashi's senpai as he clears a path for Orochimaru, just recently (and violently) banished from the Leaf, his human experimentation exposed. Yamato's execution of Danzo and Orochimaru's contingency plans brings to light a weird new hidden village, full of people half made of smoke, cowering in a cave system for fear of being dispersed by an errant breeze. And according to one young girl, Yamato was one of them - as Tenzo, her brother. But clearly, being subject to horrifying medical trials is a classic path to amnesia, and Yamato retains no knowledge of his path. For that matter, he doesn't even retain a set of normal-looking eyes. Hopefully this'll be the trigger point that'll turn him from Orochimaru's flunky into the eager subordinate/mentor that looked after Naruto in the early days of Shippuden.   Manga Josh Tolentino Naruto chapter 666 It's fitting that this week's chapter of Naruto bears the Number of The Beast, because it's a "beast" of a chapter, and seems to symbolize the point at which the fight finally turned against Madara. I'm sure a few fans might be feeling miffed that the people responsible for shifting the balance at this point are decidedly not named in the title of the manga, but if nothing else, Naruto's always made a big deal about how even the strongest characters can't accomplish very much on their own. The only exception to this rule has been the Sage of Six Paths, and for all intents and purposes both of the characters who've wielded that power as individuals have been either evil or misguided, and nothing refutes a personal philosophy like being cast as the villain in the story. Speaking of being cast as the villain, Obito's come to his senses and is finally ready to set things right, wrenching back some control of the Tailed Beasts' powers from Madara and hooking up with his old buddy Kakashi to demonstrate to Madara just how badass Obito's Sharingan can be when used as a pair. There's also a welcome bit of levity in this chapter as Naruto once again indulges in its fetish for diagram-assisted combat tactics, and reveals that Madara's mental diagrams are drawn in archaic, ink-brush style rather than the more modern abstractions of contemporary ninja mental diagrams. It's a cute touch. Bleach chapter 570 You know how anime characters lose all color when they're shocked, stunned or dumbfounded? How they turn from full-color cartoon to monochrome, unshaded line art? Well, in this chapter of Bleach young Rukia looks how I feel right now, as I type this recap from the safety of Safe Mode in the wake of a catastrophic hardware failure. Always back up your data, kids! It might save your livelihood! But enough about me, let's talk about Rukia's Bankai, which is pure badass. Actually, it's more than that, because look at it. She's gone completely lineart! As if Tite Kubo weren't already pilloried for being "too lazy to draw backgrounds", now the man is "too lazy to shade".  I kid, I kid, it looks brilliant. And what it does is quite striking, even when freezing freakshows into white polar powder. There's also an interesting thematic connection here, as it's worth noting that Hakka no Togame changes Rukia's entire appearance, giving her new clothes to wear and remaking her into the spitting image of her own sword's personified form. Man, all of a sudden Hitsugaya seems completely outclassed in the "having a cool ice form" department. Hakka no Togame is also supremely risky, seeing as Rukia literally starts cracking up if she can't defrost in a controlled manner. That said, I doubt that'll really matter, because if Bleach lives up to type, we might not see it used again before Ichigo arrives to win at everything.
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We lineart now
Welcome to this week's round of Shonen Showdown, the weekly anime and manga battlin' recap that's coming to you today courtesy of booting into Safe Mode! Aww yeah, core drivers, networking support, and nothing else, coming at...

Shonen Showdown 2-2-2014

Feb 02 // Josh Tolentino
Anime Josh Tolentino Naruto Shippuden episode 348 The rather interesting flashback to Akatsuki's origins ends this week as everything falls into place, capping the chain of events that would turn Nagato, Yahiko, and Konan from youths with unusually deep voices (one of the pitfalls of casting for the character you have, not the character whose childhood you later see) to an invalid, a walking corpse, and a classy paper lady, respectively. Everything new to be revealed about the fall of Akatsuki was revealed last week, with things like Hanzo's being a nice guy, to Danzo's manipulation, to Obito's hand in all of this, but a few more interesting wrinkles are added to the pile, like what happened to Akatsuki's original members (Obito killed them to stop them from helping the trio), and the whole point behind doing that to Akatsuki in the first place (Nagato's Rinnegan needed to be reactivated much in the same way that Mangekyo Sharingan are). The real, unspoken purpose of this flashback, though, besides padding out time, is to reveal just how cyclical the dynamic of Naruto's story is. There's always an arrangement of kids, assembled in trios, with one "Naruto", one "Sasuke", and a third wheel (the "Sakura" if you will). It's more apparent in some cycles than others, but the themes of brotherhood and loss repeat over and over in nearly every generation. It hasn't been a good cycle, though, and if we're lucky, the manga will end just right, with the breaking of that unhealthy ninja cycle.   Chris Walden Hunter x Hunter Episode 114 The King, Netero and Zeno hop onto a magical dragon, which may or may not having something to do with Pouf's fairy dust. It seems they are travelling to a better place to fight, which seems awfully reminiscent of Dragon Ball Z and the key battles in that show. If you need to move to some convenient, barren wasteland in order to fight without holding back, you know you're in for a spectacle. Hopefully we don't end up seeing the King getting angry enough to hurl a giant energy ball at Earth. Zeno does seem a little like Vegeta, thinking about it, if we just forget about all the praise he gave for Netero.  Moving to our covert octopus, he's getting quizzed by some of the other chimera ants as to why he's shown up, and where his wings have ended up. Knowing a lot about the ants is an obvious bonus as it allows him to talk his way out of the confrontation, but he does make a vital slip-up. He refers to Leol as "Hagya-sama", something we know he doesn't like to be called based on a conversation from a few episodes ago. Ikalgo wouldn't know about this, so it's picked up by the two ants that were listening in on the conversation. I don't think he's getting out of this unscathed. Morel is also gearing up for his own fight, against the fabulous and emotional Pouf. It's not surprising to see Morel being overly cautious around his butterfly dust, especially as we already know that he can completely mesmerise people with it. Does this mean that Pouf has something even worse in store for this fight? If he's taking on a stronger form and Morel is still trying to hold his breath, how exactly is the fight going to play out? Morel has already demonstrated some interesting uses of his smoke ability, and I get the feeling we haven't seen the best of him, either. But for this episode at least, it's all about Shoot and Knuckle. Devilman has proved to be a formidable foe, especially so as the allies are running into trouble just ten seconds into the fight. Knuckle doesn't seem as nimble as Shoot, who himself isn't fast enough to dodge all of the attacks being launched against him, so can Devilman be overwhelmed with raw power? Shoot has an interesting opportunity in that he can now potentially turn invisible with Kecleon's help, so perhaps we'll see this fight progress better once he has stolen a few more of his eyes. [Hunt for this show on Crunchyroll!]   Manga Josh Tolentino *Naruto is on break this week Bleach chapter 566 Having Renji take a nap just after he roasted a dude is kind of an awkward way to force a change of scenery, but it's as good as any other, and reintroduce us to Renji's next match, Nanana Najahkoop. This unfortunate racial caricature is the Sternritter "U" and a guy whose power might revolve around being able to observe his enemy in detail - something he was able to do in spades while Renji slept. Unless everyone's favorite jobber has some new trick to pull - and let's remember that he's already revealed his bankai - Renji's days could really be numbered. Of course, as soon as I say that, Bleach provides ample proof that it really isn't the type to let anyone who's not a villain die (sometimes not even then), as Rukia locates Isane and drops of Rose and Kensei. I'd bet my bankai that Kira is lying around there somewhere as well.  Speaking of Rukia fighting, why does she always get stuck dueling the freaks? In Hueco Mundo she had to fight Aaroniero Arruruerie, who was two heads in a jar on top of a giant tentacle monster that ate her first crush. Now she's got to deal with As Nodt, Sternritter "F" (for "Fear", imaginatively enough), and the guy who's come closest to offing Soul Society's biggest superstar, Byakuya Kuchiki.  Assuming this fight is meant for Rukia to handle and not a surprise intervention by her brother, this might be her biggest battle of the arc. After all, she hasn't made any other enemies this round. Hopefully Kubo will give her the chance to shine that she hasn't gotten in years, which is a disgrace for a character that's arguably Bleach's main heroine (though Orihime fans might disagree).
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Psyched for the kickoff
Hey everyone, ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL fighting Japanese cartoons and comics?! Yeah, that's the answer I wanna hear! It's time for Shonen Showdown, the most "super" bowl of hot action anime and manga you're gonna ...

Shonen Showdown 1-25-2014

Jan 25 // Josh Tolentino
Anime Chris Walden Hunter x Hunter Episode 112 & 113 You know, I'd make a terrible hunter. While everything is moving in slow motion and Shoot is crapping himself over the hentai-genre's worst nightmare, everyone was thinking about whether the Dragon Dive attack had killed Knuckle, and if he'd even reappear if that were to happen. Seriously, that didn't even occur to me. I was too busy appreciating just how awesome the Knuckle and Meleoron combo is. Can...can we get a Hunter x Hunter fighting game? Please? Back on topic. Knowing of Knuckle's prior experience and seeing his shock at just how strong Devilman is really puts this fight into perspective. It's going to get very interesting when Meleoron has to take a breath, especially with all those eyes watching. It was also really neat hearing Shoot's internal monologue on Gon, as his mere running up the stairs didn't seem like such a big deal until he explained the situation in detail. Gon's fighting mentality, likely a bloodlust urging him to tear Neferpitou limb from limb, forces Shoot to open his eyes and confront this fight as a new man. Skipping to the next episode, we see this causes him to start zooming around on one of his floating fists, even though he's never done it before and has a busted leg, just to distract Devilman long enough to give Morel his pipe back. I wasn't a massive fan of Shoot before, but his confidence and the completely unnecessary covering of an eye has certainly made me warm to him! Well, if you were still wondering what kind of influence Komugi was going to have on the fight, we now know. It seems like she was struck by one of the Dragon Dive...things, and she's not looking too good. It's hard to tell if she died to that attack or if she's just severely injured, and I think the answer to this will alter this next fight greatly. Just what would happen if Gon's upcoming fight with Pitou comes at the cost of Komugi's life because Pitou can't multi-task? If she's already dead, then I can fully expect the King to be completely unamused, and he'll stop at nothing to destroy Netero and Zeno. What did make me curious was Pitou's sudden tearing up when ordered to heal Komugi. Perhaps a little bit of human emotion cropping up from a past life? Frustration at being told not to fight?  Netero's decision to allow the two chimera ants to start care for Komugi was an honourable one, and quite correctly described as something they had to do to keep their cause. Pitou summoning Dr Blythe managed to freeze the two in place while the King strode past them without hesitating, but why? The show made it seem like Dr Blythe was the reason for this, but was it fear of the ability or of Pitou's sheer strength? It may also be the sheer realisation of what they've got themselves into, because they know that the King is going to be several times as strong as any of the royal guard. It's hard to say, especially when Netero batted Pitou away so effortlessly not so long ago. Ikalgo is pretty much doomed. Just going to put that out there. The wolf-man has pretty much figured out that something is wrong with how he could have got past Killua without being attacked, and considering this guy seems like a pretty tough customer, I don't think he'll be let off without some questioning. In Ikalgo's favour, he does have knowledge of the chimera ants and their names, so he'll certainly seem like the real Flutter, and he also has some combat ability, but enough to fight or get away from the wolf? I'm not so sure.  To round off the two episodes, we have Morel preparing his fight against a very emotional Pouf. Seriously, that butterfly has more than a few screws loose, and his obsession with the King is going to get him killed. I'm not sure that spraying around dust, whatever its properties are, will be enough to take down Morel, but I do think we'll have quite a good fight on our hands. If Pouf has the ability to change abilities, that's got to make for a great match-up, right? Oh yeah, assuming that the show doesn't crawl in slow motion for all of the next episode, we might see enough for Gon to meet with Neferpitou. Exciting! [Hunt for this show on Crunchyroll!]   Pedro Cortes One Piece Episode 628 & 629 Luffy and Law put this awful filler arc to rest by plugging up their ears. Yep, that’s all it took to beat this chump. With that garbage tossed away, we go back into the proper story. The crew discovers that Doflamingo has abdicated his throne on Dressrosa, as well as his position as one of the Warlords. Also, Scratchman Apoo, Basil Hawkins and Eustass Kidd have formed a alliance, similar to the one Law and Luffy put together.  Understandably , the entire world is pretty surprised with the news. While arms dealers, Marine leaders and old faces reel, Law calls Doflamingo and irons out the Caesar trade-off.  However, Doflamingo has something up his sleeve: the Flare-Flare Devil Fruit. What better way to manipulate Luffy than put his late-brother’s Devil Fruit as the prize in a coliseum.  However, none of that is as important as the new opening! After two whole arcs of We Go, we finally get something new with Wake Up. The song is appropriately upbeat and has several quick cameos of characters we’ll be seeing soon enough. My favorite part? The continued support of my theory that Robin just doesn’t like underwear. Seriously, that sarong is damn near indecent!   Josh Tolentino Naruto Shippuden episodes 346 and 347 It's a double-whammy this week as Naruto Shippuden does the unlikely and deliver some genuinely engaging filler content. Yep, good filler! It's exactly the kind of filler you want: Content that fleshes out the world or plot you're invested in while revealing a few new details that enrich your impression of the characters. On the "fleshing out the world and plot" front, we get a few more lingering questions about Obito and Madara's relationship answered, like revelations clarifying just when Madara awakened his Rinnegan, and just what happened when Obito, posing as Madara, contacted Akatsuki for the first time. I've said it several times before, but episodes like this are why anime adaptations of stories you've already read can be valuable: they clue you in to details you might have missed the first time around. But aside from this, perhaps the most surprising developments from this round of filler is in character work, particularly for the original Akatsuki trio of Yahiko, Konan, and Nagato. We've already seen the beginnings of their stories, as told in flashback by Jiraiya, but these episodes (and next week's, from the looks of things) cover Akatsuki's early days as a vigilante group, defending the innocent against marauding ninja - but refusing as much as possible to kill, and negotiating "at any cost" (Yahiko's words).  Sure, we had the idea that Akatsuki was originally peaceful until Yahiko was killed by Hanzo (the Hidden Rain Village's leader), but the new details here reveal a new side to the guy we all thought was just a villain wearing a scuba mask: It turns out that he liked Akatsuki too, and was a dedicated pacifist. The notion that Hanzo was at the end a pacifist runs surprisingly counter to our previous impressions of him, as the legendary ninja that humiliated the Leaf Sannin and gave Mifune his scare and murdered Nagato and Konan's best friend. Of course, the heel conversion turns out to have been caused at least in part by Danzo, who lied about Akatsuki's motives to turn Hanzo against the youths, all for the sake of advancing the Leaf's position. Real dick, that Danzo.   Manga Pedro Cortes One Piece Chapter 734 & 735    The theme from these two chapters is that Doflamingo has no idea what the hell is going on. The cocky bastard pulls off a wondrously arrogant villain monologue that ranks up in the top 3 villain speeches in One Piece’s run. The thing is, he’s so utterly wrong. He mocks Riku about Viola, Rebecca, and the Strawhats’s mad plan to take him out. However, we all know that Luffy isn’t stuck in the colosseum, Franky is kicking ass outside of the Toy Factory, Robin and Usopp are already in the basement and Viola is about to let in Luffy, Zoro and Kinemon into the royal palace. Oh, and then Fujitora comes in and tells Doflamingo that his ultimate goal is to disband the Warlords. There’s no way this can end well for the feathered pirate, but who knows with that guy. Besides Doflamingo being off the mark, Rebecca ends up winning the final block by, what else, being really good at defending. It seems that Cavendish has a murderous alternate personality named Hakuba that flares up whenever he goes to sleep and what would you know, the guy has a narcoleptic fit during the match. However, Hakuba couldn’t penetrate Rebecca’s iron guard. Good thing too, because with her ridiculous armor, she would’ve been cut in half. There isn’t much of a pause, as the next chapter will start the final fight. Personally, I’m guessing that Lucy/Sabo will be coming out on top, if just so that Luffy’s other brother can get the Flare-Flare Fruit.   Josh Tolentino Naruto chapter 662 The good guys have officially hit rock-bottom. The Tailed Beasts have all been sucked into the Gedo statue, Madara is still rampaging, someone dressed up in Tobi's original outfit and spouting Zetsu's curiosity about defecation is menacing the army (which is completely out of chakra), and the only intact undead Kage left is the Third. Oh, and did I mention that both Naruto and Sasuke are on the verge of death? The former is dying just like drained Jinchuriki do (Gaara was an exception and Bee was sucked into the statue alongside the Eight-Tails), and the latter just had a blade shoved through his heart. If there was ever a time for Shukaku and the Nine-Tails' secret instructions to Gaara to kick in, or for Orochimaru to finally join the battle, or Kakashi and Minato and Obito to act, now would be it, because things don't look like they can get any worse. But who cares about all that drivel, look at this thing above! Masashi Kishimoto drew some Naruto-themed fanart of Elysium, the Neil Blomkamp sci-fi movie that was known mainly for the cool robotic exoskeleton Matt Damon wore for much of the film. The above piece is exactly that, plus a ninja bit or two. Cool stuff!   Bleach chapter 565 This week Bleach slathers on another layer of backstory that I'm not entirely convinced was necessary, seeing as it ends up raising more questions than answers. We're treated to what basically amounts to the Quincy creation myth, which asserts that the Quincy King, aka Vandenreich leader Ywach, was once born as a completely disabled, yet lucid baby, possessed of the power to "lend out" bits of his soul to help people heal their ills. The gift caused ancient humans to worship him as a god (hence the "Ywach" name and thinly veiled allusions of Christianity). Also shown is the root of the Sternritter's abilities: They're specially chosen by Ywach himself and drink his blood to get their powers, via a special "Letter" inscribed onto their soul.That includes the latest Sternritter "A", Uryuu Ishida, whom Haschwalth isn't exactly trusting of.  Ywach's weird gift and ability to bestow powers lies at the core of the assertion that he's the "Father" of everyone with Quincy blood, up to and including Ichigo's mother, and possibly Ichigo himself. Of course, no gift given by a dude with such epic mutton chops comes without a catch, and the catch is kind of a doozy. As revealed, when Ywach heals or grants others powers, he gets to take it all back whenever he feels like it, or rather, gains all the power and experience of anyone he's "touched" when they die. Think a leech version of the Highlander central conflict and you've got it. This sort of explains the war, to an extent, as unless Ywach gets his soul bits back (with interest), he regresses to the same sense-deprived state he was born in. Not cool, which is why he's starting a war with Soul Society to gather more power and get all vampiric about things.
Shonen Showdown photo
An unexpected reference
Hello and welcome to the latest installement of Shonen Showdown, your weekly recap of the best in battle anime and manga! We've got the full cast in this week, with sweet double-dose recaps of One Piece, Naruto, and Hunt...

VIZ Media: Art photo
VIZ Media: Art

Deck out your smart phone display with Bleach and Naruto


A sleek look for all the cool kids
Dec 20
// Kristina Pino
VIZ Media have announced that starting Monday, December 23rd you'll be able to get Bleach and Naruto image packs via the CocoPPa app for iOS and Android and totally bling your phone out from icons to wall papers. Actually, I ...

Shonen Showdown 11-30-2013

Nov 30 // Josh Tolentino
Anime Chris Walden Hunter x Hunter Episode 106 You've got to give Knov credit for going into the enemy stronghold by himself. I mean, it's obvious that having someone with him would have been a hindrance, but knowing that he's risking his life by getting that close must be incredibly draining. Well, we know it was, as the calm and collected Knov is left traumatised. From just being in close proximity! However, it was his perseverance that allowed him to set up all the portals they needed for the invasion. I'm not really sure why he didn't take a portal back, but hey, I can't imagine it was a simple case of forgetting. I also wonder if leaving his shoes behind may come back to bite him somehow. We already know that being in proximity to Neferpitou did some pretty terrible things to Gon, but the fact that both he and Killua had a much better time handling it than Knov really shows how far they've come. Well, unless Knov is the kind of guy who can't watch horror films without hiding behind the sofa. It also might be a good indicator of just how strong Kite was, seeing as he could keep his cool. Does this mean we're in for a pretty rough time? As much as I'm enjoying the gungi fights between Komugi and the King, it's nice to have an episode away from that to see all of these outside fights developing. Looks like Smoker is up against Leomon, which should make for an interesting brawl. I'm curious to know why Leomon is so against people knowing about his power. It may not be more than a case of getting the upper hand against his opponents, but you've got to wonder if it's a crucial part of how it works. He also seems rather confident despite going into such an enclosed space, as well as while knowing roughly what Smoker's power is like. I'm certainly looking forward to it kicking off proper.  But what of Palm? She seems to have wound up in potentially the worst situation of anyone in this show, but she seems more focused on succeeding at her mission than being worried about the monsters nearby. If she's willing to go the extra mile for the sake of Knov, then who knows what kind of trouble she'll end up in if she's not careful. I think Knov is right to be worried about her, but hopefully it won't hinder the upcoming fight with the King. Also, Gon and Killua are in the next episode! Remember them? [Hunt for this show on Crunchyroll!]   Josh Tolentino Naruto Shippuden episode 340 With this with the "war" part of the Fourth Great Ninja War now effectively over thanks to the Uchiha brothers' defeat of Kabuto, Naruto takes the time to pad things out a bit by extending the "dissolution" of the reanimated ninja...with the power of carefully reciting just who all these people who are now going back to the afterlife used to be. From famous folks like the former Jinchuriki to made-for-TV-types like the unforgettable Pakura, nearly everyone gets their moment before ascending to Ninja Heaven. I wonder what Ninja Heaven is like. Unlimited time on the shuriken-throwing range! All the substitution jutsu logs you can carry! Castle guards with very short vision cones!  Anyway, we also get a moment with Dan, Tsunade's dead ex, who goes full Dragon Ball in a successful attempt to give his lady love a parting gift/ But, like any phase transition in a Final Boss battle, things are only going to get tougher from here. Tobi's opted to transform his giant Kaiju into the Ten-Tails using what little Eight- and Nine-Tails chakra he scraped from Killer Bee's decoy tentacle and the souls of the Gold and Silver siblings, in lieu of actually having Naruto and Bee in hand. Meanwhile Madara himself's been holding onto a trump card - intimate knowledge of the Reanimation Jutsu and the ability needed to free himself from Kabuto's control, leaving the original, hyper-crazy Madara Uchiha, living god of ninjas, in an immortal body with infinite chakra. Looks like the Five Kage are about to get their asses handed to them even harder than they were already. On a side note, it's worth noting that both Tobi and Madara share a voice actor, Naoya Uchida. Uchida's rasps his lines out in a uniquely badass way, but I'm concerned that he does so in exactly the same way for both characters. This was fine when Tobi was posing as Madara, but as further episodes go forward in revealing his true identity (which you likely already know), this might prove to be a problem. I wonder how Studio Pierrot will opt to handle this issue when the time comes.   Manga Josh Tolentino Naruto chapter 656 Well...that was a whole lot of work for the Ninja Alliance to gain a grand total of dick. Consider the following, which was, to the best of my knowledge, Obito and Madara's original "Moon Eyes Plan": Obtain the Tailed Beasts, using Akatsuki. Manipulate Nagato into casting the Resurrection Jutsu to restore Madara to a living, physical body. Have Madara become Jinchuriki to the Ten-Tails, and cast the Infinite Tsukuyomi on the moon. ??? Profit!!! And then Obito went and screwed up by raising an incomplete Ten-Tails, then crossing Madara by Bogarting the role of Jinchuriki and leaving the elder Uchiha in the undead, unsuitable body. Then Naruto and the rest had the temerity to defeat the angsting fool, leaving him vulnerable to be jacked by Black Zetsu, turning the Resurrection jutsu on its original intended target (Madara), rather than letting Obito make like Nagato and restore all the people he killed to life.  Sorry, Neji fans. Looks like the young Hyuga stays dead. And we're pretty much back at square one, more or less at the same state we'd be in had the Ninja Army let Madara and Obito carry out the first steps of their plan. After all, if everything had gone as laid out, Obito would be out of the picture anyway, killed or incapacitated by the strain of resurrecting Madara, rather than defeated and turned back to good by Naruto and his pals. Except it seems that now Madara's strong as he's ever been thanks to being alive again (I thought having an immortal undead body with infinite chakra was the ideal state?), and seems to be planning even more apocalyptic happenings as Naruto moves into the "final phase" Masashi Kishimoto teased some days ago.   Bleach chapter 559 If there was ever a sign that we may actually be nearing a point of true change (or a final ending) in Bleach, it may be this time. Much of this arc has been spent seeing Bleach break or at least bend away from the patterns established by a near-decade of the advantage see-saw and escalation rollercoaster (and the inanity railroad, but let's not get into that).  Today's bent pattern: The revelation that not only have all three Quincies (Bambi, BG9, and Cang Du) first involved in this round of fighting lost their battles (and in record time, to boot), it looks like at least one didn't even survive the aftermath - and Cang Du was one of the more handsome ones, to boot!  Of course, poor Cang seemed more a victim of a desire to demonstrate the Wandenreich's policy towards defeat (or a delivery of insight into Haschwalth's powers) rather than a substantial break from Bleach tradition, so that could be up in the air. There's no questioning Komamura's victory last week, though, so the current score is: Soul Reapers 1 (+2 pending, based on the results of Cang and BG9's trial), Sternritter 0 (+2 pending, depending on how Toushirou and Rangiku fare after this, and what that masked wrestler guy managed to do to Madarame and Hisagi) Which puts the Soul Reapers out ahead in the early stages. Given how well-rendered most of the Sternritter have been so far, this advantage on the good guys' behalf looks to be more substantial than the victories they earned over the various mid-tier Arrancar back during the battle against Aizen and the Espada. Then again, there are a lot of Sternritter, so burning through them quickly is probably in the cards before setting up bigger fights. Y'know, like the one that Rukia and Renji, newly arrived from the Soul Palace and decked out in hilarious capes, are primed to enter against Mr. Luchador, "Mask de Masculine".
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Got Tryptophan?
Hello, and welcome to the weekend! It's time now for Shonen Showdown, the periodic tradition that leaves you in a satisfied slumber, no food required! To those of you that celebrate the occasion, we hope you had yourselves a happy Thanksgiving! Now, work off all that extra holiday mass with a hearty dose of hot fighting courtesy of Naruto, Bleach, and Hunter x Hunter!


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