It's finally time to get going in the world of the Hollows, starting an arc that is still going on in Japan. The twenty-eighth volume of "Bleach" is essentially all about trying to get into Aizen's stronghold of Las Noches, and Tite Kubo makes it a much lighter read than the preceding volumes -- particularly with the return of some old friends, and the introduction of Nel Tu and her little gang.
Ichigo is shocked when Chad and Uryu show off their new powers against some of the minor arrancar -- Chad uses brute megastrangth against a giant with a frog tongue, while Uryu's speed and new-and-improved bow are used against a birdlike creature. Unfortunately the room is rigged to collapse, so the boys end up right back outside, and with no apparent way to get to the castle of Las Noches (Aizen's little arrancar court).
Enter a gang of weird-looking little arrancar, including the gap-toothed child Nel Tu, who are playing a "masochist" version of tag. But it's going to be difficult getting into Las Noches even with their help -- until Renji and Rukia enter the scene, and destroy a sand giant that was about to kill Ichigo's group. And waiting inside are a new round of arrancar enemies, who attack after the group splits up.
Well, Orihime is still a prisoner, and the most powerful arrancar of Hueco Mundo are preparing to take out our heroes. But "Bleach Volume 28" is a cheerier affair than the bleak stories that precede it -- Renji and Rukia's presence makes the whole endeavor seem more hopeful, even if they do greet Ichigo with a double punch to the head. And it seems that this little rebel band has some allies in Soul Society.
The biggest reason for the lighter tone is Nel and her goofy-looking buddies, Dondochakka and Pesche -- they're goofy, childlike, prone to bickering and seemingly not very bright (see their attempts to give themselves a cool name, complete with poses). Nel in particular seems to make Ichigo loosen up, whether she's bawling insults at him or head-butting him like a tiny green-haired torpedo. Even the fight scenes in this volume tend towards the comedic (theme song entrance!).
But Kubo clearly hasn't forgotten the seriousness of the situation -- he weaves some darker threads through the story, giving readers a glimpse of the fanatical, fearful devotion that the Hollows feel for Aizen. And Ulquiorra reveals in detail the Machievellian designs he has woven around Orihime to make her "one of them," while Orihime has her own plans in place for Aizen and the Hogyoku. These subplots serve as puzzle pieces that haven't yet been fitted in place, and it's not yet clear how they will work.
"Bleach Volume 28" adds a lighter tone to a very grim rescue mission, piling on the comic relief allies even as Tite Kubo adds new dimensions to the storyline. Up next: more fights.