This review will be encompassing all of the events pertaining to the past eight chapters of Bleach, so I'll be talking about the events as a whole and not chapter-by-chapter.
The Meaning of "Peace"
The words that seem to define what is occurring right now were uttered by Ichibei right after he sent Ichigo and Co against Yhwach: "I'm very sorry, poor Humans. You have no chance of defeating Yhwach...but worry not. This is the nature of all peace. Isn't that right, Yhwach?"
It is a dark interpretation of the nature of "peace", and it seems to hint at Ichibei and Yhwach sharing the same views on what "peace" is. In one of the omake for the manga volumes of this arc, the word "Peace" was splattered by blood, and Yhwach often spoke of "peace" while waging war for the sake of that "peace".
If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that Ichibei is defining "peace" as such - "Peace" comes when you cannot be challenged or defeated by any other power. "Peace" comes when you have defeated all the opposition to your cause.
But that is more troubling is that we do not know for what reason Ichibei is saying this. He said so himself that the Living World, Hueco Mundo and Soul Society will collapse if the Soul King is killed, so why does he seem so...unconcerned?
Given the Soul King can see the future, is there something that is going to come about if Yhwach reunites all the "limbs" of the Soul King, and that is the outcome that Ichibei and the Soul King wants?
The Gate to Heaven, the Sacrifice to God
While the events of the Soul King's death, and Ichigo and Co's foreseen failure to defeat Yhwach unfolded, the remainder of the Gotei 13 has been called together by Urahara to use the Tenshinheiso in order to create a gateway to the Soul King Palace to assist Ichigo and Co. However, while it requires the collective reiatsu of all the Captains to work, the Shinigami are quite short on the manpower.
Kensei and Rose are dead and in storage, a fact that Mayuri has not revealed, and Byakuya has not disclosed for some reason (likely the indignation and anger of the Shinigami - especially the Visoreds - towards Mayuri for this); Toshiro and Matsumoto are unaccounted for, which leads me to believe that Mayuri used a different drug on them that he did on Kensei and Rose; Komamura has lost his Shinigami powers, and he and Iba will not be meeting up with the other Captains, and Kyoraku is busy...elsewhere.
Moreover, when the Soul Society started to collapse as a result of the Soul King's death, Ukitake chose to release the Kamikake he had prepared earlier, which was revealed to be the missing Right Arm of the Soul King to everyone's surprise - even Urahara's - to temporarily take the Soul King's place and stabilize the Soul Society. Because he was incapacitated in such a manner, a significant amount of the reiatsu needed to power the gate was lost, and could only be made up by Hiyori and Co joining, and Mayuri amplifying everyone's reiatsu with his Reiatsu Amplifier Device.
People complained about the last of these earlier, but considering the fact that they are still in the Seireitei and the gate has not been fully made, even that was not enough to fully complete the gate. Given Ichigo and Co took the express ride up in what has been a futile effort, I think the Gotei 13 can be forgiven for their efforts to make a wormhole gate bridging two dimensions across millions of kilometres taking so long.
But even with all the efforts they have made to create the Gate, and the sacrifice Ukitake made by invoking the Kamikake, they could not have anticipated the events occurring up above...
The Almighty's Blood, The Created God, The Right Hand, The Schutzstaffel, and The Successor
Because up above, the Soul King was killed, and Ichigo and Co were unable to save him...
To be more specific, Yhwach's connection to all who share his blood is so absolute that, when Ichigo tries to pull out Yhwach's sword from the Soul King's body, Yhwach bestowed the reiatsu in his Spirit Weapon to Ichigo and it called out to his Quincy blood - to Zangetsu - and Ichigo was forced to cut down the Soul King by his own hands.
With the Soul King dead, all Ichigo could do was attack the Yhwach in retaliation, who explained the Soul King's function of regulating the flow of souls into and out of Soul Society - a flow he was created to stabilize, because the Soul Society was unstable before his existence.
With the Soul King now dead by Ichigo's hand, that flow of souls has destabilized once more and the worlds are on the verge of collapse, and Yhwach says it is all because of Ichigo. As he said this, Yoruichi "traps" Yhwach within a field of razor wires, and tells Inoue to use her power to revive the Soul King.
Now, I won't say that "not even Inoue could revive the Soul King", because I fully expected it to happen. As Yhwach stated - something he likely knows because "The Almighty" allows him to "know" any power he sees - Inoue's Shun Shun Rikka are a Human power, whereas the Soul King is an entity that exists on another plane entirely. While the idea that Inoue has "god-like" powers because of how Aizen described them, I felt that to be false ever since the events of "Deicide", where the concept of "Transcendence" was revealed.
But to get back to events, the intervention of the Kamikake does reveal something interesting to all of us - there is at least one thing that Yhwach cannot "see" with his eyes: the Soul King himself. While Yhwach has been shown to see the future in every circumstance up to that point, the Soul King is a variable in the future that he could not "see". Because of this, it makes one wonder if there is anyone else whom Yhwach cannot "see".
With the Kamikake in place, Ichigo hinders Yhwach's initial effort to destroy, and Yoruichi leaps into action to set up a barrier around Kamikake to protect it and make it the new Soul King - unaware that Mimihagi is only temporary. Meanwhile, Yhwach begins interrogating Ichigo on his motives for stopping him, citing that Ichigo was the one who cut down the Soul King because his blood cannot forgive the Soul King, so he should be standing in Yhwach's way.
The last time Aizen played these mind-games with Ichigo (no reason to fight him because all his friends are safe), Ichigo was completely shaken, and that was on top of the events that happened with Ulquiorra. On the other hand, Ichigo has an answer for Yhwach - to stop him, and protect the Living World, Hueco Mundo and Soul Society. While Yhwach calls arrogant and asks if he thinks he is the only one who can do it, Ichigo once again rebukes him - even if someone else could defeat Yhwach, that wouldn't mean Ichigo could just run away and do nothing.
(See, Sado? Even if it wasn't a question you didn't mean, of course Ichigo would make the decision to fight to protect everyone).
With Ichigo punctuating his response by a black Getsuga in Shikai that blows the roof off of the Soul King's house, he states that he heard that Yhwach's blood flows in his veins, but he says, and I quote: "So what? That won't make me do whatever you want".
(Rukia would be so proud )
However, Yhwach has his own rebuttal - he claims Ichigo's will is connected to his own, so he never once fought of doing whatever he wanted with Ichigo. To Yhwach, all of Ichigo's actions - from his gaining his Shinigami powers and elevating them to a level to defeat Aizen, and regaining his powers - were all for his benefit, a point he pushed when claiming Ichigo regained his power for the purpose of killing the Soul King.
While Yoruichi tells Ichigo that Yhwach is speaking nonsense...is it really?
If Aizen had succeeded in killing the Soul King in his own campaign, Yhwach would have had him to deal with instead of the Squad Zero and the Soul King, and the level of power that Aizen possessed likely would have been big trouble for Yhwach. After all, we did see just recently that Yhwach sought to take the Soul King's power for his own, something that he would not have been able to do had Aizen gotten his way.
But with Aizen's defeat by Ichigo, not only was that one issue dealt with, but it also meant that Aizen was weakened to a level that Yhwach considered manageable - enough to ask him to join the Vandenreich as a Special War Potential.
Furthermore, whose presence in Hueco Mundo prompted Yhwach to invade Soul Society early? Ichigo's presence. Whose arrival in Seireitei from the Royal Realm gave Yhwach the opening he needed to invade the Soul King Palace? Ichigo's arrival.
His speech is actually the opposite of Aizen. Whereas Aizen was asking Ichigo whether or not he thought that all his encounters throughout the series were "fate", Yhwach is saying the opposite - because Ichigo has the blood of a Quincy flowing through him, all his actions were for Yhwach's benefit because, in the end, Ichigo would kill the Soul King because of his blood.
Aizen admitted to having manipulated events so that Ichigo would reach the point where he developed the power of a Transcendent Being; Yhwach stated he didn't need to do anything (at least in Mangapanda) because all of Ichigo's actions would be for Yhwach's benefit, because they would lead to Ichigo being the one to kill the Soul King.
It shows the two villains are opposite of one another - whereas Aizen was the manipulator of Ichigo, Yhwach is the one who considers it "fate" that Ichigo would kill the Soul King because they share the same blood.
One's power is the ability to deceive everyone who sees his Zanpakuto release with perfect illusions; the other's power is the ability to see the future itself. One makes other people see what is not real; the other sees what will happen. It's the contrast between a manipulator and deceiver, and one who believes in "fate".
(Yes, I did copy and paste part of my post from the last chapter thread)
Ichigo re-iterates that the Quincy blood doesn't matter and that he will still stop Yhwach. Then Yhwach deals the armour-piercing question: "Why do you speak of "stopping" me? What am I to you? Am I not your mortal enemy? Can you not even use the word "kill" to the man who killed your mother?" Right here, Yhwach went right towards the hidden heart of the matter - he is the one who killed Masaki. The last time Ichigo went into a fighting wanting to "kill", things did not turn out so well for him (Tsukishima and Ginjo), and Yhwach is really direct in his mind-games with Ichigo, compared to Aizen.
But before things can go any further, Uryu arrives.
And everything starts to fall apart for Ichigo and Co (by which I mean Yoruichi).
Uryu fires an arrow off at Yoruichi and hits her in the shoulder, an injury and distraction that causes the barrier she set up around Mimihagi to shatter, and allowed Yhwach to slip by Ichigo and force-push him away with a blast of reishi to reach Mimihagi. Although Yoruichi tries to stop Yhwach with a two-hit kill technique, Pernida intervenes and uses "The Compulsory" to twist and contort Yoruichi's arm into a bloody mess, punctuated by Yhwach force-pushing Yoruichi straight out of the palace.
Yhwach laid a hand directly on Mimihagi, and Ichigo is stopped from attacking Yhwach by Uryu's arrow. Then Yhwach rips Mimihagi off of the Soul King, which causes part of the Palace to collapse, as Ichigo is now forced to confront the issue with Uryu siding with Yhwach.
Beforehand, Ichigo and Co must have had a reason for joining with the Vandenreich, as he would not be with them lightly. But given everyone's shocked reactions, I doubt they ever thought Ishida would go so far as to actually attack them. This is not like what happened with Tsukishima and "Book of the End" (since Kubo tends to draw parallels between his arcs), where Inoue and Sado believed Tsukishima was the "most important person" in their lives and that Ichigo had gone mad - and Ichigo knew they had been made to believe as such; this is Uryu making the active choice to assist Yhwach in his efforts and attack Ichigo and Co.
This is why Ichigo is so angry at Ishida. He "knows" that Yhwach's actions will result in all the worlds being destroyed, and he knows that Ichigo and Co are there to stop him, and Ichigo does not understand why Uryu is helping him regardless. The answer he gives, I feel, echoes back to their parting words at the beginning of the arc: "It's because I am a Quincy".
At the beginning of the story arc, Uryu stated he could not go with Ichigo and Co for Hueco Mundo, and Ichigo had assumed that it was because the Quincy destroy Hollows. Now Uryu is stating that his reason for siding with Yhwach is because he himself is a Quincy. Now, we know that is not the true reason, but I'll get to that later.
Immediately after he says that, all the Schutzstaffel (Gerard carrying Pernida, who had previously fallen from the Soul King Palace, under his arm) arrive and surround the Nakama. They are not impressed in the slightest, with Gerard even calling them small fries.
(Why did anyone think that Inoue and Sado would be able to fight against the Schutzstaffel, again?)
Before actual combat could commence, Uryu states their interference was not needed, and shoots out the ground from under Ichigo and Co's feet, causing them all to fall from the Soul King Palace. To punctuate his point, Uryu fires off another arrow at Ichigo as he is falling before Lille Barro can fire the "X-Axis".
Uryu then explains to the suspicious Lille Barro his reasoning for his actions: he knew what Lille was thinking - the Nakama likely wouldn't survive the fall from the Soul King Palace, and they would have no means of coming back up there even if they did, but killing them before they fell would mean they wouldn't have to worry about them at all.
At least this way, Ichigo and Co have a chance of survival (Lille would have killed them all). Nevertheless, Gerard applauds Uryu for his actions, and states that Uryu has gained his approval, to which Uryu replies with a solemn smile. We know that Uryu is likely doing all this just to earn their trust so he can do what he came to the Vandenreich for, but it is saddening all the same.
Uryu has hardly ever been praised by anyone for his efforts, but now the Schutzstaffel are praising him. His father talked down to him, Ichigo ignored him in their fight with Ginjo, and he's been the outsider in general among the Nakama. He must be conflicted by this (receiving praise from Gerard), as he's receiving praise from the very people who are the enemies of his friends.
Now that Ichigo and Co are out of the Soul King Palace, Yhwach appears to be moving forward with his true intentions.
The Mask They All Wear
If there is any commonality throughout Bleach, is that people tend to wear masks to hide their true intentions, motives, and personality. Aizen wore a "mask" in front of the whole Gotei 13 for over a century while he plotted the Soul Society's downfall; Ginjo had Tsukishima make him into the "mask" in order to get close to Ichigo and steal his Fullbring power once it was completed; Ichibei wore the "mask" of a benevolent Monk in front of Ichigo and sent him to confront Yhwach, knowing full well that Ichigo would fail in his efforts.
Now, it seems that Yhwach's true motives are being unveiled. No longer does Yhwach have on the "mask" of the man who seeks the destruction of all the worlds; while he does blow apart Mimihagi, he does not destroy it outright, as he claimed before - he takes Mimihagi's power for himself, and decides to absorb the entirety of the Soul King. While he's only just begun, it can be assumed that he will become the new Soul King once he is finished, leaving him as the linchpin holding the worlds together.
However, I believe this is only part of the puzzle. The Kaiser Gesang stated that Yhwach will reclaim the world in nine days. So far, we are only on Day Two of those "Final Nine Days", yet all of this has already happened. There is still more that Yhwach intends to do. What is it and where is something we still do not know.
In addition, there is also the "mask" that Urahara wears. Back in the "Lost Agent Arc", Urahara told Isshin that Ichigo getting his powers back "would take away his future", and I can't help but think that this may have been what Urahara's words meant. While he surmised in front of everyone that Ichigo likely "didn't make it in time", I would not be surprised if Urahara knew full well that Ichigo had dealt the final blow to the Soul King.
Even as Urahara interacts with everyone around him, he is always hiding the deepest truths from everyone around him. I can't even be sure if he was genuinely unaware of what Mimihagi actually was.
There's too much to Urahara that we cannot know for certain, as he's always playing another field while everyone else can only see one.
Speaking of those with hidden intentions...
Return of the God
You all knew this was coming. There's no way I could make the review complete without talking about Aizen's official return to Bleach.
Just about everyone called this dance when Kyoraku went to speak to Central 46. This is a move that Kyoraku is executing behind everyone's backs. I certainly believe that no one would have agreed to this particular course of action if Kyoraku had put it to a vote - not even Urahara. Both Kyoraku and Ukitake were well aware of the possibility - nay, the inevitability - of the Soul King being killed by Yhwach, and they have planned accordingly.
For Ukitake, it was to buy time with the Kamikake; for Kyoraku, it was letting the Devil out of the pitch-black prison into which he was cast.
Simply put, while Ichigo was unable to stand up to Yhwach after the latter had awakened "The Almighty", Aizen may very well be the only one who can currently stand against Yhwach on even ground - especially after Yhwach absorbed Mimihagi. Despite the fact he was sealed away, and despite the fact that he supposedly lost all his power, we saw clearly that Aizen still possessed a level of power like what he possessed in "Deicide", since the guard who tried to add a restraint to Aizen had his fingers disintegrated just by getting close to the reiatsu around his body.
We also know that Aizen possesses the powers of Kyoka Suigetsu still, as he used them to mess with Yhwach's perception of time in the brief time they spoke with each other.
Kyoraku said that his and Aizen's interests were about to align, which could mean that Kyoraku predicted that Yhwach will become the new Soul King by absorbing all of the old Soul King's power. In other words, Kyoraku's interest is to defeat Yhwach, and Aizen's is to kill the Soul King - this makes it a two-in-one deal.
With the Soul King having been killed and Yhwach taking his power for his own, the future of the story has been left uncertain, especially with the revelations regarding the Soul King's missing "limbs" and the return of Aizen to the fold.
I am intrigued by the direction things are going in the story, and I do look forward to seeing what will come next.