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Song to listen to while reading this chapter: "I Will Not Die" by Three Days' Grace
Wow. Just...wow. I didn't want to believe the news of Bleach ending next week with 685, but I'm hard-pressed to think of what else this pacing could mean.
So we start off where we left off last week with Ichigo cutting Yhwach in half. Yhwach proceeds to melt into a puddle of eyebally black goop as Aizen finally explains his masterwork keikaku: he released Kyōka Suigetsu against Yhwach (idk how he got it back but okay), proved that Absolute Hypnosis could affect Yhwach even with The Almighty, then waited for Ichigo to show up and rek him because Ichigo would be the only other combatant not affected by the illusions. Sound plan, but unfortunately Aizen's cut off by the darkness remaining not locked up and engulfing him, to his shock. Yhwach proceeds to reform himself with a very eerie new look as he reveals that The Almighty also lets him rewrite futures where he dies, which should come as a surprise to literally no one by now with the level of power he possesses.
Ichigo makes a valiant effort to attack, but Yhwach pretty much just backhands him and resumes his preparations for destroying everything...only to suddenly get shot by the silver arrowhead, as Uryū has arrived. Apparently, the silver is actually called Still Silver, and when it makes contact with Yhwach's blood, Yhwach briefly loses his powers, which proceeds to happen as Ichigo seizes the opportunity to strike. Having begun to regain his powers, Yhwach tries to break Ichigo's Bankai for like the millionth time, but this time only the white part breaks...leaving the OG Zangetsu in its place. Absolutely stunned by this, Yhwach realizes that the dream he had of Ichigo attacking him was actually a warning from Haschwalth (RIP btw) as Ichigo cuts him in half, seemingly for good.
So yeah. Despite the hopes of many, myself included, it does look like Bleach is ending soon, possibly next week as people have been saying. First off, the chapter itself was alright, but I could just feel how rushed it was - I'm willing to bet this was indeed how Kubo planned to end this battle, or at least something similar to it, but he clearly meant to draw out and explain what's happened over the past few weeks over a month or two instead of 51 pages because dear god this is almost as fast as Hungry Joker. Uryū's arrowhead worked as expected, although the look on Yhwach's face more than made up for how predictable the outcome was in my professional opinion, and the Zangetsu thing was very much unexpected, although I can accept it since it was apparently just the black part of the new Tensa Zangetsu all along or something.
Now, before the usual poll, I'd like to address something that I'm sure many of you folks are going to assume: "This was all Kubo's fault, BURN THE WITCH!" While yes, this is Kubo's manga, and yes, he's the one who draws and writes every chapter, keep in mind that there is an entire team behind him - editors, publishers, assistants, and so on - who have a major influence on the series and how it is paced and played out. This is true for pretty much all shonen authors and series, even God-Emperor Oda and his undyingly popular One Piece. Now, I can only draw on Kubo's past remarks on this sort of thing, but the editors/publishers are responsible for the pacing issues of past arcs (Arrancar arc being too long because of the popularity of the Arrancar and the Fullbring arc being too short because of the unpopularity of the Fullbringers), and I am 100% positive that they've made some drastic changes to how this arc was supposed to play out, ranging from Byakuya's survival to 30% of the fights being skipped over for no reason. Why? Because they've gotta make money, and to that end they alter series to best fit that goal. In this case, it's pretty clear that Shonen Jump is tired of running Bleach, so despite Kubo having clearly set up material for like 30-50 more chapters of content and resolution (the dads showing up, Gerard's continued survival, Antithesis being useful against The Almighty, Izuru vs. Lille, and so on), they're most likely forcing him to rush toward the ending ASAP instead of letting him end this in a properly paced and organic fashion. Are they to blame for everything? No, many things are still Kubo's choice and sometimes fault, but Shueshia/Shonen Jump have considerable leverage in all this. Why they didn't pull the life support from Naruto when it was in the advanced stages of decay is beyond me, but that's the reality of all this. It's unfair, it sucks, and there's not much anyone can do but accept it.
With that in mind, it has truly been an honor, gentlemen.