I still think the rescue team will succeed. The one thing, I believe, I've ever agreed with Aiddon Valentine about was that shounen demands a successful rescue. The odds are against our heroes but weren't they against Ichigo et al in SS too? It could be that the guys are just there for power-ups and for psychological readiness for the upcoming war, but remember what Ryuuken said to Isshin as they considered their baby boys going into the land of the Hollow? Ryuuken said that Uryuu would get stronger or die. I personally don't believe that Uryuu is going to leave without Orihime.
Do or die. I think that's what the rescue team had in mind when they ventured into Hueco Mundo--sure, they were foolish, but if we didn't have young guys being foolish in shounen, we wouldn't have stories.
Allies? When the fab five went to Soul Society, there were no allies. Certainly, the Shinigami were a supposedly benevolent bunch of soul police, but none were supposed to be messing with the rules in Ichigo's favor. Before long, to our heroes advantage there was a jostling of status among the captains and all sorts of internal conflict within the Gotei 13. Kubo-san went to great effort to distinguish Shinigami from Shinigami--each had a backstory, personality, and purpose in the narrative. Some turned against Yamamato, some didn't, some turned against Soul Society itself.
Likewise we've got the Arrancar now being presented as something other than malevolent soul-eating bad guys. They were presumed to be ALL EVIL before we entered HM (just as SS was presumed to be hostile territory, if not evil). Then, we're introduced to some (gasp!) adorable and likable Hollow. But-but--weren't Hollow always the bad guys? The Desert Brothers were my first clue that we going to have some lessons in what constitutes humanity in this arc. Now we've got Espada being presented with all their individual flaws and concerns. They're not all blindly following Aizen. There's already tension between Grimmjow and Aizen, and this Noitra fellow seems more intent on proving himself the number one Espada than he does on following Aizen's orders (naughty boy didn't stay in his room as told!). Stark's introduction makes me think---hmmm, this guy looks really human. His mask is barely perceptible; maybe he will turn out to be a good guy?
It ain't over until it's over. And I'm in agreement with those who say "The End is Near" is pretty ironic title. This mission could go on for months--it feels like the moment that Hitsugaya and Matsumoto stepped into the Council 48 chambers and secrets were about to be unveiled. Suspense is high--and lordy, the shippers are squirming in their seats with all the passionate feelings being expressed here and there among the characters. Renji's back in the game as he has this wild response to Rukia's "death" (alas, Rukia remembers him in a panel much smaller than the one she gives Ichigo). Ichigo may be the closest to Orihime, but he just did a 180 in the corridor and looked like he was about to run back for Rukia. We haven't seen Ishida for a while, and I think Kubo is saving Ishida and his remaining belt tubes for something big.
Now, on the matter of extrapolating narrative from drawn panels. "It hasn't been stated yet in the manga!" is the argument I hear against so many developments that I hold as fact. I've been re-reading the manga lately and appreciating the artwork more .It takes time to learn to read Kubo--he cross-hatches so much and pictures are not clear sometimes, his panel sizes vary greatly and it's easy to skip over them, there are lots of all black or all white panels (those are easy, thank goodness) and while he shows action the same way most manga-ka do, he draws so well that there's a lot of information in this foot here or that hand there--it's not just about what sword is swinging and where.
Half of Kubo's story is in the pictures. I can read scans in Japanese knowing nada about the language and I have a fairly good idea of what's going on plotwise.
Tell me, here, that Rukia is not in love with Kaien. I hear people say "she might be" or "I don't think she was." Look at what Kubo drew here--the pain in her eyes for three panels before the box with the drifting lonely clouds states in dramatic text: Kaien Dono had a wife.
The pictoral evidence for lots of the lovey-dovey is everywhere in Bleach. There's hardly any "text" about love. Orihime is the boldly talky "I love you" character. It makes sense that the romance here isn't overt--the form is shounen, after all, but Jump knows that its audience is increasingly female, and the trinket makers know that girls in their 20s have disposable income and buy the plushies and Kubo loves women. Bleach has a LOT of romance that isn't just sideways to the plot--feelings push the narrative. Love isn't plainly stated--those 13 year boys who read Bleach for the action would throw up. But yes, Gin gives a look at Rangiku. Yes, Ishida looks pained over Orihime. Ichigo is gah-gah over Rukia. Orihime says she loves Ichigo and we also see it in her eyes but this reader doesn't see Ichigo giving Orihime a single look of encouragement. (I see Ulquiorra and Aizen giving one another sexy looks but that may just be me and Shini) And who loves who drives action. Orhime's choices, Ichigo's, Rukia's--all driven by romantic love to a large extent.
You'll see. The music is going to swell soon and there will be more for the shippers to swoon over.