Last Time On – Bleach
We’re back with another arc of wacky neighborhood kids solving monster mysteries! Or, at least that’s what you might be wishing for. Last time we covered Bleach’s soul society arc, touted by the fanbase at large as being the high point in the series. While I did have some problems with the arc, particularly in its earlier stages, overall I could see why. The character progressions were decent and the fights were good, going forward an unsuspecting viewer would be hopeful. Seeds have been sewn regarding Aizen’s plans and Ichigo’s inner hollow and we anticipate what will come into play next. It could be great! Unfortunately, great isn’t the word many fans would use.
Let’s put that off for a moment, though. We already know that the Arrancar arc is when the plot quality supposedly takes a dip, so before we rip it to pieces I want to go over what I’ve already changed throughout my previous Bleach amendment posts. So as to avoid blocks of repeated text, I’ll keep to what’ll be relevant going into this arc. First is Orihime’s ability Shun Shun Rikka, which I’ve changed to be composed of three spirits as opposed to six. Six is too many and, honestly, even after watching through this arc the only one I know by name is Tsubaki. The only reason I know his name is because his role in the story has been to get slaughtered twice.
Second, Kon is a runaway. Off to go and maybe fulfill an actually important role later on. Probably not in this arc, given how much is introduced already, but later for sure! Since I won’t be detailing him too much I will note that his current place in this arc is to be out of the way as much as possible so this won’t make a big difference. Lastly, I’m going to be pushing Orihime closer to the role of a fighter. To put it as inelegantly as possible, if you’re not a fighter in a story like this you aren’t important. Orihime as she is in the story is just a mountain of sad attempts at fighting alongside her friends. Each time fated to get completely crushed without achieving much of anything. I’d make her more active in the last arc and I’m gonna make her more active here.
That about covers it going into this post. Since it’s filler, we’ll be going through this as if the Bount arc never happened. This includes the moments in the anime where Bount arc characters uselessly draw out episodes by inserting themselves into fights. Any time this happens it amounts to literally nothing, so there’s really not going to be any holes in doing this. For reference, this post will be going up to just after Ichigo’s success in repressing his inner Hollow. With that, let’s start sinking our collective teeth into this, the beginning of Bleach’s breakdown.
What I Enjoyed
- The idea behind the rescue crew’s arcs – At this point in the story, our human world protagonist cast are at a crossroad. This is going to be the most core theme of the arc, the fact that each of the characters is going to have to choose a direction in their lives. These characters, Ichigo, Ishida, Chad and Orihime, are four who have experienced both the mundane and the supernatural. Having just returned from the soul society, they now stand in the space between. That space, though, isn’t stable and they will be made to choose between going back to the mundane life or continuing along the supernatural path.
Each of the four characters have their own unique circumstances that could tip them one way or the other. Ichigo, for example, puts lives at risk in going back to his mundane life. He still exudes a lot of spiritual pressure, which will draw more Hollows to the mundane world. On top of this, he risks his own inner Hollow attaining control and becoming the very thing he’s trying to protect his friends from. He will inevitably be drawn away from his mundane life again, away from his friends, perhaps to never be able to return. This is his tragedy, the power he sought to save Rukia becoming the very reason he can’t choose his own fate.
In theory, this is great. It’s a strong inner-conflict for Ichigo to figure out, further visualized through his struggle with his inner Hollow. If this were the Ichigo from before the soul society arc, he would certainly be crushed under the pressure and fall without choosing a path. This isn’t that Ichigo, though. During the previous arc, Ichigo matured as he fought against a fate that was chosen for his friend. In doing so, he prepared himself to handle his own life. This is an Ichigo capable of making his own decisions and now’s the time for him to do it. No half-assing it, he must choose a life and make it his own. That’s what will make him a stronger character. That’s the idea, at least.
Ishida acts as the most solid contrast to Ichigo’s struggle. Having lost his Quincy powers, the way Ishida is being pushed is more towards the mundane life. However, he can’t accept this, from the start he took pride in his Quincy ancestry. He dedicated his life to it, rejecting the mundane path chosen by his father. He even scorned his father for this decision. Because of this, he continues to struggle using alternate methods to defend himself from Hollows. He’s an intelligent character capable of effectively using these methods but they are unarguably less effective than his previous powers. There’s a limit to what he can do and it’s clear that his continued attempts to walk the supernatural path will get him killed.
I really don’t like Ishida’s arc as a whole, nor do I think Chad and Orihime’s are handled exceptionally well. It’s hard to see but this groundwork is here, though. This core concept that could lead these characters towards interesting decisions and developments. A crossroad between mundane and supernatural. A crossroad between living and dying. The choice is hard for some and merely an illusion for others. If handled well, all four protags could be made into outstanding characters. That doesn’t happen, though. More on that a little further below.
- The second coming of the Arrancar – Of the three Arrancar conflicts that happen up until where this post covers, the second is by far the best. This is the event when Yammy and Ulquiorra come to Karakura town, the former of which eradicating an unknown number of the town’s population. This is the strongest image of the Arrancar that we get throughout the arc, which makes sense given that these two are among the highest ranked. They appear and flood the town with their massive spiritual pressure, they can draw in the souls of people on a massive scale effortlessly. They destroy the mundane world with just their existence, spurring those who can feel them to act.
This is how you make your antagonist group feel threatening. Showing us just how intense their presence is, paired with the death they can bring before anyone can even react. There are even some cool moments in Orihime standing up to the one who devoured all of those souls and Ichigo being completely frozen in place by his inner Hollow. I do have a couple of issues with this event, like Tsubaki getting no-selled again the exact same way he was before which makes bringing him back pointless. I’m also not a fan of Ichigo’s complete dominance over Yammy before his hollow’s interference, which somewhat stains the powerful image we just got of these Arrancar.
At the end of this meeting, Ulquiorra even manages to deflect an attack from Urahara with just his hand. We know Urahara to be a strong character, possibly even stronger than the other captains we saw fight in the soul society arc, so seeing one of his attacks just swept away defies our expectations. Ulquiorra becomes this mighty and terrifying entity, possibly above even the other strongest characters in the series. Going into the more decisive fights in the future, this is the image we should have of the Arrancar. Unknowably strong beings who have no regard for the lives of others. No one is safe from the upcoming battle.
Of course, after the fight the fact that a whole bunch of Karakura town residents died was just completely brushed over by even the characters that should know about it. Hey, Kubo, I know you mentioned off-hand one time that the soul reapers have this all-powerful plot convenient memory wiping ability but this one’s maybe too much!
- Hollow ranks / Arrancar conceptually – It’s really interesting hearing about the hierarchy of Hollows and the terrors that exist within Hueco Mundo. Just the existence of Vasto Lorde Hollows is rad because they’re naturally born. This fact alone makes Hueco Mundo a terrifying place where no soul reaper would dare to tread, lest they run the risk of running into one of these beings. Adding the fact that Hollows become stronger when they’re transformed into Arrancar, these Vasto Lordes raise up to an unthinkable tier. Even soul reapers with bankais, which was considered an ultimate power in the previous arc, are nothing before such entities. This is a great image for just how far behind the soul reapers actually are. It makes us think, perhaps the Arrancar really are above both Hollow and soul reaper like what Aizen said he was aiming for. The concept of the Arrancar’s blade releases turning them into forms closer to their original Hollow forms is also really cool. Taking the best aspects of both their new humanoid forms and their Hollow abilities to make something greater than either aspect alone.
- The Visored – Through Ichigo’s struggle with his inner Hollow, the Visored have been built up pretty well by this point. A mysterious and powerful group who seem to reflect the Arrancar in their mixture of soul reaper and Hollow abilities. Though, they are not enemies, their allegiance only to themselves. While their goals are unknown, they’re the ones who hold the key to Ichigo’s future. Without them, Ichigo will inevitably be consumed, or at least end up hurting a lot of people while struggling against it. Their knowledge and control over their inner Hollows while simultaneously seeing Ichigo wrestle with his own makes us want to learn more about them. Where they came from, how their own struggles manifested and how they’ll play a part in the battle with the Arrancar.
What Needs Changed
- The pacing (oh god the pacing) – Perhaps the most glaring issue this arc faces, the pacing is absolutely awful for a majority of it. There’s not enough downtime covering the rescue group’s transition back into the mundane world at the beginning. Ishida finds a solution to his powerlessness way too quickly. Aizen’s entire plan is dropped in exactly two dedicated, lengthy exposition scenes. The time between the second coming of the Arrancar and the third is way too short. It’s like Kubo wasn’t confident in his writing so he tried to get this section of the story over with as soon as possible. So much could be more deeply explored, like the extended effects of the rescue group’s interactions with the supernatural world. Other parts of the story could be saved until later or at least presented more naturally, like the actual entirety of Aizen’s plan.
- The first coming of the Arrancar – Near the beginning of the arc, when Isshin fights Gran Fisher and Ishida is rescued by his father. My issue with this event isn’t so much the content of it but rather its placement in the story. This is the first time we see the Arrancar and it’s done in a super cool way, using Gran Fisher. While it’s extremely satisfying to see Isshin get the opportunity to avenge his wife, the complete dominance of the Arrancar here really hurts our image of them. Our mindset from seeing them so effortlessly eradicated is ‘oh, so they’re just fodder to anyone who matters’. This is a similar issue to what the soul society arc faced, where most anyone below lieutenant level was just pointless fodder. It just makes the antagonizing force feel less threatening as a whole, which isn’t worth it even for a couple of cool moments.
- Ishida’s power recovery – Completely unsatisfying and arbitrary. The idea of seeing Ishida use his intelligence to find alternate methods of fighting is way cooler than his dad just appearing and telling him that his powers can be restored. Ishida’s arc as a Quincy came to a satisfying conclusion when he defeated Mayuri in the previous arc and that just gets completely taken away if he immediately finds a way to restore them. It’s not even something difficult or a case where he has to lose anything, he just has to fulfill some arbitrary requirement of getting tired and then being shot in a certain place. It’s a lazy way to bring him back into the story and it ruins a lot of cool possibilities for the character. I actually don’t think Ishida should get his powers back until the 1,000 year blood war arc, which is way down the line. The way it’s handled here is really rushed and lame, not too much more to say about it.
- Chad, Orihime & Tatsuki – All three of these characters feel completely pointless as they currently stand. There are some clear, legitimate attempts at implementing Orihime into the plot but she doesn’t really develop or add anything to the story. Thanks to the fact that Kubo refused to let her develop in soul society like everyone else, she had to get some rushed B-plot about how she suddenly feels useless. Which, yeah, is completely true. The one thing she’s contributed to the story thus far is using a shield against a train. Other than that, there’d be pretty much no downside to just removing her from the story.
I think the pieces for an interesting version of Orihime’s arc are there. She’s at a crossroads just like everyone else and, like Ishida, is being geared closer towards returning to a mundane life. Also like Ishida, she struggles against that fate so she can fight alongside her friends. However, where the two characters diverge is in the fact that Orihime really has no reason to do so. Sure, she wants to be helpful, but there’s nothing to her that’s unique other than being Ichigo’s sad love interest. Ishida fights for the legacy of his clan, Chad fights for a promise he made to Ichigo in their mundane lives and Orihime fights… because… look! A girl character!
The issue with Orihime’s development throughout this arc is that it focuses on her finding resolve. That isn’t where the issue lies, though, she doesn’t need resolve, she needs drive. To look for a purpose for her actions, an endgame to strive for. I feel like the most interesting thing to do with Orihime would have revolved around more interactions between her and Tatsuki. Who, I should mention, is presented as if she’s going to play some kind of major role but it just never happens. Tatsuki is the rescue team’s best connection back to the mundane world. Interactions between she and Orihime, resulting in the latter deciding to come back to a mundane life, could have been played out in an interesting way. The story of Orihime escaping from the game of life and death being played by her friends. She can still be emotional, she can still worry but she can also go in a unique and respectable direction.
Chad is in a relatively better but still not great situation. Throughout the arc, Chad’s resolve is broken down as he realizes just how far he has fallen behind Ichigo. When he and Ichigo made their promise, they were equals as just two regular teens. Well, regular in a relative sense. Following the teachings of his grandfather, he resolved to dedicate his fists and even his life to his friend. However, if he does such a thing now, he would just be throwing his life away pointlessly. Refusing to believe the fragility of his own drive, he strives for strength. For him, too, it would be safer to return to a mundane life but the cost would be that of a broken promise. A promise he values too much for his own good.
That’s about how much you can draw from it. It’s really two-dimensional in practice, after typing it out I can see just how weak Chad’s motivation is. He wants to use his powerful body to protect his friends but he sees it as pointless if he can’t fight on the same level as Ichigo. It isn’t enough any more to just protect school kids from bullies, he has to hone himself to face monsters. There’s really no point in him going to such extreme lengths nor is it ever really justified. Furthermore, the training he undergoes doesn’t add at all to the unique nature or intrigue surrounding his ability. There’s no real development other than the most basic doubting himself and then training so as to not be doubting himself. Painfully bland.
- The mountain of exposition – As mentioned earlier, there is just so much exposition riddled throughout this arc. Regarding Aizen’s plans, regarding the nature of the Arrancar and regarding plot elements like the soul king. None of it feels naturally implemented into the story at all and a lot of the time it feels like there’s no justification for certain characters knowing what they know. It’s like Kubo decided ‘the viewer should know this’ as he spun a wheel to decide which character would be the one to explain it. The extent of Aizen’s plan could have been held off until way later, the uncertainty of it adding to the plot’s tension. Not knowing exactly what his next move’s going to be, which makes sense given the image we have of Aizen as a meticulous character.
The Arrancar are just explained in full by random characters rather than just letting us see their powers and abilities first-hand. There’s also a weird plot point that apparently Arrancar can occur naturally if a Hollow manages to rip off its own mask and survive but I’m uncertain if I like that idea. Then, there’re big plot elements like the soul king that are just dropped without nearly enough explanation. We already knew that soul society had what were equivalent to royal families from the previous arc but now it’s dropped on us that there is one true royal family comprised of one guy. One guy important enough for Aizen to want to aim for and kill, which one would think merits some kind of deeper explanation. One we don’t get because who cares about that, really. I’m just really itching for some show-don’t-tell here, Kubo.
- The story bubble – I don’t know if this is a real term or not but I’m coining it here anyways. Given the increasing scale of events in the story, it doesn’t make much sense that everything is still confined to just Karakura town. It makes the world feel extremely small, like the story is taking place inside of a bubble (hence the story bubble). Hollows being attracted to Karakura town is a fact I can accept on its own, since Ichigo and several other strong spirits are there. However, when we get into other plot points like soul reapers gathering in Karakura town and the town having the highest concentration of spiritual beings in the world, then we have problems.
Everything revolving around just Karakura town is a bad thing. Regardless of how well the villain planned everything out, it just feels too convenient that this one town just so happens to be the one most important place in the world. Honestly, I wouldn’t have minded this arc being way longer if there were a stage of it that involved Ichigo travelling the globe to hotspots where the Arrancar have been popping up. Maybe that could be the motivation of the Visored, as a special group who aim to resolve problems the soul society can’t and prove themselves to be superior. Anything to make it feel like there actually is a world past Karakura.
- The reason for Ikkaku, Yumichika, Rangiku, Rukia, Renji and Hitsugaya’s placement in the mundane world – These six stroll up into the mundane world actually like ‘we’ve been placed here as a measure against the Arrancar’ and I don’t buy that for a moment. First of all, soul society actually sent just six soul reapers as their force against an unknown number of Arrancar. Furthermore, they don’t even know how strong the Arrancar are. From Hitsugaya’s exposition scene regarding the ranks of Menos, we know that soul society is aware that there could be Vasto Lorde rank Arrancar. If that’s the case then this group of six, only one of which being a captain, could just get wiped if they’re unlucky.
What makes this even more ridiculous is the fact that there is a way better reason just staring them right in the face. This happens right after Yammy sucks up an unknown number of souls from Karakura town, killing a significant number of people. This is a fact that is completely ignored when it could be used to justify this group of six. Have them say ‘You saw what happened yesterday, so many were killed before you could even react. Given your spiritual pressure, it’s only a matter of time before more of those Arrancar come and more are killed. It’s our job as soul reapers to protect the balance, so we’ve come to prevent something like this happening again.”
This would be doubly good because it could also resolve the story bubble issue. Throw in a line like ‘Other soul reapers are doing the same thing in other places with high volumes of spiritual pressure. If we’re going to counter this threat, we need to remain stationed in the mundane world until the science bureau figures out more about them’. It would be acknowledgement of the rest of the world existing and open the way for some great comedy cuts. I want to see a transition to Kenpachi in a school uniform causing a riot because he wasn’t placed where Ichigo is. Show these scenes to me, Kubo!
- The third coming of the Arrancar – Oof, here’s the big one. When Grimmjow and his lackeys come to the world so the Espada can fight Ichigo himself. A majority of this arc’s fighting happens here and it’s really not all that impressive. Throughout all of the engagements there are a few good moments but overall there wasn’t enough build-up or character progression to make this event worth playing out. Let’s start with a good thing, right off the bat we get to see Rukia actually do something cool and her zanpakuto ability is revealed. She has ice powers, it’s neat. She dominates an Arrancar which might be impressive, we can’t tell because our image of them has been tossed all over the place already!
Grimmjow then deals a swift and potentially lethal blow to Rukia, which could have been a really strong moment but it just kinda happens. We just got hyped up to see Rukia return and actually use the abilities she didn’t get the chance to use prior. This is the character the rescue group spent all of the last arc trying to save. Now, she’s free, back in action- only to get annihilated in a single blow by an enemy that disregards that past. Grimmjow doesn’t care about the physical and emotional strife that went into preserving that life before, without a second thought he would squash all of that effort. He’s an Arrancar, an enemy who won’t hesitate to execute. There’s no grace period or time to prepare, this is win or die. Except, nobody on the good guy side dies, because that might be just a little bit too interesting. That’s sarcasm, by the way. Please applaud.
Next is Edorad vs Ikkaku. I actually think Edorad in this fight is a decent example for how all of the Arrancar in the concurrent fights should have felt. He’s a genuine threat, introducing concepts such as the hierro; a natural armor that gives the Arrancar a natural advantage over soul reapers. Moreover, he’s the first Arrancar to show off a Resurrección (discounting Gran Fisher’s transformation if that even counts), which we immediately see is a far more extreme transformation than a zanpakuto release. He’s even a good character in that he doesn’t become frustrated or primal when he’s defeated. He displays that Arrancar can have complex and unique personalities rather than just following their basic instincts as Hollows. My problem in this fight is mostly with Ikkaku. Apart from the flashback that pops in at the end of the fight, the fight itself doesn’t help to develop his character not does his reveal of having a bankai feel very justified.
Forcing Ikkaku to use his bankai makes Edorad feel stronger, which is good, but the issue is that the process of awakening a bankai was shown to be a huge deal throughout the soul society arc. Here, though, Ikkaku just has it. We didn’t get to follow the trials he went through to attain it, nor do we even get that in the flashback. It’s like Kubo realized just how uninteresting Ikkaku’s shikai is so he rushed to give him a bankai, which is also not particularly interesting in terms of ability. Visually it’s near but its ability is definitely underwhelming. Bankai are one of the best concepts in the series, whenever one is revealed/released it should be hype but I don’t think this one really captures that feeling. It’s just the most basic of power-up abilities, not something that’s going to make for a unique or interesting fight interaction. Likely because of that, I don’t believe this bankai ever gets used again throughout the rest of Bleach. Maybe it should have been saved for a bigger battle than this sudden and relatively inconsequential bout against the Arrancar in that case, huh?
For all the crap I’m giving him, I actually don’t hate Ikkaku’s backstory. It’s as simple as his character but his motive is cool, fighting towards the goal of eventually killing Kenpachi. It just makes me more sad about his bankai, though. Kenpachi is a character whose power surpasses that of a bankai, so it would have been great to see Ikkaku strive towards the power of a bankai and then look beyond that. Constantly evolving his ability and proficiency in his arc to surpass the monster that is Zaraki Kenpachi. Along the way he trains Renji, which is a neat way of tying the characters together, but at this point it’s revealed that Ikkaku already had his bankai at this point.
Once again, not a fan! We didn’t see Ikkaku go through any particular training to achieve his bankai nor do I believe it’s a plot element that should be handed out so easily. In our minds, bankais are the ultimate strength of a soul reaper that require years of training to attain and even longer to master. They’re these massive, hype displays of a soul reaper’s true strength, so when one just has it the whole effect is lost. The struggle is an important part in the build-up towards an unexpected bankai like Ikkaku’s but it’s non-existent. It would have been infinitely more interesting for Ikkaku to see Renji attain bankai before him, leading to frustration that he had yet to succeed in reaching his own.
Renji, Hitsugaya and Matsumoto’s fights are all blowouts. They all look like they’re losing until their mundane world limiters are released and they all one-shot their opponents. It’s a good callback to whenever Renji mentioned the limits that lieutenants and captains have while in the mundane world during his fight with Ichigo. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense that it came into play, just that it feels like a bad joke. They make it out as if these characters are actually going to struggle against their opponents and would have to fight an uphill battle against these new, threatening foes. Then, surprise! No, these opponents are actually fodder, nbd.
Abarai Renji, right after one-shotting his enemy: “Even with full release from the start who knows who would have won!” Yeah, I think we have a pretty good idea who would have won. There’s just such a disparity between how the characters act like the fight went vs what we actually saw. They pretend like the Arrancar they faced were any sort of match for their fully-powered selves but that wasn’t displayed in the slightest. After the fact it was confirmed that these Arrancar were made from the weakest type of Menos but that doesn’t matter. Anything that makes the Arrancar feel weaker is bad. Same story as in the last arc.
- Ichigo vs his inner Hollow – I actually really like this fight and the way it reveals that Ichigo’s inner Hollow is merged with Zangetsu. The idea that his soul reaper powers and his Hollow abilities are inseparably intertwined is rad and it helps us to understand why it’s so much of a threat to Ichigo. We learned from the last arc that a soul reaper and their zanpakuto are one, that it is a connection of their spirits that allows both to reach their fullest potential. However, here, that closeness is a vulnerability. A way for the Hollow spirit to worm its way in and take over. For Ichigo to wield the full power of his zanpakuto it’s not enough to just connect with it, he must dominate it.
The issue I have with this fight is I’m pretty certain that the message it tries to convey regarding Ichigo’s development and the message I interpreted aren’t the same. As things are now I think the inner Hollow’s motives boil down to just giving in to instinct and there isn’t really that much more to it. I looked a lot more into it, perhaps more than what the original writing intended. What I saw in this fight was the punishment of Ichigo’s complacency. A mentality grown in the mind of a boy who managed to win all his fights without killing anyone. Throughout all of soul society, he managed to get out without a single fatality. Ikkaku survived, Renji survived, Kenpachi and Byakuya survived and Rukia was still rescued.
This is the opening that I see the Hollow abusing. The hole in Ichigo’s logic, the self-cultivated belief that he can keep reaching his goals without killing anyone. Hollow Ichigo is an entity who knows otherwise, since the moment it was conceived. This being saved Ichigo from these deathless bouts, manifesting the mask to block fatal blows on multiple separate occasions. Against Byakuya, where simply acting as a shield wasn’t enough, the hollow took over for the first time. From that point on, the Hollow was done just covering for Ichigo’s slack. His tendency to never cut deep enough or with enough resolve when comes the final clash of blades. Holding back just enough so his opponent can live and his consciousness can be saved for another day.
It’s a mentality that can’t be dominant any longer. Their opponents aren’t soul reapers any more. Hollow Ichigo knows best what the Arrancar will do, because he would do the same. They’re killers who will deal a finishing blow the moment they get the opportunity. So, the Hollow chose to take matters into its own hands and unrestrain itself from Ichigo’s self-destructive limits. Ichigo is a boy who is bound to keep on fighting, possibly forever, so the Hollow isn’t just going to sit around until the day Ichigo’s weakness gets them both killed.
During the fight, Ichigo has weird visceral flashback sequences to both his fights with Byakuya and Kenpachi. The former I don’t care too much about but the latter makes a lot of sense. Ichigo’s fight with Kenpachi was where he was meant to have learned not to hold back his attacks. The problem was that, even after that, he got out of it without killing his opponent. He could still wash away the blood that stained his hands. In hindsight, he lost the instinct for battle he gained by trading blows with squad 11’s captain.
Well, well, well! What do we have here? A Bleach post with more negative points than positive? Isn’t that interesting!
It should go without saying but this arc has a lot of problems. Looks like the claims of Bleach’s infamous dip weren’t false. What’s interesting about this arc is that there are a lot of structural issues in the narrative. Things happening too early on, moments with too much concentrated exposition, we went over it already. Given that, there’s going to be some shuffling of events occurring.
We’ll begin the arc as normal. Ichigo, Ishida, Orihime and Chad have returned to the mundane world and are in the process of going back to the lives they had before their visit to soul society. Chad and Orihime manage to get back into the flow quite well but it’s not so easy for Ichigo and Ishida. Ichigo’s daily life is frequently interrupted by the appearance of Hollows but every time he holds his zanpakuto he feels a sense of dread. Like sludge flowing through his veins, converging into a feeling of complete emptiness. For Ishida, it would be all too easy to just fall onto a mundane life. However, that isn’t what he wants. He prided himself on his Quincy lineage and has no intentions of just giving up the acts he did in their name. With a limited supply of alternate weaponry, he hunts down Hollows to escape the truth that he may not be able to do it for much longer.
Ichigo’s explicit school skipping and Orihime’s explicit worry for him catch Tatsuki’s attention. Tatsuki starts trying to get information out of Orihime but she avoids the question. This will set up for more things later, I promise. Shinji starts coming to the school at around this point and, on a rare day where Ichigo manages to make it without being interrupted, catches our protag’s attention. He drops some quotes like ‘You really should learn to not let your spiritual pressure leak out, y’know. More Hollows’ll keep on comin’… If yer not careful, one might even come out of you,’ spurring Ichigo to be mad at how mysterious yet knowledgeable he is. Shinji tells Ichigo to come with him but Ichigo is trusting none of that and refuses. Shinji is discouraged but shrugs and says ‘they’ will be waiting for him.
Uncertain of what direction to take, Ichigo attempts to speak with Zangetsu when he returns home. However, he does not hear old man Zangetsu’s voice. He hears something else, something which incites dread. The voice of his inner-Hollow. After this, I’m gonna put Ulquiorra and Yammy’s expedition to Karakura town here as the first showing of the Arrancar. Builds a much more striking image of the Arrancar in our minds and sets up for the developments I want to make happen throughout the arc. Given in my previous amendments I wrote out Tsubaki getting crushed by some fodder soul reaper, his being ‘killed’ here would mean a lot more. Chad being struck down kicks off his realization of his inadequacy and Ichigo’s struggle with his inner Hollow nearly results in the death of himself and his friends.
Something I would change here is how Ichigo’s fight with Yammy actually goes down. Start the fight by having Ichigo struggle against Yammy in shikai, unable to fully cut through the Espada’s skin. He realizes he needs his bankai but that just makes the uncomfortable squirming in his body more intense. He can hear the voice of his Hollow once again, goading him to do it. He tries to hold it off but has no choice, he activates his bankai only to have to focus all his strength on suppressing the Hollow. From this point on, the fight plays out as it does normally.
Ichigo’s fear and sadness grows. He failed his friends and he fears what will happen if foes that powerful appear again. He didn’t even know what those enemies were, whether they were soul reaper or Hollow. Too many questions and too few answers, Ichigo’s mind turns to Shinji. There may be no trust between them but getting some answers would be better than getting none. Way earlier than in the original version, Ichigo goes to learn how to suppress his inner Hollow. This makes him feel like a more mature and decisive character due to his prior experiences in soul society. Though he isn’t perfect, like in the original version he still disappears without informing his friends.
Chad and Orihime fall into states of deep worry. Chad feels as if Ichigo has lost trust in him and left him behind to train on his own. While it isn’t a wholly logical feeling, he is overcome by the thought that he has broken his promise to Ichigo. The promise to always have his back. For Chad, it’s no longer just a case of being too weak to protect people. He doesn’t just want to say ‘sorry’ and take a back seat while Ichigo goes on ahead. A promise shouldn’t be broken that easily, so Chad goes out in search of a way to improve his own abilities. Orihime becomes progressively more upset, leading up to another talk with Tatsuki.
Tatsuki won’t be turned away this time. She knows something’s up, it’s just too obvious from how both Ichigo and Chad have been acting. No longer able to keep it in, Orihime breaks down and reveals everything to her. The two of them talk and Tatsuki poses her friend a question; what’s the life she wants to live? Orihime decides she wants to fight. She hates it, every time she has to kneel next to an injured friend and restore them with her ability. If at all possible, she wants to make it so that no one is hurt in the first place. The only way she can do that is by becoming strong herself and fighting. Preventing Ichigo and the others from getting hurt by taking the front lines. It’s a bit of a contradictory mentality, fighting to stop fighting, but that’s in-line with Orihime’s not totally logical personality. Tatsuki agrees to support her and help her with physical training whenever she can.
Hard cut to soul society, where being held is a meeting regarding the recent appearance of Arrancar in Karakura town. The amount of lives lost was a tragedy and a completely unacceptable event under the jurisdiction of the soul reapers. It’s precisely the type of large-scale death they’re meant to prevent, thus they plan to take necessary measures against Aizen’s forces. They announce an emergency training regimen, where the soul reapers with the most potential who have not yet achieved bankai will be gathered. They will train using the same method used by Ichigo in an attempt to unlock their abilities before all-out war breaks loose. Given the potential strength of the enemy, particularly after analyzing Ulquiorra’s effortless deflection of Urahara’s attack, such a measure is necessary.
However, they cannot afford to just sit back in soul society and wait for more mortal lives to be lost. Yamamoto declares that chosen groups will be mobilized to permanent positions in the mundane world, each at least six strong and with a minimum of one who can unleash a bankai. The bankai-user will be in charge of enforcing a training regimen whilst also exercising alertness of their surroundings. If the Arrancar appear, the group must fight regardless of how prepared they are in the moment. From this moment on it’s life or death and any slack will certainly mean death. The groups are to be sent to the places in the world with the highest concentration of spirit energy as soon as they are chosen.
Back in the mundane world, Ishida is becoming increasingly frustrated. The resources he has that allow him to fight hollows are already running out and he could feel from their spiritual pressure that he would have been no help against the Arrancar. Fearing for his life without his powers, he didn’t even go to that scene when the rest of his friends nearly died. He tries to drive out the frustration with more Hollow hunting but that only makes his supplies run out faster. Acceptance begins to dawn on him, that perhaps he will have to tread his father’s path, when suddenly a Hollow appears from a garganta in the same way as a Menos.
The scene plays out like it does in the original, up until his father appears and rescues him. However, Ryuken does not offer the possibility of Ishida’s powers being restored. He instead introduces a different concept to his son; Fullbrings. Knowing his son’s frustration, Ryuken reminds him that humans can fight without the power he inherited as a Quincy. Given Ryuken’s nature, he should scold Ishida for leaning on that ancestry in the first place. He tells his son that he will help Ishida awaken his Fullbring but he’s on his own from there. Introducing Fullbrings here would give an opening to explain Chad and Orihime’s abilities and it would start a new arc for Ishida. One where he must ponder whether or not he can fight in the name of the Quincies without Quincy powers. The way would be open for Ishida to find a new identity separate from the Quincy legacy he prided himself so much on.
Meanwhile, Isshin’s fight with Gran Fisher comes and goes. I’d definitely cut the scene with him meeting Urahara though, or at least make it a short and inconsequential exchange. That scene was way too heavy in exposition for things that could definitely just be learned over time. A new day dawns and the rescue team group have their directions. When the soul reaper group comes to Karakura, Orihime’s the only one still attending school. This worries them but she assures that it’s alright and that Ichigo and the others have all gone to become stronger. They’ve grown independent after their experiences in soul society, they don’t need to sit around and wait for the plot to come to them.
Around this point would be training scene city. Ichigo getting put through some nonsense by the Visored, Ishida training with Ryuken, Orihime learning martial arts with Tatsuki. The most interesting one, though would be the possible direction for Chad. I’m going to jump way ahead for a moment here but I think this would actually be a great time to introduce the Fullbringers. Yes, the ones from after the final battle with Aizen. Where they’re currently placed in the story, the Fullbringers are just a huge step down from the other events in the story. They’re underwhelming, there’s a reason why that arc isn’t popular. So, why not alleviate that by bringing them here?
Obviously, this would mean that Ichigo wouldn’t need to interact with the Fullbringers at all. This is fine, because Ichigo doesn’t need to have every ability! I’m more than fine with making Chad or even this iteration of Ishida into the main character of this mini-Fullbringer arc. If it wouldn’t work with the pacing of the story in practice then they wouldn’t even have to be fully introduced, just make it clear that Chad has made contact with and is training with them to unlock the full potential of his Fullbring. Creating this parallel to the Visored helps to make Ichigo’s friends just as relevant as he is and it justifies the extreme power-up they need to match the enemies they’re going to be facing.
I won’t go into all of the logistics of it because I don’t want to make a mini-amendment within this amendment of the Fullbringer arc but just know the idea is there. The soul reapers are also training through jinzen (communicating with their zanpakuto through meditation) and through the same bankai training Ichigo went through. They come to an agreement with Urahara that allows them to use his training room and various things of his creation for the sake of the upcoming battle. Given that the members of the Karakura town soul reaper group are too young to know Urahara’s past, he’s malleable enough with them. He even manages to pull up some things to help Hitsugaya improve on his bankai’s limitations.
Training looks to go well, things almost seem too quiet when suddenly the third wave of Arrancar come. The soul reapers mobilize immediately but are quickly overwhelmed and separated by the enemy. Rangiku, Renji and Hitsugaya realize immediately that they need to release their mundane world restrictions but need permission to do so. They attempt to retreat but the Arrancar are fast, displaying the speed of their sonido. Ikkaku, not one to run, turns to fight and comes face-to-face with Edorad. Rukia also refuses to run from this chance to prove her strength after having it returned to her.
Grimmjow is uninterested in these fodder soul reapers. He came looking for Ichigo and intends to find him. What he ends up tracking down instead is Orihime, who was on her way towards Ichigo to tell him of the soul reapers’ arrival. He very convincingly asks Orihime if she knows where Ichigo is with a healthy amount of spiritual pressure, which can be felt by every fighter in the town. Including Ichigo, despite the fact that he’s in the barrier. We’ll say that at this point Ichigo still hasn’t gone through the suppression training and asserted dominance over his inner Hollow.
Rukia is the first to act on Grimmjow’s spiritual pressure, using her zanpakuto’s ability to dispatch her foe before moving on as swiftly as she can. She stands between Grimmjow and Orihime but doesn’t manage to last long before she’s struck through the chest. At the same moment, Ichigo has managed to push his way past the Visored and make his way onto the battlefield, his hollow already on the verge of emerging. He can barely control his own body’s movements when he sees Rukia with a lethal wound through her body. He can feel rage welling but he can feel the Hollow riding along with it. He clashes with Grimmjow with only the barest control of his own body.
Elsewhere, Ikkaku’s fight with Edorad doesn’t go nearly as well as in the original. Like normal, Ikkaku is forced into using his bankai but in this version he has only awakened it recently. Between Renji awakening his bankai and now, which isn’t a long time at all. He possibly even just attained it during the brief training that they’ve been allowed to do at Urahara’s place up until this point. As we learned from Renji’s fight with Byakuya, a bankai learned recently isn’t combat ready. Ikkaku is able to deal a fatal blow to Edorad but not without being struck down himself. That’s right lads, I’m killing off Ikkaku Madarame. Clearly, from Kubo’s standpoint, Ikkaku’s arc was done so I’m cutting him short here. Real death! Real consequences! Scary enemies! Wow!
Killing off Ikkaku here does two things. First of all, it genuinely does assert death as a consequence, something which has yet to happen in the story. With Ikkaku actually dying, we then actually fear for Rukia’s life since she has also been struck with a harsh blow. Second, it further pushes the consequence for not fully unlocking the potential of your bankai before using it in combat. This will be important for Renji’s arc as, going forward, that’s his primary issue. The very reason why he couldn’t stand up to Byakuya, despite everything. That time, Byakuya allowed him to live. Now, going against the Arrancar, flailing around a half-assed bankai will actually mean death for him.
Rangiku, Renji and Hitsugaya are still on the run. Each of them is trying to get as far away from the town as possible so as to not make adverse effects with their spiritual pressure but they can’t outpace the Arrancar. They’re taking hits and it seems like they won’t get permission to release soon enough when suddenly something strikes Renji’s opponent. Renji and the Arrancar turn to see that it’s Chad, alongside a couple of the Fullbringers that he’s training aside. Chad and the Fullbringers help the soul reapers to hold off the Arrancar until they get permission to use their power, at which point they manage to overwhelm their enemy. The primary difference being that the battle is still difficult even with gentei kaijou.
The fight between Ichigo and Grimmjow goes pretty much the same as normal. Ichigo gets dominated, is too fearful to give in to the rage that would let the Hollow consume him. Grimmjow gets taken away by Tosen and here’s where I make a fun change. It’s not really all that exciting for Ichigo to just attain his Visored mask in a controlled environment, right? How about he does it right here, in this moment! Worn down from getting his ass whooped by Grimmjow, Ichigo loses consciousness and his Hollow takes over. The Visored, knowing the destruction that would follow, reveal themselves and have Hachi place a barrier around the transformed Ichigo. There’s no choice, the suppression will have to happen here.
Sensing the large amount of spiritual pressure, the Fullbringers and the other soul reapers gather on the scene. Tense moment between the soul reapers and the Visored, moment to learn about Visored backstory, oops Ichigo’s a problem so they have to put their grudges aside for just a moment. Whoever would be most hype helps out in Ichigo’s suppression while his fight with his inner Hollow commences. In the end, Ichigo wins and the Visored allow his friends to take his unconscious body for just the night. Once that night is done, they want him back. Either way, they expect him to return.
Well would ya look at that, a pretty lengthy one! Given, I did choose to structure this in a more detailed manner than usual because of the restructuring of events I felt was necessary. While the length of the rewrite is a little misleading, I hardly need say that this arc does have a lot of problems. Of all the arcs so far, this most certainly feels like the most rushed. So many important things happen so fast, which can be a good thing to maintain a tense atmosphere but the problem is that it isn’t really all that tense. The characters talk more about the Arrancar being threatening than the amount of time we see the Arrancar actually be threatening. Yammy and Ulquiorra had a strong showing but otherwise we never really get to see the Arrancar do anything all that impressive.
So the villains don’t feel suitably threatening, what about the heroes? Well, it feels like they’re all just being shoved along. Apart from Ichigo, I can’t honestly say I think any of the character-specific arcs are all that impressive. Ishida’s is just some ctrl-Z mashing to get rid of the last arc’s consequences, Orihime’s is liking Ichigo a lot and Chad is a sheet of paper. Then the soul reapers, the characters who actually have real fights in the arc, just kinda appear to win those fights. Ikkaku gets some flashback time but otherwise they don’t develop at all either. The only characters I think have much merit are the Visored and even they’re weak on an individual level. Maybe with the exception of Shinji and Hiyori.
It’s just such a shame, because I can see all of the pieces there. The idea of the characters choosing their paths is so clear but it’s just executed in the most bare manner. Just enough is done to move the plot along, which is a fact further highlighted by the moments of just intrusive exposition. For a story like this, which had such a large fanbase behind it, that just isn’t acceptable. There needs to be more care for each character, more excitement in each plot development and more respect for the reader. The audience isn’t so dumb that they need everything spelled out for them. Anyways, for a plot like this where a lot of people are likely in for the fighting, the painfully long explanations are just a waste of time.
Overall, yeah, this is a huge dip in quality in the story. I didn’t expect it to be quite so immediate and obvious but here we are. I like to remain hopeful, though. This could just be a painful transition arc between one great story and another. Surely things can only improve once we get to Hueco Mundo! … Right? Well, you can find that out next time! On! Narrative amendment – Bleach!