Last Time On – Bleach
Back to Bleach once again, a story of souls both fulfilled and hollow. Considering what we went over in the previous Bleach amendment post, though, perhaps that hollowness is being taken a tad too literally. It almost feels like it’s a joke made on purpose, that the arc which focused on the gotei 13 was full of soul while the arc revolving around Hollows is far more empty. Last time, we moved from the soul society arc into the Arrancar arc and the consensus of a dip in writing quality rang all too true. Glaring issues took hold over the series, not limited to just the awful pacing that took us through the arc. That was last post, though. I’m the type who likes to be hopeful, maybe Kubo had some great ideas in store but was uncertain how to transition into them!
I made a lot of changes in my previous amendment post, so here’s the run-down of what to keep in mind going into this one. First, Fullbrings have been formally introduced into the story. In the original story, Chad’s development of his character and abilities felt far too bland for the uniqueness of his powers as a human. I also took great issue in how easily Ishida was able to restore his powers, thus completely nullifying the consequences of his fight with Mayuri. My solution to this was to have Ishida find out about Fullbrings through his father and become a Fullbringer himself so as to replace his lost powers. This introduces a new and unexpected direction for Ishida’s story as well as creating the mental struggle of if he can continue to call himself a Quincy.
Chad also learns about the nature of his Fullbring, however he does so by meeting the Fullbringers from the arc that is normally farther down the line. My reasoning for this was based on the fact that the Fullbringer arc, where it currently is in the story, is utterly underwhelming when compared to the other events of the story. Introducing the Fullbringers earlier, other than creating a more interesting direction for Chad’s arc, will make us more excited to learn more about them down the line. The intent isn’t to put them center-stage here, between the introduction of the Arrancar and the Visored it would be too overwhelming to try and focus on that many story elements at once. What matters is that they’re there, for now just a battery to power Chad’s development.
Orihime interacts a lot more with Tatsuki in the amended version, even resulting in her revealing to Tatsuki all of the supernatural stuff that’s been going on. This leads to a potential split in the story, one version where Orihime decides she wants to return to her mundane life and strive for mundane goals and another version where she wants to fight to end the fighting, wherein she begins training with Tatsuki in martial arts. Both equally respectable paths, the point in them being that they create drive in Orihime’s character past just liking Ichigo a lot. She could theoretically become involved with the Fullbringers as well but I personally decided against it on account of her ability being a particular peculiarity.
The battle with Grimmjow and his Fraccion becomes much more of a mess in the amended version. Ichigo has already made contact with the Visored, displaying more mature decisiveness in his character, but he has not yet suppressed his inner-Hollow. Ikkaku dies in slaying Edorad, establishing death as a real consequence in this arc whereas previously Kubo has not been great at killing off characters. The other soul reapers, even with the aid of Chad and his new Fullbringer allies, struggle far more with their opponents than in the previous version to truly establish a threat going forward. Also, due to rampant emotions and worn body after fighting Grimmjow and seeing Rukia be greatly injured, Ichigo loses himself to the Hollow in the battle’s aftermath.
The Visored basically tag with whoever’s there, soul reaper and Fullbringer (most likely just Chad) alike, to carry out the suppression process in a sub-optimal environment. Ichigo’s inner-battle takes place and he wins, bringing us to the point in the story we got to. Notably, I wrote that I would have cut the big exposition scenes that just outright explained Aizen’s plan in its entirety. At this point, in my amended version, his aim to forge the king’s key is still unknown. As is the theorized awakening time of the Hogyoku, though I would have Urahara come to that conclusion soon after the Arrancar attacks.
At this point, the Arrancar have been suitably established as the threat they’re meant to be. However, as of yet, they’re still largely faceless. While that does carry a level of intimidation, things will become quickly stagnant so long as the threat remains just a group of strong enemies. Just as we learned about the gotei 13 throughout the soul society arc, I want to learn more about the Arrancar and the Espada. We already know about Yammy, Ulquiorra and Grimmjow but there’s so much more to the army that we have yet to see. I want to learn more about the Arrancar as characters and how their transformation into what they currently are has changed them. There’s a lot of potential in these characters assuming they’re given the screen-time they deserve.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, that is just a hope after all. Perhaps even a hope driven by my particular bias towards villain characters. Regardless, I can see a direction for this story going into the Hueco Mundo arc and I would hope that I get something close to my vision. Though, the consensus surrounding this arc is not one that makes me believe the fans got what they wanted. Can the hollow hole in the story yet be filled? That’s what we’ll be finding out today. This post will go from Orihime’s abduction up until the conclusion of Ichigo’s fight with Grimmjow.
What I Enjoyed
- The Hogyoku – A minor point to kick things off, the Hogyoku is a really cool plot device. The reason why I mention it is because we get to see a scene where it is used to create an Arrancar. We also learn that it’s capable of stabilizing a soul that’s undergoing hollowfication. This adds more intrigue to Ichigo’s peculiar case but more importantly it speaks to the potential of the Hogyokyu. It’s capable of precisely manipulating souls to achieve certain effects and soul reapers and Hollows are both soul-based entities. With regards to these types of being, the Hogyoku truly is a godlike object. That it’s in Aizen’s hands is truly terrifying, especially considering that its full potential has yet to be reached.
- Ichigo struggling with his Visored training – Another minor point but one worth talking about on account of Ichigo having a ridiculous growth rate before this point. The contrast in Ichigo’s growth as a soul reaper vs his growth as a Visored is neat when you consider Ichigo’s relationship with Zangetsu. While the old man was the primary form of Zangetsu, he helped Ichigo on his path to become a more powerful soul reaper several times. The Hollow, on the other hand, continues to push against him to make it feel like the battle isn’t truly over. If nothing else, it’s a nice touch.
- Orihime’s kidnapping – I get the distinct feeling that putting this in the ‘what I enjoyed’ section is bound to be controversial. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy deciding which section to put this in and I do still have a mountain of issues with Orihime’s arc as it is. What tips it for me is the amount that the kidnapping could add to the story if done well. While it might feel at first like an excuse to put Orihime in a damsel-in-distress type scenario, this isn’t necessarily the only way the kidnapping can be perceived. Just being kidnapped in itself doesn’t make a character weak or a damsel and in this case it could create interesting situations for the story.
For a moment, let’s just focus on the kidnapping itself. At first, I didn’t like it because I didn’t feel like Ulquiorra’s bargain held any weight. He claims that he won’t kill all of Orihime’s friends if she comes with him in a scene that is admittedly effective in making him feel more intimidating. Yet, there’s nothing stopping him from just killing everyone and also taking Orihime. Moreover, it’s not as if Ulquiorra is offering to stop the oncoming war that’s bound to happen. A battle in which, presumably, all of the people Orihime wants to protect would be killed anyways. I also had a minor gripe with the plot item that made Orihime able to be sensed only by Arrancar because the Arrancar themselves could use an item like that for so many purposes. Covert missions into the mundane world and surprise attacks on soul reapers, just to name a couple examples.
The reason why I warmed up to it is because I began to appreciate how it plays into Orihime’s particular mentality. While her drive is super weak, we know she has a strong will to protect which manifests in her abilities. Feeding into my amended version of Orihime, she wants to fight to end the fighting but doing so here will mean more harm than good. She’s smart enough to pick her battles but she isn’t perfect, while just giving in may not be the best decision it’s still one that makes sense. This also becomes easier to swallow when it’s later revealed that the mental trap Orihime is placed in is just a game being played by Aizen. It’s acknowledged as being unnecessary, which I do appreciate.
Before moving on, I do want to run her scene where she says goodbye to Ichigo through the mud though. At first I was into it, I felt like it started up as a genuinely emotional scene in which Orihime practically prepares for her own death. It’s played out decently up until she starts talking about all the things she wanted to be. A teacher, an astronaut, a baker- up until this point we were given the impression that Orihime didn’t have this kind of direction in her life. That’s the entire reason why she would choose to live a supernatural life where she participates in the war against Aizen. If she had this direction then why has this not been a more major conflict throughout the arc?
I talked about this in my last amendment post, there was so much opportunity for Orihime to decide what kind of life she wanted to live. If those opportunities were actually acted upon then this section would be way more powerful. As it is now it’s just a last minute “oh, I actually wanted to be all this! Feel sad for me, viewers!”. It could have been an arc for us to invest in only for it to be completely swept away in this tragic moment. The weakness of Orihime’s arc overall really drags this conclusion down, it’s nonsensical and as it is I’m not invested nearly enough to forgive it for that.
That out of the way, I mentioned wanting there to be time spent focusing on and developing the Arrancar. Yet, it wouldn’t be particularly great storytelling to just hard cut to these new characters to force you to care for them. Orihime being in Las Noches makes for an elegant solution to this problem as we could get interesting interactions with the Arrancar through her. A part of what made the soul society arc so strong was how much we got to see of the soul reapers. We got to learn what they were like as characters and connect to them to some extent, even when they were antagonists. I’d expect and want the same to happen with the Arrancar, even if they were Hollows.
I want to see the varied ways in how becoming Arrancar effects them. If it awakens memories of how they were before they became Hollow and how they react to the mroe complex feelings and morals suddenly being reawakened. They aren’t feral beings with simple, instinctual drive any more. They’re part soul reaper, they have emotions and have departed from their old forms as beings of pure corruption. Orihime is our plot tool with which to explore this. Some Arrancar might try to connect to her and come to understand their new selves through her since she’s a pure human. Othere will obviously just despise and want to eradicate her.
Orihime’s a unique entity and this is made ever more apparent by the situation she’s put in. She’s on a pedestal with abilities that supposedly go beyond deities and as one with value to Aizen. Orihime could use these facts to slowly become more oddly comfortable and confident living among the Arrancar. Even making friends with some of them and having impact on their development. The Arrancar are characters too, they have to be more than just weird abilities on wheels. It’s this set-up and potential to learn that makes Orihime’s kidnapping overall something good from my perspective. What could come of it is great, even though in truth Orihime’s position is never put to much effect.
- Nel’s group – By far the most interesting thing we get from the whole run-up to Las Noches. Nel is a (seemingly) young Arrancar who appears to have befriended three regular Hollows who act far differently from basic Hollows. Whether they were made passive due to Nel’s influence or something else is unknown but the group is fun. They’re a great shift in expectation when compared to the Arrancar and Hollows we’ve seen in the series thus far and I wish we got to see more of this kind of thing. I would have loved to see entire communities of Hollows with unique personalities past just being evil or monsters. Nel’s group even offers an interesting perspective in seeing non-Hollows as the bad guys, even though most Hollows are pretty explicitly bad how we see them.
- Rukia vs Aaroniero – Now this is a suitably rad Espada fight after the failure that was Luppi. Aaroniero vs Rukia kicks off with the Espada taking the form of Kaien, which immediately makes the engagement extremely interesting. It’s a really solid draw going into the first real Espada fight the protag group faces. It’s a way for Rukia to truly face a past that she had previously struggled with. As well as being a battle with an Espada, the mental battle that Rukia has to face acts to move her on as a character and make her stronger in that respect. The beginning of the fight also does a good job of misleading us, drawing us into the same mentality as Rukia. We know something is off due to Aaroniero’s initial introduction and his talk of disliking the sun but the transition from that to Kaien’s personality is completely convincing.
As the fight develops, we begin to wonder how much of Aaroniero is Kaien and how much is Hollow. That is, if there actually is any Kaien in there at all. This is also a great way for us to learn about Kaien, who himself had a limited screen time. Even if it’s not the real one, we get to see the way he fights and even his shikai. We also get to see more kido in this fight, which is always welcome. Aaroniero’s Glotoneria is a suitably off-putting ability for the overall off nature of this fight. My only gripe is I kinda feel like this fight should be where Rukia awakens her bankai. After she’s stabbed by Aaroniero, have her zanpakuto spirit appear to her just as Zangetsu appeared before Ichigo during his bout with Kenpachi. We need more of soul reapers connecting with their zanpakuto spirits, it’s an important aspect of soul reapers that is barely utilized at all. It would make enough sense, seeing as she’s the only one without her bankai between her, Ichigo and Renji. Maybe the mental clarity she achieves in overcoming her regret of killing Kaien allows her to hear the voice of her zanpakuto better. Whatever the reason, this would be a solid time for it.
- Renji & Ishida vs Szayel – The set-up for this fight is extremely interesting, immediately forcing Renji into a situation wherein he can’t use his bankai. While we don’t get to see a whole lot of Renji’s training, we can assume that a lot of it has been focused on making his bankai more battle-ready since his fight with Byakuya. Given the amount of focus he’s certain to have put into it, things become dire when he’s plunged into a scenario where he can’t rely on it. Renji gets dumpstered to an unfortunate degree before Ishida shows up but once they’re both in the fight they do concoct a creative solution to the challenge that Szayel has given them. This kind of scenario, where a character is put into an unexpected situation and has to come up with a creative way of getting around it, is what makes for good fights. Szayel unfortunately heals all the damage he took after Ishida and Renji’s efforts but this section of the fight turned out hype enough to warrant it being in the ‘what I liked’ section.
- Ichigo vs Ulquiorra I – This fight is like a punchline, like the pace of the story itself coming back to slap the main character in the face. Ichigo rushed his way through Hueco Mundo and into Las Noches so fast that he couldn’t possibly be fully prepared for what he had to face. He didn’t give himself enough time to learn about his situation or grow like he did in soul society. Ulquiorra’s reveal as only the 4th strongest Espada only pushes this image further. It’s not like Ichigo skipped to the final enemy, he was several levels below what he had to be. Ulquiorra didn’t even have to draw his sword against Ichigo’s maximum power. At this point in the story Chad is presumably crushed, Rukia is supposedly dead after her fight with Aaroniero and Renji is still getting crushed by Szayel. It’s like the rushed pacing had led the protagonists straight into a situation where they’re doomed to fail. It’s like the story snapping back to get back on track, forcing the protags to go back to 0 and build their way back up. We found it, this was the part of the story Kubo was rushing to get to!
- Ichigo vs Grimmjow – Surprisingly, I don’t have a whole lot to say about Ichigo vs Grimmjow. It’s a good fight, it had decent build-up and it’s one we’ve been anticipating for a while at this point. The biggest question is why Ichigo is able to keep his mask on for so long. Rukia mentioned once that she felt empowered after going through Orihime’s healing, so I suppose we’re to assume that Ichigo’s stamina with the Hollow mask increased the same way. Feels like a cheap way for Ichigo to have improved, though. Also, Orihime’s fear of Ichigo becoming more like a Hollow would be stronger if we felt the same way. Ichigo is such a not-changing character that we’re left wishing that he would go through some kind of development. Maybe if we had an arc where Ichigo slowly improved control over his mask and actually started to bridge the gap between himself and his Hollow. Wonder when something like that could possibly take place. Hey, massive shout-outs to my boy Grimmjow for denying Ichigo the power of emotions win though.
What Needs Changed
- The fourth Arrancar invasion & Luppi – From our perspective, this happens pretty much right after the third Arrancar invasion. Apparently a month has passed but there’s really nothing to suggest that other than characters claiming that they’ve gotten stronger. We get little more than a glimpse of Hitsugaya’s group doing training but it’s hardly explored at all. I would have liked to have seen way more of it, some actual interactions between soul reapers and their zanpakuto. The struggles that they have to face in their attempt to reach the next level. We saw Ichigo go through the process rather quickly during the soul society arc but that still leaves a void. That void being how hard it is for regular soul reapers to grow and achieve levels like bankai. I want to get a sense of difficulty and effort here, in doing so the sense of limited time in the narrative would also be accentuated. Furthermore, it would be more satisfying to see these characters showing off what they struggled to achieve later down the line.
Anyways, back to the actual invasion itself. The issue manifests right away is the fact that its narrative purpose was already filled by the battle with Grimmjow and his Fraccion. That was meant to be the sudden battle that the soul reapers weren’t yet prepared to handle. Even still, the Arrancar lost that fight, so logically I would have thought we’d get more time seeing them recuperate and prepare for a more ordered attack. While it was a spontaneous attack mounted by Grimmjow, it served to scout out who the Arrancar were up against. Given that their leader is Aizen, a man with an unhealthy amount of intelligence, preparing and making a more measured attack would make way more sense.
If this attack must happen then it has to be built up better and be far more overwhelming. The Arrancar should be trying to stomp out the soul reapers who were sent to Karakura town as a message to soul society saying their efforts are meaningless. The narrative attempts to justify this invasion by saying that it was meant to be a distraction so they could kidnap Orihime but no Arrancar had to appear in Karakura for that to happen. What makes things worse is this Arrancar group consists of four Espada-level fighters. You know, the ones that were already established to be unimaginably more powerful than even soul society’s captains. Locked into a narrative scenario where they can never win.
The soul reaper group cannot lose here because that would just be unsatisfying storytelling and inevitably lead to a jarring shift in focus for no real reason. The Espada group is fated to be defeated, which makes them so much less intimidating than what they’ve been built up to be. The only positive thing this invasion does is add to the Ichigo/Grimmjow rivalry but that isn’t really necessary at all. Even then, this clash is interrupted by Shinji and it’s not as if there’s a blooming Shinji/Grimmjow rivalry on the horizon. Basically nothing would be lost if this entire section were just removed completely.
Luppi is so bad that he deserves an entire section of his own. He’s utterly pointless and embodies the problem with this entire section of the story. He’s apparently powerful enough to be named the sixth strongest Espada and he’s the first of them to use his resurreccion. This should be a huge moment but Luppi ends up being barely a step higher than fodder. He isn’t memorable, he makes no impact and he definitely doesn’t deserve the title ‘Espada’. I could maybe forgive Luppi’s loss if he were put down by Urahara but, no, Hitsugaya is the one who does it. Just a regular captain and one who we have a pre-established image of having room to grow. The last time we saw Hitsugaya his bankai will still arguably not even complete.
I’m not ready to believe that, within a month, he bridged the supposedly exponential power gap between captain and Espada and also fixed his bankai’s weakness without us seeing any of it. Hitsugaya is practically made into one of the focal characters and yet his actual development happened off screen. It’s like the story is having an identity crisis, I feel like the point shouldn’t be to make Hitsugaya feel strong. This should put the Espada in the spotlight! A chance to show just how powerful they are when they’re serious! While the progression in Hitsugaya’s abilities is cool, this isn’t the time for it. This is the kind of power he should be pulling out during the clash with Aizen.
I echo this sentiment to Urahara, Rukia and Shinji. Spotlights are put onto them while they do cool things but this still isn’t the point in the story for that. It’s like their training is done already but it doesn’t feel like it should be. It just feels like another failure of pacing.
- There isn’t nearly enough time spent on side characters – This may seem like an odd thing to say, in most stories it tends to be more annoying than anything when the main plot is interrupted to focus on something else. For Bleach, though, I believe that it’s a necessity. There are so many characters and there’s so much going on that the story can’t be fully told without giving characters outside the protag group some time in the spotlight. My first example is Hisagi, who we briefly get to see in a scene where Rukia and Orihime are training together. He mentions having to take on the workload left by Tosen when the former captain abandoned soul society. The value in us seeing more of this story would be great since, through Hisagi, we would get to learn more about Tosen, one of the primary antagonists who has been established. Given Hisagi is a potential candidate to become a captain, in a time where several spaces have been left open, we might also get to see that process play out as well. Spending more time in soul society and seeing more of the aftermath left by Aizen’s actions wouldn’t hurt either. With so much to explore, I certainly wouldn’t mind taking time away from the main cast for this.
Karin completely forgets to question Ichigo about the whole soul reaper thing. Tatsuki dangles on the edge of relevance and so nearly makes it before Ichigo practically tells her that she doesn’t get to be a character. I don’t want to linger on these two too much, particularly Tatsuki on account of me already having handled her in my amended version of the story. Just a note that a lot more could be done with them.
My next example is… well… pretty much all of the Arrancar. I mentioned in the section regarding Orihime that I wanted her to be used as a proxy to learn more about the Arrancar but that never really happens. The most interaction we get is between her and two Arrancar named Loly and Menoly who barely fill the criteria for having personalities. They’re literally just two salty girls who are thirsty for Aizen. Their screen time is a waste but don’t worry, Orihime shows her compassion by healing them after Grimmjow beats them down.
Even past Orihime, there is a brief scene where we get to see Ulquiorra talking with Gin and that’s the kind of thing I want to see more of. Having the new characters in the Espada interacting with characters that are already well-established, like Gin. It’s a great way to help us get to know them and I’m down to see more of Gin or Tosen, whose personal motives are left largely ambiguous. What I want is for these characters to be built-up before their eventual clash with the protags. Like that, we’d know both sides and their unique morals and goals, which would make the fights themselves more interesting.
- Hueco Mundo – I absolutely love the idea of an arc in which the protagonists go to Hueco Mundo. It has so much potential as this unforgiving and dangerous expedition into a land of warped souls. A struggle for survival, not just in the big battles but also in overcoming the very environment. This kind of setting could offer a new type of challenge for the protags to face, one they will have to adapt to if they want to get out alive. I’ll explore this more in the rewrite section but for now let’s just say Hueco Mundo does nothing at all interesting to the narrative. Here’s what actually happens:
Ichigo enters the realm and immediately tries to attract as much attention to himself as possible. There is no consequence to this. The protag group hits some random, generic traps before fighting two uninteresting Arrancar. Turns out, they were in an underground building, which collapses on them. They get out fine. The set-up from there is ‘there is a large building that Ichigo’s group has to run to and literally just an empty wasteland between them and there’. Pretty much the most dull thing that could have possibly been done with the arc. The group reaches Las Noches with minimal issue, thus denying any chance at interesting interactions with the realm itself.
There are some cool aspects to Hueco Mundo, like Quincy and Fullbring abilities being more effective there for various reasons. This theoretically gives Ishida and Chad a better chance to shine, even if it doesn’t in practice. Other than that, the realm itself is left so bare that it’s hardly worth mentioning as it is. Even though it’s the Hueco Mundo arc.
- Chad & Ishida vs Demora & Iceringer – This is just the most boring fight one could imagine. It’s meant to serve the story purpose of Chad and Ishida proving themselves to Ichigo but the two of them don’t really struggle or do anything particularly impressive. Ishida fights a speedy ranged fighter and Chad fights a slow power-based fighter. They win because they are better at these things. It doesn’t lead to anything particularly cool or interesting. It just comes down to one character being better at the trait they both share and that is not how you make a good fight.
- The Privaron Espada – While the fights themselves aren’t necessarily bad, the Privaron Espada are a concept that’s just badly integrated into the story. They show up out of nowhere, without any foreshadowing or build-up, to fill time before the protags fight the actual Espada. Because of this, regardless of how their fights actually play out, you’re just left questioning ‘but when do we get to the actual antagonists?’. Given the Espada are what we’ve been building up to this whole time, it’s the natural thing to ask. It makes sense that there would be Espada who fell from their rank as more powerful Hollows joined but that doesn’t justify the filler-y nature of the Privaron.
To go through them individually, Ichigo vs Dordoni makes an awful first impression. While I don’t dislike Dordoni’s eccentric and unique personality, this feels like the wrong time for a character like this to show up. This is Ichigo’s first real fight in Hueco Mundo but it’s pretty much made out to be a joke. Even when he gets serious, Dordoni doesn’t convey the ruthless and intimidating feeling that Ichigo’s first fight in Las Noches should carry. What’s completely unforgivable about this fight, though, is how blatant it makes Ichigo’s complete lack of character development.
At the end of this fight, Ichigo has Nel heal Dordoni, which spurs the Privaron into attacking once more to teach Ichigo that he can’t play the nice guy in Las Noches. The problem with this is Ichigo has been through this development several times already. He learned that lesson when he fought Kenpachi and he was thoroughly reminded of it when he repressed his inner Hollow. At this point, making Ichigo out to be someone who can’t attack to kill is just refusal to move him forward as a character. Dordoni is a cool character but this fight serves no purpose to Ichigo’s arc.
Ishida fights Cirucci, another ranged fighter who he beats by being better at the thing she does. Pesche, one of Nel’s friends, makes the fight amusing but it is still very pointless. It’s only redeeming value comes from the fact that it could be considered a better proving himself battle than the one with Iceringer.
Chad fights Gantenbainne, another hand-to-hand fighter who he beats by punching better. Y’know, ’cause Chad’s ability is very interesting. I almost feel like Tatsuki would have been a better character to be a part of the supernatural group since she could actually employ martial arts into her fights. It’d be cool, using human techniques to overcome all of the flashy powers and nonsense. No, instead we’re left with Chad, who wins his fights by punching very hard. Still, I might consider this the best of the Privaron Espada fights on account of Chad actually kinda developing. He learns that his ability is akin to a Hollow’s and he learns more about what his ability means with regards to himself. Since Chad could be considered the weakest of the protag group, his battling against a former Espada to achieve this makes sense. Too bad that, at their core, neither he nor Gantenbainne are interesting in the slightest. Right after this fight, Chad is demolished by an actual Espada anyways, just proving that he wasn’t actually good enough to fight them. Good job proving yourself there, bud.
Quite a shock to come out of this with more points in the positive side than the negative but I would say that’s an inaccurate metric as to the quality of this arc. A majority of the positive points were relatively small and the most major one comes with several caveats. The negative points are a lot more dense and outline some unforgivably major issues with this arc’s writing. There’s gonna be a lot of giveth and taketh away here.
To start things off, the fourth Arrancar invasion just doesn’t have to happen. Yammy, Grimmjow, Wonderweiss and Luppi absolutely do not need to appear when they do. Their appearances takes away more than it adds, though that’s not to say there’s no iteration of this invasion that could work. I mentioned in my previous rewrite the idea of other soul reapers being placed in other areas with high spiritual energy. For this invasion to work, the scale of it has to be upped immensely. All of these spread out groups would be attacked and the intent would be to wipe out soul reaper influence all over the world. It would make for an opportunity to see more of the Espada (maybe even the Privaron Espada) in action, open the way to make them feel more threatening and it would up the scale of their threat immensely. It would be a suitable prelude for the war to come, striking the gotei 13 while its members are still split and underprepared.
This would create some breathing room with regards to the group that attacks Karakura town. In the situation where the Arrancar are attacking all around the world, they can achieve victories over the soul reapers and continue to prove their threat and power even if the Karakura town group loses. It isn’t the optimal situation and the soul reapers in Karakura would have to be left near-dead in their victory but it’s the best that can happen while retaining this invasion in the plot. Even if the invasion doesn’t happen, it isn’t particularly difficult to create a situation where Orihime is alone and Ulquiorra appears to make his demands. Heck, he could even wear the convenient no-one-can-sense-you band to do it discreetly.
Once Orihime is in Hueco Mundo, I would want a lot more time spent focused on her. I think her whole plan of getting close to the Hogyoku to revert it so a state of non-existence is super rad and, once again, I want to see more of her interacting with the Arrancar. As things stand, she spends so little time captured and achieves nothing in that limited frame. She is literally just a damsel in distress, even if Kubo wanted to pretend she isn’t. Given what I have planned for Hueco Mundo, there will be plenty of time for Orihime side-stories.
I see so much potential in Hueco Mundo. The idea of going there should be great simply on account of the danger it presents. One of the most common complaints about this arc is the fact that the story structure is set-up basically the same as soul society. In maintaining Orihime’s capture, I’m not changing that much, but I see key differences in Hueco Mundo that can make it unique without sacrificing quality of narrative. What this idea has going for it is the fact that Hueco Mundo is innately far more threatening than soul society. The residents of soul society and the soul reapers were at least people with mortals and the capacity to be reasoned with. There were places like rukongai where the protag group could find safe refuse but Hueco Mundo is a different story.
All of the realm’s residents are Hollows, creatures that won’t hesitate to tear apart anyone foolish enough to tread on their territory. The potential for a far more defined survival arc is massive, having to navigate the largely barren lands with few resources and enemies everywhere. Orihime being away from the protag group is also a good thing here, since things become more difficult without a healer on-hand. Even a regular fodder Hollow can become a threat if they deal a wound that can’t easily be patched up. What I want from this arc isn’t just a sequence of battles but a real struggle to survive.
Furthermore, this should be the part of the story wherein Hollows are more deeply explored as beings. I want to see their natural hierarchies and if the intelligent ones create societies similar to that of soul society or the mundane world. We could get to see what a Vasto Lorde’s territory looks like and how the existence of the Arrancar has changed Hollow mentalities. We could meet more Hollows who don’t leave Hueco Mundo because they don’t have the same drive for violence, or maybe they don’t even consider mundane world humans worth hunting. This is a time for the strengths of Hollows to be highlighted and their weaknesses exposed. All the while, Ichigo becomes more attuned to his Visored powers, not even realizing that he’s slowly taking on the philosophy of his inner Hollow. He can wear the mask for longer and longer, becoming naturally more as a Hollow while in their land.
There can be big fights along the way, with groups of Gillians and natural Adjuchas and Arrancar sent from Las Noches to deal with the protagonist group. These battles should toughen the protag group both in their abilities and mentally and, by the time they reach Las Noches, they should be ready to fight the Espada. All of them, Chad included. I’d likely have the Privaron Espada fight the protags before they reach Las Noches, going out in a bid to try and prove themselves worthy of returning to their former glory. Just to make the build-up to Las Noches itself a little bit more intense.
Up until the point we’re at, I reckon I would keep the actual battles with the Espada about the same. The only changes I would consider are having Chad not get powercliffed by Nnoitra and maybe removing Ichigo’s first fight with Ulquiorra. I want Chad to actually get a good fight and Ichigo vs Ulquiorra I doesn’t serve much narrative purpose when our main character is actually prepared for what he’s fighting. Removing that fight would make the set-up going into Ichigo vs Grimmjow a little awkward, though.
Just because I thought of it, a fight between Ichigo and Zommari where Ichigo’s inner Hollow hijacks the parts of his body that get taken over by Zommari’s ability would be hype. Like, a progressive takeover where Ichigo and his Hollow have to move in sync to prevent them from being taken over by their Espada foe. Ichigo would win but take enough damage to spur Grimmjow into borrowing Orihime to heal him. It would fill the void left by removing Ichigo vs Ulquiorra I and it could potentially be an actually fantastic battle. Great foreshadowing for what’s to come in Ichigo’s future, too.
Honestly, I would say this is a step-up from the Arrancar arc. The pacing is still awful as the story feels extremely rushed up until Ichigo’s fight with Ulquiorra but, once the Espada fights actually start, things start getting good. That doesn’t excuse the practically-filler time wasting leading up to that point. It’s honestly a little bewildering thinking about the jump in quality between the Espada fights and every other fight in Hueco Mundo. It absolutely feels like Kubo was rushed here and it’s a shame, because there’s so much to explore between the Arrancar and the realm of Hollows. There’s a lot of intrigue in the already established story elements, it’s just a case of taking a step back and fully utilizing what’s there.
It’s this kind of thing that drives me to make posts like this for Bleach. I enjoy the series a lot and it’s because it does have these draws that make me want to keep watching and learn more. That’s what makes it such a shame when these great story elements are left at the wayside. In this case, it’s the entire realm of Hueco Mundo and the Hollows who reside there. Something we’ve known about from early in the series and something that could be made great with a pretty simple direction. It doesn’t matter if the realm is made of sand and dark, with the right storytelling it won’t be hollow. That being said, there’s still more of this arc to go, so keep an eye out for next time where I see if Hueco Mundo ends on a high note or if it just leaves us feeling empty.