Last Time On – Bleach
The final battle against Aizen has begun, after all his time spent planning and preparing now is the final moment to stop his plans and prevent him from reaching the king’s throne. Our protagonist Ichigo is still trapped in the tail end of the previous arc with only one rival left to face, one who has already brought him to the edge of death once already. This is the big finale, what everything’s been building up to ever since the Soul Society arc. We’ve been through many ups and downs to reach this point but is this last payoff worth all of it? That’s what we’ll be finding out today as we go over this anticipated clash between Soul Reapers, Visored, Arrancar and traitors.
Just how justified are we in expecting anything from this climactic arc? Well, if there’s one thing the Hueco Mundo arc did well in the end, it was payoff. The battles against the Espada that we’ve seen up until this point have all had merit, enjoyable to watch at the very least. The problem was everything leading up to them, ever since the beginning of the Arrancar arc. We spent an entire arc and a half pushing through rushed narrative to get to the good part. That horrendous pacing hurt the story as a whole in a way that we aren’t going to stop feeling. I can already say that there are plenty of points in this arc where I’ve had the thought ‘man I sure wish this aspect of the narrative was explored earlier/in more depth’.
Even once we did get into the battles against the Espada, there were some questionable decisions in the writing. Characters like Nel had their arcs stolen and Rukia is the only one of Ichigo’s friends who still feels somewhat competent. Chad, Renji and even Ishida just get tossed to the wayside, demolished the moment they encounter a battle that challenges them at all. Those three have felt so absolutely worthless, to the point that I’m left questioning why they came to Hueco Mundo in the first place. The main character group shouldn’t be this much of a waste of time, like this they’re just so unengaging that I couldn’t care less about any of their personal plights. Not that Kubo bothered to make them individually very deep anyways.
One might hope, though, that this arc, which comes with the premise of being entirely centered around the actually engaging battles, takes the best of what we saw at the end of Hueco Mundo. Certainly, some narrative qualities will be lacking due to the failings of the plot up to this point, but if the fights are cool then that might be forgivable. The essence of a shounen manga is in its battles, no one’s out here watching Dragon Ball Z for the depth of its story. People watch shows like this for the hype, the moments where fists are traded and blades clash. If this arc can capture at least that then I might be able to call it a good one. With that mentality in place, I think it’s time to begin. For this time, we’ll be going up to the point when all the Espada have been defeated.
What I Enjoyed
- Top 3 Espada rank foreshadowing – A small point to kick things off but there’s an interaction at the beginning of this arc that I think is really cool. One of the big things that the audience will be wondering going into this is what ranks are the three currently present Espada. We know already that they’re the top three but precisely which is which could drastically change the dynamics between they and their opponents. Barragan is the first to make a big impression and his demeanor might have the audience assuming he’s number 1. Other minor factors such as his elderly appearance mirroring that of Yamamoto, the leader of the Soul Reapers, may also lead to such an assumption. Halibel speaks out against him but the general flow of conversation suggests that Barragan is at least ranked higher than her. Then, when he states they he’ll have no objections to his taking a commanding role, he looks to Starrk. This implies that Starrk would have a reason to object, which is further pushed when Lilinette scolds him for agreeing so easily to Barragan’s terms. The only reason I can think for this would be if he were a higher rank, though it’s still left vague due to the lack of impression he chooses to give. In fact, Starrk’s non-confrontational nature may lead one to assume that he’s rank 3, adding another layer of uncertainty. Good stuff for speculation, which is always fun in a series like this.
- Finally getting to see Hisagi, Kira, Komamura, Rangiku and Hinamori in action – Of all the characters present in this arc, I would say that these five make up the biggest points of intrigue. Everyone has beef with Aizen at this point, obviously, this battle is only happening because of this man. However, there are more personal aspects to these characters that make them more engaging then everyone who’s there just to stop Aizen. Hisagi, Kira and Hinamori, the lieutenants of the three traitor captains, finally have another chance to see, question and at last battle the figures who they once trusted most. The captains who abandoned them to go and carry out Aizen’s plan. We have a connection to these characters, Kira and Hinamori in particular, due to how much we saw of them back in the Soul Society arc. This has been a long time coming for them and it’s interesting to think how they’ll react. While Hisagi and Komamura have had comparably less time focused on them, we know about their connections with Tosen and that character is in some dire need of exposition at this point. Thinking that Aizen is the figurehead of justice is such an unfathomable viewpoint which needs to be explained before I go goddamn crazy.
Past the emotional aspect of it, getting to see these characters in action is hype as well. Up until this point in the story, these five haven’t had the chance to show off in any real fights. Kira and Hinamori got close but that conflict was stopped before it really went anywhere. Rangiku beat a guy during the Arrancar arc but it was super immemorable and off to the side. While the actual quality of these fights is questionable, just getting to see these five participate is a plus. Hisagi has been talked up several times throughout the series as being a skilled fighter and his shikai ability sells that idea well. Kira’s fight, while very flawed, is successful in displaying his mentality and adds some depth to the character. Komamura demolishing Poww establishes him as the big power fighter he was implied to be when he was matched up against Kenpachi in an off-screen encounter. Rangiku and Hinamori absolutely get the short end of the deal but, for the latter, it’s neat to see her push past her emotional block to join the battle. I can’t really give her any more than that, the execution surrounding these two characters is bad enough to earn a place in the what needs changed section.
- Ichigo vs Ulquiorra II – Here’s the big one lads, Ichigo’s second and final clash with Ulquiorra. I didn’t have many initial thoughts going into this one. It’s Ichigo’s final challenge in Hueco Mundo against the enemy who took the object of desire. Ulquiorra is the Espada who mentally manipulated and drew Orihime into the realm of Hollows, a figure whose power has been shown time and time again. First when he casually deflected an attack from Urahara himself and again when he brought Ichigo to the edge of death. This time, however, there is no saving him if he loses again. Ichigo is entirely reliant on his rapid rate of growth to win this fight and he needs it now more than ever. It’s like a battle against death itself, the stakes feeling realer than they have in a while due to that previous defeat.
With his full power, Ichigo is able to push back against Ulquiorra and force the number 4 Espada into his resurreccion state. However, from that point onward, Ichigo spends the fight getting absolutely demolished. It only makes sense, there’s no way Ichigo could have closed such a vast gap between the first encounter and now. He had to use his Visored mask just to gain an advantage over Ulquiorra’s base, what could he possibly do when that same Arrancar transforms and becomes multiple times stronger? The hype of this being Ichigo’s final battle in Hueco Mundo makes us believe that he can overcome this the same way he overcame everything during the Soul Society arc. After all, Ichigo is a shounen protagonist, so he should always be able to win against the odds!
Not this time. Ichigo has finally hit a wall he cannot overcome and we realize how futile an effort it was, him challenging Ulquiorra again so haphazardly. Everything that he’s learned throughout his previous battles is made void because those battles taught him that he could always push through. That’s what he believed after surviving every encounter and just barely pulling out victories each time. His will to fight and protect is finally exposed as the hubris it is, this is the punishment for all those barely-victories. What he believed were the results of his own efforts when in truth his inner-Hollow was constantly saving him. This battle with Ulquiorra is the whiplash, made all the more apparent when the Espada uses his second release.
Ichigo had one thing on his mind going into this battle, the idea that he just had to win. His weakness was the fact that he didn’t care who his opponent was or what their strengths were. He’s the idiotic shounen protag who always believed without a doubt that he would overcome and he’s punished for that. In a great subversion of expectations for this genre, the shounen protag doesn’t pull through. He doesn’t even come close. That’s what makes Ichigo’s death here so powerful, because Ulquiorra doesn’t just kill Ichigo. He kills Ichigo’s mentality, the idea that he can always win. He put everything into this fight and failed anyways, a metaphor for how the world truly is. Shounens always tell the story of characters doing their best and pulling through because of that and Ulquiorra is reality intruding upon that fiction. The sad fact that, sometimes, your best just won’t get you anything.
A smaller point I just want to highlight is how good Ulquiorra’s second release actually is. It’s kind of ironic that a transformation is used to help subvert a shounen trope when transformations themselves are one. Regardless of that, this second transformation makes Ulquiorra feel like even more of a unique and memorable opponent than what he already is. It also leaves room for a lot of speculation regarding whether or not it makes him the strongest Espada, which is always fun.
What Ichigo’s death leads to is one of my favorite ‘rage’ moments in any piece of media. Ichigo’s resurreccion. The ultimate payoff to the arc revolving around his inner-Hollow. The Hollow that promised to return if Ichigo showed any weakness and you can’t get to a much lower point than brutally murdered by the same person twice. The fight between Hollow Ichigo and Ulquiorra kicks off with a small but great moment where Tensa Zangetsu flies into Ichigo’s hand. Just in case you forgot, the inner-Hollow is Zangetsu, this form is that Hollow with full control of both blade and body and it could not be more rad. Since the Hollow is Zangetsu, it can fully utilize both the power of the blade and of its own Hollow abilities. This is the temptation that the Hollow has been offering this whole time, the perfect form for battle, the perfect form to win. Thus win it does, in a full display of his strength he crushed second release Ulquiorra.
Ulquiorra, his organs having been blown out, regenerates enough of his body to get one good shot in on Hollow Ichigo. This is enough to break the transformation, though not before the Hollow’s regenerative abilities kick in and revive its host. I can’t say I’m a fan of how quickly Ichigo just recovers from this and I’m honestly kinda divided on how I feel about the message pushed in the end. Ichigo wasn’t able to win due to his own willpower and effort and thus is forced to question his own mentality. Continuing the analogy of the shounen ideal vs reality, Ichigo had to resort to something he considers in hindsight to be cheap and vile to push through. Due to that, Ichigo is left questioning whether or not that’s the only way for him to go further. Reality is like that too, if you want a higher social status then you’ll more than likely have to do things that you’d consider immoral. Especially if you’re trying to climb as fast as Ichigo’s been growing throughout the series. Getting stronger, getting what you want, it all comes at a price, especially so if you want it quick.
One of the bigger themes throughout the series has been regarding Ichigo and his friends attempting to find their place in the world. A story of teens transitioning into adulthood and tackling a world that’s both terrifying and unknown to them. These themes were pushed very well in the Soul Society arc and, going, into the Arrancar arc, it could still easily be seen. After Soul Society it became a story of choices, these same characters deciding between the supernatural and mundane. These were their life choices, synonymous with the beginning of a career. If what Soul Society represented was… well… society then it’s possible that Las Noches was meant to be seen as a company. The ranks of Hollows and Arrancar make up the company hierarchy and the protagonist group was tasked with climbing through those ranks. However, despite their effort and talent, their youth and inexperience prevent them from quickly climbing this company ladder. That’s why they failed while the older and more experienced captains of soul society were able to more easily overcome their Espada opponents. Ichigo had to adopt the cutthroat practices of the trade, represented in him becoming a Hollow just as his Espada opponents, to get the leg up he needed to move forward. I may be looking too much into this analogy but I feel like it makes an odd amount of sense.
Either way, I would have preferred if there were a less meta consequence to Ichigo’s transformation. My first thought would be to have him severely damage or kill Orihime. Imagine it, he spends the entirety of the Hueco Mundo arc fighting to get Orihime back only to be the one who hurts her most in the end. While muttering about how he has to protect her, he doesn’t even recognize who she is. Your shounen protag is definitely going to be questioning himself if he kills his own damsel in distress. It would be an amazing ‘fuck you’ and I think it would work because the battle against Aizen isn’t over. This is still midway through the battle for Karakura arc, so it’s not like we’d be closing on a sour note. Ichigo could still fight and triumph in the end, it would just be way more bittersweet. I may also just want to kill off Orihime because she has actually no interesting dialogue throughout this entire fight, though. I can only hear “Kurosaki-kun!” and not want to die so many times.
My only other problem with this fight is earlier on into it. Whenever Ulquiorra is talking like Orihime has been mentally changed throughout her time in Las Noches, as if she hasn’t been there for, like, a day. I like the idea of this but it would be so much stronger if it were actually apparent to us, y’know, maybe through the medium of an arc revolving around Orihime interacting with the residents of Las Noches earlier in the story. Ichigo asks if he’s able to read Ulquiorra’s moves better because he’s become more like a Hollow, which would be more poignant if that were actually a theme pushed throuhout this arc. He also ponders if Ulquiorra has become more like a human, which would be a real question if Orihime had human interactions with him but that did not happen. It’s like we missed the chunk of the story that was meant to explore these types of themes so there’s not really any payoff when they’re mentioned here.
- Soifon & Hachi vs Barragan – To help me explain why this fight is so good, I’m actually going to go into why Kira’s fight with Avirama was bad first. Kira’s zanpakuto, Wabisuke, has the very powerful ability to double the weight of whatever it cuts. When such an ability is in play, it’s very interesting to see how the opponent facing it deals with it and gets around it. In Kira’s fight, the opposite happens. Avirama starts the fight in a way that avoids him getting into Wabisuke’s range but this is entirely accidental. He doesn’t know what Kira’s ability is, so he ends up just flying closer and losing instantly. This leads to an unsatisfying conclusion which, while it is thematically cohesive for Kira, denies us what could have been an interesting battle dynamic between the two characters.
Barragan also has the extremely broken ability to rapidly age anything that he touches. However, unlike what happens in Kira’s battle with Avirama, this ability doesn’t win him the fight instantly. Soifon gets to experience the ability and the potential it has to kill her when the bones in her left arm are aged to dust. This puts her at a grave disadvantage as her arm is rendered useless without removing her ability to work around Barragan’s power. I have a soft spot for when characters take permanent damage like this, especially in shounens where the characters can often ignore damage that isn’t extremely severe. This makes the situation dire but not impossible and the great threat of Barragan’s powerful ability makes us wonder how Soifon might get around it. Her assassination abilities are pretty much nulled since it’s so dangerous to get into close range of her opponent so she is forced to come up with something new and unexpected to win.
Soifon reveals her bankai, an ability that’s unexpected, impactful and best of all ineffective. The raw power that her bankai displays is enough that we get the sense that it could defeat Barragan but it doesn’t just work. If it did, then we’d be treading into the same territory as Hitsugaya vs Halibel where the former just pulls an insta-win move out of nowhere. With the first shot of her bankai, things get interesting, because now we know the win conditions for both sides. Soifon needs to find a way to get a clear shot of Jakuho Raikoben off on Barragan while the Espada just needs to catch up to her with Respira. Soifon is still in the disadvantaged position since she’s heavily slowed down by her bankai and needs time to aim it, the intrigue comes from figuring out how she can deal with that.
That’s when Hachi joins the fight and I like the way his barriers are put to use as well. It actually takes intelligent use of the unique abilities of the fighters to get the shot they need against Barragan. I can’t help but feel like, given how much went into it, that the battle should have ended with the second Jakuho Raikoben shot but how the fight actually ends is cool as well. This fight also gets bonus points for the lore afterwards being actually engaging as it shows us what Las Noches was before Aizen’s intervention. It shows us the influence that Aizen actually had over Hueco Mundo as well as letting us see a Vasto Lorde in his original, natural environment, even if it’s just for a little bit.
- Shunsui vs Starrk – I was very 50/50 on the narrative quality on this fight initially since I first saw it as the definition of just a cool fight. The kind of thing I was talking about in my little opening segment, a fight that doesn’t necessarily add a lot to the narrative but is genuinely cool and fun to watch. Shunsui isn’t a character who has any kind of progressing arc, in fact he feels more like a character who already had his arc long ago. The first thing that’s great about this fight is the fact that we can see the things he learned in that unseen period of development. The level of experience that separates himself and Starrk. Things like when he tries to guess the limitations of Starrk’s abilities based on his movements and how, when things get serious, Shunsui is the one who first starts going for decisive blows without hesitation. I get the impression that Starrk has more raw firepower but that alone isn’t enough to take down the battle-honed captain who we once saw stand up to Yamamoto himself.
Starrk’s lesser battle sense comes to bite him later in the fight after he puts his focus on Love and Rose. Shunsui isn’t above taking that distraction and using it to get a stab from behind. His mind is on winning, not honor. I’ll get into the Love and Rose section later but the bottom line of it is that it isn’t as good as the Shunsui sections. Once he’s back in the fight and we start really getting to see his shikai abilities in play, they’re amazing. Turning games into semi-reality bending win conditions is very cool. Just the fact that his enemy can play and take advantage of these games is great for battle dynamics. With regards to Starrk in particular, it forces him to focus a lot more on his own positioning while his wolves try to catch up with Shunsui. This leads to a decisive moments such as when the wolves enter Shunsui’s shadow during the game of kageoni. This ability steals the spotlight in this fight and I’m glad because it’s fantastic.
A smaller yet still important thing I like about Starrk is the relationship he has with Lilinette (otherwise known as himself). The whole deal with the two helps to make the number 1 Espada more memorable despite the fact that his battle serves little overall narrative purpose. The flashback at the end of the fight also leaves me wanting a side story about Starrk finding long-sought camaraderie among the Espada. Just give me more about these goddamn Hollow gijinkas so they can be deeper and more well-explored characters geez.
What Needs Changed
- Whatever the heck Rukia, Renji and Chad are doing – Open question to anyone who has read or watched Bleach before, do you remember Rudobornn? He appears a few times throughout the Hueco Mundo arc so I wouldn’t be surprised if you do, but do you remember what actually happens to him? I sure didn’t before this rewatch. I remembered the character existing but his whole deal feels super tacked on to the rest of the goings on in this arc. Rudobornn isn’t an Espada or anything, in fact later on he confirms that he wasn’t good enough to be one. Despite his frequent appearances, which might have made you think that he was some special separate force that was in some way equal to the Espada, he is actually just some regular Arrancar. It is worth noting that those prior appearances were all tied to the defeats of the Privaron Espada, who were in themselves just lamely tossed in characters. Rudobornn is the same, really just one last sad attempt to make Ichigo’s friends feel relevant.
One of the most major problems is that we have absolutely no reason to care about this encounter, despite the fact that we see it in its entirety. It’s laughably overshadowed by the other fights in this arc, particularly the battle with Ulquiorra and the rest of the Espada combats. At first, I wanted to give this fight some credit, it starts out as a 1v1 between Rudobornn and Rukia and I have no problems with more fights that make Rukia look cool. Off to the side, Chad and Renji are in what is somehow an even more lame fight as they deal with hoards of fodder Hollows. That’s an encounter that doesn’t even deserve its own section, Renji literally pulls out his bankai to fight against a fodder that Rukia dealt with without a second thought at the beginning of the arc. How is anyone going to consider that a high stakes encounter when the battles with the top 4 Espada are imminent. This fight also has the gall to claim that Chad always looks for the weak point on his opponent, just in case you forgot the analytical part of his personality. Y’know, that he’s displayed throughout every previous fight of his, because he absolutely hasn’t just gotten past every encounter by punching it hard enough.
Mentioning that encounter is important to the Rudobornn fight because, right after this sad encounter, Chad and Renji have to come to Rukia’s rescue. These two, who we just saw struggling against actual fodder, have to save Rukia. She doesn’t need the help of these two losers, they’re trash, how could we possibly consider them to be anything otherwise. Did I mention that we cut away from and back to this fight several times throughout the arc, one of these sections happening in the middle of Ichigo vs Ulquiorra? No wonder I forgot about this fight, it could not possibly be more overshadowed. It’s pitch black here. Who cares about Rudobornn in this situation, he could get wiped off-screen for all I care, he’s filler at this point. This could be the best fight in the series (it isn’t) and no one would care.
- The use of environment – I’m going to preface this by saying that I think the quality of the fights in this arc drops dramatically because of the characters being able to fight in the air. It’s not like the buildings and streets and such aren’t used at all, we definitely get to see a lot of characters crashing into things, but I still have multiple issues with the way it’s all handled. You know there’s a problem when Soifon, most likely the best assassin in Soul Society, hardly uses the blind spots gained by weaving around buildings to her advantage. What I wanted at the beginning of this arc was to be able to recognize that this was Karakura town throughout this arc rather than just [TOWN WITH BUILDINGS]. Any of these fights could be made automatically more interesting if they made use of set-pieces that we’d remember from previous arcs. Places like Isshin’s clinic, the school, the park where Yammy and Ulquiorra first showed up, the haunted building from the Don Kanonji episode, the graveyard where Ichigo’s mom is buried; places that serve to remind us that this is Karakura town. The backgrounds should act as a reminder for what’s at stake, what will be destroyed if Aizen gets his way. Yet, I don’t believe any of these places were used, which is disappointing.
What I do like is the whole dynamic that the pillars surrounding the town introduce. It forces the soul reapers to be more aware of the surrounding area and means they have to split their focus lest the real Karakura town end up being brought back. It means they can’t just fight a straight fight and overwhelm their opponents with numbers, even after Yamamoto traps Aizen, Gin and Tosen in a wall of flame. Theoretically, this would force there to be more use of the environment, but it doesn’t really work in practice. After Barragan sends his initial wave of fraccion to attack the pillars they don’t come into play again at all. It’s not like the soul reapers don’t give the Arrancar any opportunities, a creature summoned by Halibel’s fraccion takes the attention of the ones meant to be guarding the pillars and Starrk could have most likely just shot them down at any point. I reckon this wasn’t done because Kubo couldn’t think of why this wouldn’t happen.
- Leeway – This is such a minor gripe but if anyone is planning on watching or rewatching this series then I need you to count how many times ‘leeway’ is said throughout this arc. It’s a lot, and it’s done for such an obvious reason. It’s so fights can be drawn out without actually making them interesting. Characters are continually giving their opponents leeway so they can slowly show more power as the fight progresses. There’s no obvious way of telling this other than the characters saying it, you just have to believe that they’re trying less during the earlier sword clashes than the later ones. There are better ways to draw out fights, such as having characters use the environment or interact with abilities in interesting ways, but Kubo clearly wasn’t feeling that throughout this arc. A lot of the abilities in this arc are either flawed or just straight up boring in execution, but I’ll get more into that further below.
- Espada representing aspects of death – This is a cool concept which is implemented poorly. I entirely get the sense that it did not exist until the moment Barragan mentioned it and in reality it relates to pretty much just his own power of aging. Just being offhand mentioned this late into the story is bad enough but it also raises several questions. Did all previous Espada, like Nel and the Privaron, also signify aspects of death? Do the Espada get assigned these aspects by Aizen when they become Arrancar or it is intrinsically a part of their being from the start? If so, then shouldn’t all Hollows follow some aspect of death? That’d be neat, seeing as they’re soul-based entities, but I don’t believe it’s the case. How related to ‘death’ some of the aspects are is debatable as well. I feel like I could be pushed to believe it if it were explored earlier but as it is now it just doesn’t feel well written. Later on it’s somewhat clarified that Aizen geared Halibel towards her aspect of death but that felt a little too situational to be an every Espada kinda deal.
- Toshiro Hitsugaya – Hitsugaya’s kinda been an elephant in the room character ever since so much focus was put on him during the soul society arc. It’s no secret at all that Kubo loves this boy, I can state with certainty that he’s the main character of the gotei 13. At first I didn’t mind him, he was presented well in the Soul Society arc as this young captain who’s inexperience led to him being toyed around with by Aizen. It set up for Hitsugaya’s grudge against our main antagonist well, the problem started once we got into the Arrancar arc. We knew by this point that Hitsugaya was an immature captain and still had a lot of room to grow, yet all of that growth ends up happening off-screen. I’ve talked already about how I wished we got to see more of Hitsugaya’s group interacting with their zanpakuto and the actual training they went through. However, by the time we got to his fight with Luppi, who was apparently an Espada-level fighter, he had already seemingly gotten over his bankai’s limitations. Despite how prevalent this character has been, we’ve never actually gotten the chance to connect with him and find out his intricacies and weaknesses. We hardly even know anything about his backstory other than he’s apparently known Hinamori for a long time. So much screen time and so little of it substantial.
Given that lack of connection we have with him and how little we’ve seen him actually struggle, I don’t think he has any business being anywhere near Halibel’s level. In fact, at first, it doesn’t seem like he is. We see base Halibel pretty convincingly overwhelm Hitsugaya, as one of the top 3 Espada should against the youngest captain. Then, she activates her resurreccion and starts using her water abilities. This ends up creating a garbage fight dynamic that I’ll talk more about below but what’s important is that her water abilities feel like they make the fight easier for Hitsugaya. Again, she was beating him in base and she presumably became multiple times stronger due to her transformation, so why now does Hitsugaya have any advantage. Him turning Halibel’s water to ice is just lame writing to give Hitsugaya the upper hand when he really shouldn’t have it. It isn’t satisfying to see Hitsugaya continually pull stuff out of his ass for no reason other than Kubo favoritism. He even ends up managing to stop Halibel by using some insta-win ice flowers ability. He tells us, the audience, that this is an ability that he couldn’t use before because he was immature but why should we care. We didn’t see him train and improve to become good enough to use this technique, he’s JUST able to do it here because it will win him the fight. It’s not cool, it’s just bad writing.
- Marechiyo Omaeda – Uninteresting character who isn’t worth the not-great humor he offers. No hype behind him at all compared the likes of Hisagi or Rangiku. Personality feels more inconsistent than interesting. Has absolutely no business being strong enough to deal with Arrancar given how they were initially presented and his own disposition. Despite that, somehow manages to survive against Barragan for any length of time without taking any damage. Removes any hype that’s been built every time he appears on screen. At the worst of moments, feels like an excuse to make Soifon need the help of a male character, just like every other girl in this arc. He’s just there so Soifon can spit philosophies about what it means to be a member of the covert ops. That is not worth his existence.
- More on-the-nose match-ups – From the moment the Hueco Mundo arc started, this has been a consistent and major problem. To summarize, this is the type of match-up where both fighters have either similar or the exact same strengths and abilities. This invariably sucks because every encounter like this just ends with one of the two characters being superior with regards to their shared trait. It makes for really boring and predictable fights and leaves no room for interesting interactions between the two fighters, which is the last thing you want in a show that revolves around fighting.
The first fight that’s guilty of this is Yumichika vs Charlotte, though it’s not exactly in the conventional sense. Rather than the two character sharing the same abilities, they both share their obsession with beauty. In theory, this type of mirroring could lead to Yumichika doing some self-reflection in the wake of this encounter due to seeing himself in his opponent. In practice, what this leads to is a stereotypical Tumblr user arguing against someone who only values conventional beauty. For being the very first fight in this war between soul reapers and Arrancar, this encounter does not set the mood of a decisive war at all. It’s just one big joke that comes at entirely the wrong time. The characters talk more than they fight and Yumichika learns nothing as a result of it. He only wins because Charlotte happens to use an ability that hides the two of them, thus allowing Yumichika to use his true shikai. Instead of Yumichika being forced to get over himself and use this ability in front of everyone, actually develop as a character, he gets to keep it hidden and suffers no consequences for his idiocy. Ikkaku gets scolded by Iba later on for the exact same thing so why does Yumichika get a pass to not develop as a character?
Komamura vs Poww is a basic clash of giants encounter but it gets a pass because the point of it is to make Komamura look cool and it does.
Omaeda vs Nirgge is the exact same as Yumichika vs Charlotte except instead of beauty it’s two big-bodied characters talking about how they’re fat. Omaeda just sucks on his own so this encounter is just twofold unengaging.
Soifon vs Vega is fast character vs fast character with Vega even commenting that they have similar weapons. Soifon is a rad character but this honestly isn’t all that impressive a fight. I’ve already mentioned how she doesn’t make any use of her environment despite being the character who I’d expect to do so the most. This fight also suffers from the leeway problem with it only going on so long because Soifon is sandbagging the whole time. There’s a point in the fight where she’s knocked down nearby to where Omaeda and Nirgge are fighting and I would have loved to see her sneak in two quick strikes to instagib that easy big-bodied target with Suzumebachi. I’ll leave it to your imagine which of the two I mean. Vega also randomly has a big-bodied form that’s real dumb-looking and lame.
Rangiku and Hinamori vs Halibel’s fraccion is just girls fight.
Shunsui vs Starrk is laid back character vs laid back character, though it’s one of the good fights in the arc so I’ll give this one a pass too.
Hitsugaya vs Halibel is ice powers vs water powers. This may not sound all that bad but the fight constantly pushes the fact that the two abilities are so similar. It basically just ends up coming down to the two going back and forth between turning ice and water into the state that benefits them. It’s not interesting and I’ve already gone over why Hitsugaya’s bullshit makes this fight worse.
- Every female character getting mad disrespected – This has happened a few times throughout the series but goddamn this arc really takes the sexism up to the maximum. It’s bad enough that Orihime was relegated to being [DAMSEL IN DISTRESS] but at least most of the other female characters felt cool and competent up to this point. Not any more, Kubo decided to be entirely done with his female characters being respectable. Orihime’s as bad as ever, let’s just get that out of the way, and I’ve already mentioned that Rukia ends up needing to be saved from a D-tier Arrancar by trash boys Chad and Renji. Rangiku and Hinamori end up fighting the girl fraccion, which is whatever in itself, someone gotta fight ’em and it can still make for a good fight. For a while it does, Rangiku manages to keep them at bay 3 on 1 until Hinamori shows up with a rad explosion web technique. The fight instantly takes a turn for the worse once these fraccion use their resurreccions. These fraccions already had the advantage in a regular fight and Hinamori had already lost her advantage of a surprise attack, their resurreccion states should have been more than enough to give them the upper hand. Yet, they arbitrarily decide to summon a decidedly male-coded creature who doesn’t listen to them to dumpster the soul reaper women.
Rangiku and Hinamori then have to be saved by Hisagi and Kira, big strong boys come to the rescue again. They end up getting dumpstered anyways in a fight that’s getting its own section but it’s the consistent imagery of girls constantly needing to be saved by guys that’s the problem here.
I don’t have so much of a problem with Mashiro needing to be rescued by Kensei since I can reason out why she lost without bringing it down to gender. The Visored have been hidden for a century and I doubt they’ve had much of an opportunity to use their masks in real battle scenarios. I can understand one of them losing due to that shortcoming, that’s forgivable enough, though it is still another example.
The worst of it comes in the form of Halibel’s backstory. It was bad enough that we’ve already had to sit through Nnoitra being sexist trash but now we get to learn that Hueco Mundo is Just Like That. We get introduced to some “women are easy prey for males” garbage despite the fact that these characters are Hollows. Whenever I do my own writing and worldbuilding I put a lot of thought into the races and species that I design. I cannot fathom why Hollows, beings comprised entirely of soul, would have any biological advantage or disadvantage based on gender. Especially seeing as many of them take on animal or insect-like traits, female creatures are more dominant than males frequently in nature. Furthermore, Halibel is a goddamn Vasto Lorde, literally the highest tier of Hollowdom, how could she possibly be easy prey?
We were explicitly told that natural Vasto Lordes are stronger than the gotei 13’s captains back in the Arrancar arc. Despite that, she fails to solo some fodder Adjuchas-tier Arrancar. I wouldn’t have nearly as much of an issue with this if gender discrepancies weren’t an explicit theme here but this Arrancar is literally a male shark while Halibel is a female shark. The only reason why she would ever lose in this encounter is because Kubo wants to push this idiotic message that females are lower than males in the hierarchy. Maybe the message that’s meant to come across is just that Arrancar are that impressive but that’s not the one I’m receiving. Not even in the slightest. Can I just remind everyone that Omaeda, complete trash-tier lieutenant, managed to beat Nirgge, who was most likely an Adjuchas-tier Arrancar. Yeah, that’s the level that Halibel was below as a Vasto Lorde. Messed up.
- Ayon – Ayon is the name of the creature who’s summoned by Sun-Sun, Mila Rose and Apache, who are Halibel’s fraccion. I’ve already mentioned that this creature is responsible for mollywopping Rangiku and Hinamori and denying the two of them any chance at having any meaningful impact in this war. Neither of them get the chance to successfully defeat an opponent, a feat which is achieved by even Omaeda. Once Ayon has established that women aren’t allowed to do anything in Bleach, he fights and demolishes Hisagi as well. Great, so now the hyped up lieutenant who was supposed to face Tosen again looks like trash, cool. Kira is also stuck healing the two injured girls so he’s pretty much out of the fight as well.
In the end, Yamamoto has to step in and completely curbstomp this creature. Look, it’s sick to see Yamamoto gear up for a fight, but he has way less going for him than every character who is put down by Ayon. This is the same issue I had with Kenpachi vs Nnoitra and Mayuri vs Szayel, it’s a sick as hell fight but it gets in the way of other character’s arcs and progressions. Ayon would be much better as a raid boss fought by Hisagi, Kira, Komamura, Rangiku and Hinamori, the five who actually have a lot to offer to the narrative here. I don’t mind characters being injured if they actually achieve something instead of just getting shunted off the the side so someone else can look cool instead. All Yamamoto vs Ayon does is show that the head captain isn’t quite as high-strung as we might have implied from his previous appearances. Little value compared to what else could have been done.
Also, if Halibel’s fraccion can’t directly control Ayon then why are they bothering to watch him fight? Since Ayon draws in the pillar guards this is the perfect opportunity to make those pillars still relevant to the plot. It’s even perfect in terms of numbers, there’s three fraccion and three pillars left. They could just split up and pressure these big points of importance while the soul reaper fighters are distracted. C’mon, that one basically writes itself.
- Loly, Menoly & Yammy – Loly and Menoly come back into the story to so the exact same thing they did last time they were on screen and it still isn’t at all interesting. Their narrative purpose is solely to make Orihime even more of a damsel in distress, this time in the middle of a goddamn fight. They didn’t really add anything substantial to Orihime’s arc other than reaffirming that she isn’t an awful person. Not the type of Orihime-Arrancar interactions I’ve been vying for. The two of them just end up getting crushed by Yammy anyways so I guess Kubo just wanted more female characters to get beat up.
So after Loly and Menoly get turned into an extended, phoned-in setup for Ishida showing up and fighting Yammy, we get a fight that is actually worth watching. I don’t have any beef with this encounter, by all accounts Yammy is best used as some redemption for Ishida after he got cheated out of a triumph over Szayel. If the number 10 Espada is still around at this point then he might as well be used to make someone else look good. If only this fight were actually the end of Yammy, then I could rest easily. Why could that not have been the case?
In one of the biggest asspulls of the entire series, Yammy, the Espada who has been getting slapped constantly since his first appearance, isn’t actually Espada rank 10. He uses his resurreccion and reveals that he is in fact number 0, the strongest of all the Espada. Of course, being the strongest Espada, you’d expect him to display some pretty crazy feats, right? Like, this guy is several ranks above Ulquiorra, who we just saw put up a badass fight. If Yammy’s stronger than that, if he’s going to overshadow Ulquiorra as the biggest threat in Hueco Mundo, then he’s going to have to put up a respectable fight.
He doesn’t. At no point throughout the fight does Yammy do anything that would suggest he is better than any of the other Espada. First of all, he can hardly keep up with Rukia, Chad and Renji, who were struggling against Rudobornn just before Yammy showed up. His speed and reaction time are consistently pathetic with his durability being his single saving grace. Chad of all people manages to actually match one of Yammy’s punches. He has to struggle to not be locked down by Hihio Zabimaru, the bankai which has consistently done nothing of worth throughout the series. He flinches from a no incantation hado attack from Rukia. Ichigo, who could do nothing to resurreccion Ulquiorra, styles on him and only gets caught because he’s shocked his Hollowfication doesn’t work.
This fight with resurreccion Yammy also sucks because Ichigo reveals that he has learned actually nothing from his fight with Ulquiorra. The reason he got crushed so bad in that fight was because he had no strategy going into battles and because he carried this “I won because I had to” mentality. He literally died because he thought that way and then he proudly states it to Yammy??? This is exactly what happened in Ichigo’s fight against Dordoni, a refusal to move him on as a character for no real reason. It feels as if Ichigo has not developed at all since the Arrancar arc and I hate that, because Ichigo in this current state is a block of stale cheese. He even gets immediately caught by Yammy because he still has this thought process and that’s just so entirely frustrating.
After that, Byakuya and Kenpachi show up and make a complete joke out of our rank 0 Espada. Kenpachi carves him up with his eyepatch still on, completely effortlessly compared to what he had to go through to get past Nnoitra’s hierro. Defensive ability was literally all Yammy had and now you’re telling me that Nnoitra’s claims of having the toughest hierro of the Espada were true? Then what’s left for this big chunk of meat? Mayuri and Byakuya just casually watch on as Kenpachi slaps Yammy no diff, it’s not even worth being called a battle. It’s a waste of time. Yammy literally ends up becoming collateral in an argument between Kenpachi and Byakuya. He’s not the strongest Espada, he’s a joke. He even changed form a second time akin to a second release, which is just an insult to Ulquiorra, an actually good character. Aizen really gave this guy the number 0 as a prank, there is no way he’s meant to be taken seriously.
- The Visored & weapon transformation shikais – The appearance of the Visored is something I wanted to like, because they add a lot more meaning to the battle with the Espada. Without them being here, all of the top 3 Espada fights just end up being rule of cool fights with little gain to the story. The Visored battling against these Espada is like Aizen’s test subjects battling against his perfected products. They’re here to prove the futility of Aizen’s plotting and become the wildcards who turn the tide of battle against him. He’s the target of their grudge and their blades are on a path towards him.
They show up shortly after Wonderweiss enters the battle and quickly creates a dire situation by cheap-shotting Ukitake. Shunsui is enraged but gets shot down by Starrk as a result, thus two of the gotei 13’s strongest captains are instantly put down. There’s barely anyone else on the battlefield capable of matching Starrk’s power and the full strength of this new Arrancar is unknown. He’s a captain-level threat at least but, as backup for the other Espada, he could even be beyond that. Halibel and Barragan, who were thought defeated, are both revealed to be undamaged by previous efforts. Moreover, Aizen, Gin and Tosen are freed from Yamamoto’s flame barrier by a… big, weird, cyclopean Hollow. I don’t know why this Hollow is here, especially seeing as Wonderweiss exists to seal Yamamoto’s flames, but alright. It’s a moment of hopelessness for the soul reapers, one which I think could have been played up a little more but that’s a minor gripe. The Visored appear as the ones who will turn this fight around and it’s cool, I can’t fault their initial entrance.
The first thing the Visored do is beat up some Gillians that’re spat out by the cyclops Hollow, which doesn’t really feel like an impressive feat at this point. I feel like we’re several levels above Gillian at this point with Vasto Lorde Arrancar on the field. Mashiro also one-shots the big Hollow, which might be impressive but we can’t tell because we know nothing about it. From there, Hachi puts on a good show against Barragan and then it’s all down hill.
I mentioned in my leeway point that it feels like Kubo didn’t have many ideas for abilities going into this. There are notably great abilities in this arc, Shunsui’s shikai being a prime example, but it absolutely feels like Kubo ran out of time or creativity. Hachi’s bakudo-centric way of fighting is unique and interesting but most of the Visored don’t display any abilities that are particularly noteworthy or interesting. Case in point, Rose and Love. These two take over the fight against Starrk while Shunsui recovers from the attack he received. Love’s ability is BIG CLUB, which he uses to HIT HIS ENEMY. He also shoots a fireball precisely one time, which pretty much only serves as being a ranged club swing. Rose’s whip shikai is a little better, it’s a more versatile and interesting form and he also seems to have some reverberation nonsense going on. The problem is that it isn’t really explained or utilized very much, so it just ends up feeling like a one-trick ability as well. We know that these two were captains but they don’t use their bankais either, if Kubo was struggling to make shikais then I really doubt he had any bankai abilities in mind for these two. The over-simplicity of their abilities just makes them forgettable, which sucks because this should be the moment where they define themselves from everyone else in the Visored group.
Hiyori and Lisa suffer in a similar way, joining in the fight against Halibel yet demonstrating no unique or interesting abilities. It’s more simple weapon transformations, who would have guessed. Lisa has a spear and Hiyori has a serrated cleaver. That is their abilities, they are not impactful even in the slightest. It’s not just the Visored that suffer this weapon transformation syndrome either, Omaeda, Hisagi and the founder of it all Ikkaku are the same. Hisagi gets a pass since his weapon is actually unique and can be maneuvered in very interesting ways but a majority of them don’t have that benefit. A shikai ability isn’t good if it’s just ‘now my weapon looks different and I swing it in a different way’. That offers no unique or interesting battle dynamics, especially in fights with characters that do have special powers. Ikkaku practically ended up getting written out of the story because his shikai was so uninteresting! These shikai abilities are boring, lazy and dull the Visored hype that should have carried the later stages of this battle.
There is a significant amount to cover here, so let’s begin with the things that I’ve already dealt with in previous posts or which should be more explored earlier in the story. My changes to the Hueco Mundo arc would help to make the dialogue before and during the Ulquiorra fight a lot more meaningful. With Orihime having interacted with Ulquiorra and the other Arrancar more, statements of her mentality being changed would actually mean something. Questioning Ulquiorra’s humanity would also mean more than nothing. Ichigo would have also preferably have demonstrated more Hollow-like mentalities by this point, which add to his asking if he’s become more Hollow-like and his actual Hollow transformation post-death.
Hitsugaya should have been more deeply explored as a character earlier in the series, most likely during the Arrancar arc when growth was particularly important to he and the group around him. Him being the subject of wishy-washy storytelling makes it difficult to enjoy him or feel good when he achieves victory. As it is now it feels like Kubo just hopes we find him as cool as he does, which unfortunately I don’t. I don’t have any reason to, he didn’t make a complete character. Hisagi should also have been focused on more, if for no other reason then perhaps it could have given us any context regarding Tosen. I feel like I should be more hyped up for Hisagi and Komamora meeting Tosen again than I am. As things currently are, I just want answers, to the point where I don’t believe I can enjoy the fight until I get them. Not until I understand why this fight is happening at all.
If Omaeda must be a part of the story then he should probably have more prior screen-time as well. Anything to make it not a complete waste of time to have him on screen. At least have Soifon tell him what it means to be in the covert ops beforehand and then have him reflect on that and come to understand it during the fight. Something simple like that would suffice for a side-character like him. Honestly, I would just either remove the character or replace him entirely, but I get that some people might appreciate the lightheartedness he offers. Either way, I don’t think he has any business beating an Arrancar, so I’d be implementing Soifon double-poking Nirgge at the very least.
Yumichika would be a better character if Ikkaku had died during the Arrancar arc. It would make him more driven in this final battle against these humanoid Hollows and set him on a path where he might actually develop. We’d already care more about Yumichika’s fight because we’d know what he has to fight for and you could spin some kind of narrative where he reveals his true shikai in Ikkaku’s honor. With Ikkaku still alive he just ends up absorbing the scolding that Yumichika should receive and achieving nothing else, because that character isn’t going to develop any more. He’s so obviously spent in terms of story, just get him outta here.
If the Espada representing aspects of death thing was introduced during the Hueco Mundo arc then I reckon I would be more accepting of it. If we knew about it when all the Espada were still alive and had the opportunity to speculate what all of their aspects were then it would be way more engaging. If these aspects shape their philosophies and mentalities then we could try to tell from those characteristics the concept which drives them. From this, we could connect with the Espada more and make them as developed as the soul reapers were in the Soul Society arc. Orihime in Las Noches slice of life arc would help with this as well, it’s really a fix to 90% of this series’ problems.
Rukia should just 1v1 Rudobornn. Rukia has already fought and defeated an Espada, even if that fight was horrifically close and came down to Aaroniero’s own hubris. She’s competent enough that I think she should be able to handle one regular Arrancar without the help of Renji and Chad. Those two should be doing something more lucrative with their time like, y’know, dealing with the rest of the Arrancar in Las Noches! I don’t understand why Kubo would have them fight fodder Hollows when there are surely more Arrancar left going around. If Loly and Menoly are still around then I refuse to believe there are none other left of that tier still alive. Logically, there should even still be several Privaron Espada left, could we put those in the story to at least pretend the initial three weren’t just thrown in for the sake of it? If Chad and Renji were fighting guys like that it would be both a reasonable and impressive fight for them, one last big chance to make a real impact in Hueco Mundo.
I would remove flying being an applicable ability in combat. It makes fights less interesting and only feels like an excuse to not have to think about the surrounding environment. There’s a lot more that can be done with a city environment to make fights more interesting. Even just this being a thing at all would make the whole pillar dynamic more interesting as the soul reapers would have to constantly maintain vantage points and find ways to communicate when the Arrancar were aiming for them. By the way, yeah, the pillars. Make those relevant more times throughout the arc. As I’ve said, Halibel’s fraccion could go for them, Starrk could shoot at them, there’s plenty of opportunity for the Arrancar to be applying pressure there. It raises the stakes more, makes things more intense and that’s always a good thing in scenarios like this.
The leeway and uninspired ability problems would both be fixed by putting some more effort into characters’ shikai abilities. Interesting abilities leads to interesting interactions in a fight, which Shunsui and Hachi’s abilities both demonstrate well. When these interactions exist, you don’t have to draw out fights by having your characters continually saying that they were just holding back. That isn’t interesting, especially not in a visual medium where you can’t tell the difference between the character holding back and not. It only works with characters like Kenpachi, where there’s a stark difference between his holding back and trying. Not every character can be Kenpachi, that just doesn’t work. The on-the-nose match-ups problem would also be alleviated somewhat through more effort in abilities. Just don’t make these match-ups, they limit what you can actually do with your writing so much. It’s bad! The Visored having unique abilities would make them individually more memorable as well rather than Hachi being the only one who leaves any real type of impression.
Halibel should dominate Hitsugaya. Even in a world where Hitsugaya is a better written character, he has no business being on the level of the rank 3 Espada. He should be getting his ass demolished until Hiyori and Lisa show up. While we’re at it, why don’t we cut all the rest of the sexist bullshit as well. Let Rangiku and Hinamori fight alongside Hisagi, Kira and Komamora against Ayon and have the five actually win the fight instead of just easy-outing with Yamamoto. It would give Rangiku and Hinamori a victorious moment as well as demonstrating the ability of they and the other three to make an impact against Tosen, Gin and Aizen.
The gender discrepancy in Hueco Mundo garbage has to be either removed or better justified. I could buy if female Hollows were particularly at risk because many Hollows, in their mortal lives (remember they were once people) were males who targeted females and children. Those kinds of people are the ones who become Hollows, the disgusting dregs who prey on easier targets, thus female Hollows suffer similar discrimination. However, this should just mean that female Hollows are more likely to be attacked rather than implying that they’re at all naturally weaker. Again, these beings are made of soul, there shouldn’t be any biological disadvantages at play. I also don’t care how much of a power boost becoming an Arrancar is meant to be, Halibel should crush the fodder shark man no diff as a Vasto Lorde.
Loly and Menoly still shouldn’t be in the story. They don’t add anything. They never have. Even in my Orihime slice of life arc, I would absolutely focus more on her interactions with Espada rather than two-dimensional trash bags like these two. Yammy also shouldn’t secretly be number 0. It’s a dumb twist and implying that he’s the strongest Espada is an insult. He should die in his battle against Ishida as number 10 and no higher. Him being number 0 is actively detrimental to the plot as he makes every other Espada feel like a joke for being lesser to him. I don’t want to believe that Kenpachi would no diff Ulquiorra, Halibel, Barragan and Starrk because he can beat this joke, who’s supposedly stronger than all of them.
I told myself I would make more concise and consumable narrative amendment posts after the one about Kingdom Hearts 1. Now here we are, with another over 10k word post. Needless to say there was a lot of yikes to work through here, ranging from dull powers to straight up sexism. I’ll give this much, the Espada fights in this arc continue to be mostly impressive. Halibel’s had a swathe of issues, many of which coming directly from the opponent she faced. Barragan, Starrk and most of all Ulquiorra still managed to impress, though, and that much I can appreciate. I said that good fights could save this arc but unfortunately there’s just so much here that makes the fights worse than they could be. The boring and immemorable abilities are only the start, joined by a disappointing lack of environment usage and uninspired match-ups.
The truth of the matter is that the fights with Barragan, Starrk and Ulquiorra are the only parts of this arc so far that are worth watching. I noted that it was nice to see Hisagi, Kira, Hinamori, Rangiku and Komamura but honestly the fights they participate in are not worth the investment in the plot. It feels like the story was lost a long time ago and any attempts to get it back on the rails just feel pointless. Too much was rushed through and missed during the Arrancar and Hueco Mundo arcs and the price of that is our enjoyment here. Far too much is underdeveloped and, going into the last few fights, hopes aren’t high. The battle with Tosen is reliant on a story that isn’t there. The characters who are connected to Gin have been tossed aside. If Shinji is anything like his other Visored friends then he’s going to try to beat Aizen with a shikai that turns his sword into a pool noodle. Overall, this arc has been a disappointment so far. Not at all worth the time spent watching, if you want to watch it yourself you’d be better off just finding fight clips on YouTube. After this, the final battle with Aizen draws near, and I have to ask myself one thing. Could it possibly be worth all of this? That’s a question I’ll answer in the next narrative amendment.