Last Time On – Bleach
It pains me to think of what happened last time on Bleach, because the final battle against Aizen so far has been a string of disappointments. The blatant sexism in the writing hit an all-time high, we were introduced to a sea of uninspired match-ups and abilities and Yammy was the number 0 Espada. While we did get some enjoyable battles with Barragan, Starrk and especially Ulquiorra, everything surroundings these fights was an utter waste of time. Rushed and poorly thought out writing has put the series in a difficult spot with regards to specific character arcs and just our general investment in the plot.
I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the final battle up until this point has been a disappointment. When fans imagined this war with the Arrancar I’m sure some of them were expecting something on the level of One Piece’s battle for Marineford arc. Imagine their disappointment when what they got was this. I suppose the silver lining of everything up until this point is the fact that the time-wasting rabble are out of the way. Only Tosen, Gin and Aizen are left, the big encounters that everyone has been waiting for. Payoff in key moments has been the saving grace for this series even at its lowest points so let’s see if that rings true one final time as we go to the end of this war with Sosuke Aizen.
What I Enjoyed
- Shinji vs Aizen – This fight is rad right from the get-go. Right away, Shinji calls back to when Aizen cited Shinji’s lack of trust as being the reason why he was able to successfully perform the Visored experiment without being suspected. However, this time that facts acts to Shinji’s advantage as that distance means that Aizen doesn’t know what Shinji is capable of. We know Aizen is a big deal at this point and that there are very few characters who could hope to actually 1v1 him. Given Shinji was formerly Aizen’s superior, we get the sense that he might be one of those characters.
This is a testament to just how well Shinji has been built up and it truly feels like this is going to be the hype payoff for everything regarding the Visored. His shikai being another sensory control ability also aids in convincing us that Shinji stands a real chance. We’ve been made well aware about how broken Kyoka Suigetsu is, especially in how it was used to trick the entirety of the gotei 13 during the soul society arc. Many viewers may even be convinced that the only thing that could beat it would be a similar power.
Shinji’s inversion ability is one I really like, being simple in concept while creating a unique dynamic to the fight. It’s definitely far more limited that Kyoka Suigetsu but I would argue that makes it a narratively superior ability. From my perspective, abilities are more fun when they can be worked around and beaten, even if doing so is difficult. This fight comes right after the battle with Tosen and, while that fight isn’t nearly as good, the way these two fights are weaved together is impressive. Sight was a major theme in Tosen’s fight and the shortcoming of Shinji’s shikai is that it is only a visual illusion. It’s some fun narrative play which demonstrates Aizen’s superiority over even his closest subordinates as he exposes the inversion’s weakness.
The one thing I don’t really like here is the fact that Aizen gets around the inversion just through Kyoka Suigetsu being a superior power rather then something more interesting like sensing the source of Shinji’s spiritual pressure or something of the like. This fight ends up being interrupted by Ichigo appearing, which makes for a cool moment and it does save Shinji from the inevitable Kyoka Suigetsu curvestomp that would have most likely followed.
- Actually, just everything that involves Aizen – What really impressed me about the whole battle with Aizen is how consistently well-written he is. For the first time in this series, I built up this idea for how the character should be in my head and by the end it turned out that was exactly what was going on. We’ll get more into that as I go further but first let’s take this play-by-play.
One of the things that I absolutely adore about Aizen is his comically exaggerated intelligence. After Ichigo appears, our protagonist’s strike is blocked by this tiny shield that Aizen has placed at the back of his neck because apparently that’s the place that anyone would naturally go for. Despite the fact that, throughout this series, characters have consistently aimed for the back itself rather than the neck when they have that kind of position. The only reason this shield exists in this exact moment is to demonstrate Aizen’s unrealistic foresight and it brings me joy wondering what he’s going to pull out of his ass next.
Ichigo can inexplicably use his mask again here, despite the fact that his inner-Hollow was randomly denying him the power when he stood up to Yammy. I kinda liked the idea of the Hollow denying Ichigo power after getting a taste of full control but that is never played into again. That plot point is just gone and, while I know that it’s just so Aizen can dunk on Ichigo at his full power, I’m disappointed that the sole consequence of Ichigo’s losing control is seemingly just gone.
Despite Ichigo being a complete disappointment, Aizen does still carry this short engagement. He spins the idea that Ichigo has no personal stakes in this fight in a way that doesn’t sound like a complete lie and plays into the fact that Ichigo needs to be pushed to really go all-out when he faces off against someone. This demonstrates Aizen’s knowledge of Ichigo’s static character as well as the genuine charisma that he possesses even this far into the final battle.
Ichigo being protected rather than fighting to protect is a fun inversion as well. Ichigo has constantly been trying to take the front lines and shoulder everything with his own power. This made sense when he was fighting with his friends, who are all far weaker than him. However, in this fight there are several fighters who are on his level or higher and who are all almost certainly more experienced than him. These people are far more suited to fighting Aizen, all they need is a way to see through Aizen’s illusion. That’s Ichigo’s role, not to be the one who deals the decisive blow but to be the eyes which see the truth. He’s the back line here, the support, the win condition for soul society. Not a role he’s used to but a fun twist given the one he usually plays.
We also get a neat interaction between Ichigo and Komamura here where Komamura admits that he was close to making the mistake of mindlessly charging at Aizen before Ichigo appeared. This is a mistake that Ichigo himself would make and showing off this similarity between the two characters gives us just a little bit more insight in the underdeveloped Komamura. Kinda makes me wish that we’d get to see these two interact more. One funny thing I would like to note is how Komamura talks about how Ichigo has ended fights without hatred while we get flashbacks to such encounters as Ichigo vs Nnoitra and Ichigo vs Ulquiorra. You know, a fight Ichigo didn’t finish and one where his HATE-FILLED HOLLOW won the fight for him. This visual probably wasn’t presented in the manga but I wanted to point fun at it regardless.
The following group fight against Aizen serves as a further demonstration of just how ridiculously threatening our main antagonist is. Right away, he easily keeps up with Shunsui which is a great way of displaying that he is physically capable of beating just about anyone in this battle individually with little effort. The way we see him easily manipulate Hitsugaya is also great as it demonstrates the immature aspects of his character as well as showing us how effective Aizen’s manipulation can be. Side-note, Hitsugaya’s petals show up here again. We’ll never know whether or not this is a weakness that this character has actually overcome.
Komamura and the boring-shikai Visored get demolished, getting the fodder out of the picture as quickly as possible. This opens the way for the good part of the fight, where the characters with interesting powers create what I would consider to be the best combination attack in the series. Seriously, if you haven’t seen this part of the fight or haven’t watched it in a long time then I would highly suggest doing so. It happens very quickly but the way all of the abilities are used together is one of the highlights of the whole series for me. It might have even worked if the target wasn’t Sosuke Aizen.
This is the number one Aizen trolling moment in this arc. The all-out attack that everyone thought was being directed at Aizen was actually being used on Hinamori. At what point this swap happened, we don’t know, but it does create this amazing image of Hitsugaya with his blade stabbed right through the very person he’s been trying to avenge. The exact thing that he despises Aizen for doing. This displays to us the full extent of what Kyoka Suigetsu can do and how it can come into effect at literally any time. I also do love that Aizen doesn’t explain when he swapped himself with Hinamori, which is a pitfall that a lot of shounens fall into. We have to wonder for ourselves when it happened and how Aizen pulled it off. There’s a point in the fight where he resist’s Soifon’s instant-kill shikai and claims that he did so through his superior reiatsu, though in truth what she stabbed may not have been Aizen at all.
The one thing I don’t like about this section is how Ichigo doesn’t attempt at all to stop the scenario from happening. He’s the one character who could actually see what was going on and yet he did not move from his spot or play his role in the slightest. If he had at leas made an attempt then I think this scene would have been perfect. Alas, our dumb boy continues to be a dumb boy.
After this engagement, the only ones left on the field are the strongest. Aizen, Ichigo and most importantly Genryusai Shigekuni Yamamoto. Having the head captain step in at this point is goddamn spectacular. Aizen just dominated the gotei 13 and demonstrated in no small way just how superior he is. At this point, we’re left questioning if Yamamoto can even beat Aizen in a one-on-one engagement. He’s that far into ‘holy shit’ territory at this point. This absolutely feels like the biggest fight in the arc yet.
Yamamoto doesn’t even try to beat Aizen in swordplay. He lets Aizen stab him so he can make absolutely certain that he’s not being tricked by Kyoka Suigetsu. A wise move, given what we just saw it do. This type of absolute decisiveness is what we would expect from the head captain and, as the flames of his shikai erupt all around the town, we just know a huge moment is imminent. Aizen is such a major threat that Yamamoto is willing to die to get rid of him. He’s willing to go so far as burning the rest of the gotei 13 with him just to beat this one guy.
- Yamamoto vs Wonderweiss intermission – Just to break things up, I’m going to give this fight its own segment. Wonderweiss appears again and throws an entire wrench into the whole dynamic. I made the statement earlier that I love Aizen’s bullshit intelligence and this is another example of it. He created an Arrancar with the exact purpose of counteracting Yamamoto’s zanpakuto. It makes so much sense for Aizen to have this type of countermeasure but, more importantly, it does one huge thing for the story. It makes things such that Aizen doesn’t have to raise a single finger to defeat Yamamoto. The most powerful individual in soul society by far, defeated without Aizen having to exert himself in the slightest. This idea of a lack of challenge is going to come back later, so keep it in mind.
From this point on, Yamamoto shows to us exactly why he’s the head captain. Up until this point, all of Aizen’s plans have been perfect and have panned out entirely in his favor. With this foil designed to defeat Yamamoto revealed to us, we start to think that the head captain really doesn’t stand a chance. Then, he just punches Wonderweiss. This fight is extraordinarily hype, it’s just so exciting to see Yamamoto beat down a character that was specifically designed to counter him without using his sword. In a series which has time and time again pushed the idea of soul reapers achieving greater power through their connection to their blades. I can think of no other way to demonstrate that Yamamoto is just that strong.
Then, the battle takes another turn as it’s revealed that Aizen took into account the possibility of Wonderweiss losing! The modified Arrancar blows up, producing an explosion which defeats Yamamoto using his own massive power. While this is another A+ image, I do have to call it out. Yamamoto started this fight willing to burn up everyone in the fake Karakura, with the exception of maybe Ichigo, to defeat Aizen. However, when Wonderweiss explodes he goes out of his way to contain the explosion?
Aizen claims that the explosion would have broken the barrier around the fake Karakura and destroyed everything around it but that consequence is difficult for us to visualize because we don’t know what is around Karakura town. Would a significant amount of the planet be destroyed or just a high enough number of lives that Yamamoto didn’t want to risk it? Aizen thanks Yamamoto for protecting his world so maybe it was a planetary threat? This is one thing that could have been made clearer.
The fight doesn’t even end at this point, though. Yamamoto is still conscious even after taking the full force of his own shikai’s power. The very end, he just pulls out an over level ninety hado to deal the first bit of real damage to Aizen in the entire series. Not only that, in doing so he creates the opening that Ichigo has been waiting for the entire time. Ichigo does manage to get a cut in here, though I do have one last minor gripe in that I wish the damage dealt by Yamamoto’s final hado was more significant. Just give him some real burns, I’m not asking for much, especially given the transformation he’s going to go through anyways.
- Aizen II – Ichigo’s cut displays to us that Aizen isn’t completely untouchable with regards to Ichigo. Even if the damage isn’t super significant, it gives us that glimmer of hope even though Yamamoto is down. That hope is quickly lost as its revealed that Aizen has the Hogyoku implanted into him. This is another cool moment as we know the potential of the Hogyoku and we get a small demonstration of it as it attempts to heal Aizen. Through that, we can see that it is working with his body and actively empowering him. He’s successfully made the Hogyoku a part of him which raises the stakes as Ichigo not only has to overcome Aizen but the power of this literal plot device as well.
It’s revealed to us at this point that Ichigo’s growth was all plotted by Aizen. Of course, the first question we’re all going to ask ourselves at this point is ‘why?’. This is the section that allowed me to really figure out Aizen’s character and because of that I do like it a lot in hindsight. Aizen claims that he manipulated the direction of Ichigo’s life for the fleeting reason that he thought it would be interesting. Now, obviously, this doesn’t really track. While Ichigo does go down the path of a Visored which is in line with Aizen’s research, that’s an experiment he already got results for many years prior. He definitely didn’t do this to ensure that Ichigo would never become a threat to his plans because everything Aizen did was to make Ichigo stronger.
Aizen is a character who is convinced of his superiority over other beings, both soul reaper and Hollow. Even without gaining a Visored mask or going through any kind of Hollowfication, he’s head and shoulders above his peers in both physical and mental aspects. This mentality has only been justified time and time again with his nigh-effortless victory over Yamamoto acting as the most recent example. This begs the question, why would he have researched such things in the first place if he didn’t want that power for himself?
It was at this point that I came to the conclusion that Aizen wanted a peer of some sort, someone who could truly match him. That’s why he went out of his way to make the Visored and the Arrancar, it’s why he challenged the gotei 13 to overcome the latter, it was all in an effort to produce something which could challenge him. A life without challenge is dull and I think it’s accurate to say that Aizen doesn’t even really want the position of the Soul King. He just wants to see if he can do it as a means of testing himself. While he wouldn’t admit it, he wanted Ichigo to become a threat to him, a wildcard who could bring an element of unpredictability to his plans. All so he could have a peer, someone who is on his level, so he isn’t just alone at the top.
- Gintermission – It’s at this point that I want to talk about Gin for a bit. From our perspective as the audience, it’s so clear to us that Gin is some kind of chaos agent who’s just waiting to pull off something that we could never hope to predict. He’s always there at the sidelines and it’s so intriguing to speculate the role that he’s going to play. The series up until this point has done a fantastic job in making us believe that something is up with this character, therefore we anticipate the moment when he finally acts.
The biggest question mark regarding Gin that was raised for me was why Aizen would keep him around. The most Gin has really done with regards to the plot has been his scapegoat act throughout the soul society arc. In this, he antagonized Hitsugaya but never really did much of anything else. Nothing that Aizen couldn’t have pulled using Kyoka Suigetsu anyways.
We learned in a much earlier scene that Gin was a prodigy, similar to Ichigo and even Aizen in that regard. I believe that Aizen saw himself in Gin, a young soul reaper who was just naturally superior to those around him. Aizen keeps Gin around as the closest person to an equal that he’s ever found, someone who’s just as cunning and with similar potential. Aizen’s need for a peer is why he keeps Gin so close, even if Gin is extremely suspicious.
Something I really like about the relationship between Aizen and Gin is that there’s some very real tension between them. They’re never portrayed as anything like a master and subordinate and Gin even goes so far as to keep calling Aizen ‘captain’ even though they’ve long since abandoned the gotei 13. Through referring to Aizen by the rank that they both shared, it further pushes the idea of the two being closer to peers than anything else. As a quick spoiler, it is also a hint towards Gin’s feigned loyalty to Aizen, which makes the meaning of it even deeper.
These implications of Gin being at all relative to Aizen in ability are nuts given what we’ve seen Aizen pull up until this point in the arc. It makes us all the more hype for the rematch he ends up having with Ichigo, one which has been the longest time coming. The Gin & Ichigo rematch is the perfect way of measuring everything that Ichigo has learned up until this point.
Gin’s shikai, Shinso, is another simple yet good ability. It forces Ichigo to have to work around its ridiculous range as well as respect how quickly the blade can extend. He can never let Gin point his zanpakuto towards him or it’s a loss and he always has to consider that he’s within Gin’s swing range. The situation can also become more dangerous just through Ichigo losing sight of Gin, therefore being unable to see where the blade is being pointed. This ability is nothing on the level of Kyoka Suigetsu but it makes for a good battle dynamic.
The best part about this fight is that Shinso is actually used in a lot of these ways and Ichigo actually figures out what he has to be looking out for without just getting hit by it. This effectively demonstrates the maturity that he’s gained in his prior battles and that experience is what gives him even the smallest chance of winning. I do also want to point out that, in his first encounter with Gin, Ichigo allowed Shinso to be freely pointed at him which would have most likely led to his death here. The difference becomes quite clear when the two encounters are directly compared.
Gin’s expressions and the way he doesn’t attack Ichigo while he’s distracted by the fight with Aizen gives us even more of an idea that something is up. Not just that he’s certain of Aizen’s victory but that he doesn’t even really intend to help Aizen win. He also doesn’t try to trick Ichigo in any way, he just presents our protagonist with the facts and lets him decide what to do from there. If Ichigo can’t choose to face Aizen on his own then he has absolutely no chance of winning.
- Ichigo’s characterization post-Isshin – After Aizen reveals that he’s been controlling Ichigo’s progress this whole time, Isshin shows up and Ichigo finally learns that his father is a soul reaper. This is a huge moment and it’s played up in the way it deserves. It isn’t played overly-serious, which I’m actually fine with because that’s everything we know about their relationship. The reveal doesn’t change how the two interact with each other and I like that a lot. It gives us the message that, despite what was hidden from Ichigo, they’re still father and son. Moreover, there’s still a bigger issue standing before them.
Ichigo actually shows some maturity during this exchange and I would argue that his characterization between now and the end of the arc is the best it’s been in a long time. While he did have a pretty major misstep during the Yammy fight, his battle with Gin actually exposes his doubts as to his ability to win. At long last, we see that he’s abandoned his ‘win because he had to’ mentality and he has a very good reason for doing so. He knows now what it’s like to be facing a foe he can’t defeat and he would be understandably traumatized by the prospect of going through that again. Even though he knows the stakes, he doesn’t want to let what happened with Ulquiorra happen again.
- Aizen III feat. Isshin, Urahara and Yoruichi – Just when we think there’s no one left who can stand up to Aizen, these three show up and we get to see another long awaited showdown. Isshin immediately demonstrates his abilities by performing a flick which is more effective than any attack performed by the gotei 13’s captains, which shows us that he is indeed hot shit. After that, we get the fated meeting between Urahara and Aizen and Yoruichi shows up as support shortly after. Everyone has stakes in this fight; Isshin is fighting for the son who has been manipulated, Urahara is fighting to take responsibility for his research on the Hogyoku and Yoruichi, at this point, is fighting to avenge Soifon.
Yoruichi absolutely has the least personal stakes in this encounter but that isn’t always necessary, especially given she doesn’t really have a reason to not participate. It would be pretty awful of her to be like “nah Urahara I don’t think I will help you in this decisive battle for the fate of both soul society and the world of the living”.
The way Urahara fights here does well in demonstrating that he is a character who can match Aizen in terms of wits. An intellectual equal, a peer who Aizen sought to compete against through the perfection of the Hogyoku. It’s made clear in this fight that Aizen does have the ability to quickly defeat the three but he instead challenges them to use everything at their disposal so he can prove that he’s superior. In this, he isn’t just proving it to them but to himself as well. He wants there to be no mistake that he has surpassed Urahara, which is why he bothers to draw out the fight.
I do have a couple of problems with this fight with the first being how Aizen defines the Hogyoku. I think it’s fine for it to be a perfect soul manipulation device rather than being what is essentially a wish-granting stone. The way its described just makes it feel way too explicitly plot device-y and I’m not a fan of that.
My other major problem is why doesn’t Isshin use his bankai? We get several hints that his zanpakuto is similar to Ichigo’s so his bankai theoretically shouldn’t be much different either. I’d reckon this is another case of Kubo just not being able to think up a new ability in time, if he could then I don’t believe that Isshin would just straight up have the Getsuga Tenshou. Given the nature of Ichigo’s zanpakuto and what we learn about zanpakuto in general later on in the series, Engetsu doesn’t really have any business being similar to Zangetsu. We do get some information on the contrary shortly afterwards, though.
- The build-up to the final battle – The stakes of this arc reach an absolute peak as Aizen, more powerful than ever before, enters the real Karakura town. The place Ichigo is meant to protect as the substitute soul reaper, the place where his mundane friends and sisters lie. Both his will and his duty are on the line and, given that, he’s able to push back against even the most hopeless situation.
Aizen destroying the cleaner is a show of hubris which ends up being his downfall, which I like. From this point onward, Aizen only becomes more and more full of himself as he further separates himself from the idea that he could possibly lose. When he and Gin exit the precipice world, they find themselves a short distance away from Karakura. Gin claims that their destination was thrown off thanks to Aizen’s destroying the cleaner but the tension between the two characters leads us to question this.
Ichigo and his father follow shortly after and, while inside the precipice world, Isshin reveals the concept of the final Getsuga Tenshou. The ability that we will later find out is the reason why he couldn’t use his soul reaper powers for such a long time. I will concede that Engetsu does have to be like Zangetsu for this plot point to happen but it does raise some inconsistencies in the long run. We’ll handle that as it happens, though. Regardless, it creates a scenario in which absolutely everything is going into this battle with Aizen, as things should be. The gotei 13 have been put down, Urahara himself has been defeated; the only person with anything left to give is Ichigo. To this end, I don’t even really mind the sudden hyperbolic time chamber junk with the precipice world since it plays into Aizen’s cockiness being what presents this chance in the first place.
Ichigo meets with Zangetsu again one last time and it’s fun getting to see the physical manifestation of Tensa Zangetsu for the first time. More importantly, though, Tensa Zangetsu pulls the Hollow from outside of Ichigo and our hero has to face down against the image of the form which dominated Ulquiorra. The power he unwittingly called upon the last time he had to face against a seemingly unbeatable foe. This is such an intimidating scene as Ichigo now has to face off against and overcome that power.
If Ichigo wants to tame the power of his zanpakuto, of his very soul, once and for all then he has to subdue that part of him. This is the moment for Ichigo to truly wield the entirety of his blade, which has been split between two forms this whole time. The two faces of Zangetsu merging into one creates a definitive feeling as we’re shown everything Zangetsu has to give. We get a real sense of finality and, given how the final Getsuga works, that isn’t far from the truth.
By the end, I do genuinely empathize with Zangetsu. His entire world, his existence, revolves around Ichigo. He’s a part of Ichigo’s soul and, in using a technique like the final Getsuga, it’s as if both of them are running the risk of never being whole again. Even if it is necessary for Ichigo to have that power to defeat Aizen, Zangetsu has a good reason for not wanting to give it to him. The whole Ichigo having to get stabbed to unlock the technique thing is a bit iffy to me but, for the overall good writing in this section, I’ll let it slide.
We get a section focusing on Ichigo’s school friends and get to see Keigo being as obnoxious as ever. I wasn’t a fan of this at first but I do have to respect the building intensity of the atmosphere as Aizen slowly comes closer to the town. When he does finally show up, we see that his existence alone is enough to erase mortals he goes near. Despite this, we get to see Don Kanonji of all characters standing up to him. I was actually quite hype for this moment, this man blows Aizen tf up.
Under normal circumstances I would say that this is a bad time for humor but I actually like this a lot. Here’s the thing, Aizen cares so little about anything at this point that he’s willing to humor characters the likes of Don Kanonji. It’s not just comic relief, it serves to show just how full of himself Aizen is. Then, Matsumoto shows up and it finally looks like some questions about Gin are going to be answered. Although, again, this interaction can only last as long as Aizen wills it to. It really feels like everything weighs on Aizen’s patience and that’s the result of good writing.
Immediately, we see how much Gin cares about Matsumoto as he gets her as far away from Aizen as he possibly can. She also asks what we’re all thinking; why is it that Gin is choosing to work with Aizen. Gin is similar to Tosen in the sense that we don’t really have an idea of his motive, the difference is that in Gin’s case it plays into his character well. He doesn’t have some half-assed sense of justice weighing him down, the mystery of Gin’s motivation is a key part of his character. The fact that Gin is impossible to read is what makes him interesting, so the reveal of what his deal actually is can be nothing but massive.
I would also argue that Aizen’s stalling in this section is another example of his want to be challenged. Aizen at this point is under the impression that, once he completes the ouken, he’s won. There’s nothing from there, no more opportunity to be tested. That’s why he’s waiting and putting up with the distractions. He’s waiting for Ichigo and he might even be hoping that Gin isn’t loyal to him so he can be contested one last time.
It is at this point that I would like to say that Ichimaru Gin has the biggest balls. He lies to Aizen’s face about killing Matsumoto as one last display of ‘loyalty’ at this very point, when Aizen doubts there is anyone left to challenge him. These factors combined is what it took for Gin to get close enough to take advantage of Kyoka Suigetsu’s one weakness and make a single decisive attack against its wielder. Not only is this a testament to just how well Aizen thought everything out, it shows us that his guard has been up until this one moment and that creates the biggest payoff for Gin’s character.
This whole time he has dedicated himself to killing Aizen and the path he took was both the most dangerous and cunning. Of course we could never get a sense of his intentions, because any hint would have exposed the fact that he was going to betray Aizen. He could not afford to give an inch to someone of Aizen’s intelligence, he had to be ruthless even if that meant hurting people he actually cared for. This betrayal is amazing and, for me, it makes this character exceptional. This is the first time we see Aizen actually worried for his life.
Of course, Gin’s betrayal doesn’t actually end up putting Aizen down. He survives through what is essentially pure luck in another display of the potential that lays within the Hogyoku. Although Gin’s efforts weren’t for naught, in fact this betrayal achieves two things. First and most obviously, he buys the last bit of time that was needed for Ichigo to finish his training to attain the final Getsuga Tenshou. Second, Aizen surviving this betrayal brings his hubris to a peak. In overcoming Gin here, he has defeated the one he has considered closest to himself for the longest time. This is enough to convince him that he has truly transcended and can on longer be matched. This is what will lead to his defeat in the subsequent battle with Ichigo. In essence, Gin becomes the unsung hero of the story, which is a good legacy for him to leave behind. In the end, he becomes the one character to die in the effort to defeat Aizen, a fate which was unavoidable for one who put his whole life toward it.
- The final battle – After the genuinely sad death of Gin, we immediately get a contrasting burst of hype as Ichigo appears from the precipice world. We immediately get a sense of how he’s grown not from a feat of strength but through him sensing the location of Yuzu and Karin. Sensing specific spiritual pressures is something which Ichigo has been shown struggling with several times throughout the series so seeing him finally use it so aptly here shows us that something is different.
The moment when Ichigo grabs Aizen’s face and takes him away from the town is so satisfying. It’s such an immediate demonstration of how full of himself Aizen is after having killed Gin, letting his guard down to the point of being easily hit by a head-on attack. Not only that, it shows us that this fight is serious with Ichigo finally being able to seriously compete with the man who has seemed invincible for much the of the series.
Ichigo dominates the fight as Aizen runs his mouth more than he ever has before his point, trying to convince himself that he’s in control. This goes on until Ichigo catches one of his attacks bare-handed, at which point Aizen resorts to using kido. It’s at this point that we can tell that Aizen’s mentality is really starting to break apart, that he isn’t the mentally indomitable man that we saw throughout a majority of this arc.
Throughout his multiple evolutions and his victory over Gin, he absolutely convinced himself that he had reached a level where he was untouchable. Where there was no one left to rival him and become his peer. Several times throughout the fight with Isshin, Urahara and Yoruichi he talked about how meaningless kido was to him. Now, in using it himself, in that small contradiction, we can see the cracks in his armor.
Ichigo slaps the kido and as it shatters so does Aizen’s mind. Flaws in his previously untouchable intellect have been exposed thanks to his overconfidence. The Hogyoku, while becoming the source of his strength, had also cultivated one fatal weakness. It is at this point that Aizen becomes angry, overcome with an illogical emotion in a way we haven’t seen from him up until this point. His intelligence, his greatest weapon which got him up to this point, is thrown away in exchange for more raw power. The more Hollow-like form that he then becomes reflects this.
This Aizen, an iteration of himself who relies on pure power, is far less of a threat than the one Ichigo faced in the fake Karakura. Even though Ichigo takes real damage for the first time in this engagement, the foe before him isn’t one to be feared. He’s little more than a mere monster who’s just lashing out.
Ichigo activates the final Getsuga, putting both his soul reaper and Hollow abilities on the line to deal one last decisive strike. Yet, the Hogyoku demonstrates its ridiculous potential again as it allows Aizen to regenerate even from Ichigo’s most powerful attack. To make matters worse, it seems as if he’s entering a state similar to Ichigo’s final Getsuga without the drawbacks. Then, something unexpected begins to happen.
Urahara shows up and, in the end, Aizen is defeated not only in physical ability but in intelligence as well. Urahara’s seal really completes this fight as Aizen is defeated in all aspects. Before he’s completely sealed away, however, we get one last look into Aizen’s mentality. The kind of thing we could only see while he’s this vulnerable as he berates Urahara for not putting his intellect to proper use.
Aizen believed he had the ability to stand at the top of everything, to take the place of the Soul King. In his mind, since they defeated him, Urahara and Ichigo should now take that place. Knowing that they won’t infuriates him, which raises an interesting question. What is it about the Soul King that Aizen despises so much?
I’m going to be honest, while I do think that this question is a good draw for the series going onward I don’t believe it had to continue past this point. Apart from the Soul King mystery, the only other reason to draw out Bleach from here is to create excuses for character who haven’t used their bankai abilities to do so. I don’t think anyone’s pretending that’s not why they would come back to Bleach after this point.
Ichigo loses his powers and definitively has to return to a mundane life, the choice once again taken from his hands. It’s a rather sour ending for him and we do get to see his remorse somewhat in the epilogue section. Ichigo relies on his powers to protect his friends and from here he’s no doubt going to feel frustration about not being able to do so any longer. Though, in losing his powers, a different path has opened for him.
I think the best part of the epilogue is the fact that Ichigo is mature about the fact that he’s going to lose his powers. I personally got the sense that he has grown enough to be able to move forward even without them and that’s what I’d want from his character at this point. He can finish his education, develop the relationships he has with his friends in a more healthy way and have a real mortal life before going to soul society permanently. There’s a light at the end of this tunnel and I don’t think Ichigo’s story has to go past this point.
After the battle, Ichigo does also confirm that he thinks Aizen was just looking for a peer, which made me very happy. I felt like that was the natural direction for Aizen’s character and the narrative did well in conveying that without just making a blatant statement. A nice bow put on who I would argue is the most well-written character in the series.
What Needs Changed
- Tosen & Komamura – The last time we saw Tosen for any significant amount of time it was when we saw Kenpachi absolutely demolish him. Since then, he’s been given a couple of feats to make up for that fact in cutting off Grimmjow’s arm and getting a hit off against Shinji here, though these occurrences happen in such a way that it’s still difficult for us to think of Tosen as anything other than fodder. Of the traitor trio, Tosen still feels like he has the least business being there and I definitely believe at this point that he is on Aizen’s side just to be another fight.
Despite this fact, I did still have some hope for Komamura vs Tosen. At the very least, there was no way that Kubo could keep Tosen’s motive away from us any more. This backstory has been kept in the shadows for so long so, when it did finally come to light, I wanted it to be good. Tosen’s evolved form of Hollowfication even gave me a reason to be invested in the clash itself as it gives this sense that Tosen is the definitive result of Aizen’s whole Visored and Arrancar experimentation. It made him feel like a bigger deal, which is an aspect that was missing from him previously.
Unfortunately, this fight ends up being a downhill slope all the way until the end. Tosen makes the statement that he’s surpassed the Espada, which aligns with how I perceived his transformation but I wish this could have been more significantly demonstrated rather than just told to us. I would absolutely say that Tosen suffered the most from the traitor trio being sealed for a majority of the fights against the top three Espada. If he were given more of a chance to be active throughout the battle thus far then he would have had more chances to establish himself as a higher threat. Even when he demonstrates things like rapid regeneration, which we know is a big deal through Ulquiorra, the effect of it is lessened by just being stuffed into this single fight.
We then learn that Tosen’s motivation this whole time has been revenge. I immediately take issue with this because Aizen being a figure of justice no longer matters with that single statement. Aizen’s particular perspective on justice is irrelevant, it now feels more as if Tosen’s only siding with him because they’re both against the thing he hates. This weakens his relationship with Aizen and Gin and therefore makes him just feel like another fight with no greater meaning. If that were the premise then I could just let this go but the narrative is so core to this engagement and it’s just so pitifully weak.
I hesitate to say that we learn more about Tosen’s dead friend because even now we still only get the vaguest hints of character from her. She spouts some metaphorical talk about casting away the clouds in the sky but, given the rushed nature of this whole scenario, she ends up just feeling like a plot device who has to die so Tosen can be angry. I would go so far as to say that this backstory is just a worse version of Ganju and Kukaku hating soul reapers because of Rukia killing Kaien. The definitive factor which should be separating these two stories is the fact that Rukia wasn’t at fault for Kaien’s death but soul society should be definitively to blame for the death of Tosen’s friend.
Given that I feel that way, you can imagine it came as a real slap to the face when the society as a whole really wasn’t at fault. Tosen’s friend gets married to a soul reaper and that husband gets mad and kills her. That is literally it, we’re presented with a scenario in which the individual is clearly to blame rather than the gotei 13 as a whole. It’s even stated that he killed another of his subordinates before Tosen’s friend, so it’s not like the argument can be made that anyone supported him. Who the husband was and what happened to him afterwards is not expanded upon, nor do we get any reason why Tosen didn’t just direct his hate at this particular guy.
Rather than getting any scenes demonstrating Tosen’s friend’s sense of judgement, we just get it told to us several times. Again, telling is often much weaker than showing with regards to storytelling. In this case, not being shown the character’s definitive traits makes it impossible for us to connect to her and by extension empathise at all with Tosen. For all of his talk of justice, I feel like Tosen shouldn’t just be so absolutely wrong throughout this entire encounter.
Tosen reveals that he has a full-on resurreccion, which I’m a fan of because it further separates him from the Visored as well as having some value in visually demonstrating how corrupt his perspective is. He becomes able to see and we can see the whole ‘being able to see only makes him more blind!!!’ narrative coming a mile away. Now, I get what Kubo was going for here. People define justice as being blind, something which is objective and does not discriminate against particular groups of people. This is the concept Tosen’s entire character is based around. In allowing his emotions to draw him into a quest for vengeance, he has thrown away blind justice and perceives all soul reapers as the same, equally deserving of punishment. He can’t put a face to his friend’s killer so he just casts out his rage in the widest way possible.
This might not sound like a bad narrative but in execution it is done very poorly. The concept that I just outlined isn’t very clearly brought up, instead we get dialogue between Tosen and Komamura which feels like a complete insult to my intelligence. Pretty much the first thing Tosen does after he gains sight is call Komamura ugly, which is such a painfully on-the-nose demonstration of how corrupt he’s become. The rest of the interactions throughout the fight just come down to Komamura telling Tosen how gaining sight has only caused him to close his eyes and it’s overall very unengaging.
To make matters worse, this is another situation where I don’t get any sense of Tosen being stronger after his transformation. Not even the fight portion of this engagement is impressive as Komamura does just as well as, if not better than, he did before Tosen used his resurreccion. I did somewhat get the sense of this being on purpose due to Tosen not being used to fighting while reliant on sight, and that is the reason why Hisagi is able to land a death blow on him in the end, but I can only forgive so much when base Komamura starts trading blows with his transformed foe.
I entered this fight questioning why he couldn’t still use his bankai but bankais and resurreccions are both sourced in the zanpakuto so in hindsight it would be weird for Tosen to have access to both. This is another cool idea that’s underutilized though, it would have made such a cool scene if we got to see Tosen choosing to corrupt his zanpakuto spirit so he could use the power of a resurreccion instead. A smaller gripe but I would have liked anything which might have made this fight just a little better.
That being said, I do very much like Hisagi’s aforementioned finishing blow on his ex-captain. It gives Hisagi some relevance in this encounter at the very end and it creates this cool image of the lieutenant carrying out the responsibilities left by the captain. It’s just a shame that Hisagi’s actual relationship with Tosen went underdeveloped, just like everything regarding Tosen.
Just as a final nail, I do also hate that Tosen gets any last words after Hisagi makes a gaping wound through his throat. I feel it would have been far more emotionally impacting if he physically couldn’t justify himself at the very end. He tells Hisagi that he wants to see his face but I can’t help but feel this would have been a far better scene if that were just a thought he had, one he couldn’t voice as his life fades from him. Then, he just randomly explodes. A nonsensical and abrupt end to what is absolutely the worst part of this post-Espada arc segment.
I’m actually not done though, because I do have one last issue regarding Komamura. I went into this fight feeling like he and Tosen should have been developed simultaneously due to the connection we know that they share but we get pretty much nothing about Komamura throughout this whole encounter. No hints as to why he’s a giant fox person or why he got the idea that everyone would hate him for it. That’s something that for sure needs justified since he has faced actually zero backlash since revealing his face. His character and philosophies aren’t even really expanded upon as he spends a majority of the fight just shouting about how Tosen’s doing a bad thing. There’s just nothing really going on with this character and that only makes this fight even more forgettable.
- The Epilogue – Short! Even though I’m putting the epilogue here, I actually do like a lot of what we see. Going into it, what I wanted to see is how the characters of the gotei 13 have changed thanks to Ichigo’s actions. That seems like the natural way to end things, especially seeing as it could be a lifetime before Ichigo sees them again.
We start out with Mayuri and, despite being among the least likely characters to demonstrate any growth, there is actually some hint of it. When we first saw him, this character was ruthless to the point of using his own squad members as bombs. In this scene, when he’s told that an action of his would endanger people, he does show the most minor amount of patience rather than just utterly disregarding them. A minor point but important regardless.
The Visored have a brief exchange with Unohana which hints towards a more friendly relationship between themselves and the gotei 13 moving forward. When I say brief I mean brief, this is one of the sections which really suffers from the epilogue only being one episode. I would have liked to see more of where the Visored choose to go from this point but I’ll take what I can get.
We then get a more lighthearted and comical scene with Yamamoto, which I’m a little torn about. Yamamoto’s death would certainly have made way for a major shift in the ways of the gotei 13, though if he must be alive this scene is what I’d want from him. A show of him having loosened up a bit after having been a hardass for a lot of the series, especially back during the soul society arc.
We get to actually see Hitsugaya training for the first time in the series. How about that. It’s a step forward but it’s a step forward entirely too late. Admittedly, though, it does make sense that he would become obsessed with getting stronger after the whole trauma of stabbing Hinamori. He own vulnerability and shortsightedness is what led to that as well as his subsequent losing of an arm. Being focused on training can also act to distract him from the memory of what he did. He wants to take responsibility while also distancing himself from the Hitsugaya who stabbed his friend. A contradictory mentality which I think suits him in this moment. I do believe that he should have followed through on the statement that he’s unworthy of being a captain and resolved to retake the position after he’s matured more.
Matsumoto lost her lover who we found out was her lover at the very end. Very sad, though it’s still difficult for us to connect to her because we never really got a chance to learn much about Matsumoto. How are we supposed to perceive the direction she’ll take if we don’t know jack about what she wants?
So, the time that Ichigo spend in the precipice world reverses as a part of the losing-his-powers process and I gotta say that does not track at all. His training happened his the precipice world but was not based around the fact that he was there. He could have awakened the final Getsuga anywhere and he definitely didn’t use it there, so how does it make sense that his power loss would de-age him? It isn’t even necessary, he aged literally three months! It was not worth making this type of inconsistency for a retcon so pointless.
I believe it’s clear enough that the primary matter at hand is what are we going to do about Tosen. Well, first of all, I’ve been calling for this but we should have had more exploration into the relationships between himself, Hisagi and Komamura long before this fight. This would allow us to empathise more with the plights of these characters and let us see the Tosen that they want to bring back. The one who was their friend, the one they respected, the one who wasn’t entirely goddamn crazy. In fact, any character building on Komamura is good because as of current he’s far too bare-bones to be the one taking on one of the three big antagonists of the arc.
Tosen also needs a more solid reason to oppose soul society other than just revenge. As I said, making it a vengeance plot just separates him from Aizen and Gin which is unacceptable given he betrayed soul society to pledge loyalty to the former. Instead of revenge, why not just give him the aim of destroying the corruption in soul society? Aizen had absolutely no problem with slaughtering Central 46 and Central 46 was the source of a lot of corruption and unfair judgements. This would justify Tosen’s allegiance to Aizen while giving us an idea of which aspects of soul society he wants to take down.
He could also take issue with things like Yamamoto’s archaic mentality as a leader and even the whole women in subordinate roles thing I mentioned back in the soul society arc. Tosen’s character could embody the consequences of the gotei 13’s outdated traditions and become the breaking point between an old and new order. The commentary he could offer would not only add more worldbuilding for the soul society but narratively it could be used to trigger change and actually effect the epilogue sequence. Change that is already on the way to happening thanks to the actions of Ichigo.
Next, we have to make Tosen’s friend into an actual character. Being a plot device who gets killed by faceless husband is not particularly engaging. The first idea I came up with to fix this would be to have this friend join the gotei 13 and attain a seated position around the same time Kenpachi attained his position by slaughtering the previous Kenpachi. Being someone who passionately values justice, Tosen’s friend can’t agree to the idea of brutal slaughter being rewarded with a captain’s seat and goes to confront Kenpachi directly.
The two clash blades with Kenpachi easily overpowering and killing her. This is consistent with Kenpachi’s character, it demonstrates the justice of Tosen’s friend rather than it just being told to us and it even calls back to Tosen’s own fight with Kenpachi in the soul society arc. That’s the kind of thing that would give us backlash as we realize in hindsight just what the stakes of that battle actually were. Connecting her to a character we know would not only add more to Kenpachi’s character but it would make us more invested in her as well. This would also make Kenpachi another example of what Tosen believes to be injustice in soul society as well.
This works on so many levels, since Kenpachi is a figure who is supported by the gotei 13 despite being essentially a murderer. When one takes this to its logical extreme, the entire gotei 13 is to blame for this and therefore Tosen would be somewhat justified in seeing all soul reapers as guilty. Komamura learning about this would even give him an interesting dynamic with Kenpachi later on in the series.
Earlier in the series, we got a strong scene where Komamura is at Tosen’s friend’s grave and asks her what she would have said to prevent Tosen from abandoning soul society. By the end of the fight with Tosen, we should know enough about her character and her relationship with Tosen to have an idea of what she would say. Even if it is just some kind of cheesy justice quote that she may have lived by, it would have really completed this whole character arc.
A majority of the other changes I’d make to this final sequence are very minor. Stuff like having Aizen counter Shinji’s ability without leaning on Kyoka Suigetsu, having him take more damage from Yamamoto, clarifying the devastation that would have been caused from Wonderweiss’ explosion, that type of thing. Just cleaning up some narrative points without really making any major changes. Ichigo should have tried to stop the attack against Hinamori, he shouldn’t have been able to use his mask, etc.
Like I said, I actually do like a lot of what we got in the epilogue. It’s just that, for me, we didn’t really get enough for it to be satisfying. I would kill off Yamamoto in a heartbeat if his bankai weren’t still on the table and, frankly, I believe I might do it anyways. He really didn’t have much business surviving considering the damage he took and his death would be the biggest possible marker for change in soul society. Past that, I’d like to see more of the directions characters are going rather then just seeing a handful. Will Hisagi finally take on the role of captain after defeating Tosen? Will the Visored return to soul society? Will Hachi actually trap Urahara in a barrier for a month? Is Hinamori, like, alright? These are all very important questions.
Oh yeah, also, very important plot point which gets revealed in some random book, Halibel and her Fraccion survive. Yeah, Orihime heals Halibel and they return to Hueco Mundo. Halibel ends up becoming the de facto leader of Las Noches with Aizen and Barragan gone. Isn’t that cool? Yeah, you don’t get to see that. If you still don’t think the epilogue should be longer than I don’t know how to convince you. Also, let Ichigo be three months older, please.
I am happily surprised. While the series has managed to pull out some good fights even despite an overall bad narrative, I would argue that everything past Tosen is actually all around solid. Not just when characters are fighting but even during the slower segments. Just about everything regarding Aizen is perfect and Gin ends up being an exceptional character as well thanks to some top notch build-up. I found myself genuinely sad when he died and I’m glad Kubo actually went through with killing him off.
When the fights do happen we get to see some of the best moments in the entire series, particularly in the group fights. The quality of the narrative even makes Ichigo’s final bout with Aizen, which is for all purposes an anticlimactic stomp, into something incredibly exciting. While the epilogue didn’t give me everything I wanted, it was passable enough to end this arc off on a high note. If I were Kubo, I may have just quit while I was ahead at this point. At the very end, when we got to the point the series thus far was all building up to, he managed to capture greatness one last time.
Given that fact, it’s unfortunate what ends up happening next.