Last Time On – Bleach
When I first started up this blog I took upon the task of reviewing and providing solutions to the flawed narratives of two series’ which direly needed the work; Kingdom Hearts and Bleach. Last amendment I topped off the former and this time we’re going to be rounding out the latter. When last I left off Bleach, I had to cover the Fullbring arc, the final nail which put this story’s animated run in the dirt. The series continued on with its final arc being manga-only and, in the end, Kubo was forced to bring this one to a rushed end as well. That fact doesn’t give me high hopes going into this but you’d have to work very hard to maintain the low of the Fullbring arc.
The biggest question going into this arc is where the conflict is going to come from. Aizen has been neutralized for the foreseeable future and, after the Arrancar arc, the threat level of Hollows has gone down. Vasto Lorde-tier Hollows who were further empowered through becoming Arrancar have been overcome and there’s not much room for them to grow from there, especially since Aizen isn’t in a position to further refine them. Using soul reapers as enemies again would be diving again into rehash territory, which would be utterly unacceptable after the layout of the Hueco Mundo arc and after the Fullbringers closely mirrored the Visored.
In terms of narrative progression, soul reaper antagonists would also be counter-productive as the current soul society is meant to be a version which has grown and evolved thanks to Ichigo’s influence. The route of using a substitute soul reaper has already been spent with Ginjo, Fullbringers were proven as being demonstrably too low-scale for a big finale arc and the Quincies have been established dead since-…
Yeah, let’s not beat around the bush, I know going into this that the antagonist group in this arc is composed of Quincies. Even if I didn’t know, it wouldn’t make much sense to try and establish another faction at this point, after the Fullbringers such a thing would just be overbearing. Ishida claims he’s the last Quincy but believing that would be an assumption on our part, one we even know is factually incorrect since his father is still alive. Ryuken’s continued living tells us that there could still be more Quincies who are simply inactive and, on top of that, we haven’t yet been made aware of how Quincies initially learn/awaken their abilities, so we have no reason to believe that others couldn’t have been born. Ishida makes it out to be based on bloodline but his ancestors had to have attained their powers from somewhere.
Moreover, seeing Quincies back in the spotlight would give the narrative time to expand on the mechanics of why Quincies killing Hollows is a bad thing. We’ve been made aware prior to this point that is disturbs some kind of balance but without more information that’s a difficult concept to grasp. Since Ishida has been our image for what a Quincy is up until this point, it was another assumption on our part that theirs is a protagonistic faction. This idea becomes questionable when we really think about the implications for what Quincies do, utterly destroying the souls of Hollows instead of allowing soul reapers to send them to their proper place. Even before the soul society arc, the image of the gotei 13 that we got was that they were duty-bound to a harmful extent, not that they were purposely evil in any way. Even if it wasn’t the correct approach to the situation, they wouldn’t have slaughtered the Quincies for no reason. This is where we get to see what that reason was, what started the thousand year blood war.
What I Enjoyed
- The initial build-up and first invasion – This is going to be a big point because I think that this arc comes out of the gate very strong. The first sign of trouble comes when an Arrancar appears before Ichigo and his friends, one who turns out to have a Quincy cross in his possession. This is just the first of many hints that Quincies are the antagonists of this arc and, even when that fact becomes obvious, it isn’t stated for a good amount of time. This is a good thing, dropping the hints and letting us figure it out is way better for audience engagement instead of just insulting our intelligence spelling it out.
Simultaneous to this initial meeting, people in Soul Society’s Rukongai district are starting to go missing. The story is written to have us assume that this is also the work of the Quincies but that doesn’t really line up with their other actions. Already we have several questions in our minds; how did the Quincies come back, why are they antagonizing Ichigo, why is an Arrancar one of them and why are people in the Rukongai district disappearing? We have little time to ponder such things before a handful of Quincies appear before Yamamoto himself to declare war on the Gotei 13.
We learn through a combination of Ichigo’s fight and the last words of Yamamoto’s lieutenant that the Quincies have an unknown method of counteracting Bankai abilities and making them ‘disappear’. This shows us immediately just how well equipped this enemy is for the war they’ve started, a fact that is further supported when we learn that they slaughtered over one hundred Gotei 13 members in around three minutes. Not just any Gotei 13 members either, these were members of Captain-Commander Yamamoto’s own squad. There are few greater signs of confidence than making such a direct attack against the captain commander himself.
Both Ichigo’s opponent and the Quincies who appeared before Yamamoto are able to swiftly disappear using a method which left neither our protagonist or the Captain-Commander with a chance to respond. Ichigo’s battle also shows to us that the Quincies can utilize this technique even after they’ve been severely weakened, which means that it’s impossible to track or pin this enemy down. We know that the Quincies are prepared to fight but even if a battle doesn’t go their way they can easily retreat and regroup. They have every possibility covered and that established quickly and succinctly just how much of a threat this enemy is.
The mysterious only continue to build as the ‘king’ of the enemy forces has an appearance resembling one of the spirits in Ichigo’s Zanpakuto, old man Zangetsu. The next unexpected occurrence is Nel appearing out of the sky above Ichigo, a character I’m sure a lot of people expected to never see again. We can figure out pretty quickly from this that the Quincies have based themselves in Hueco Mundo, where they have taken to eradicating Hollows in their own realm. We’re shown that Halibel, the ruler of Hueco Mundo after the deaths of Aizen and Barragan, has been captured by the Quincies, further solidifying them as a great threat. The Quincy leader’s subjugation of the Arrancar puts him in a position which mirrors Aizen’s, giving us the idea that he’s a threat of at least that level. Furthermore, he can bestow these Arrancar with Quincy abilities as shown with the enemy who faced Ichigo, and he still considers these further empowered Hollows to be cannon fodder.
Ichigo enters Hueco Mundo at Nel’s request but I’ll talk more about his little escapade further below. Concurrent to that, Soul Society is left to prepare for the dire battle which is soon approaching. As more facts arise regarding the Rukongai situation, it seems unlikely that such a thing was the doing of the Quincies. If the situation wasn’t bad enough, now there are doubts among the squads of the Gotei 13. In-fighting was nearly the downfall of the Gotei 13 back in the Soul Society arc and now it seems to be a threat once more. If they expose such a weakness now then the Quincies will not hesitate to take advantage. It is revealed that Mayuri was the one behind the disappearances and that he had to sacrifice those who disappeared as a response to the mass slaying of Hollows being performed by the Quincies. This tells us that the Quincies most likely manufactured this situation to make the Gotei 13 stumble in their preparations, once again demonstrating the control they have over the situation.
The Quincies who appeared before Yamamoto told him that the war would begin in five days. Up until this point that fact was the only thing the Gotei 13 had going for them, however even that is stripped as the Quincies use Ichigo’s presence in Hueco Mundo to their advantage. They use the time he spends engaging with a Sternritter named Quilge to mount their first attack, which begins strong as Kira, a lieutenant-level fighter, is put down by a single arrow. In that moment we realize that anyone less than a captain-level fighter is fodder in this war. Heck, even the captains are at a grave disadvantage with their Bankai abilities, the very sign that they’re worthy of being captains, being unusable.
At this point I would like to compliment how well the Quincy’s Bankai-stealing technique is built up. Initially, we’re given enough details to know that they have some type of countermeasure, which we would assume to be cancelling the Bankai out. However, the specific wording that is used regarding this technique changes throughout the arc, from ‘sealing’ to ‘capturing’ to ‘stealing’. Four of the Gotei 13’s captains realize too late the implications of this, Hitsugaya in particular becoming unable to hear the voice of his Zanpakuto spirit. With their Bankai abilities in the hands of the enemy, they recognize that they’ve put themselves at an even greater disadvantage, as if they could afford such a handicap.
I do have some issues with how the Bankai-stealing plot point was used in the long run but up until this point it’s a fantastic aspect of the invasion. Byakuya, one of the captains whose Bankai was stolen, ends up being dominated by the enemy before him. An enemy who didn’t even bother to use his Vollstandig, instead insulting Byakuya by putting him down with his own ability. We’re reminded time and time again during this invasion that the Quincies are the ones who hold all the cards and Byakuya’s defeat is one of the key moments with regards to that. We know him to be one of the stronger captains and one who we as as an audience have a lot of investment in at this point, so making him the first captain casualty of this invasion is extremely impactful.
Kenpachi is the only one thriving in this battle as we first see him after he’s defeated three Sternritter off-screen. This is something we’d expect since he’s the captain who least relies on the power of his Zanpakuto. After being left unsatisfied with his prey up until this point, he decides to step up to the king himself; Yhwach. I’m not often a fan of off-screen fights but this one I would say is justified as I doubt many people actually expect Kenpachi to be the one to beat the big bad of this arc. The hype would be overshadowed by the anticlimax, unfortunately.
Then, when all seems at its most hopeless, Yamamoto steps onto the field. A lot earlier than I would have expected, we get payoff for his lieutenant’s stolen Bankai. After some lore which fails to make me retroactively invested in Sasakibe, we get the spark of hope which could turn this war around. Yamamoto takes the stolen Bankai head on before decimating the thief who dares disrespect his lieutenant’s memory. He reminds us that, while the Quincies might steal their Bankai abilities, they haven’t spent the years refining and perfecting them. The Bankais they wield are little more than fraudulent echoes, thus even if those powers are stolen there is still hope. It’s the same premise as when Renji used his Bankai for the first time against Byakuya during the Soul Society arc. It takes time to make a Bankai battle-ready, time which the Quincies haven’t spent. This is their second weakness.
The Gotei 13 invigorated, Yamamoto takes everything into his own hands and is the next to step up to Yhwach. Yet, just as Kenpachi, we don’t really expect Yamamoto to win this battle. The hype of his decisive victory over the Sternritter who stole Sasakibe’s Bankai may carry over but in the end that isn’t enough to overcome the inevitability of the narrative. Our belief in Yamamoto comes from good writing but, in the end, that belief is unfounded. True to his claim that he intends to end this war by himself, he activates his Bankai, an ability which makes even Hyorinmaru, the strongest ice Zanpakuto, worthless while it is active. I’ll talk more about Yamamoto’s Bankai as well as the other abilities introduced in this arc in their own section further below. Just know that it’s quite exciting.
As Yamamoto uses all the power he has in his possession and all seems over after a decisive strike, it’s revealed that his enemy was no more than a pale imitation. A copied face meant to draw out all of Yamamoto’s energy and anger while the true leader met with Sosuke Aizen. All of the hope that was built up drops in an instant as we realize that Kenpachi wasn’t defeated by the enemy leader but by an enemy who merely took his appearance. The true Yhwach has no trouble stealing Yamamoto’s Bankai and cuts him in two without resistance. In the end, despite us clinging to the first real ray of hope that we had for the Gotei 13, this battle ends as we expected it to. With Soul Society’s greatest asset facing its end after a long life. One that we find out was founded on a history of violence and ruthlessness. It is only now when that era finally comes to a true end, with the head of the Gotei 13 being dubbed a weakling. There is only one fighter now who can act as hope in this seemingly unwinnable situation; Kurosaki Ichigo.
Byakuya’s arc comes to a close with him entrusting everything he stands for to Ichigo. A stark difference from the Byakuya we knew when we were first introduced to him but a great demonstration of just how much influence Ichigo has truly had over the Gotei 13. Not intending to let him down, Ichigo is the next to face off against Yhwach. Again, we don’t really expect this to be the climax so soon but something very important is revealed here. Ichigo is protected from one of Yhwach’s attacks using the same ability we learned about from Quilge; Blut. This implies that Ichigo has, on top of everything else, Quincy abilities. This is the second hint towards this fact, the first being Yhwach’s resemblance to old man Zangetsu. I know a lot of people have issues with this and I do have something to say about that in the next section. I’ll just say for now that I don’t actually have problems with Ichigo having Quincy powers specifically because it adds some intrigue to Ichigo’s mother.
Up until this point, Ichigo’s mother hasn’t really been much of a character, all we know about her is that she was a supposedly human lady who was also a nice mother. Details about her character have been vague and even the events surrounding her death, which is the thing we knew most about, are called into question. If she had Quincy abilities then how was she done in by a basic Hollow like Gran Fisher? Masaki lore also paves the way for us to get more of Isshin’s story, which we haven’t seen even though there was a great opportunity for it back during the Fullbring arc.
The first invasion comes to a close as Yhwach finds himself needing to step away from the battlefield for an unknown reason. With no guarantee that they could stand up to Ichigo and the rest of the Gotei 13’s fighters, the rest of the Quincies also take their leave. I feel that the Quincies had enough control over the situation here to do more damage before retreating with Yhwach, especially since Haschwalth broke Ichigo’s Bankai before he left, but I suppose they didn’t want to risk some unexpected event like Squad 0 coming down while Yhwach is gone and getting wiped. Either way, this brings the first invasion to and end and we know that next time, the Quincies are going to aim to finish the job.
A big thing which I have to praise in this initial section of the arc is how fantastic the pacing is. Everything happens quickly and no time is wasted getting to the parts of the story we want to see. So many genuinely intriguing mysteries are introduced and the sudden nature of the war is captured perfectly by the quick narrative. The build-up is effective in establishing the feeling of futility against the Quincies but there’s just enough there to keep us believing that the Gotei 13 could pull through. When the Quincies have to make their retreat just as things hit their worst, we’re just as relieved as the Gotei 13 as we get a chance to actually stop and think about what’s happening. The tone is well and truly set and we’re excited to see what the Gotei 13 do to try and turn around this decisive loss.
- Ichigo & Ayon vs Quilge – I complimented in the previous section how well the Quincies are initially built up as real threats. However, this is the most definitively important fight when it comes to fully nailing that fact in. Quilge is the first Sternritter we’re fully introduced to so he acts as the bar for how we’re going to perceive the primary fighting force on the side of the Quincies. Furthermore, he’s against Ichigo, who we know to be arguably the single most powerful asset for the Soul Reapers. He’s the one who defeated Aizen and it’s been shown at this point in the arc that the Quincies are unable to steal his Bankai for an unknown reason. Ichigo is the biggest threat to the Quincies, so if Quilge holds his own at all then we know that the Gotei 13 is in for a bad time. We already know going into this that he’s far above the Arrancar that the Quincies have enrolled into their forces, the question is by how much?
The fight begins rather evenly and another mystery arises as Quilge claims that his Heilig Pfeil (his Quincy bow) couldn’t possibly be stronger than Ishida’s. An odd thing to say seeing as Ishida has been a jobber for a long time now but it seems he’s a big deal even with this new Quincy revival. Regardless, this fight really kicks off when Quilge casually pulls out the technique which Ishida used against Mayuri in the Soul Society arc. The one he put everything into, which literally cost him his Quincy powers for a disappointingly short amount of time. For this enemy to have access to and so fragrantly use such an ability is both a good callback and extremely intimidating. Quilge then has the arrogance to call that technique, the one which Ishida used to avenge his Quincy legacy, ‘weak’, before revealing that the version utilized by the Sternritter is more powerful and refined.
The enemy this Vollstandig transformation has to prove itself against is Ayon, summoned by Halibel’s Fraccion who Quilge previously overwhelmed. This is the same Ayon that Yamamoto himself had to step in to defeat during the war against Aizen. Putting Quilge against an enemy such as this is a great way of showing just how big of a deal the Vollstandig transformation is rather than us just being told it’s better than the one Ishida used. At first, it seems Quilge may have been all talk as the Hollow construct deals him a huge blow. Then, when we cut back to him later, he’s getting absolutely demolished. The damage isn’t enough to put him down, however, and he fixes his broken body.
At this point we have to question whether or not these Quincies are actually still human because the damage Quilge took here was more than any human could survive. He then activates another ability which allows him to absorb Reishi, which spiritual entities are made of, at a greater rate. Using this ability, he absorbs Ayon and makes the creature’s power his own. Ichigo is left to fight a Quincy with unreal survivability, a power-up which is greater than the one used by Ishida with Ayon’s power on top of that and an ability which could let him absorb even more power, perhaps even Ichigo himself. At this point there’s no question, this is a fantastic fight to show us the level of threat the Sternritter boast.
The battle rages on and Quilge proves himself to be comparable to but overall lesser than the experienced Ichigo. Our hero is able to put the pressure on Quilge thanks to his Bankai which can’t be stolen, which reveals to us a weakness in the abilities of these Sternritter. They are able to achieve bolstered durability using an ability called Blut, however they use the same ability to empower their attacks. They can’t do both at the same time, which means they have to leave themselves exposed to match the offensive potential of a Bankai. This is why they put so much focus on taking that power away from the Soul Reapers, if they can’t call upon it at all then there’s no risk, they become practically invincible. Unfortunately, Quilge isn’t against an opponent where he can attain such an advantage.
The weakness in Blut makes it a lot more interesting than an Arrancar’s Hierro and the fact that it has a weakness gives us some hope that, if the Soul Reapers fight smart, then they may still be able to land mortal blows on their invading enemy. This fight perfectly shows just how important Ichigo is in this war while making his opponent threatening enough that we understand how difficult the fight is going to be for the Gotei 13. The Quincies seem to hold all the cards but Ichigo’s victory here, along with the exposed weakness of Blut, means the situation isn’t totally hopeless.
- Second invasion build-up – After a single stumble in keeping Byakuya alive, the plot continues strongly with the build-up to the second invasion. Ichigo’s Bankai has been broken and can’t be restored to its full potential and Yamamoto is dead, at this point Soul Society has no trump cards left to play. Except for perhaps one, though it’s hardly unreliable. One which was mentioned back when we learned the story of the Visored, the most powerful division of Soul Reapers there is, Squad 0. In the wake of terrible and absolute destruction, they finally show themselves with the intention of bringing Renji, Rukia, Byakuya and Ichigo with them. Their job is to protect the Soul King, a job they couldn’t very well do if Soul Society and the material world collapsed into each other. Thus, they extend a hand to give the Gotei 13 the chance at winning they so sorely need.
As this ray of hope shines down, we get hints as to the other powers which are at play. In Hueco Mundo, Urahara has made contact with Grimmjow. At the Shiba residence, Ganju trains alongside the Fullbringers who met their end in the previous arc. Soul Society isn’t just sitting on their hands either with Kenpachi being put into training to help him reach the potential that the Gotei 13 has purposely restrained up until this point. Training where we also learn the true nature of Unohana as the first Kenpachi, once the most merciless and powerful killer in all of Soul Society.
The unique personalities of Squad 0/the Royal Guard really helps to make them stand out after they’ve spent so long being a mystery. It also helps to make Ichigo and Renji’s training feel more interesting rather than just being ‘you spend x amount of days sparring and are now better!’. Things get really interesting, though, when they they to Nimaiya’s part of the training. The one who creates all of the Zanpakuto used by the Soul Reapers and the one who’s going to fix their broken blades. As a part of his training, the two have to face off against a band of Asauchi, Zanpakuto who haven’t yet become unique through being exposed to the essence of a wielder’s soul. This training has a vibe of punishment to it, punishment for Ichigo and Renji allowing their Zanpakuto to break. A symbol that the bond between they and their weapons became weak. I’ve talked multiple times in previous amendments about how I would have liked to have seen characters interacting with the Zanpakuto spirits more and this feels like the rebound hitting the neglectful Ichigo and Renji in their dumb faces.
I’m sad that we don’t get to see more of Rukia’s training and I don’t like that Renji is just told the true name of his Bankai by Ichibe instead of actually speaking with his spirit, especially after the whole Asauchi business, but I guess they had to fit in the Ichibe name lore somewhere.
- Everything but the rain – After failing his Asauchi training, Ichigo is sent back to the material world by Nimaiya. There, he is quickly met by his father who is unusually wearing his Soul Reaper garb. Finally, they’re going to talk about the thing that’s been left not discussed between them. Isshin’s whole deal and everything Ichigo doesn’t know about his origin. A brief cut back to Nimaiya reveals that he never actually expected the Asauchi training to work for Ichigo. If we believe the premise that all Soul Reapers are given Asauchi which eventually become their Zanpakuto, this makes sense as Ichigo never had an Asauchi. His Zanpakuto just manifested the moment he got his powers, though it only attained its true form with training from Urahara. Regardless, Ichigo’s situation is an oddity and we’re left with the question of where his Zanpakuto came from?
In the end, we don’t really get to see that much of Isshin’s place in Soul Society. We see that Matsumoto was his lieutenant and that Hitsugaya was a 3rd seat at the time but other than neat details we don’t really get any deep lore for Isshin. Well, apart from the fact that his last name is Shiba, which means Ichigo is related to Ganju and Kukaku. Honestly, I can’t really say a whole lot about this backstory section other than ‘it fills in a hole in the story and it’s handled sufficiently’. I wish there was more, particularly regarding Isshin, but the pace of the plot dictates otherwise. We also learn that Ichigo’s inner-Hollow was originally being harbored by his mother after she was attacked by a Hollow which was made out of a bunch of Soul Reaper souls by Aizen. Isshin had to lose access to his Soul Reaper powers to keep this Hollow at bay but at some point it/Ichigo got too powerful for him to restrain. This is presented a bit densely in the story itself but it’s easy enough to understand.
I like that we got to see another of the routes which Aizen took with his Arrancar/Visored experimentation and how that led to him actually being aware of Ichigo from birth. These types of details are always good to see and it all adds up with lore that’s previously been established.
Once all of this backstory stuff is done, Ichigo returns to the Soul King’s palace where Zangetsu is reforged. Just then, right on cue, the Quincies mount their second attack. It is at this point that the method through which they travel through the realms is revealed. Back during the Soul Society arc, when Ishida used the technique which took away his powers, we saw him absorb the very world around him as Soul Society is made up entirely of reishi. Manipulation of reishi is key to the abilities of the Quincy and here we see that they can even use it to create space within shadows. As it turns out, they’ve been hiding right under Soul Society for the past 1,000 years, building up their strength all the while. Their castle emerges, transforming Soul Society itself into their territory.
The Gotei 13 had previous little time to prepare and what they managed to achieve is immediately undercut by the emergence of the Quincy castle. They are immediately put at a disadvantage once more, confused and separated in a structure their enemy has known for a thousand years. The feeling of despair which was built throughout the first invasion looms once again and possibility that the Gotei 13’s preparations might not be enough emerges in our minds. The Quincies have watched their efforts from the shadows and still bear the same confidence they did the first time around. This time, the battle will not end until one side is victorious.
- New abilities – When I analyze the special abilities in stories like Bleach, there are three particular criteria I look out for which helps me gauge their quality. These criteria are versatility, application and counter potential. Versatility is simple enough, being the different ways an ability can be used to adapt to different matchups and scenarios. Application is how the ability is actually used in the story, it can have all the potential in the world but it’s pointless if it isn’t properly utilized. Counter potential is very important to Bleach in particular as it regards how fair an ability is and if it can be reacted to and countered. Unfair, unavoidable instant-win abilities aren’t interesting, they can have all the flair in the world but in practice they’re all the same, products of bad writing.
That being said, an unfair ability which is applied to the story in an interesting manner can still be good. My example of this would be Kyoka Suigetsu, which is arguably the most broken ability in the series yet I would still praise it for how well it compliments the build-up of Aizen’s character. The extremely limited counter potential of the ability was implemented well into the story through Gin, whose entire allegiance to Aizen was done as a means of avoiding the absolute hypnosis.
Through Yhwach and the Sternritters, there is a massive number of new abilities introduced in this arc. With some big Bankai reveals and some other abilities added on top of those, we have a lot to get through. So, instead of going through every fight in the arc individually, I’ll make things easier on myself by quickly going over the most important aspect of them here. The only exception is, due to its key place in the plot, I’ll give Yhwach’s ‘The Almighty’ its own section further below along with the man himself.
Sasakibe’s Bankai – Versatility: Unknown but seems weak as the only application of it we saw was summoning lightning. Application: Weak, we barely got to see it at all and thus never got a chance to find out if it could do more. The implication is there but that is not good enough. Counter Potential: Strong, the stormy terrain it creates makes the lightning a constant threat but Bleach characters are absolutely fast enough to avoid it.
Zanka no Tachi – Versatility: Decent, most of the aspects of this ability are just raw power but its raising the dead ability could lead to interesting reactions from many foes. Application: Strong, we get a very solid idea of how all of this Bankai’s aspects are meant to work together. The passive heat and eradicating aspect of the blade forces the enemy to stay on a futile defensive as they slowly burn away. As they rapidly become physically worn down, the charred visages of allies they once knew are raised to defeat them mentally as well as physically. Inevitably, this leads to the foe revealing weakness, allowing this ability’s user to make the final, decisive strike. Counter Potential: Weak, the strength this ability has in both offence and defence completely shuts out any foes who would fight him physically.
Minazuki – Versatility: Unknown, though likely weak as it seems to serve only one function. Application: Weak due to the extremely abstract nature of it making it impossible for the average reader to understand. This is unfortunate as, after reading a theory that this Bankai puts Unohana and her opponent into a cycle of decay and rebirth which goes on so long as she wishes so she can draw out the thrill of a good battle, I do appreciate this ability a lot more. Counter Potential: Weak, it looks as if this ability is just about impossible to avoid while also fighting its user.
Kokujo Tengen Myo’o Dangai Joe – Versatility: Decent, dependant on user’s own physical versatility. Application: Strong, the idea of this ability being empowered through Komamura having already given his life is cool. With Yamamoto and Tosen both dead, the two who accepted him into Soul Society and helped him to not be ashamed of what he was are gone. In their memory and for the sake of all who remain, he has no qualms with giving everything in one final fight. Counter Potential: Strong, even though this ability is practically immortal due to already being dead it’s still a big hulking mass of a Bankai. Komamura is on a timer using this ability and the opponent could just not be dumb and avoid him until his life runs out.
Tekken Tachikaze – Versatility: Strong, largely based on the user’s physical ability but the endless feed of force it produces could lead to many interesting physical interactions. Application: Weak, we get a feel for how much impact this ability has in Kensei’s fight with Mask but it doesn’t really amount to anything. Counter Potential: Strong, though it gives the user a significant physical edge it does limit their range to practically just their fists. In a series where most characters have swords and the swords can usually become things much bigger than swords, this is a notable disadvantage.
Kinshara Butodan – Versatility: Strong, the effects of the ability are based on the music being played by the user. This a rad theme which can lead to many drastically different effects. Application: Weak, like Tekken Tachikaze its use doesn’t really amount to anything. Counter Potential: Strong, perhaps a little too strong as the ability is completely nullified if the enemy can’t hear the music. Not being able to hear should perhaps weaken the effect but not totally dismiss an ability which is meant to be on the level of a Bankai.
Soo Zabimaru – Versatility: Decent, with the monkey and snake aspects of his ability both being utilized it’s as if the user has two extra limbs. If the visage of Hihio Zabumaru could be used in more ways then this would be bumped up to strong. Application: Weak, this Bankai is shown off significantly in exactly one fight to make Renji look cool. It isn’t challenged in any way and therefore Renji never has to get creative with its usage. Counter Potential: Decent, it basically just gives its user more melee options and there’s plenty of ways to work around that.
Sode no Shirayuki – Versatility: Decent, dependant on user’s swordsmanship. Application: Strong, the progressive cooling down to absolute zero, the point at which the Zanpakuto is most dangerous to both enemy and user, is portrayed very well. Counter Potential: Strong, as I said there is a very brief window during which this ability is at its most effective. If the user is unable to properly utilize the ability in that timeframe then they have to leave themselves open as they slowly warm back up to a safe temperature. These types of timers are an easy way to add dramatic dynamic to the fight.
Hakka no Togame – Versatility: Weak, is just a big burst of ice and an outfit change. Application: Weak, is just a big burst of ice and is only used once to instantly win a fight. Counter Potential: Weak, looks to be an ‘if you’re in the AoE you lose’ type of ability.
Sanpo Kenju – Versatility: Decent, dependant on user’s swordsmanship and forces opponent to alter their mentality to account for the preceding and following swings. Application: Weak, only used in one fight and not used in a whole lot of ways. The two spirits which appear along with the ability feel too inconsequential and just confuse things. Counter Potential: Strong, lessens the window in which the user can be attacked or counterattacked but definitely not invincible.
Nozorashi – Versatility: Decent, with regards to Kenpachi’s character in particular this ability enables him to better engage with characters who would otherwise attempt to fight defensively against him. Essentially, it makes it so that nothing can come between Kenpachi and his foe. Application: Strong, the first time we see Kenpachi use this ability he uses it to cut through both a meteor and space. It was hype. Counter Potential: Decent, the large size of the weapon paired with its ability to cut through anything gives the user a vast advantage in melee combat but, just like with Soo Zabimaru, there are ways to work around its melee strengths. Just as a note, I’d just the same about his Bankai since it’s essentially just another raw power-up.
Ichimonji – Versatility: Strong, can cut down the attributes of whatever he slices or nullify them completely by directly attacking the target’s name. Can be applied to just about anything in a precise manner, including specific body parts. Application: Strong, is used to its full effectiveness in Ichibe’s fight against Yhwach and explained better than I could summarize here. Counter Potential: Decent, even once Ichimonji is applied to something it isn’t immediately debilitating. It’s the same as when the Quincies stole the Bankais of several captains; a highly limiting handicap but not an immediate loss.
Shirafude Ichimonji – Versatility: Strong, using this ability Ichibe can rename anything his darkness touches into something else, giving the afflicted target the attributes it should have by its new title. Very interesting in theory. Application: Weak, only used once directly against an opponent to give them the attributes of a black ant. Counter Potential: Weak, practically unavoidable since Ichibe controls all darkness in the world and it’s an instant loss if that darkness touches the target.
Katen Kyokotsu: Karamatsu Shinju – Versatility: Weak, can only really be used in desperate situations due to its nature. Application: Strong, as with Zanka no Tachi we get a good sense of how all the abilities of this Bankai are meant to work together. The first part of it is a wound sharing ability which forces the user’s opponent to also take any wounds which are dealt to them. I believe the reverse is also true but this is never demonstrated as Shunsui’s opponent was intangible. Second, the enemy is afflicted with an unavoidable disease which makes them bleed profusely as black spots appear all across their body. Third, both the user and their opponent are put into an underwater environment which slowly drains the reiatsu of both. Overall, it’s an unfair game in which the goal is to outlast the enemy. However, the user’s opponent can never gain an edge as wounds are shared and they are the only one afflicted by the poison. This Bankai is a decisive ability in which the user guarantees that the enemy will die, even if the cost is their own life. Counter Potential: Weak, while the enemy can still kill the user they don’t really have any hope of getting out of this Bankai alive unless the user dismisses it.
Shinken Hakkyoken – Versatility: Weak, only truly effective against opponents which are considered ‘godly’ and very specifically disperses their energy off into eight directions. Unknown if this can be applied to other enemies or things like reishi or reiatsu. Application: Strong, largely due to its unexpected nature and the worldbuilding it introduces. The idea of a Zanpakuto which is inherited is very interesting, especially given what we learn about Zanpakuto in this arc. I will, however, concede that it does feel designed to work in the one specific situation that it’s used in. Counter Potential: Strong, all you have to do to avoid it is not be a god which I think most people can manage. Even in the situation where it can be applied, the enemy can avoid the octodirectional energy splitting.
Kannonbiraki Benihime Aratame – Versatility: Strong, can restructure anything it touches including living beings and the environment. Can be used to heal, for battlefield control or to restructure enemies into more warped forms in which they are unable to fight. Application: Decent, isn’t really directly used against an enemy but the healing and environmental usages are fun. Gains points for being suitable for Urahara, truly feeling as if it’s a last resort type ability for him. Counter Potential: Strong, user still has to rely on their swordplay to apply the ability to an enemy. I can’t imagine application would be an instant win, either, as an enemy could still potentially fight with a restructured body part.
‘A’ – The Antithesis – Versatility: Decent, what one must keep in mind about this ability is that it’s described as reversing the ‘situation’ between the user and their target and not just the ‘damage’. This means that the user could potentially use the Antithesis to swap other things like states of health and sickness, mental strains, etc. Application: Weak, is only used once to reflect damage. Despite being set up as the supposed perfect counter to Yhwach’s The Almighty, it is never actually used against him. Counter Potential: Decent, this may come as a surprise but I do think there are enough downsides to the Antithesis to make it fair. First off, it can only really be used one time as the ability is a ‘swap’. Using it a second time on the same target would result in the user taking back the negative effects they initially swapped. The user has to take a severe amount of damage for a damage swap to be effective and that damage won’t be instantly lethal as the user of the Antithesis would have had to have survived it first. Therefore, if the target has higher survivability than the user or if they have regenerative capabilities then the Antithesis becomes much less effective.
‘B’ – The Balance – Versatility: Decent, can theoretically redistribute fortune and misfortune as the user wills within its effective range. It is unknown if the altered fortunes will linger if someone leaves the area of effect, however. Application: Weak, just as the Antithesis it is only used as a means of the user reflecting damage onto their opponent. The only caveat is that the user should equally feel the misfortune, Haschwalth just supersedes that by redirecting his misfortune unto his shield. Counter Potential: Weak, the effects of the ability just happen if you’re in the area of effect. In combat, it essentially just means that the user can hurt their enemy but the enemy can’t hurt them. Can’t be avoided or worked around.
‘C’ – The Compulsory – Versatility: Strong, primarily used to control the body parts of living targets the nerves of the Compulsory enter. This can theoretically be used to control those body parts however the user pleases. Can also be used to control whatever terrain the nerves have been spread into. Application: Strong, creates a very interesting battlefield scenario and the use of nerves in the terrain is done well. Counter Potential: Decent, even if it reaches an enemy this isn’t an instant-win given the afflicted is quick-thinking enough to drop the afflicted body part. Can be totally avoided with close attention to the terrain, demonstrated by Mayuri who is presumably one of the slower captains. Primary issue is that it pretty much completely locks out melee fighters.
‘D’ – The Deathdealing – Versatility: Decent, can make just about anything lethal to an enemy just through the user consuming it and can make them immune to an enemy’s assault if they’re able to survive their attacks. Application: Weak, the rules of the Deathdealing seem to change as the arc goes on and the ability is overall just a bit confusing. Counter Potential: Weak, you either one-shot the user or you lose. If the user consumes enough of something to apply its lethal dosage then that just happens, there’s no avoiding it. Vollstandig makes the issue with his durability even worse. I think this ability is better in theory than in application.
‘E’ – The Explode – Versatility: Strong, can turn anything into a bomb, therefore making anything the ability touches a weapon. Essentially makes the battlefield an elaborate minefield, forcing the opponent to stay on the move while also keeping in mind what has already been turned into a bomb. Application: Decent, its potential interactions with the environment aren’t used as well as they could but some interesting reactions and counters to this ability are made. Counter Potential: Decent, it’s difficult to fully avoid the effects and the initial usage of the ability can come as a surprise but it doesn’t seem to have the strength to instantly eradicate a target who is on a comparable level to the user. Can be worked around and, as previously stated, interesting counters were devised due to the reishi-based nature of the ability.
‘F’ – The Fear – Versatility: Decent, creates a similar battlefield control situation as the Explode. Application: Decent, the extent of its versatility is suitably demonstrated. Counter Potential: Weak, while it can be avoided I have to dock a lot of points for this being near enough an instant-win ability. Even if the afflicted isn’t outright feeling the fear effect, it can still prevent their body from moving. Rukia was only able to resist it thanks to the specific way her true Shikai ability worked. The Vollstandig version of the Fear is even worse, being practically unavoidable and was only written in to force a scenario in which Rukia is saved by Byakuya.
‘G’ – The Glutton – Versatility: Weak, literally just stretches out the user’s mouth. Application: Weak, this ability was never demonstrated in real combat and thus we never got a chance to learn if it could actually do anything worthwhile. Counter Potential: Strong, I very much doubt any fighter worth their salt would have much trouble avoiding an extending mouth.
‘H’ – The Heat – Versatility: Strong, can be toned up or down in response to the situation the user is facing. The precise ways the Heat can be manipulated the the effects it achieves add to this. Application: Weak, though it is used in a variety of ways nothing the user does is really standout apart from the one-finger shot. Bazz-B is never put into an encounter long enough for his opponent to react to and figure out the Heat. Counter Potential: Strong, basing the usage of the ability around the pointing of fingers and raising its strength based on number of fingers used gives the enemy a sizeable tell for what’s coming.
‘I’ – The Iron – Versatility: Weak, is just a durability amp. Application: Weak, used once in a non-combat situation. Ability is redundant either way thanks to Blut, which is a more interesting ability which all Quincies have. Counter Potential: Weak, you can either cut the user or you can’t.
‘J’ – The Jail – Versatility: Weak, it seems as if keeping people trapped is its sole function. Application: Weak, it is used exactly once as Quilge is practically on his death bed solely as a plot device. Counter Potential: Seems weak as Ichigo, a character who was much stronger and faster than Quilge, was unable to break out of it and could only leave it thanks to his latent Quincy abilities being awakened.
‘L’ – The Love – Versatility: Decent with respect to this setting as he can take control of both people and Zanpakuto. Application: Weak, the most interesting part of this ability is the Zanpakuto control and that isn’t leaned into at all. The result is the fight between Byakuya and Pepe becoming a brief rehash of his encounter with Zommari, who had a very similar theme and ability. Counter Potential: Weak, you either dodge his beam or are instantly controlled. He has an obvious tell but insta-wins are bad.
‘M’ – The Miracle – Versatility: Weak, another basic power-up ability except the condition is the user getting their ass beat. Application: Decent, the narrative does a good job of making Gerard intimidating at least. Counter Potential: Weak, the only way to avoid making the user stronger is to just not fight them. Killing them is unreasonably difficult so the best counter would just be to keep them at their weakest possible state.
‘O’ – The Overkill – Versatility: Weak, is just a strength amp which requires him killing people. Potentially interesting in a drawn out war scenario but a dull ability in any relatively even fight scenario. Application: Weak, we’re just told that the user must be pretty strong because he killed like 200 Soul Reapers. Counter Potential: Weak, you just have to deal with how strong the user is whenever they decide to try and kill you.
‘P’ – The Power – Versatility: Weak, is just a strength amp. Application: Weak, Meninas doesn’t get any dedicated fight and all she’s shown doing is hitting people maybe 3-4 times. Counter Potential: Decent, as much as you’d have against anyone else using their fists.
‘S’ – The Superstar – Versatility: Strong, seems as if the user can do just about anything so long as they have the support of their fan(s). Application: Strong, while I don’t wholly agree with how Mask’s fights were handled I do think the Superstar is a hilarious ability. Furthermore, Mask is given plenty of spotlight to demonstrate just what the Superstar is capable of. Counter Potential: Decent, in theory all you have to do to counter it is kill the extremely weak fan who enables the Superstar’s potential. However, the regenerative potential of this fan is a bit excessive.
‘T’ – The Thunderbolt – Versatility: Decent, has precise control over her lightning and can even become lightning to quickly avoid attacks. Application: Weak, isn’t show off very much and comes off as just being basic lightning manipulation. Counter Potential: Strong, assuming notable Soul Reapers are capable of dodging lightning the user is forced to go in closer to them to tag them with their ability. They can’t just sit back and win from afar.
‘U’ – The Underbelly – Versatility: Weak, seems as if it achieves the singular effect of depleting a target’s reiatsu once it takes effect. If it were more general weak point scanning then I’d bump this up to decent but it seems like that’s not the case. Application: Weak, despite NaNaNa appearing multiple times in the arc he only actually uses the Underbelly once and it’s very confusing what’s actually going on. As the ability is only used once, we don’t get to see if it can be applied in other ways. Counter Potential: Decent, apparently he has to analyze a target for a certain amount of time before he can use the Underbelly to its full effectiveness.
‘V’ – The Visionary – Versatility: Strong, can create anything the user can envision. Application: Strong, Gremmy literally uses it to create an entire separate being with their own complex ability. Counter Potential: Strong, an extremely powerful ability with a large number of weaknesses to balance it out. The user has to focus on what he’s imagining, he can’t maintain effects if he isn’t focusing on them. Furthermore, he can only imagine what he’s capable of conceiving, demonstrated when Gremmy’s limit was summoning a meteor. Imagination sounds like a strong ability but brains are very limited in truth, even if you imagine something like the sun exploding you couldn’t possibly understand the scale of that. That’s why Gremmy couldn’t achieve an effect of such potency. The Visionary can also backfire if the user imagines their own defeat, making this ability a double-edged sword.
‘W’ – The Wind – Versatility: Decent, the passive bending things around isn’t very exciting but the being able to break things and cut people in half by forcing them to bend out of the way is interesting. Application: Decent, is used in multiple ways even if the user’s appearance is brief. Counter Potential: Decent, relies on the user being in melee range to apply the winding effect, presumably there are ways to slip out of a ‘being cut in half’ scenario. Damaging the user is more difficult as it can’t be done conventionally with physical weapons so the counter potential is weaker in that regard.
‘X’ – The X-Axis – Versatility: Weak, all it does is instantly penetrate everything between the beginning and end point of a shot. Can also make the user completely intangible if they want, which I think most people would. Application: Decent, Lille is shown using the ability effectively even if it’s pretty basic. Counter Potential: Weak, not much can be done about the user’s intangibility and the only way to avoid the shot component is to not let the user aim at you in the first place.
‘Y’ – The Yourself – Is a mimicry ability, depends on what the user is copying. Application is weak as the explanation for the ability seems inconsistent. The Yourself has two users in the story, one of which is supposedly able to copy powers while the other can only copy memories and personality. However, the one copying memory and personality took on Yhwach’s form and was also strong enough to beat Kenpachi. This makes me feel as if he also copied Yhwach’s power to some extent even though he apparently couldn’t do that. I guess that one was just real strong but it’s presented oddly in the story.
‘Z’ – The Zombie – Versatility: Decent, largely dependant on who the user revives but they can also use it to regenerate themselves and others. Application: Strong, pushes the Quincy domination of Soul Society by turning the dead warriors of the Gotei 13 against their former allies. Furthermore, can reanimate other dead Quincies to undo the victories Gotei 13 does achieve. This is odd though since the abilities of dead Quincies are meant to return to Yhwach. Possibly an inconsistency. Counter Potential: Strong, requires the user to get their blood on or into the target for the Zombie to take effect. This puts the user at risk if they’re accosted by a strong enough enemy without any zombies to defend them. User has to be strong enough to survive assault but weak enough to have their blood splattered on the assailant.
(Any abilities not detailed here were either not shown or too minor for me to care about.)
All in all, while many of these abilities did leave a lot to be desired, I did enjoy the overall creativity in this arc. When compared to the standard which was set in the Decisive Battle for Karakura arc, wherein many of the abilities were just Zanpakuto changing shape, there’s demonstrably far more effort put in here. Moreover, in designing so many abilities I can’t fault there for being a few misses. Even if I would have designed many of these differently, I’m glad Kubo did something interesting with them. Still sad we never got to see Hisagi, Isshin or Ichigo’s Bankai abilities, though. Ichigo’s reforged Bankai ability was supposedly alarming to even Yhwach and his broken ability, spurring him to break the Zanpakuto before it could be used. Yet, that ability is never actually shown off. Very odd.
- Mayuri & Aizen – These two are my favorite characters in this series after Yoruichi so I just want to gush about them honestly. Both of their characterizations are just super on-point in this arc and I love every moment that either of them are on-panel. For Mayuri, his fight with Pernida in particular is, I would say, one of the best fights in the entire arc. This is aided by the Compulsary being a well-designed ability which forces Mayuri to actually demonstrate his physical abilities as a captain-level fighter, something he hasn’t had to do in any previous fight. Mayuri doesn’t just win this fight with preparations he already made, Pernida is a highly adaptable opponent which forces Mayuri to think on the fly and come up with a solution mid-fight. Nemu being a significant factor of this fight and finally stepping out of Mayuri’s shadow to make her own decisions pushes the quality of this fight even further. Mayuri is challenged in a way we haven’t seen before which, in turn, allows us to see how this character handles this situation. He also uses a modified version of his Bankai in this fight which produces other modified versions of his Bankai which is honestly just peak Mayuri.
Aizen’s place in the plot is honestly hilarious, even though he’s a bastard man he makes me smile every time I see him. Despite the dominance of the Quincies throughout this arc and everything that’s done to build up Yhwach as this gargantuan threat, Aizen is still his cocky and charismatic self. When he’s first mentioned in this arc, he manages to nearly kill Yhwach just by distorting his sense of time. This, along with multiple other factors, helps to keep Aizen from being overshadowed by the new kids in town. Shunsui legitimately expects him to be able to handle Yhwach while tied to a chair. This is after Yhwach stole Yamamoto’s Bankai and killed him with no difficulty. Aizen was confident he could bring down the Soul King’s palace using his reiatsu alone. After Yhwach defeats Ichigo, he descends back down to the surface and who awaits him but Aizen, sitting there like he’s the final boss. Aizen even ends up being one of the primary reasons Yhwach loses in the end as Kyoka Suigetsu, still as broken as ever, can even distort Yhwach’s perception of the future granted to him by the Almighty. Everything about Aizen’s presence and character in this arc is fantastic and I’m glad they managed to bring him back without ruining him.
What Needs Changed
- Chojiro Sasakibe – Early on into this arc, Kubo makes an attempt to make Sasakibe seem like a really big deal. However, given his practical non-presence in the series up until this point, it’s difficult for us to really believe that. The way the narrative is set up here, Sasakibe is made out to be on the same level as Shunsui and Ukitake, having awakened and mastered his Bankai before either of them. This doesn’t even begin to track thanks to one specific scene from back in the Soul Society arc. Byakuya claims here that there are rumors Sasakibe never took part in battles but we know that to be untrue because we’ve seen him fight exactly once. During a moment when three lieutenants accosted Ichigo after he saved Rukia from her execution; those lieutenants being Isane, Omaeda and Sasakibe. All three of them got completely fodderized by Ichigo even despite him not using his Zanpakuto. This may seem like a small detail but it makes it a lot harder for us to believe that he really was worth all the fanfare here, even with his Bankai.
- Ichigo’s return to Hueco Mundo – I’ve already talked in previous amendments ad nauseam about how the Hueco Mundo arc should have been more drawn out and had more of a survival feel to it. I hold to that opinion and it would have paid dividends here when Ichigo returns to the realm of Hollows at the behest of Nel. If the proper worldbuilding had been done back then, we could have revisited areas that Ichigo would have gone to back then and seen how the Quincies have brought them totally to ruin. As the story currently is, the impact that the Quincies have on Hueco Mundo is difficult to gauge as, from what we know, Hueco Mundo is literally just a desert of unknown size and somewhere is Las Noches and the buildings surrounding it. It would give the placement and activities of the Quincies more impact here and helped to make us weirdly side with the Hollows in this moment. Also, Loly and Menoly show up again for some reason and I’ve gone over why I hate these two. They’re like joke characters but the joke is that they get abused. It’s not funny.
- The balance issue – In this arc we finally get some elaboration on how the Quincies killing Hollows actually effects the balance of souls. It’s confirmed here that there needs to be an equilibrium of souls between the material world and Soul Society. If this balance isn’t maintained then the barrier between the two will collapse and the two realms will be destroyed. Soul reapers control the equilibrium by both sending souls into the material world to become a component of new life and guiding the dead back to Soul Society. Quincies break this balance as their method of destroying Hollows destroys the souls entirely, taking them out of the cycle and therefore tipping the balance.
This isn’t very consistent with the lore we received in the Fullbring arc wherein Ginjo claimed that souls existed in all things and not just living creatures. Even if he turned out to be less than trustworthy in the end, we were never given a reason to believe that wasn’t actually the case. If this were true then it would be a lot more difficult to maintain balance as souls in non-living objects wouldn’t exactly die and we don’t know what would happen to them if the object they’re bound to is destroyed. I think Kubo realized how stupid the Fullbringer lore actually was and decided to do a soft retcon here, which is honestly a good thing.
My primary issue with this whole balance situation is that Hueco Mundo and Hell seemingly aren’t weighed into the equilibrium at all. I’m not even sure if Hell is still a part of the story since we’ve heard nothing about it since the very first arc but Hueco Mundo should at least have been mentioned. Are Hollows only a part of the balance if they’re in Soul Society or the material world? If so, then isn’t it a problem if they’re just squatting in Hueco Mundo?
Moreover, this idea that the Soul Reapers actually send souls back to the material world to maintain balance is a completely new concept. It’s never actually shown to us or expanded on at all and it’s important because it could explain what actually happened during the Rukongai incident. My assumption is that some type of reverse purification was performed, where the souls of those who disappeared were freed from their spirit bodies to be sent back to the world of the living. I assume this because, if they were eradicated just as the Hollows who were destroyed by Quincies, they’d have to kill twice as many to keep things balanced. The distinction between the two methods is important, which means this plot point should have been explained better at an earlier point.
- Hisagi & the Visored – Hisagi is little more than a joke character in this arc as he’s dominated by every single enemy he faces without much of a fight at all. The first time we see him, he gets dominated by the Quincy who stole Sasakibe’s Bankai and he needs to be saved by Yamamoto. This is not the first time Hisagi has been saved by Yamamoto, I almost have a mind to think that the Captain-Commander is playing favorites.
After the first invasion Hisagi trains with Kensei, who tells him to reveal his Bankai. Since we learn at this point that Hisagi can use a Bankai, you’d think we’d actually get to see it at some point. The fun surprise is that we don’t at all, the next time we see Hisagi after that he’s been walloped off-screen by Mask de Masculine. Kensei even berates him for going down without showing the results of his training.
That isn’t the last we see of Hisagi’s jobbing, though. He shows up later in a big group fight that I’ll talk about more further down and ends up being mind controlled by an enemy. Once again, without even using his Bankai. Kubo even demonstrates in the epilogue sequence his awareness of what he did to Hisagi in a scene where several other characters make fun of the fact that he didn’t do jack all. This character was meant to be competent, if he was written right then he could have been one of the new captains during the ending and that would have been fine.
The Visored don’t fair much better as none of them really do anything of note. Rose uses his Bankai and we learn what Kensei’s Bankai actually does but neither of their efforts amount to anything. They literally do more after they’re zombified by Mayuri than at any other time. The most annoying part of the Visored’s jobbing streak to me is the fact that most of them don’t even use their masks. The masks were made out to be such a big deal back when Ichigo was learning how to use his. They’re meant to be a significant power boost and yet these Visored don’t even use them when it matters most. It’s literally their more defining trait, what were they just too hard to draw or something?
- Byakuya – I will praise the first invasion of this arc endlessly for effectively setting the tone that this arc should have but the reveal that Byakuya survived in the aftermath does take away from it. His death, or what we assumed to be his death, meant so much with regards to showing how in control the Quincies were. It was impactful precisely because we thought we were losing one of the series’ most prevalent and popular characters. The scene was set up so well, with Byakuya casting away his pride as a captain of the Gotei 13 to leave everything to Ichigo, a mere substitute. His death would have been major for both Rukia and Renji’s arcs, giving them endlessly more personal stake in the war at hand. The first invasion saw the Quincies get vengeance against the Gotei 13 from 1,000 years ago by killing Yamamoto. That vengeance would breed vengeance as Rukia and Renji would bring the war to the new generation. For Rukia, it would be a case of proving the strength and pride of the Kuchiki name. For Renji, the chance of ever proving that he could surpass Byakuya has been taken away, so he would aim to defeat the ones who killed him instead.
No, instead of adding all of that to the plot, he lives because he’s popular. He doesn’t even add anything to the story after the first invasion. Kubo literally writes in a cheap ability so that Rukia has to be saved by her big brother and he does nothing else of note. He beats some other Sternritter but that could have been done by any other character, one who gets otherwise shafted for the whole arc like Hisagi. His survival is nothing but detrimental to the plot and I can’t forgive who made that decision.
- Ichigo having every power – I’m going to kick off this point by confirming that I do agree with the opinion that Ichigo having every type of power is a bad thing. I do not, however, think the Quincy aspect of him is the problem. If my Fullbring arc amendment was no implication then allow me to reiterate; Ichigo should not have gained Fullbring powers. That arc should have been focused around other characters. His having those powers and being the focus there just took away from what could have been some much needed spotlight for, let’s say Chad, who had been shafted a lot up until that point. Having Quincy powers is a great way to transition into more interesting lore regarding his mother, so it relatively has much more value to him than what the Fullbring offers.
- The stolen Bankai fights – Before I get into the fights themselves, I want to note how it feels inconsistent how a Bankai being stolen effects the Zanpakuto. Well, maybe not inconsistent but certainly odd. When the Bankais are first stolen, we see Hitsugaya attempt to talk to Hyorinmaru to no avail. This suggests that the Zanpakuto spirit has been taken along with the Bankai, however the Zanpakuto can still be used in their Shikai states. What this would mean is that Zanpakuto are not reliant on their spirits to achieve Shikai, which feels odd to me. It doesn’t really add up when we consider Yumichika and his Zanpakuto spirit as it can prevent him from fully using its Shikai ability if he calls it by the wrong name. Honestly, just the whole idea of one particular stage of the Zanpakuto being stolen is a weird concept. I would have understood if the explanation was that a Zanpakuto spirit could only be stolen if its true power was being unsealed from the blade but the fact that it only steals that latter release is so strange. Not completely narrative ruining but definitely something worth noting.
As Hitsugaya and Soifon return to the field unable to use their Bankai abilities, I think both of their fights begin very well. Hitsugaya’s encounter with Bazz-B is particularly notable as he is a character who has demonstrably relied on his Bankai a lot throughout the series so seeing him fight without it is very interesting. It spurs him to use his Shikai in creative ways as well as rely on the support of Matsumoto to help him get the upper hand over his opponent. The solidarity of the Gotei 13 is a great strength they have over the Quincies, who we’ve seen to be rather uncooperative with each other. Limitation is a good thing when writing fight scenes as it spurs creativity from both the characters and the writers.
Soifon’s rematch with BG9 is more odd as, when compared to Hitsugaya, she is far less reliant on her Bankai. She made it very clear during her fight with Barragan that she doesn’t like to use it so her thanking BG9 for stealing it so she could put her focus into training shunko doesn’t really add up. I personally would think she’d prioritize training shunko either way but I can forgive this detail because seeing shunko again is very hype.
The problem is that these fights don’t actually end up amounting to anything. Despite the workarounds these characters make use of without access to their Bankai abilities, they end up getting dominated anyways after just initially surprising their Quincy opponents. I didn’t expect victory to come easily to them, especially not after the dominant performance of the Quincies during the first invasion, but this just feels like something was set up and not actually followed through on. Like the effort that these two characters put into finding a way around this situation was just utterly wasted.
Urahara pops in with the solution to the stolen Bankai problem and that becomes the turning point the Hitsugaya and Soifon’s fights. I would have much preferred if this came a bit later into the second invasion, after Komamura came face-to-face with Bambietta again at least. Between Hitsugaya, Soifon and Komamura, if at least two of them managed to win their fights before the Bankai solution arrived then I think that would have been perfect. Soifon should absolutely be able to beat BG9, her fight ended up being the most odd of all as BG9 showed that he could easily keep up with her shunko but was unable to dodge a raw shot from Jakuho Raikoben. He also never got the chance to show off his lettered ability, which makes this encounter all the more strange.
If one of the three are to lose their fights then I would make Hitsugaya the one to go down. His initial opponent is Bazz-B, who among the Quincies feels like one of their more plot important members. I talked about why the theme of Komamura’s fight is good as is in my ability analysis so he and Soifon have more business winning either way. The only silver lining to these encounters is a single panel where we get to see a Hollowfied version of Hitsugaya’s Bankai, which is a real cool image. I wish Kubo would have made use of that aesthetic more.
- Yachiru – After Kenpachi’s fight with Gremmy comes to an end, it’s implied that Yachiru has actually been Kenpachi’s Zanpakuto spirit the whole time. This is an inconsistency within this arc as, after Kenpachi defeated Unohana, he immediately heard the voice of his Zanpakuto. It’s left unclear whether she was just a fragment of the Zanpakuto spirit which somehow managed to get separated and manifest on its own or if something else is going on. Considering this is the big twist for this character, you think it’d get explained just a little bit more.
- Yhwach & the Almighty – Yhwach as a character perfectly reflects this arc as a whole; begins strong but just peters out as the arc goes on. The first piece of Yhwach’s backstory that we learn details how he was a messed up healing baby who had the ability to distribute parts of his soul into whoever he touched. Those who took on those parts would be physically and mentally healed at the cost of a much shorter lifespan. When they died, their soul would return to baby Yhwach, gradually making him less messed up. Then, when he no longer had the form of an obsidian construct, he took on the name of his people’s god.
The Quincies are people who have parts of Yhwach’s soul inside of them, except now instead of being healed he grants them Quincy powers. These powers can be made more potent through his etching of a letter into their soul. This is solid lore, no problems so far, definitely leaps and bounds better than the Fullbringer lore. This backstory also adds a cool dynamic to the story as the pieces of soul and powers he has granted to the Quincies will return to him upon their deaths. This means that for every victory the Soul Reapers attain, they will only be making the final encounter with Yhwach even more difficult. Every single crazy and broken power will return to him, a man who can utilize them all at once. This makes every single battle in the arc a means of building up Yhwach further, which is a great way to set him up as the big intimidating final boss.
My biggest issue with Yhwach lies with how he is as a character. My concerns arose when he seemed to flip-flop between being ruthless with his subordinates and genuinely caring about them. His dialogue and actions don’t really make him stand out and once we get to his interactions with Ichigo he begins to feel like a rehash of Aizen. He straight up talks about how everything Ichigo has done has been for his benefit, it’s almost a 1:1 of when Aizen revealed that he’d been controlling Ichigo’s life the whole time. The only difference is that Aizen’s reveal had far more build-up and justification whereas Yhwach is just taking credit after the fact.
Furthermore, we never really get any exploration of his motive for wanting to destroy the Soul King and destroy the world/create a new one. My assumption would be that, due to the Almighty, Yhwach has already seen all of the paths this world can take and wants to create a new one which he cannot predict. As the son of the Soul King, he wants to destroy his father as he was the one who granted him the accursed ability in the first place. However, this wouldn’t add up as an interaction between Ishida and Haschwalth implied that the Almighty did have blind spots. This is further supported by Kyoka Suigetsu being able to influence it as well as Yhwach not seeing Ishida coming when he shot Soken’s arrow.
The thousand-year blood was was meant to have started because the Quincies were disrupting the balance in using their abilities to destroy Hollows. In a war, both sides are meant to be justified, and the Quincies would be if they were using their abilities to defend themselves or others from the unseen threat Hollows present. Their actions, however, would result in the eventual destruction of both worlds due to their tipping of the balance. This was meant to be the basis of the war and I feel like the upping of scale to killing the Soul King and making a new world doesn’t really connect with what the war was meant to be at its core.
In the final battle, Yhwach speaks to Ichigo about a world where there is no barrier between life and death and therefore there would presumably be no barrier or balance to maintain. This would certainly resolve the issue which began the war but this speech is just shoved in at the very end, as if it’s an afterthought. The primary villain’s entire motive should not be an afterthought, the result is Yhwach feeling very weak as a character with not enough focus being put into solidifying why he was doing what he was doing.
Going back to the Almighty, this ability feels extremely inconsistent in what it does. It’s first used when Yhwach fights Ichibe to nullify his opponent’s renaming ability through seeing it in the future and ‘understanding’ it. The exact reasoning for why Yhwach is able to null the ability is vague and never comes up in any of his other fights. When he wants to prevent Ichigo from using his Bankai ability he doesn’t do this, instead he breaks Ichigo’s Zanpakuto before he can use the ability at all. Later on it’s explained that Yhwach can see every possible future and create new ones? This, again, is left rather vague. My original assumption with the Almighty was that it allowed Yhwach to choose which future happens of all the possibilities but it seems more that he can preemptively effect the future and make new ones come to pass by doing things in the future before they actually occur. Yeah, it’s confusing!
On top of this, the Almighty is hinted to have a weakness which is never actually found out or exposed. The only explanation is that Haschwalth’s version of the Almighty is less refined which is just really unsatisfying. The goalposts for this ability seem to shift to let it be able to do what it has to in the moment. The details and limitations of this ability are blurred and because of that I have to say that it’s perhaps the worst written ability in the arc. Yes, even moreso than the Glutton.
- Giselle Gewelle – You’d think having a trans character in your story would make for good representation but boy is this not the way to do it. The problems with Giselle arise when Yumichika, the character who no one should respect, calls her a guy because she apparently ‘smells like semen’. Giselle gets understandably upset at being misgendered but from that point in the story onward it’s as if Kubo tries to justify Yumichika’s perception of her. It’s like this character is framed to make out that trans people are just perverts and that’s unbelievably gross. Even if she’s a villain, this is not how to present a trans character in your story when trans people have so little decent representation.
- Renji, Rukia, Byakuya, Hisagi, Yumichika and Ikkaku vs Candice, Gigi, Meninas, Liltotto, Bazz-B, Pepe, NaNaNa and Robert – This is the type of fight which would have been infinitely easier to do in writing rather than through the medium of manga. Just imagining trying to draw and physically choreograph a battle between this many characters brings me an essence of suffering. I can’t overlook the fact that this fight had so much potential to be a great group vs group fight though, something we haven’t seen in Bleach up until this point. It would have made the fight unique and given both the Sternritter and the jobber Soul Reapers a chance to have the spotlight. Rukia and Renji could have gotten second fights, Hisagi could have had the chance to not job and Yumichika and Ikkaku could die.
Instead, Byakuya off-screens most of the Sternritter here while Hisagi gets mind controlled, Yumichika and Ikkaku stand around doing nothing to Gigi before getting blasted by a reanimated Bambietta and Rukia and Renji do nothing period. The most actual fighting we get to see if Byakuya dealing with Pepe, which isn’t even a great fight. So much is being underutilized here, NaNaNa and Robert especially. NaNaNa is perhaps the most weirdly used Sternritter in the arc as his first appearance has him facing off against Rose, then next we see him he jumps Yamamoto after apparently just abandoning his previous fight and almost dies, then in the second invasion we see him analyzing a sleeping Renji as if that’s a fight that’s going to happen but it doesn’t. Then he gets off-screened by Byakuya here only to come back later to hit Aizen with his ability to not avail before getting blasted by Bazz-B, killing him instantly. It’s such a wild ride, guessing if this character will end up mattering or not. The answer is no!
Robert, on the other hand, is made out to be one of the elder Sternritter who is closest to Yhwach. He’s the one who takes out Shunsui’s eye in the first invasion and that alone tells us that he’s not exactly fodder. Except, in the end, he doesn’t have any real on-screen fights and, along with BG9, is one of the two Sternritter to never have his letter ability revealed. Both he and NaNaNa, along with all the other Sternritter here, would be so much more memorable as part of a big grand group fight which happens on-screen but we got what we got, Byakuya solving everything when he shouldn’t even be there.
- Squad 0 vs the Schutzstaffel & Yhwach – Yhwach and his elite guard reach the Soul King’s palace and are immediately met with a member of Squad 0; Senjumaru. As the only member of Squad 0 who we didn’t get to see during Ichigo and Renji’s training, this initial encounter is a moment for her to take the spotlight. She easily dispatches one of the Sternritter who Yhwach brought with him, establishing that, as expected, regular Sternritter aren’t on their level. In a way, this encounter mirrors the one between Yhwach and Yamamoto during the first invasion as, after the visage of Senjumaru is killed, she reveals that it was merely a visage. This comparison further helps to build the image of Squad 0 as they stand to prevent Yhwach from progressing any further to the Soul King.
Yhwach’s elites, the Schutzstaffel, step forward and, with the best of both sides on the field, this battle is certain to be a spectacle, right? Well, no, not at all. Nimaiya practically solos the Schutzstaffel which spurs Yhwach to absorb the abilities of the Quincies still fighting below and use that power to revive his elite warriors, apparently stronger than before. This doesn’t make a lick of sense as we find out later that three of the Schutzstaffel have regenerative capabilities so they should have easily survived Nimaiya’s assault anyways. Especially Gerard, whose entire ability is centred around getting cut down. The only one who could have actually died is Askin and yet he’s the one who lasts the longest somehow.
Yhwach’s deus ex machina rejuvenation gives Lille enough power to solo Squad 0, just as Nimaiya had soloed them. This is such a disappointment, even if Squad 0 is to lose here they should have at least put up a fight. There was no much potential, especially in Nimaiya who had access to an unknowable number of Zanpakuto and abilities. I wanted to see some Unlimited Blade Works shit with Shikai and Bankai abilities flying out everywhere, it would have been hype. We don’t get to see any of what Squad 0 is actually capable of and that’s just so underwhelming given how much they were touted as being greater than the combined forces of the entire Gotei 13.
- The Soul King – The Soul King, for all of the importance he apparently holds to the Soul Society, is not a character. He’s just some mostly featureless guy inside of a crystal whose function is to be stabbed and trigger the end of all things. Again, this is extremely anticlimactic, you would have thought that the single most important figure in perhaps the whole series would have any character traits. An interaction between him and Yhwach, who is apparently his son, could maybe have been interesting, no? Guess not.
- Build-up to the Schutzstaffel fights – After the rapid downfall of Squad 0, the pacing of this arc tanks in the build-up to the fights with the Schutzstaffel. It’s like the plot just hits a brick wall while all the pieces slowly get in place for the final battle. The most exciting thing to happen is Aizen getting out of his imprisonment. Even Grimmjow and Neliel showing up doesn’t save this massive slow down. I get that this is meant to be a breather before the run-up to the final battle but it’s so hard to get through when the wind has already been taken out of the sails.
- Yoruichi vs Askin – I’ve already talked about why the Deathdealing is a less than stellar ability but I’ll reiterate it here just so everyone’s clear. An ability which lets Askin become immune to the things he’s exposed to is interesting in theory but in practice it just means there’s an arbitrary and immeasurable amount of force he has to be hit by for him to die. Beating him doesn’t come down to the use of an interesting technique or anything like that, he just has to be hit harder. Yoruichi’s initial thunder god shunko ability is extraordinarily hype but it doesn’t make her strong enough to reach this arbitrary amount of force. Thankfully, it turns out she has a form past that one! One that is so powerful, in fact, that she loses her normal comprehension as an intelligent person!
Now, I don’t have issues with rage states in general, I typed a lot about how much I liked Ichigo’s full-Hollow transformation in his fight against Ulquiorra. This one had the potential to be good as well, if tricks couldn’t get past Askin’s durability then there’s no need for intelligence. In this situation, it only makes sense to give it up for reckless power. It’s a risk, trusting yourself to deal that decisive blow in a berserk state, but it’s the only way of winning. The nature of her reiatsu altering with her mood is a nice touch as well, it makes the form feel unique.
My problem with it is the garbage about how Urahara is the only one who can control her in that form. It’s at that point when it just becomes disgusting and dehumanizing. I would forgive it if it were something like ‘his brain is the only one which works fast enough to be able to react to her changes in mood’ but the aspects of being able to control her and interact with her like she’s a regular cat grosses me out. Yoruichi, up until this point, has been one of the most powerful and independent female characters in the series. Doing this to her is just spitting on all of that and I honestly find it insulting to the character.
- The rushed final battle & epilogue – Ichigo’s second confrontation with Yhwach ends with the Quincy king absorbing his Quincy and Hollow powers. I want to mention this before getting into the final battle because it doesn’t make sense at all. First off, you’d think that absorbing Ichigo’s Hollow abilities would end badly for Yhwach since we learned earlier in the arc that Hollows are the antithesis to Quincies but I guess Yhwach gets a pass for being very important. Second, Ichigo’s Soul Reaper powers were tied to his Hollow and Quincy abilities, his Zanpakuto spirits were literally the manifestations of his Hollow and Quincy abilities. If he lost both of those then why does he retain his Soul Reaper abilities? At best he should be at Fullbringer at this point but those were fused into his Soul Reaper abilities as well if I recall correctly. So, before the actual final battle, things are already not making sense.
Tsukishima shows up alongside Ginjo and uses Book of the End in a way that I’m pretty sure doesn’t line up with how it worked in the Fullbring arc. He uses it to alter the past in a way which made Ichigo’s broken Zanpakuto not broken which I don’t think tracks but we’ll just accept it for now. Ginjo says that this repays their debt to Ichigo even though he himself does absolutely nothing and Giriko, who was shown in an earlier panel along with Ginjo, Tsukishima and Ganju, doesn’t bother to appear at all.
The final battle isn’t even all that noteworthy. Yhwach uses his favorite technique of choosing futures where the weapons of his would-be foes are already broken which culminates in a moment where he thinks he’s broken Ichigo’s Bankai again but nope. Aizen is still the best and Kyoka Suigetsu, a Shikai ability, works against the Almighty. Ichigo bisects Yhwach but we’ve seen several Quincies regenerate from worse so obviously that isn’t the end. Ishida shows up to shoot precisely one plot arrow which Yhwach doesn’t see coming for some reason, giving Ichigo the opportunity to bisect him again, because it worked so well the first time. Turns out two is the magic number because this time is actually does kill Yhwach.
Notably, Yhwach doesn’t use any of the Sternritter abilities that he reclaimed, thus pretty much negating the dynamic of him ramping in power as the Soul Reapers attain their small victories. He doesn’t use Zanka no Tachi either even though he went out of his way to steal it. The fight was just too short for us to see Yhwach use his full potential, it could have been so interesting to see the protagonists work around his myriad of abilities but no.
The abrupt-feeling ending of this series is something many fans are aware of and, after rereading it myself, it certainly does feel rushed. I’ve already mentioned some reasons as to why, such as Ishida’s Antithesis ability being claimed as the perfect counter to Yhwach’s Almighty and yet it’s never used against him. We never get to see the fates of Urahara, Yoruichi and Grimmjow, Nel never got to fight at all and the Fullbringers felt like an afterthought who only got put in because they were already teased. We never find out if Halibel was ever freed from her captured state or where her Fraccion went. They might have been absorbed by Quilge but I don’t believe that was made very clear in the panels. We don’t know if Lille was properly dealt with or what happened to Meninas and Candice, because they sure never got confirmed dead. Instead of that, we get a couple of generic ass final chapters where the main characters are married and have children now!
Something which really annoys me about the ending are the captains which have replaced the ones who died. Tetsuzaemon Iba replaces Komamura even though I’m fairly certain we never got see him in any real fights at all. Lisa takes Shunsui’s old position now that he’s Captain-Commander, even though she wasn’t even a part of the Gotei 13 at the time of Yhwach’s defeat nor was she a major player in the war. Isane replaces Unohana which tracks since she’s presumably the most capable healer left but she felt like such an add-on to her old captain that this isn’t really satisfying either. The only new captain who’s fully justified in their position is Rukia and even she only got one proper fight. In the end, the final battle was short and not at all sweet and the outro we got left us with too many questions left unanswered.
Right off the bat I’m going to say that I would keep the first half of this arc pretty much entirely the same. The most major difference would be that I would have Byakuya actually die for the reasons I already gave above. It would do a lot of good not only for Ichigo, who was entrusted with his will, but Rukia and Renji as well. Keeping him around adds no value to the story, if there’s a place for spice it’s here. There are also some smaller details I would touch on such as maybe making Quilge use the Jail more during his fight with Ichigo with our protagonist becoming progressively more and more able to push through it. Also have Renji not just be told the true name of his Bankai and hey, while we’re up at the Soul King’s palace show us some of Rukia’s training. Maybe give her a scene with Sentomaru, we never even learned what her big invention was.
Sasakibe is a character who would need to have been touched on more prior to this arc. His death and the significance of it come too early on for him to be fully fleshed out here. The one certain detail I could give would be writing out the moment when he gets demolished by Ichigo. Can’t have rumors that a character never fights if he’s been in a fight with the main character. Well, that’s if you can call the exchange between them a fight. Similarly, my gripe with Hueco Mundo is a problem which should have been solved back during the Hueco Mundo arc. Read my amendment of that arc for more details.
The balance issue is another thing which most likely would have to have been touched on in a previous arc. Maybe even as far back as the Soul Society arc, if the lore is that Soul Reapers send souls back to the material realm as well as guiding them from it then we should see that at some point. It also needs to be clear how Hueco Mundo weighs into this idea of balance. Hell, too, if it’s still a thing.
Hisagi and the Visored really need at least one chance to shine throughout this arc. Hisagi was heavily implied during the Soul Society arc to be the most competent of all the lieutenants and he made a reasonably good argument for that during the Battle for Karakura when he beat a supposedly captain-level Arrancar and dealt the finishing blow to a powered-up Tosen. His taking on his captain’s duties and having the potential to take the position himself could have made him one of the more interesting characters in the series and his performance here could have easily led into him taking one of the open slots. That is, if he didn’t just job every time. His initial loss to Driscoll I can forgive but his subsequent two losses is a bit much. He should have at least performed somewhat during the 6v8 group fight.
Hitsugaya and Matsumoto vs Bazz-B actually gave me a lot of unwarranted hope for how the fights in the second invasion were going to be. I thought there was going to be a lot more teaming up on the side of the Soul Society and that’s how they would overcome the 1,000 years of preparation the Quincies had. I should have known this was a false hope the moment Shinji got immediately dumpstered by Bambietta. There’s plenty of room to have the Visored be in involved in fights without just making them sandbags on which the abilities of the Sternritter are used as an example. Renji could have beaten Mask with the help of Kensei and Rose. In fact, Kensei and Rose could have found a way to win on their own while Renji had an actual fight with NaNaNa and then with the seven others in the later group fight. There’s plenty of Quincies to fight if you don’t axe them off-screen or make the bold move of not using them at all. Looking at you, Robert.
I already essentially went over what I want out of the stolen Bankai fights. Soifon should have been able to make due without in a longer fight in which BG9 actually uses whatever his K ability is. Komamura should have fought for at least some time without his Bankai, it would have been cool if Bambietta used the armored version only for the plating to fall off and reveal the new version once it returned to its true owner. Hitsugaya and Matsumoto could have put up a better fight, maybe beating Cang Du without the young captain’s Bankai but ultimately going down. The Bankai-stealing medallions add a lot of pressure to fights and I think they could have continued to be relevant throughout the arc.
Yachiru being Kenpachi’s Zanpakuto spirit should have been made way more clear. It’s very confusing when you have Kenpachi hear his Zanpakuto’s voice before he meets back up with Yachiru to then imply that Yachiru is also his Zanpakuto. It should be one or the other, chief, it’s just easier to read that way. If you don’t want to be blatant about it then do add a subtle touch like giving Kenpachi’s Shikai the ability of Sanpo Kenju on top of it’s cut good power.
First and foremost regarding Gigi, she should murder Yumichika for being a transphobe and he should not be brought back. This is the second time that character has been used in this type of way and that’s two too many. Then, maybe make her not a gross misrepresentation of trans people? It’s not a problem in itself that she’s a villain, just make her not a weird pervert.
For Squad 0 vs the Schutzstaffel, I want to reiterate that they don’t have to win this fight. A character can lose a fight while still proving that they’re strong, it just takes a good fight to make that happen. The current version of the encounter between Squad 0 and the Schutzstaffel is not what I would call a ‘good fight’. I said it already, it would have been so cool if Nimaiya pulled out some Zanpakauto Unlimited Blade Works nonsense and there’s a lot of potential in the other squad members as well. Just let them show their stuff before you kill them off, that’s all I ask for. If this fight were cool then the build-up to the following Schutzstaffel fights would be less of a slog as well. We would be excited to see these Quincies who were powerful enough to take on Squad 0 in such a full on battle, all we need is for Squad 0 to be impressive this one time.
Don’t dehumanize Yoruichi thanks. She’s the best character in this franchise and deserves better. Also, get more Soul Reapers involved in the Gerard raid boss instead of letting only Byakuya, Kenpachi and Hitsugaya be relevant. Byakuya shouldn’t be there and Hitsugaya’s adult transformation is dumb as all hell. I’m going to go on record as saying that any power-up which involves a young-looking character temporarily ageing up sucks. The Visored even show up in this fight but they don’t do anything. If Lisa’s going to become a captain post-timeskip then why not have her, y’know, be a major factor in this one fight she participates in?
I’m going to make the bold claim here that Ishida should, at some point, truly consider going to the side of Yhwach. It’s pretty clear in the current version of the story that he’s only there to try and get close to the king and learn more about him before turning on him but I don’t think Ishida’s situation should be that simple. This is a boy who’s based his entire life and character around his Quincy legacy, only to find out that it’s coated in spite and madness. Finding out the truth of that legacy should spur some internal conflict at least, even if it does ultimately resolve with him turning against Yhwach. This would help to sell the idea that he might actually be on the side of the Quincies, which could lead to some good spice.
The build-up to Yhwach is fine and I have absolutely no issues with the backstory that’s presented. I think a lot of the problem with this character stems from the fact that Kubo tries to keep him distant, vaguely above everyone else. This limits the ways in which he actually interacts with other characters so we can’t get a solid read on what he’s really like. It’s kind of a similar issue to the one I had with the Espada, compared to the Soul Reapers they got very little time to be built upon and fleshed out as characters. If we could have seen more Yhwach recruiting and training his Sternritter, connecting with them in some way and giving them reason to hail and follow him as this great king for reasons other than just ‘powerful’ then he would have been a lot better. This would have helped us to connect with and understand the various Sternritter as well instead of trying to figure out their backstories from one panel flashbacks when they die.
Honestly, something I’m surprised we never got to see is the life the Quincies had in the shadows. If they were actually capable of moving around and interacting with each other and such for those 1,000 years. I would assume so since they apparently built their castle in the shadows but it’s left unclear. It would also be great if any time at all was spent on why Yhwach wants to go to the extreme of killing the Soul King. I like the concept of him despising his Almighty ability and wanting to be able to experience a world through normal eyes instead of constantly having his mind assailed by every future there could possibly be. It’s gotta be stressful having that many thoughts and images in your head at once. The added benefit of a new world where there is no balance to war over is a further justification to this plight. Maybe he could actually discuss some of this with the Soul King instead of dear ol’ dad just being stuck in some weird crystal.
Saying that, I do think that the Almighty being able to see every possible future is fine in itself. It’s everything else it can sometimes do that’s a problem. Being able to see every future and choosing which happens is simple enough, it’s powerful and I can understand it. Making new futures and inserting things into the future before it happens and nullifying abilities by seeing them in the future is all just too much. Take away that aspect and instead have him actually utilize the other Sternritter abilities as a core part of his power. Take the Ichibe situation for example, he gets effectively turned into a black ant but uses ‘V’ – the Visionary to imagine black ants as being more powerful than any Soul Reaper. Then have him use the Almighty choose an unlikely future where he manages to avoid all of Ichibe’s darkness and close in for a decisive blow. Perhaps he could use ‘W’ – the Wind to twist the darkness around him while telling Ichibe that he can thank his Squad 0 ally for returning that ability to him. It’d be better than the weirdness that’s going on in the current version.
As for proposed weaknesses, I would consider giving the Almighty a refresh time before it can show Yhwach the new futures which have been formed. Not a long amount of time, let’s say five seconds, Yhwach can see every possible future but if those possibilities change within the next five seconds he can’t account for them with the Almighty. It would make sense, imagining that Yhwach can constantly be perceiving every possible future while also focusing simultaneously on the events of the current is kinda ridiculous. Putting a cap on how frequently he can perceive the countless futures makes sense to me and it does provide some type of opening in the ability.
Ishida vs Haschwalth is a fight which I would most certainly handle a lot differently. I fully believe that this should be the fight where the weakness of the Almighty is exposed, while it’s being used by one who is less experienced in its usage. Perhaps Chad and Ganju could lend a hand here so that they can be relevant instead of being left to deal with some fodder statues. The combination of Chad being a straightforward fighter, Ishida having a more measured approach and Ganju being totally unpredictable would allow them to attack in a variety of ways in an attempt to expose the Almighty’s weakness. Meanwhile, Ichigo and Orihime would reach Yhwach while he’s still sleeping. Ichigo would attempt to run him through and that’s when the Balance’s ability would be revealed, reflecting the stab wound back at Ichigo while Yhwach’s misfortune is redirected to a shield at his side. Shortly after Yhwach would awaken while Orihime heals Ichigo’s wound and the abilities would swap. At that point, the group fighting Haschwalth should have found the opening in the Almighty and the dynamic of that fight becomes Haschwalth preventing them from moving on to relay that information to Ichigo with the impregnable shield of the Balance.
Ichigo and Orihime vs Yhwach would play out up until he sees a future where Ichigo activates his Bankai. Before that happens, he would break our protag’s Zanpakuto and snap off his Hollow horn. At that point, having seen the potential threat Ichigo’s Bankai poses, Yhwach decides to end the fight by absorbing Ichigo’s Quincy powers. Not his Hollow powers, just his Quincy powers. His Zanpakuto broken a second time and the spirit of old man Zangetsu ripped from him, Ichigo falls into despair as Yhwach returns to the surface of Soul Society with the intent of taking everything in one last time before he shapes his new world.
While Yhwach faces off against Aizen, every other fighter who can still move gathers up by Yhwach’s portal. They say nothing to Ichigo as it is not their duty to support him, it is their duty to end this war. They have no time for a warrior with such weak resolve. Without hesitation, each step through the portal with the intent of fighting Yhwach to their last. They take him on in waves in a sequence battle where Yhwach demonstrates his mastery of every Sternritter ability. The efforts of his enemies useless as he regenerates using the Balance, the Miracle, the Deathdealing and even the Superstar. I want to see James on the sidelines cheering for Yhwach, it would be hilarious. They keep fighting regardless of the outcome seeming hopeless as Ichigo’s will to fight begins to burn again. He smiles as he thinks on his stupid he is that he forgot already, he and his Zanpakuto are one, therefore it can only truly break if he does. With a swirl of Mugetsu-like energy, his Zanpakuto is restored and he steps onto the field.
The only ones left capable of fighting are himself, Ishida and Aizen. Ishida, waiting for the perfect moment to release his grandfather’s arrow. Aizen, worn down having been part of this fight from the start but still maintaining his immortal smile. Ichigo, ready to use the true ability of his Zanpakuto. The ability to ‘fuse’, the power which allowed him to merge his Soul Reaper, Hollow and Quincy abilities into a greater whole. Yhwach feared this ability as it holds the potential to fuse the futures seen by the Almighty into one, one where he faces his defeat. Between the pressure of Ichigo’s blade, Ishida’s Antithesis and Aizen’s Kyoka Suigetsu, Yhwach is pushed into a losing scenario. Ishida finally lands the decisive arrow and an opening is made for the final blow to be dealt but, in that moment, Ichigo doesn’t slash.
Instead, he speaks to Yhwach. He asks if the Quincy king can see any futures where they don’t fight and kill each other. There should certainly be, if Ichigo can be fighting alongside Aizen in that moment then it would be odd if there weren’t. Yhwach remains silent. Ichigo continues, reminding Yhwach that he’s the living example of the fact that Quincies and Soul Reapers don’t have to be apart. The power of his Zanpakuto is the result of those powers merging into a greater whole. He wonders, what would happen if he killed a Hollow using a Zanpakuto infused with Quincy powers? I would imagine, since it’s a Zanpakuto, that it would send the Hollow to its proper place just as any other world.
The whole basis of the blood war was founded on this idea of disturbing the balance but the solution to that is stood right there, starting Yhwach in the face. If he continues to fight at this point then it’s gone beyond a feud, it would be little more than selfishness, the selfishness of a man unfit to rule a new world. At this point I imagine he could have one of two reactions; either he’s too far gone and attempts to attack Ichigo only for the absorbed spirit of old man Zangetsu to manifest and hold him in place long enough for Ichigo to deal the final blow or he does actually feel repentance.
Remembering those who have died for his cause, those he sacrificed for this mad goal of making a new world, he comes to understand his failure as a king. He admits that there is no future where he survives as he deserves no such mercy, he has done too much to be redeemed. He grabs the blade of Zangetsu and plunges it into himself, allowing the Quincy powers he took from Ichigo to fuse back into the blade. Either way, the Quincy king meets his end and the war is finally over.
As for the epilogue, I don’t really care for the boring ‘everyone is married and has kids’ garbage so I would focus things more around confirming who’s still alive and how the rebuilding effort of Soul Society is going. I want to know if the group who fought Askin is ok (they should be) and I want to get closure on Halibel’s situation (she’s probably fine). Iba should not be a captain. Isane can be a captain, Lisa can be a captain with some work, Rukia can definitely be a captain but Iba has absolutely no justification. Also, since Byakuya’s dead, Renji would take his position, that’s easy enough. If Hisagi was actually written properly then he would be a much better captain candidate instead of Iba. He had a connection with Komamura thanks to their mutual relationship with Tosen so I wouldn’t say that’s too much of a jump for him to take that vacancy. Maybe instead of the whole kids thing we could fill out the rest of the epilogue with the whole ‘who’s going to replace the Soul King’ debacle. That’s kinda important, seeing as the world was ending when he was first killed. Hope that doesn’t happen again.
Bleach has been a series with an inordinate number of ups and downs and I can say that I think it ended on a far better note than it could have. A good chunk of this arc was written really well, I’d argue that that the first half really captures what Kubo was going for when he wanted to make things more about the fights. Certainly, it did a lot better in that regard than the Arrancar arc and most of the Hueco Mundo arc. I definitely feel like a lot more effort and creativity was squeezed into this arc than those which came before it. I guess Kubo just made bullshit as he went along for the Fullbring arc so he could use all of his good ideas here.
It’s a shame that the quality of this arc came in the form of a slow decline. I feel a lot of the issues here could have been solved with smarter fight match-ups and less major off-screen bouts. Byakuya being alive really was such a major problem as he essentially just existed to steal away the chances other characters might have to look competent. He didn’t even use any new techniques or get challenged in interesting ways like Mayuri did, he was just kinda there as a waste of narrative space. Then there’s obviously things like the transphobia which is never a good look for any writer.
The most key things which brought the final leg of this arc to its low point were the lack of character development for Yhwach and the disappointment that was Squad 0. I feel as if the Soul King’s Royal Guard had everything going for them up until the moment when they just got abruptly shot and taken out of the story. How are they gonna claim to be stronger than the combined forces of the Gotei 13 when they perform about as well as the lieutenants? Yhwach also needed a lot more work to be a closing villain worthy of following up after Aizen. I think Aizen was a fantastically written character and he had a lot of time to be built up compared to Yhwach but that’s no excuse for the Quincy king to be as bare as he is. The final battle with him feels like we just got the cliffnotes without any cool stuff to make it satisfying. The epilogue is also obviously nothing to write home about, just making the main characters older and giving them kids is a massive cop-out. They don’t reflect on the events of the final arc at all, when it’s done it’s like it never happened.
Overall, Bleach was a very interesting series to revisit, definitely a painful one at times. If I were to recommend it to someone then I would tell them to read the manga solely so that they could alleviate the pacing somewhat by going through the pages at their own leisure. I kinda hope that we don’t see more of this series, not in any significant form at least, because I know if we do then it’s going to be the same thing as Boruto. I do not want to see the Bleach equivalent of Boruto. Thankfully, for now, that is not the timeline we live in, thus I can call this string of amendments over. I hope you enjoyed reading my takes on this series and I hope you continue to enjoy the other content on this blog. Thanks for persevering!