Where do I even begin.
Well, I suppose I can start at the beginning. I believe the day was September 9th, or so I can find from Wikipedia, but I do remember the year was 2006. I was fifteen years old and familiar with anime at the time, but my experience was nothing special. It was pretty much what I could find on Toonami and Adult Swim. So yeah, I watched a lot of Inuyasha, and I really wished I stopped very early on. That was the night I finally experienced Bleach.
This seems fishy.
I was already aware of it, as someone who was addicted to Shonen Jump magazine, but I never read the original manga since it never came up in the magazine and I was more interested in Rave Master. That night in 2006 was the moment I ended up becoming the fan of one of the single most uneven franchises to ever come from Japan.
I have been a fan of Dragon Ball Z, Inuyasha and Naruto, and I left them all behind years ago and never looked back. I thought I did that with Bleach a few years ago, but I didn't. There was something about the series that has stayed with me, something that keeps it coming back to my mind. Bleach was different from these other shows. It was like my second Dragon Ball Z or Yu-Gi-Oh in the respects that it was a milestone anime for me that got me much more seriously interested in the medium, but it's also more. I want to know what that something was, thus this.
I released this October 18th. My birthday. I just felt it was appropriate. Bleach is something I still respect to this day, something I can come back to with a smile on my face, despite just how bad it managed to get. I'm revisiting the entire series to try and crack this mystery, and to finally finish it, now that the manga is headed for the finale. I want to see if my nostalgia has just been clouding my judgment and to see if the series really got that bad when it started the low point. I've listened to too many other voices, I want to judge for myself. So, today I start the retrospective of Bleach, one arc at a time.
But first, some background on the man behind the series, Tite Kubo. Also known as "KUUUUUUUUUUBOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" *shakes fist*
I HATE YOU, YOU BEAUTIFUL MAN
Tite Kubo is a relatively young mangaki, with only one pilot and two series under his belt. His first series, Zombie Powder, was subject to a lot of problems, mainly Kubo's inexperience with weekly schedules and compromising with his editor far too often. It was canned early in its run, eventually leading to Kubo coming up with the series that would make him bank, Bleach. He submitted the pilot chapter ...and it didn't get a series. It took a letter of encouragement from Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame to finally get Kubo motivated enough to reach for the gold and get his series made. So, you all have the guy with the even longer and more drawn out series to blame.
Bleach came about because Kubo wanted to drawn characters wearing black kimonos because it looked cool, and gods of death seemed like the perfect people to wear such uniforms. That seems like a flimsy premise, but Kubo thinks more like a designer and less like a normal storyteller, thus the love for fashion. The guy constantly draws his characters in different outfits whenever he gets the chance, as you'll be seeing as this goes along. He is also in love with different architecture styles and cultures, especially the Spanish, an identity that has characterized the monsters of the series since it first began. Probably the most interesting thing about Kubo's style is its cinematic quality, though. He has a real love for film, and the flow of his panels reflects this, moving the story with only visuals easily and fading in and out of scenes. Probably the most interesting element of this is that he commonly cuts off bodies or faces, drawing focus where it needs to be. The use of negative space helps ...usually, but we'll get to that at a later date.
He's also a colossal music nerd, giving characters theme songs in his notes and giving some manga titles album track style names. Fitting that the anime ends up having a damn amazing musical score. The two big influence on the series, however, were Saint Seiya for it's creative powers and GeGeGe no Kitaro, one of Japan's longest running anything. Saint Seiya is a really good battle manga that has people wearing magical armor based on Greek gods beating the crap out of each other (and had a terrible localization that used a Bowling for Soup song as the OP), while GeGeGe no Kitaro is a sort of supernatural adventure series with really weird art. You may know it more for starting that "DAMN ALL YOU LOLICON" meme, sadly.
Also, Kubo is a mad genius and nobody even realized it for a long time. Now that the series has entered the final arc, there have been an insane amount of revelations, nearly all set up and hinted at by various early moments in the series, including the pilot chapter. It's hard to tell what was planned and what was pulled out of his ass, especially as he keeps pulling continuity from spin-off novels he wrote with another writer. When I see something related to Kubo's insanity, I'll gladly point it out at the end of the article, don't worry.
So, why don't I stop the pussy footing around and just get to the nitty gritty?
AGENT OF SHINIGAMI ARC
I'd also like to note that I'm using old fan translations for the manga images. Sorry if there's poor translation and obnoxious fonts on some of these images as a result.
The series begins, in both the anime and manga, with a mysterious girl in black standing on top of a telephone pole in the small town of Karakura and telling herself that something is coming as she looks at a white scroll and a black butterfly roams around her. The manga goes with a splash of red in the sky, while the anime goes with a striking image with the girl against the moon.
She's looking for a whale on that thing.
Elsewhere, we meet our main character, Ichigo Kurosaki, beating the crap out of thugs and being generally annoyed with the whole situation.
You win exactly one kick!
Fun guy, that Ichigo. Actually, Ichigo can see, speak with and touch ghosts and spirits, and he's here to help out the ghost of a little girl and keep her memorial spot clear from a bunch of obnoxious punks. In the anime, the little girl is just a generic little kid. In the manga...
I really wish they didn't change this wonderful little detail.
Anywho, Ichigo heads home and his family is introduced, those being his younger sisters Karin and Yuzu, and his manic father Isshin, who welcomes his son home with comedic violence.
Karin is the one who doesn't give a fuck.
Isshin is the dad, and he's out of his damn mind. He's actually a pretty good parent, but you wouldn't know it most of the time. He mainly gets on Karin and Ichigo's nerves for various reasons (mainly constantly attacking Ichigo in surprise attacks and being overly attached to his daughters), but he gets his moments every now and then. Karin and Yuzu are both likable and polar opposites, with Yuzu acting as the house's caretaker and Karin as the tomboy slacker. Ichigo's sixth sense also runs throughout the family; Yuzu can somewhat make out spirits, while Karin and see and speak with them clearly, but she mostly finds them annoying right now.
The anime and manga move a different here. The anime expands on this first chapter with an attack from a monster in the city being fought off by the girl from before, chasing the same ghost girl Ichigo helped earlier. In the manga, we head straight into Ichigo's room, where an unexpected visitor appears.
Oh, Spot got a sex change and lost that stupid costume.
The mysterious girl from the start re-appears (for the second time in the anime) and walks around the room, looking for something, something she senses near...
This was not in the description for the god of death job.
Ichigo is bad at greetings.
This is Rukia Kuchiki, the series second major character and my personal favorite, and also the catalyst that's about the send the entire plot in motion. She was also one of the most popular characters in Shonen Jump itself for a very long time, and for good reason. At the time, there hadn't really been a character quite like Rukia. Her personality was in an odd blur between tomboy and feminine, but what really made her such a fun character was her ego. My god, her ego. Rukia doesn't take shit from anyone, despite being nearly as short as Ichigo's younger sisters, and even in a weakened state for early in the series, she just bosses Ichigo around without any fear. What makes it work is that she's practically a flood of personality quirks, like coming to like sleeping in closets, her affinity for rabbits, her incredibly poor ways at blending in with modern human society (she's a few decades behind), and especially her drawing.
If you're not critical, she'll never learn.
Her arguably undeserved confidence is endearing and hilarious, but there's a bit more to her. First things first, though, the basic mythology of the series. As Rukia explains (simply due to wanting to prove she really is what she says she is for her own sense of pride), Rukia is a soul reaper, or shinigami (Japanese for death god). She has to take souls known as "Pluses" to a place called the Soul Society and destroy monsters known as Hollows, which are quickly explained in a few chapters to be human souls left on Earth to decay and become corrupted into monstrous forms, hungering for the powerful souls of others to ease their suffering and pain that comes from their form.
They aren't fun to be around basically.
And as soon at this is explained, everything goes right to shit. Even more so in the manga, where that little girl ghost gets devoured by one of these nasty things. And then it turns its attention to Ichigo's place...
Be careful with loud music, affects your hearing.
Fish monsters have headlights. Huh.
That is a Hollow. While the soul reapers are all based off of traditional Japanese culture, the Hollows have a lot of Spanish vibes to them, more so latter. Their masks give off a sort of Day of the Dead vibe, and they serve a greater purpose of hiding their human faces. The masks represent full blown instinct taking over the creatures, putting the one remaining human thing in the shadows. So, it's symbolic, and also really cool looking.
This is where the series truly begins, as Ichigo's panicked attempts to save his family end up with Rukia defending him and getting horribly injured in the process, leading the big moment where there's only one option left. Rukia, no longer able to fight with her gashing wound, hands her sword to Ichigo and has him take a portion of her soul reaper abilities.
Remember, stabbing yourself gives you superpowers.
That's not what happens. Ichigo has an abnormal amount of spiritual power that was attracting that hollow, even drowning out Rukia's senses (thus why she didn't notice the hollow earlier). It's obvious that he isn't normal. So when he takes a portion, he accidentally takes it all.
Cloud Strife syndrome just can't be stopped.
Ichigo completely curb stomps the monster with his massive blade and passes out, leaving a big mess behind ...and wakes to find everything back in place and nobody remembering what happened last night. Turns out that was Rukia's doing somehow, and now she's attending Ichigo's school.
How one makes friends, by Rukia Kuchiki.
She also has a problem; Ichigo took her powers, so he needs to do her work until she gets her powers back.
Does this count as murder? If so, Rukia is a serial killer.
And now the series first arc can begin properly. This is the Agent of Shinigami arc, where Ichigo has to handle fighting hollows and sending souls to a better place with Rukia's guidance. Among fans who ended up leaving Bleach long ago, this is considered the series high point. Unlike later arcs, there's no grand, overreaching plot present, just a selection of mini-arcs where characters interact and develop while soul eating monsters violently try to murder people by eating them. Fun! Each mini-arc usually introduces a new major supporting character, while also developing the characters that are already present. It's a monster of the week sort of deal, but it's very well handled.
The first arc after the introduction quickly moves onto revealing the true nature of hollows by having one go after one of Ichigo's classmates, Orihime.
Add a frier, and probably carnival food.
Despite initial appearances as a pretty ditz, Orihime is the third most intelligent person in her class, and by far the strangest. Compare to Rukia; most simply assume that Rukia is a tomboy (what with the huge ego and violent tendencies) and that Orihime is the traditionally feminine character based on her looks. This goes out the window with just a few scenes with her. For example, when given the assignment of drawing what she wants to be when she grows up, she draws herself as a crudely built robot armed with dozens of weapons, as she gleefully describes each one. Also, one of her fantasies about being with Ichigo somehow turns into a track race drama, a boxing match and then an assassination attempt. Rukia is actually the one all into to dresses and cute things, Orihime is too busy living in whatever world she lives in.
Her arc is a tragic one, involving the death of her brother. A few years before the start of the series, Orihime's brother died in a car accident, leaving her alone. Their parents were abusive, and her brother got her out of there as a toddler, supporting her on his own. Upon death, the poor guy slowly started to have his feelings of love for his sister turned into obsession, and then something caused him to snap and go monster.
A big ghost thing, obviously.
Things get changed up between adaptations in a major way here. In the original manga, Orihime's brother ends up becoming a hollow due to his growing obsessive feelings and his anger that Orihime's best friend, Tatsuki (I'll get to her), and her crush on Ichigo ended up causing her to stop praying to him. In the anime, the director decided to work in a later villain as more important and making him some sort of mastermind character that turns the brother into a hollow ...by eating him. Because that makes sense. The anime made a lot of little changes like that, bugging the crap out of me. Ultimately, Rukia explains that soul reapers don't kill hollows but instead exorcise the sins they committed as hollows and allow them to go to the soul society, and Ichigo lets the guy use the sword on himself in his brief moment of sanity, brought on by Orihime confronting her brother and admitting that she only wanted to lead a good life and be happy for her brother's sake. It's a genuinely sweet moment, and leads to another explanation.
Rukia also has a device from the soul society that scrambles the memories of mortals, giving Orihime and Tatsuki completely different memories than what actually happened that night. It's the clean up tool of choice for all soul reapers, and explains why hollows are unknown to humans when they leave so much destruction in their path.
Chad: Professional Punching Bag
This big guy here is Chad, the star of the second mini-arc. Chad and his two friends who he may or may not be in a band with (the series is really vague on just who these two guys are, but one has a guitar) find a caged bird that talks. In complete sentences. And reacts to what others say. So it's not normal. It also attracts bad luck wherever it goes, causing a steel bar to land right on Chad, along with a motorcycle accident later. But it's okay, because Chad is inhumanly strong, and that's practically canon. He's a big lumbering half-Mexican who can probably punch through walls, and he spends his days mainly hanging out with Ichigo.
Chad was actually my favorite character when I first watched the anime. He was strong, moral, said only what he needed to say and would go out of his way to protect those who couldn't protect themselves just because of how good a guy he was. That's how his friendship with Ichigo began, as he came to his aid while some thugs picked a fight with him and just took all the hits. He's a non-violent giant who only raises his fists when absolutely necessary, and I don't think it would be a surprise to say that I was a fan of Rurouni Kenshin at the time.
Also, that bird houses the soul of a young boy, tricked by a hollow to bait people into traps, in the hopes of said hollow bringing back his mom (which he lied about). That hollow is named Shrieker, and to quote one Adam Sandler, "WHAT AN ASSHOLE!"
Pictured: Best character and the world's biggest bastard.
Out of every single villain Bleach has ever had, including one that threw out the idea to rape someone and disgusted even the emotionless member of his side, Shrieker has remained as the most vile, cowardly, and downright evil of them all. Unlike Orihime's brother or the hollow that attacked Ichigo's home, Shrieker was a complete monster in life and after. He was a serial killer who killed the mother of the child trapped in the bird, but was killed when the boy knocked him over a balcony. A soul that horrible can't be gotten rid of easily, so the bastard came back as a hollow, killed the boy and stuffed his soul in a bird to draw out soul reapers.
To drive it all home, his powers are based around cowardly tactics. He can fly into the sky, out of range of his attacks. Chad and Rukia counter this by Rukia telling Chad where to throw a power-lines pole. No, really.
Does Chad even need superpowers at this point?
However, he just flies higher the next time, giving Rukia the idea to have Chad toss her up to him and use her remaining abilities to get him out of the sky. That ends up being what he wanted to happen, as he unleashed his real ability; leech bombs.
And thus an army of angry shippers gathered...
Shrieker can shoot out leeches from his fur that can make even more mini-leech creatures that can attach themselves to surfaces. From there, Shrieker just needs to use his weird tongue and he causes them to explode. Rukia becomes very familiar with this power, as Shrieker holds the child hostage with his bombs to stop Chad and then forces Rukia to run around as he takes his time killing her.
As I said before, "WHAT AN ASSHOLE!"
When Shrieker fights Ichigo and brags over how he used the kid by lying about bringing back his mother, however, it does not end well for him.
At least he didn't wash out your mouth with soap. It's not a nice feeling.
And to add injury to previous injuries, Shrieker doesn't get to go to the soul society. See, soul reapers erase the sins a hollow commits ...but only as a hollow. Otherwise, they end up going to Hell, and it is a place you do not want to visit. Mainly for the part where it brings you in via giant skewer.
To be fair, he really did deserve that.
The next mini-arc introduces quite a bit, the big one being Urahara's shop.
Also known as "Hat-and-Clogs" by Ichigo, Urahara is a mystery man who runs a shop that deals with soul society technology and items, and it's heavily implied that he doesn't want to be found by the soul society. He's the reason Rukia has her fake body and her soul pager, and Rukia is somehow paying for a lot of supplies from his store. This time around, she also came to pick up an important item called soul candy.
Does that count as suicide and self-body snatching?
Soul candies are artificial souls used by the soul reapers when they're using fake bodies, taking control of the body while the soul is free to take care of important business. Or that's how it's supposed to work, because Urahara's assistant, Ururu, opened the wrong box and handed over faulty merchandise.
Before I continue, one of the few times Rukia ever blushes the entire series.
What does a duck?
Moving on. The soul that takes control of Ichigo's body is mod soul, not a regular soul candy. Mod souls were made by the soul society to fight hollows, as Rukia once again explains with crude drawings. They were to be put in corpses and would each have a special enhancement to give them incredible power, with the one in Ichigo's body containing incredible leg strength, allowing for large leaps and super speed, along with incredibly powerful kicks. The mod souls were all meant to have been destroyed awhile ago when the project was canned, but one of them slipped through the cracks.
By arc's end, the mod soul becomes known as Kon. Because of the experiences he's been through, he believes heavily in the sanctity of life and only wants Ichigo's body to finally get to live his life. When a hollow appears, he does everything he can not just to save some kids who really ticked him off, but in the manga, he nearly fell to his death kicking up a hollow to save some ants below.
lady gaga reference
Hollows are the obvious exception. While that's sad and all, that's not what people associate Kon with. No, people associate Kon with ...well, this.
Now that's the Kon I remember!
Despite that surprisingly human center to him, Kon's usual role in the series is comedic relief as the local pervert who gets exactly what he deserves constantly. And sometimes even when he hasn't done anything wrong. But it's okay, because he's normally a stuffed animal from this point on. The anime has Ichigo reaching down Kon's throat to get his pill form to transform when Rukia isn't around, while the manga instead just has Rukia use her soul glove to remove the pill. To bizarre results, at times.
I still have no idea why that happened, but I'm not complaining.
Now, back during the Shrieker mini-arc, you may have remembered that I said things did not end well for him when he brought up the kid's mother in front of Ichigo. That's because mothers are a touchy subject for the guy.
This brings us to Memories in the Rain, which is the point that I knew Bleach was something special. I've been skipping through the first few mini-arcs because this is when the series really started to come into its own, finding it's heart and soul. It's the point where Ichigo finally gets defined as a character and not just a heroic personality, and where we get a better idea of how exactly his family and Rukia all tick and the things they've been witness to. It was also built up quite well during the Shrieker mini-arc.
During that arc, Karin begins to get physically ill after seeing the bird with the boy's soul for the first time. It's downplayed in the anime for pacing sake, but the manga has her throwing up at school over the incident. She ends up running to Ichigo to tell him that she saw some of the boy's memories; seeing his mother die right before his eyes.
Ichigo's family is no stranger to loss. On June 16th, Ichigo begins to act completely different from his usual self, friendly and generally pleasant (the position of his eyebrows is self-taught as an image thing). It's due to him hiding his real feelings; June 17th, six years ago, was the day his mother, Masaki Kurosaki, was killed.
The mini-arc takes place entirely during June 16th and June 17th, when Ichigo's family go to visit the grave of their dead mother. It's told from four main perspectives; Ichigo, Rukia, Karin (in the manga) and Orihime. I'll get more into Orihime's role later in the character section, but she isn't physically present for what happens, instead talking with Tatsuki about why Ichigo acted so odd on June 16th. Ichigo, Rukia and Karin, however, all take center stage.
The arc is about loss and how different people react to it. Ichigo blames himself for the incident, as he chased after a spirit he believed to be alive and his mother went after him as he was running towards an overflowing river bed. When Rukia believes that a hollow may have come after him in his youth and his mother may have died protecting him, Ichigo just loses it and admits that all his guilt is cornered entirely on himself.
The family all reacted differently as well. Yuzu became the family caretaker, filling a void for everyone, while Karin held back her real feelings under her tomboy persona. When she met the young boy in the bird during the last mini-arc, it all came rushing out of her. Ichigo's dad, on the other hand ...well, I'll get into it during future arcs (trust me on this), but his one act in all of this is to smoke a single cigarette at his wife's grave in memory of the one compliment she gave him on his looks, and telling Ichigo to stop blaming himself and to life a good life for her.
And then there's Rukia. She's the odd man out, as she isn't connected to Ichigo's life till recently. However, she's faced her own loss in the past. I'll also bring this up more in the character section (I have to save some stuff for that section), but her role here is trying to understand Ichigo and his feelings, while hinting at a tragedy that occurred in her past.
Well, in the manga. In the anime, the staff decided to add more foreshadowing with a new character named ...you know, I have notes, but I can't be bothered to remember him because he only appears in about three episodes total and has no real importance. I'll just call him "sleepy" because he's such a lazy jerk.
The anime had a ton of changes to this particular mini-arc, and this guy is at the heart of it. Since the staff knew where the series was soon heading, this guy was added to hint at who Rukia really is and the type of past she's had. Which doesn't really seem necessary, only serving to distract from the real story at hand. The anime also cuts out a lot of moments between Ichigo and Rukia, along with a bit of information on how Ichigo keeps his injuries in his regular body that he got as a soul reaper.
The only other role Sleepy there has is to get owned by the arc's villain and offer a moment for Rukia to state that even soul reapers can die. Which is unnecessary, once again, because we already know that Shrieker already ate some soul reapers and Rukia nearly got killed in the first chapter and episode. So, in other words, he's completely useless.
Even the villain himself gets changed a bit, that villain being the Grand Fisher.
Grand Fisher is the one who killed Ichigo's mother and ate her soul, and he's been around for awhile. He's lived as a hollow for roughly fifty years and has evaded soul reapers for a long while, eating some on the side. He's not as vile as Shrieker was, but he's close, due to his love to eat women. He also has very cruel powers. His left claw can gain the memories of someone by piercing them with it, and his right hand can reshape his lure to whatever shape he wants, usually the face of the person closest to the victim.
He appears in both the manga and anime attacking Ichigo's sisters, but a few things are messed with. Karin sees Ichigo as a soul reaper during the attack, while she has no major role in the anime, cutting out any importance she had. His powers are also never really explained in the anime, and how he's defeated changes. The anime comes up with a really lame idea that Fisher had recorded Masaki's last thoughts, and that gave Ichigo the strength to fight back. The entire moment is contrived and really undercuts his development. The manga never does this and simply has Ichigo stab through the lure, accepting that it's not her, no matter how much it looks and sounds like her, to horribly wound Grand Fisher.
That said, the anime did make one good change. It cut out ...this.And then he ran. The anime also cuts out a moment at the end where you can see other hollows working on Grand Fisher and he promises to return one day. However, that's minor since it does keep a lot of focus on Ichigo's development. For most of the series, Ichigo has just been a normal guy, but this is the first time we really get to see how he ticks. Like how Rukia was different from other shonen heroines, Ichigo proved he was different from other shonen heroes. He's not a lovable idiot, a rookie with incredible potential or just a straight up hero; he's a conflicted and flawed person who's suffered incredible loss, and it really affected him. He thought about what happened and what it meant, and he wanted to blame himself as his way to make things easier on his family. His hero complex to protect others stems originally from this loss, and he may have been partly seeking death as punishment in some ways. Rukia even mentions it in the first chapter, and Urahara confronts him on it later on.
When he says that he's going to keep being a soul reaper at the end of this arc, it's not because of his guilt or sense of having to suffer for others, it's because he doesn't want anyone else to go through the pain that he and his family had to go through. It all rings true, as does his interactions with Rukia.
Speaking of which, there's a lot of hints of Rukia's own issues. There's a brief flashback to someone who appears to be her teacher, stating the difference between a battle of survival and a battle of honor, and it speaks volumes later on. It's what keeps her from directly helping Ichigo during his fight, along with asking her to stay out of it, despite how much she wants to help. Rukia has her own guilt complex holding her back, but it's not detailed for awhile. What is certain that she really does care for Ichigo, shown much more in the manga than the anime.
And now for something completely different!
This guy. This guy right here.
What was an arc for the manga was reduced for a single episode in the anime, which is probably for the best. Don Kanonji is a popular TV spiritualist who actually can see spirits, but doesn't fully understand them and has been creating hollows for a long while now. There's not too much to say about this arc other than pointing out foreshadowing, Rukia drawing things badly again, Don Kanonji being both a likable guy and downright hilarious, and that Urahara has appeared again to help out Ichigo by releasing him from his body.
This arc also segways into the next by having Ichigo and the gang getting in trouble at school for getting caught on camera for trying to rush the stage. Rukia helps everyone get out of her with her frail girl routine, however, making you wonder how people keep falling for this.
How did she not pursue a career in politics?
This new mini-arc starts out with the revelation that Ichigo is book smart, as the 18th highest ranking student in the class. His friend Keigo is not wild about it.
Oh yeah, almost forgot those guys!
This arc has a lot more attention on Ichigo's friends and classmates than future arcs, since the new soul reaper characters ended up becoming wildly popular during later arcs. It's kind of a shame to see them get pushed aside, because the lot of them are really fun. Keigo acts as comedic relief and the butt monkey of the cast, just being a general pest and getting punished for it. Mizuiro is the smart guy to Keigo's dim and generally just understands others better. He's also secret devious, which doesn't really come through till the final parts of the hollow war arcs. As for here, his role is mostly comedic relief, but as a straight man. And a ladies man.
And then Keigo joined an internet form and became a men's right activist.
The most important of the classmates by a mile, though, is Tatsuki. She's the tomboy best friend of Orihime and an old childhood friend of Ichigo, and she understands both of them more than anyone else in the cast. She's present as a major character during the mini-arc with Orihime's brother, plus has some understanding of Ichigo's past during Memories in the Rain and gives Orihime a better idea of how Ichigo thinks. She also gets a lot of heavy hints this arc as possibly becoming one of Ichigo's friends in arms ...but it doesn't come to pass.
Behold, a more intelligent proto-Chie!
Other than these three, there's various other classmates hanging around. There's Ryo, the second smartest student in the class and track star, who has one of those uncaring facades in play that could get a lot of laughs if Kubo did more with her, Michiru, the tag along friend for the various girls, and various others.
Oh, and then there is Chizuru. Oh my, is there ever Chizuru.
Oh lord, Chizuru.
Somewhere along the way, Kubo thought making a crazed lesbian into a supporting character would be a good idea. I thank him every day for that. Chizuru just comes out of nowhere and instantly steals every scene she's in. She's just so shameless and blunt that it's hard to believe she's even a character in this series. She's become a fan favorite over the years, despite her growing unimportance, only because of just how ...Chizuru she is.
Second best character.
If my spirit animal wasn't already Travis Touchdown, she'd probably be it.
Moving back to the mini-arc in progress, there's been rumors flying around about Ichigo and Rukia being close to each other due to the TV incident, thus Ichigo has been trying to avoid her in school. Rukia, however, doesn't care because she's having bigger problems with her soul pager, the device she uses to track hollows. The thing isn't working properly, so she decides to complain to Urahara about it.
Of course, Rukia being Rukia, she doesn't understand how cell phones work.
That's not how you use a phone!
In truth, the pager is working fine. The reason hollows have been quickly disappearing from its radar function is because someone else has been killing them before Rukia or Ichigo can react. That would be the work of Uryu Ishida, the supposed last of the quincies.
Well, this is awkward.
Uryu is one of the last remaining members of a clan known as the Quincy, and he has a huge hatred for soul reapers. He knew that Rukia was a depowered soul reaper for a long while, and also knew that Ichigo was doing her work for her in the meantime. He's known since series start, to boot, because he's adapt at detecting spiritual power of others.
Oh, and he likes sewing.
Damn, I already used my Persona 4 reference for the article!
Uryu has a grudge with soul reapers, possibly connected to what they did to his clan centuries ago. The Quincy clan (which incidentally apparently means destroyer, fitting) where humans with incredibly spiritual power who wanted to fight hollows for their constant killings of the clan members. However, this caused problems as soul reapers just let hollows pass on for a reason. There's a delicate balance between the living world and the soul society based on the balance of souls, and souls in the soul society eventually end back up in the human world as new life. If that balance was heavily disrupted, reality itself could collapse and the soul society may poor into the world of the living. As a result, when the quincy refused to quit slaughtering hollows, soul reapers had to become involved and destroy nearly all of them.
Uryu's grudge is more personal, though. His grandfather, who believed the two sides could work together to help the human world, was killed by a gang of hollows and the soul reapers that were watching him arrived an hour after his distress call. Uryu wants to prove that he's better than soul reapers at what they supposedly do out of spite, which Ichigo points out is idiotic.
PHILOSOPHY DISCUSSION, MANLY YELLING
However, this is later in the mini-arc. Before that, Uryu does something insane. He uses hollow bait to bring hollows all over Karakura. Whoever kills the most hollows in this game, Uryu or Ichigo, proves which side is better. Ichigo is pretty pissed about this, understandably.
From here, the mini-arc diverges a little and goes to check up on Chad and Orihime, and how they're dealing with the situation. Throughout the series so far, and especially in the manga, there's been quite a few characters who have developed spiritual senses of their own. Tatsuki, Orihime and Chad have all shown signs of awareness of the supernatural, but Ichigo is only aware of his sisters. Uryu, on the other hand, can sense the spiritual power of other people, and he's aware of all of them and plans to kill every hollow that appears near the school to protect them. One problem; Chad isn't at school and one slipped past him to reach Orihime and Tatsuki.
But there's good news; Chad and Orihime have grown their own powers!
Urge to yell "U WA SHOCK" rising...
Chad, hanging out with his friends from the city who may or not be a band or something (seriously, who are these people?), quickly finds himself facing down a hollow, attracted by his spiritual power (unknown to him). Chad can only make out a sort of distortion, but he's smart enough to know that the thing is coming after him and he rushes off to an unpopulated area to make sure nobody else is attacked by the monster.
He screws up and finds Karin playing soccer with her friends. What follows is Karin, who can now clearly see hollows since the Grand Fisher incident, getting on Chad's back and acting as his eyes. It works for a few moments, but the hollow is too fast and knocks Chad over. Karin's friends come by and nearly become hollow chow, only for Chad's powers to finally awaken as he remembers his grandfather. We learn a bit more about Chad and why he's usually non-violent, and then he grows a big ass arm and shoots pure spiritual energy at the hollow with a big ass fist and kills it.
He celebrates with a thumbs up before falling down, exhausted.
Coolest panel ever.
Elsewhere, Tatsuki is starting to become annoyed with seeing ghosts and gets into a fight with Chizuru over cleaning up some broken glass, supposedly broke by the martial arts team. The usual spat between the two occurs, while Orihime is just about ready to freak out because she is complete aware of what caused all that glass to break.
No, that's hollow. Silly.
This is Numb Chandelier, possibly the only hollow just as horrible as Shrieker was. Like Shrieker, her power is a very cowardly and cruel one, but instead of a simple attack, she launches out seeds that take over the bodies of whomever they dig themselves into. She's also really ...creative with how she chooses to use the people she manipulates and how to destroy her victims, such as forcing suicide, and in the manga's case, heavily implied to be planning to have the entire martial arts team sexually assault Orihime before Tatsuki comes in to be her usual badass self.
No comment can properly describe how badass this is.
Since Tatsuki doesn't become important, as I stated earlier, it should be no surprise that she loses. However, she goes down with a fight, resisting multiple seed controllers and biting Numb's tentacle when she made the mistake of thinking she actually have total control over the badass. Eventually, though, she falls and is used to attack Orihime, at which point Orihime remembers how Tatsuki helped her regain her lost confidence from some bullies and wears her hair long to this day as a sign of trust in her friend, promising to protect Tatsuki as she's protected her in the past, awakening her powers.
Orihime's powers are some of the most interesting in the series. Originally believed that she creates barriers and acts as a healer, all forms of her power work on the basis of "rejecting" things and events. Her shield, made by three of her sentient bird people (Hinagiku, Baigon and Lily), rejects attacks and anything coming at her from outside the shield. The support shield spirits (Shuno and Ayame) can reject events that have occurred on someone, which makes like the injuries sustained never happened. Lastly, her attack move (done with Tsubaki) sends out her last bird guardian to fly right into the enemy and create a barrier near or in them, splitting them down the middle.
Guess how Numb goes out.
Yeah! You just gotta believe!
That always feels so satisfying to see.
One thing that really bugs me about the anime here is that it's much more tame. In the manga, it really does seem like someone could die at any time, like Orihime's situation before Tatsuki's arrival, or Orihime getting a hit to the stomach so hard that it causes her to puke. Yesh.
From here, the story goes back into the main plot, with Ichigo, Kon, Rukia and Uryu meeting back up again. Uryu finally reveals his thought process and Ichigo teams up with him to fight a small army of hollows coming down. Oh, and they see this.
"Oh hai Mark, so how is your sex life?"
That there is the Menos Grande, a big, mean bastard of a creature that is made up of hundreds of hollows all compressed together, able to shoot a powerful blast of pure spirit energy called a "sero" that could easily wipe out a few city blocks. Also, it eats smaller hollows.
Tastes like chicken-flavored human suffering!
Rukia, understandably, is freaked all the hell out and tries to stop Ichigo when he charges the thing in an idiotic plan of cutting it enough that eventually only the head is left (he's book smart, I never said he was overall smart). However, Urahara, who popped up with his friends to take out some hollows, interrupts and prevents her from interfering.
Even Stephen King would call that foreshadowing thick.
Why yes, Urahara is an important character, thank you for asking. At the same time, Orihime and Chad are watching from a distance, picked up and healed by Urahara, deciding if they want to get involved in all these hollow fights in the future. Uryu eventually stops Ichigo, only to find a surprise when he touches Ichigo's blade.
Quincies do use their own spiritual power, but they also manipulate spiritual power in the air in their attacks as well. As a result, with direct contact, Uryu can fire off massive arrows with Ichigo. The problem is that Ichigo can't control his spiritual power and can't exert more to make larger arrows. He also thinks the plan is stupid.
Friday night, motherfucker.
Instead of that, Ichigo just charges at the thing again when it starts walking (he's slow on the uptake), only for it to unleash a sero blast right at him. However, Ichigo blocks it and we learn exactly why Ichigo is so dangerous. He can't control his spiritual power, but he has so much that when something forces his hand, his power just comes spilling out in mass, which allows him to do incredible damage to the Menos.
The mini-arc finishes with Ichigo losing control of his power and Uryu saving him by shooting out the excess power with his arrows. This leads into the final mini-arc and the beginning of the next major arc, where the main plot finally starts to show itself. Throughout the arc, Rukia has hinted that Urahara doesn't want attention of the soul society, and now it seems like she too doesn't want their attention either.
That fly had a bug, what a rat.
Back during the starting chapter, Rukia committed an illegal act. When she gave Ichigo some of her power, she was going against the laws of the soul society and is facing high jail time over this. Since her powers aren't returning to her at all, hinting that something is seriously wrong with this situation, Rukia decides the best course of action is to run off, especially since she's starting to get attached to her classmates and Ichigo.
That's when Byakuya and Renji enter.
Yet you will never win at anything. Renji is suffering.
These two are the captain and vice captain (or lieutenant) of the sixth squad of the soul society's thirteen court guard squads, basically the major sections of the soul society's man-power. They're here to bring in Rukia and kill the human that stole her powers. Each also has a past with her. I'll go more into it next installment, but the short versions are that Renji is an old friend and Byakuya is Rukia's older brother, leader of the powerful Kuchiki clan.
Ichigo comes to help and all, as he is one to do, but is completely outclassed by the two. Renji starts out by introducing the concept of soul reaper blades, called zanpakutos, have names; his is named "Zabimaru",which stands for "Snake Tale." By calling his blade's name, he can unleash it's main form and use it as a massive whip blade, cutting into Ichigo's shoulder with ease with the extended reach.
Renji, you're going to lose. That's why you exist, you know it.
Ichigo, however, has a sudden burst of spiritual energy, at which point Byakuya decides he's had enough of this shit and just finishes things himself by moving so fast that not even Renji can properly see him. Oh, and he destroys Ichigo's blade so fast that nobody can see it.
Byakuya targeted vital spiritual organs, severing nearly all of Ichigo's connection to Rukia's powers. Ichigo refuses to give up, wanting to help Rukia, but when Byakuya threatens to slice off Ichigo's arm, Rukia kicks his hand down and pretends to insult him, before turning around once and asking him to just live awhile longer. It's a no win situation, and she's not exactly happy about it.However, Ichigo does not die, or else this would have been a very short retrospective. Urahara saves his life and nurses him back to health, and then offers him a way to the soul society. However, it's only under the condition that he trains with him for ten days. He knows the exact amount of days it takes for an execution to take place, showing that he is very familiar with the soul society, and he also knows that Ichigo is in no shape to go there right now.
School ends up being a much more depressing place, as Rukia is completely forgotten by the entire school body. Well, almost everyone. Three people still remember, all the people with advanced spiritual powers.
They probably forgot because of Obama. Thanks, Obama!
Ichigo, in a funk over Rukia's disappearance and wondering if going after her is the right thing since she was from the soul society originally, gets snapped out of his stupidity and pity by Orihime doing a ridiculous impression of him and making more sense than he has all past two chapters.
That Ichigo sounds like a smart guy.
From here, Ichigo begins his training, while Chad, Orihime and Uryu all begin their own training as well. Uryu is practicing alone with some sort of strange glove, still upset over how easily Renji curb stomped him before Ichigo arrived to the situation. Chad and Orihime are instead training with one of Urahara's friends; a talking cat named Yoruichi.
Get that pussy. This is funnier to those who read the Soul Society arc.
Ichigo, on the other hand, has a more demanding process to go through in Urahara's underground training area that looks exactly like an empty desert with dead trees. Since he lost his powers, he needs to regain them and learn how to properly move as a spirit once more. Lesson one; get a hit on Ururu.
She is not lying.
Mondays! Wait, I already said that. And it's Friday. Oh.