Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bleach 4 - end of the Aizen Arc

Yes, the end of the Aizen Arc.  Enough time has past since it ended for me to be able to look at it somewhat objectively. Strangely, to me the arc ending was seriously anticlimactic. But I'll come back to that thought.

If you haven't read this blog before or haven't watched Bleach, I'll start this post with a synopsis. It won't do justice to the really epic nature of this series, but at least it will provide background. Keep in mind that this series has probably 50+ characters are that are fairly major characters. And the Aizen arc started at the beginning of the series and ended at episode 310. Even with 100+ episodes of filler arcs, that's a lot of story to try to synopse.

Starting with a few basic concepts of the series: the everyday real world is watched over by shinigami (soul reapers, gods of death) who exist in their own world, Soul Society, and come to the real world for two reasons: to help the lost souls of people who have died move on to the Soul Society and to protect people of the real world from souls who have gone bad and become evil creatures called Hollows. A shinigami's strength is determined by his or her level of reiatsu (soul power or spirit power - if you will) and that reiatsu partially manifests as a weapon, most commonly a sword, called a zanpakto. Zanpakto can be "released" twice. The first level of release is called 'shikai', and it increases the sword and user's powers. The second and ultimate level of release is called 'bankai' and the amount of power released by bankai is phenomenal. Of the hierarchy in Soul Society, all of the Captain-level shinigami can release bankai, and some of the vice-captain and lower level shinigami can also. One of the things I like about this series is that Bleach has a huge cast of characters, including the Captains and Vice-captains and lower level shinigmai of the 13 Protection Squads of the shinigami. All of them are individuals with stories and backgrounds.

So that's the background. The basic story of Bleach is about Kurosaki Ichigo (shown in the first picture above) and his friends, Ishida, Inoue and Chad (Ishida with glasses, Inoue the girl with long orange hair and Chad being the tall guy at the back of the picture to the right above). Ichigo is an orange-haired teenager who can communicate with ghosts. Ichigo also happens to have a tremendous amount of reiatsu, and early in the series he begins interacting with the shinigami, primarily the protector for his home town, a girl named Kuchiki Rukia (dark-haired girl in the picture with Ichigo's friends). When Rukia is sentenced to death for the crime of giving Ichigo her reiatsu, which she did to allow him to protect his family, Ichigo and his friends go to Soul Society to rescue her, with the aid of a character in the real world named Urahara. In the course of the rescue Ichigo battles his way past Abarai Renji, a vice-captain, and two captains, Zaraki Kenpachi and Kuchiki Byakuya. In the process Ichigo achieves bankai with his zanpakto and also discovers that he has a Hollow side, with the ability to wear a Hollow mask and increase his fighting powers. Ichigo with half the mask is shown above and to the left. After many battles the friends manage to save Rukia, but in the process a vastly larger plot is uncovered. Enter Aizen.

Aizen (picture to the right) is one of the 13 Captains and he is masquerading as a mild-mannered Captain who helps everyone and who wouldn't harm a fly. In reality he is a megalomaniac with an unquenchable thirst for power, who ends up stabbing his vice-captain. It turns out that100 years before Ichigo-tachi arrive, Aizen had been working to perfect a device to increase his power. The device, called a Hougyoku, was also being worked on by Urahara, who at the time was Captain of one of the 13 Protection Squads and was turning it into a research and development squad. Among the things the hougyoku does, it converts shinigami into Hollow, a process called Hollowfication. Aizen experimented with it on a group of shinigami captains and vice-captains, converting them to Hollow. Urahara (picture to the left in his real world form) stops him before he destroys them completely, but Aizen manages to frame Urahara for it. During his sentencing, Urahara is rescued by another captain and friend, Yoruichi, and the two of them rescue the hollowfied shinigami and take them to the real world. There the hollowfied shinigami learn to control their hollow aspect, and they can call the hollow masks to increase their power in a fight. They become known as the Visored.

Back in Soul Society, the innocent-seeming Aizen continues his machinations for 100 years until Ichigo-tachi arrive and disturb everything. At that point, Aizen and his two other traitor captains take the hougyoku and leave for Hueco Mundo, the world where the Hollows live. In Hueco Mundo, Aizen begins creating Arrancar, extremely powerful Hollows, using the Huougyoku to create them and to increase their powers. The ten most powerful Arrancar are called Espada, and various Espada are shown in these two pictures. In pursuit of his schemes, Aizen sends one of the Espada, Ulquiorra, to the real world to abduct Inoue, ostensibly for the unusual power she has to reverse time. Ichigo, Ishida, Chad, Rukia and Renji go to Hueco Mundo to rescue her and the battles begin again.

During the battles in Hueco Mundo, Ichigo begins relying more and more in his Hollow side, and at one point becomes essentially totally a Hollow, shown in the picture below and to the right. In this form he kills one of my favorite characters, Ulquiorra, and even injures his companion Ishida, before coming back to himself. He's then fairly nervous about using his Hollow side and from that point until he levels up again, he's fairly useless. Four Captains end up following Ichigo-tachi into Hueco Mundo to help, but this turns out to be all part of Aizen's plot as he traps them all there and leaves for the real world. Aizen takes his two traitor captains and some of the Espada with him, leaving the rest of the Espada stay and battle the Captains and Ichigo-tachi trapped in Hueco Mundo. Ichigo and the captains eventually win their battles and because one of the captains is the head of the Soul Society research and development squad, he finds a way for them to return from Hueco Mundo.

Aizen's ultimate goal is to be supreme evil overlord of all creation. His plan is to destroy Ichigo's hometown and everyone in it in order to create a key to enter the place where the "king of Soul Society" reigns, so that Aizen can destroy him and become king in his place. Ichigo's hometown happens to be heavy with spirit power so it's ideal for use in creating this 'key'. Urahara and the remaining captains and vice-captains from Soul Society have not been idle though. When Aizen and the Espada arrive, the Soul Society group are waiting, and the battles in the real world begin. Along the way, the Visored come along to help in the battles and to settle their score with Aizen. Some of the Visored are shown here to the left when they were still shinigami.

However, Aizen, it seems, is indestructable. No matter what they throw at him, it rolls off. It turns out Aizen has taken the hougyoku, which is semi-sentient, inside himself and he is evolving into a creature so powerful that just the reiatsu flowing off him crushes everything in his path. Ichigo manages to return to the real world from Hueca Mundo, and faces Aizen, but initally cannot do anything. At the ninth hour, one of Aizen's traitor captains, Ichimaru Gin, turns on him. The whole time Gin has been plotting to betray Aizen because very early on Aizen hurt someone Gin cared about. Unfortunately, Gin has not had the opportunity until this point because Aizen doesn't trust him. Gin is shown to the right. It briefly looks as though Gin will succeed, however he has waited too long. Aizen is just too powerful and he kills Gin. When all hope is lost, Ichigo levels up again and appears in an advanced form with incredible power. He simply destroys Aizen's powers enough for him to be sealed away by a device created by Urahara for that purpose. Ichigo achieves this, but at the cost of his own powers. The price for this level of power is that he will lose all his reiatsu and become a normal person. End of the Aizen arc.

This is sooooooo not the whole story, just the bare bones of it. There are so many more interactions between characters, plus all the battles between Ichigo and his various opponents and between all Ichigo's friends and allies and their opponents. There's simply no way to put it all in a blog post. If you haven't watched the series, I recommend that you do, to get all the nuances. One of these days I'll post where the filler arcs are so you can skip those episodes if you want. You should watch the Muramasa arc though.

Anyway, the ending of the Aizen arc seemed anticlimactic to me. All this time waiting for someone to take out that smugly arrogant, untouchable Aizen, and yet when it's done there's this incredible feeling of . . . wait, what? It's over? That's it? I don't really know how I can be feeling that after all this time, but there it is. Plus I am not happy that Ichigo will lose his powers, although since the series is on-going I suppose that can be reversed in the future. I also wished they hadn't killed Ulquiorra. I really liked his character, which is probably why he died when they have killed off so few characters in this series. You know, the whole death of my favorite character thing. Although, I really didn't like Gin, and they killed him too. Gin was so slimy and treacherous, and so obviously a horrible person, that I guess it makes sense to find out he did it all to try to take Aizen down. I didn't expect it, but my friend was vindicated. She said all along he wasn't all bad. The thing I don't like the MOST about the end of this arc? They should never have left Aizen alive! Maybe that's the source of the anticlimactic feelings. Even though Ichigo took him down at the expense of Ichigo's own powers, Aizen starts healing up right away and is only sealed by Urahara's device because he's in a weakened state. From my perspective, he should have been finished off. Even sealed up, he's not safe. For heavens sake, everyone knows megalomaniacs, especially ones that can out-plot (plot circles around) every other character, need to be snuffed out of existence! Not left where they could possibly make a comeback. Geez!

I think the other reason for the anticlimactic feelings is that I've been waiting for this for 310 episodes. It's a little bit of a letdown that I don't have something to wait and hope for now.

Bleach is still going though, but it's once again in a filler arc. The end of the Aizen arc caught the series up to the manga, so fillers will be necessary for a while. I'll continue to watch the series. After this long, all the characters are like family. I wonder where the manga author, Kubo Tite, will take them next?

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