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Song of the Week; [Heaven Or Hell - Volbeat]
To begin my first blog, I'm going to talk about one of the primary groups in the Bleach universe: the Shinigami (or Soul Reapers for you English Dub fans). Shinigami are a race of souls that mainly inhabit the plane of existence known as Soul Society, with their base lying in the fortress Seireitei. On a general level, Shinigami are the nominal heroes of the story, seeking to uphold peace and justice within the various dimensions of Bleach.
Or are they?
The Shinigami have been used as a mechanism to explore the theme of Good vs. Evil in Bleach. In particular, they exist to degrade the line between the two sides. For instance, the ideas of justice carried by the Shinigami have repeatedly crossed the line of decency and common goodness. The late Captain-Commander Genryusai Shigekuni Yamamoto and 6th Division Captain Byakuya Kuchiki are the prime examples of this tendency. Yamamoto oversaw the attempted genocidal extermination of various races (the Quincy, the Modified Soul, and, in anime canon, the Bount) in an attempt to preserve his view of peace, refused to authorize an assault on an enemy stronghold to rescue the innocent Orihime, persecuted victims of uncontrollable events and those who sought to protect them in the Hollowfication Affair, and frequently ignored the advice of those who had a better grasp of events in favor of his personal view. Kuchiki, in turn, upheld a view akin to Absolute Justice, punishing even minor offenders in an overly harsh manner, as exemplified by his advocating of the execution of his sister Rukia. Other Shinigami have even flaunted their wicked natures, with the best examples being the bloodthirsty Kenpachi Zaraki and sadistic Mayuri Kurotsuchi. It must also be noted that three of the most potent major antagonists of the series (Byakuya Kuchiki, Gin Ichimaru, and Sosuke Aizen) were all Shinigami.
In contrast to these individuals, however, we have seen genuinely pure Shinigami throughout the series. The best examples of these include the selfless Jushiro Ukitake, who sacrificed his life for the sake of the universe; the caring, intelligent Shunsui Kyoraku, a man who would do anything to prevent violence and protect his comrades and subordinates, going so far as to spare enemy combatants who he knew were in the right as far as their reason for fighting; Renji Abarai, willing to disobey orders to protect the weak; and Retsu Unohana, who forsook her violent past to become a dedicated healer of the sick and injured. With these Shinigami countering their darker fellows, it can be seen that the Shinigami are neither inherently good or evil, with heroes and villains alike all pulling the race towards different extremes at different times.
It must also be stated that some of these above notions are influenced by the background and motivation of the individual Shinigami: Byakuya's upbringing led to his absolutism, Kenpachi is bloodthirsty as a result of his need to fight to survive, and Gin betrayed Soul Society in an effort to save it from a greater evil. This realization further blurs the line between right and wrong, at least where Shinigami are concerned.
What all this means is that, in the world of Bleach, there is no such thing as Good or Evil as predefined sides. Rather, there are good or evil actions or individuals, all acting in the manner prescribed by their individual motivations. Those who protect can also oppress, and those who murder can also sacrifice. It is this complex lens through which Bleach must be viewed, hence why it is the point behind my first post on the Series.
I hope you all enjoyed my little rant, and I'll see you all next Saturday for my next installment!