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Let's Talk Bleach: Part 18 - Soul Society: Infiltration Arc

Mrlmm0605 August 18, 2016 User blog:Mrlmm0605

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Hey y'all, it's Mrlmm0605 coming to talk to you about Bleach! This is not a discussion of individual episodes or chapters; rather, it is a look at the main ideas of Bleach, illustrated using examples from the story to prove a point. It is to be noted that, as this blog uses examples from Bleach fiction to make its point, there are unmarked spoilers contained throughout, so read at your own risk. Also, this blog is NOT a replacement for the Wiki's pages on the subject of discussion; I will not tell you what something is, but I will discuss what I think it means. The thoughts portrayed below will not be embraced by everyone, and I welcome dissenting opinions in the comments. Please, keep all responses within the confines of Bleach Wiki's Policies and the Wikia Terms of Use.

Song of the Blog: [Ignition] by Trivium

Okay y'all, I'm coming down from the end-of-the-manga high here, so let's do this before I run out of brainpower. Like with the last arc dissection blog, this will be a summary of major events followed by an exploration of major thematic bits. So, here we go.

Team Deathberry arrives in Soul Society and marches up to the front door like a bunch of hoodlums. They are challenged by Jidanbō Ikkanzaka, guardian of the White Road Gate. Ichigo defeats the giant, who graciously opens the gate. Unfortunately, the team is met by 3rd Division Captain Gin Ichimaru, who forces them back before sealing the door once more, though he notably does not kill them.

The team is brought to the home of Yoruichi's old friend Kūkaku Shiba, who offered to help them penetrate the Sekkiseki shield that surrounds Seireitei with her fancy cannon. The plan works, but the team is split up in the aftermath. Ichigo is paired with Ganju Shiba, Kūkaku's brother and a noted hater of Shinigami; Uryū ends up with Orihime, and both Chad and Yoruichi are alone.

Most of the arc focuses on the exploits of Ichigo and Ganju, so I will focus on them first. The two wander until they are met by two Shinigami, 11th Division 3rd Seat Ikkaku Madarame and 5th Seat Yumichika Ayasegawa. Ichigo takes on Ikkaku while Ganju runs from Yumichika. Despite the obvious skill gap and the Shinigami's unpredictable Shikai, Ichigo defeats his foe but spares him. Ikkaku honorably heals Ichigo's wounds and gives him directions, but warns him to avoid his Captain, Kenpachi Zaraki, at all costs. Gee, I wonder whether the two will meet. Ganju, meanwhile, uses his mastery of earth magic and creative use of fireworks to outmaneuver Yumichika, trapping him in a hole.

Uryū and Orihime travel through Seireitei, with Uryū handling most of the fighting and, thanks to his training, dispatching all with ease. Chad does the same. That's basically it.

The [DYNAMIC ENTRY] of the invaders alerts the upper level Shinigami of the intrusion, and Lieutenant level troops are dispatched to combat the threat. At this point, the invaders are dubbed Ryoka, a term referring to those not allied to Soul Society. The various Captains are divided on how the Ryoka are to be dealt with, indicating a bit of political turmoil within the ranks.

Ichigo and Ganju make a beeline towards Rukia's prison but are stopped by Renji, the Shinigami fought earlier by Ichigo. Ichigo and Renji have a battle that takes place equally on the planes of reality and of the wit. Ichigo defeats Renji and makes him reconsider his opposition to the Ryoka, but is left grievously injured. He is taken into the sewers by a 4th Division healer named Hanatarō Yamada to recover. Upon awakening, Hanatarō reveals he has found a strange mask on Ichigo's body, right where his most devastating wounds are located, and theorizes that the mask blocked some of the damage; Ichigo, unnerved by the mask, ditches it.

At this point, a critical discovery is made: 5th Division Captain Sōsuke Aizen, perhaps the most likable and trustworthy Shinigami in existence, has been murdered. The tension within the Shinigami ranks comes to a head, with multiple Captains blaming each other for the murder. The official stance, however, is that the Ryoka are responsible. 10th Division Captain Tōshirō Hitsugaya does not believe it, and speculates the eerie Captain Ichimaru is somehow behind it.

Ichigo, now fully recovered, continues through the sewers before returning to the surface. There, he meets an opponent no one ever expected, Captain Zaraki. The two immediately come to blows, with Ichigo quickly being overwhelmed by his foe's Reiatsu and left unable to do any damage. Zaraki manages to stab through Zangetsu, almost defeating Ichigo. At this point, Ichigo enters his soul space and confronts both Zangetsu and a strange figure that looks exactly like him but white (and sometimes with black teeth).

Zangetsu states that Ichigo is no longer worthy of his power, and says that to regain the right to wield him he must defeat his doppelganger using a simple, nameless katana. Ichigo struggles to defeat the strange being before finally realizing his mistake: he had been using Zangetsu as a tool rather than a partner. Armed with this knowledge, he reclaims Zangetsu and defeats his lookalike, who tells Zangetsu to train Ichigo well, lest the figure take control of the body for himself.

Returning to reality, Ichigo gets his second wind and surges with power. The sadistic Kenpachi is ecstatic but confused, and removes his power-limiting eyepatch to face the new resurgent Ichigo. Ichigo states that this is the power of his partnership with Zangetsu and charges, with his Reiatsu forming a figure of his Hollow mask; Kenpachi, who lacks the ability to commune with his Zanpakutō, charges with a skull-like Reiatsu wave. In the end, both fighters lie defeated, with both awarding the other with the win.

Ichigo is again healed, this time by Yoruichi, who reveals that she is a female ex-Shinigami and not a male cat. At this point, the mysterious mask reappears, but Yoruichi forces Ichigo to again discard it. Fully healed, he charges toward's Rukia's prison, where he is stopped by Byakuya Kuchiki. Byakuya commends Ichigo for getting this far, but reveals a new aspect of his powers that the Substitute Shinigami was unaware of: his Shikai, Senbonzakura. This release is interrupted by Yoruichi, who stops the brewing battle and flees, knowing that Ichigo cannot beat Byakuya but promising to train him until he can.

This arc is the real launching point for the plot, with Ichigo's battle to save Rukia and the assassination of Aizen being the focal points. The rest of the cast really takes a backseat, and very little happens to them that we see. We must wait until next arc to really see their side of the story. This is also still technically an exposition arc, as it introduces many of the Shinigami that become driving forces in the narrative from here on.

The most important thematic element of this arc is the trust/distrust dichotomy. We see several examples of Ichigo forming bonds of trust with people he meets on his rampage. Ganju, Ikkaku, and Renji all begin the arc as antagonists, but all are swayed to his ideological side fairly quickly; even Kenpachi acknowledges Ichigo's power, though not necessarily his worldview. Contrast this with the Shinigami hierarchy, who, despite being comrades, actually seem to hate each other. Gin, in particular, seems to have some nefarious thoughts. Following the murder of Aizen, the structure begins its collapse, with the various divisions entering into a sort of cold war with each other.These tensions will, again, be revisited in greater detail in the next arc.

Also crucial to the arc is the value systems of the major players. Every star of the arc has one thing that they hold in higher esteem than all else. For Ichigo, it is his friends; for Ikkaku, it is fairness; Yumichika values beauty above all; Renji values his responsibility as a Lieutenant; Hanatarō is the embodiment of compassion; Kenpachi lives for the thrill of sadism; and Byakuya is a slave to the law. For many of these individuals, we are left sympathizing with them by the end of the arc, and the others draw us in with the sheer uniqueness of their perspectives. Kenpachi, for example, becomes one of the story's most popular and prominent players just because his 'Kill EVERYTHING' mentality is so gosh darn fun to watch.

Because this arc is less exposition-heavy than it's predecessor, there is a little less to talk about, but it remains an interesting thematic exploration. Many of its key bits are unresolved at the end, and there remains mystery and tension through Aizen's murder and the continuing fight to save Rukia. These plot points will be discussed in my next installment. As always, vote in the poll and feel free to discuss your thoughts on the arc below. Also, since I want to be timely on this one, what did you think about the ending of Bleach, which released on scanlation sights this morning? Go ahead, sound off on either. See you next time!

What do you think about the SS: Infiltration Arc?
 
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The poll was created at 21:37 on August 18, 2016, and so far 6 people voted.

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