Anyone who has had contact with me for a length of time learns two important facts about me. 1) I am a HUGE Ichimaru Gin fan - I have a plushie, which has got to be the sign of ultimate fangirliness! 2) As far as I am concerned, espada were created to deprived Ichimaru of screen time! That alone is reason for me to absolutely loath the espada! But mostly I never really got into them. I liked Starrk, Yammy has grown on me. Harribel I wanted to like but at the end of the day felt that she was the most boring, one of the dumbest, not to mention one of the most irritating Espada of the bunch. So the last thing I want to do is devote blog space to the Espada. However, I cannot help but feel that the espada ranking system has been unfairly trashed by both Espada fans and non-fans.
I guess I have more faith in Aizen's/Kubo's ranking then most people. But I just can't buy into the fact the ranking are worthless because people who Ichigo beat could beat opponents Ichigo couldn't. Ichigo is a terrible person by whom to measure anybodies strength. He's a eight month old Shinigami who didn't even know what "reiatsu" was before that time. In addition, he only started to be able to get control over it after his training with Urahara and even now, his power oscillates so much that as a measuring device, he is a total failure. So let's have a look at the espada, I will refer to them by their number because I can't spell most of their names.
No. 9. He was the only gillian class espada. So it is fitting he should be ranked below everyone else. His biggest claim to fame was that he was the only arrancar who had access to both a Shinigami zanpakuto and an arrancar zanpakuto and could use them simultaneously, as he demonstrated by having Kaien's trident while in his released state. Rukia defeated him by pure luck and because he thought he had her beat. He didn't know/remember the third dance that Rukia had, possibly because being an attack that only seems to activate when her zanpakuto is broken, Rukia never showed it to Kaien or perhaps she did in fact simply developed it sometime after Kaien died. So, I think we can all agree, no. 9 got the rank he deserved.
No. 8 By his own admission he wasn't all that strong. He's biggest thing was his skill in analysis. Ishida would have gotten him with the Sprenger had they not been in that special reiatsu reducing room. That being said, in his released state he did have some awesome abilities. Anyway, he was defeated through tactics and luck. But overall, he wasn't underrated or overrated.
No. 7 He claimed his thing was speed and he did have a funky ability. He survived a hit by Byakuya's bankai but was eventually cut down with a sealed zanpakuto. Overall I think there is no disputing his rank. He was stronger then no. 8 but didn't really compares to the pure destructive power that was Gimmjow.
No. 6 Gimmjow... good old Grimmjow. He was a pure fighter. His "thing" was his destructive ability. He was very strong but while Ichigo did struggle against him that had more to do with Ichigo and his ever unstable power-level then anything to do with Gimmjow himself. I don't think there is any reason to doubt that he was ranked correctly.
No. 5 Nnoitra is the first espada from whom the trouble starts. Mostly because he was defeated by Kenpachi and for some reason people have gotten it into their head that Kenpachi isn't strong... we are talking about Kenpachi here! He's the monster of Gotei 13. Had he started fighting Nnoitra with his eye-patch off to begin with, he probably wouldn't have taken any injury. But Kenpachi being Kenpachi, did the whole "I want to enjoy the fight" business and initially had trouble with Nnoitra's steel skin, which was Nnoitra's thing. He was the espada that couldn't be "cut". It is because of his confidence in his ability not to be cut that Nnoitra ran head on into Kenpachi's two-handed swing, that and Nnoitra clearly had no comprehension how strong a two handed swing really is. Wasn't that Nel's problem with Nnoitra? He thought he knew a lot but as far as Nel was concerned, he knew nothing. Which is why she never treated him as an equal. Was he stronger then Gimmjow? Destructive power-wise I would have to say Grimmjow has it. But defensively Nnoitra topped Gimmjow and when your defence is that strong, you can be weak in offence and still win the fight just by wearing your opponent down. So, I think Nnoitra was correctly ranked.
No. 4 Ulquiorra and his famous second stage! This is where things get a bit tricky. Because of his second stage people assume Ulquiorra was higher then no. 4 and a whole bunch of other things. BUT he said himself that his power lies in regeneration. Like Nnoitra it is a defensive ability that's designed to wear his opponent down. Now Ulquiorra did have a very destructive offensive ability. HOWEVER, and this is the part people forget, he didn't have good control over it. When he first threw the lance he missed by a mile. After that Ichigo hollow form version 2 just made a joke of the lance. He did cut off Ichigo's horns but nothing says the horns were particularly tough to cut. In fact, Ichigo's mask has always been fairly brittle. So second stage or not, given his main "thing" was defensive and he seemed to lack the range of offensive attacks as Harribel, probably means that he really was no. 4.
In addition, let us not forget that we don't know how much stronger the second stage made him. We know that bankai can give you a power boost between x5 to x10, with people like Renji and Ikkaku probably only getting the x5 boost while most of the other captains get the full x10 boost. However, we have no such information for the second stage. Also, Ulquiorra himself never claimed to be higher then rank 4. Even when Ulquoirra was trying to make Ichigo despair and give-up trying to fight him, Ulquoirra never once said "In fact my second stage makes me stronger then rank 4". Not once. Only time he mentioned his rank, he said there were three people stronger then him and at the time he was literally telling the truth because the unreleased Yammy is weaker then unreleased Ulquoirra.
Much as been made about how "Aizen didn't know about his second form". Except Ulquiorra's words were "Aizen hadn't seen his second form" not "Aizen didn't know about it". It's a semantic argument but I can't believe the words were randomly chosen. So overall, I say that despite his second stage he was no. 4 and the first person to agree would be Ulquoirra himself.
No. 3 I really wish I could forget her. I really do. Anyway, let's get this over with. Hitsugaya in bankai had the elemental advantage. Moreover, Soifon probably could have taken Harribel down fairly quickly with just her Shikai since nothing says Harribel is faster then Soifon. But then again she could have been faster then Soifon. We'll never know! Anyway, Harribel clearly had a range of attack skills and she did do a fairly good job of surviving and fighting back. I say that Ulquiorra looked better because his opponent was so unstable, while Harribel looked weaker because Hitsugaya all said and done is far more stable and has a better handle on his power then Ichigo. So second stage for not, I don't think Ulquiorra is in fact stronger then Harribel.
No. 2 Barragan... he was a one trick pony. It was a great trick! But how the hell do you "age" ice? Or fire for that matter. Unless respira defines the laws of physics and could melt ice by ageing it, Hitsugaya probably would have had a cake walk against Barragan. In fact, if I was Captain-commander Yamamoto, I would have switched Soifon with Hitsugaya sometime ago. (I do realise switching opponents mid combat is not easy). So while he looks impressive, he is in fact a fairly limited character and there were at least two captains there who could potentially have defeated him fairly easily and quickly. So his trick put him ahead of no. 4 and no. 3 but he was not no. 1 because he was a one trick pony.
No. 1 Starrk. Starrk was all attack and speed. He was taken down by a shikai but it was one of the most mind-blowing shikai's we have seen! Before that, he took on two vizard captains in shikai + mask and came out without a scratch. The first real damage he received was from Kyoraku's shadow-backstab (note to self: role a rogue character in Dragon Age and call him Kyoraku) but it was more a flesh wound and didn't seem to have hurt Starrk much. Then the colour game began and well... Starrk got out played. However, he did display a range of attack skills. Both ranged and melee and all said and done was pretty strong. I have no doubt that captains like Byakuya, Soifon, Hitusgaya and other would have dropped dead easily against him. The whole "shikai" death thing is used to knock Starrk's status and drop him to number 2 with either Barragan or Ulquoirra as number 1. Except I am fairly certain Ulquoirra wouldn't last long against Starrk as Starrk's thing is "cero" and Ulquoirra did die because of cero. Barragan... that's a trickly one. It all depends on if Starrk's "wolves" can be aged. If they can't... Barragan is screwed! So I don't think the fact Starrk lost to a shikai says anything about his ability. What you have to ask is, can Starrk defeat all the espada below him and the case does seem to be that he can. So, he is the primara or whatever that word is.
Last but not least Yammy! The 10 turned 0 espada who is universally cited as the reason why the "ranks" don't mean anything. But why? Yammy unreleased got beaten-up by almost everyone! But released... well, we'll just have to wait and see won't we. :-)
So my final thoughts, despite appearances I do believe the Espada were ranked fairly and accurately. Of course the real question is that did the Espada live upto expectations? That of course depends on your expectations. If you expected the Espada to crud stomp the shinigami, they certainly didn't do that. The shinigami took damage but nothing permanent so far. Certainly the no. 1, 2 and 3 have softened up the Gotei 13 and the Vizards for Aizen, Gin and Tosen. Byakuya, Kenpachi and Ichigo are carrying some damange and no doubt varying degrees of exhaustion from their previous battles. So Yammy could do some crud stomping but all in all, the rank dispute, the never ending debate on whether any of the espada are vasto lord and all these things do go back to the fact the Espada did not live upto expectations of some people.
This group of people really did genuinely believe that they were going to see some shinigami deaths in the hands of the Espada. I, on the other hand, did not. I didn't expect the Espada to do anything but die (and return the spotlight to Gin!). As such the Espada lived upto my expectations. Perhaps that is why I think the ranking is fine. Perhaps if I had higher aspirations for the Espada I would think the ranking was flawed. Perhaps, at the end of the day, it's all about perceptions and the what side's pompom you are shaking. I shake shinigami pompom! Go team! ^.^