The Soul Society arc kicks into full gear as we get confrontations, battles, murder mysteries and more blood than you can shake a stick at … does that phrase makes sense in that context? … Oh well, whatever! It’s funny watching this back how quickly some events happen one after the other, but it’s still an enjoyable ride. Let’s take a look!
With Hanataro’s help, Ichigo and Ganju begin to head towards Rukia’s location. However, Renji confronts them. Ichigo begins to fight him, and Renji reveals that he is five times more powerful than when they fought previously…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
“How…. How are you not dead?” “I dunno. Luck? Plus aren’t we sort of already dead?” “Don’t go there.”
The good really depends on how much you enjoy people being horribly sliced by swords, as these 11 episodes feature Ichigo against two strong opponents in rather bloody battles. Our protagonist and Ganju arrive on the path to where Rukia is being kept thanks to Squad 4’s Hanataro knowing the way and wanting to help the kind prisoner he looked after, but they immediately encounter Renji, who squares off with Ichigo. Renji reveals that Shinigami get their power limited by a factor of five when they enter the world of the living, so he’s much stronger, something he shows by knocking Ichigo into a small concrete hut and cutting his head open. Ichigo tries his best but is on the backfoot, but before he gets a fatal blow he remembers Urahara’s words about not being afraid and finding your resolve to kill. Ichigo uses what will later be known as his trademark attack, the Getsuga Tensho, and wins the battle, though it would probably be closer to call it a draw. Renji reminisces about his and Rukia’s upbringing in the harsh slums of Soul Society, how they lost their childhood friends and enrolled in the Shinigami training school together. Remembering how he let Rukia get distant from him when she joined the Kuchiki family, he begs Ichigo to save her in his place. It’s a great performance by Renji’s voice actor, Kentaro Ito, as he pleads his enemy to do what he couldn’t, and the flashback episode actually adds some layers to the previously one-dimension character.
Hanataro and Ganju take Ichigo underground, with the former healing him, and we get a pleasant scene of Captain Aizen and his lieutenant Hinamori being all lovely and nice… before we see Aizen impaled at the top of a tall building, 100% dead… Hmm. Hinamori is the one who found him and she soon flies into a fit of rage at Gin, who happened to be walking by, but she’s stopped by his lieutenant, Kira. The two lieutenants release their Zanpakuto and are about to attack each other when Captain Hitsugaya arrives and defuses the situation (and implies he’ll kill Gin if he harms Hinamori, which gives Gin a good chance to be sarcastic and creepy, like he does so well!) Later in this episode batch Lt. Matsumoto drops off a letter to Hinamori that Aizen wrote before his death… hmm… which gives Hinamori the name of his killer…
“….. Okay, I’m screwed.”
Ichigo is soon up and about with Ganju and Hanataro, his wounds apparently weren’t that deep due to a mysterious Hollow mask in his outfit… but as luck would have it he’s soon confronted with a new foe: Kenpachi Zaraki appears and his Reiatsu (literally “Spiritual Pressure”, basically Bleach’s version of Ki from Dragon Ball) is so strong Ganju and Hanataro are on the verge of passing out just by being near him. So with little time to do anything else Ichigo finds himself in another fight, this time though his sword can’t even cut Kenpachi due to the vast difference in their Reiatsu. Ichigo finds some resolve after he feels Chad’s life force dim (more on that in a bit!) and cuts his opponent’s chest, but then gets too cocky and is stabbed quite lethally in the chest. He travels back to his inner world and fights a Hollow-fied version of himself for the right to wield more of Zangetsu’s power, which not only grants him that, but also stops his bleeding (which isn’t something a Zanpakuto spirit should be able to do, but more on that… next year when they animate the final arc…) Zaraki is thrilled the fight can continue and we get an extremely gory fight as the quite insane Captain of Squad 11 revels in the delight of fighting an opponent who’s cutting him up.
In the end they clash, Ichigo with Zangetsu behind him, Kenpachi (who at this point had removed an eyepatch that had been keeping his power down…) with his Zanpakuto spirit screaming in pain as its owner ignores it. Ichigo “wins”, but again it’s clearly a draw as both had been sliced to ribbons. I do like Kenpachi, we see how his child lieutenant Yachiru met him in the roughest parts of Soul Society, how they picked names to use. He tearfully asks his sword his name, “after all these years”, but hears nothing back, soon screaming that he wants to be stronger before passing out. The idea he uses bells in the hair and a power-eating eyepatch for no other reason than to handicap himself so he can have an even fight is a great idea for a character quirk. I remember the endless speculation as to when Kenpachi will hear his Zanpakuto’s name… man that was a long pay-off, it hasn’t even been animated yet in 2020!
If you really have to fight someone to the death, may as well get drunk before hand!
While this was going on we see Chad running riot through Squad 8’s barracks, which leads to him coming up against that squad’s Captain, Shunsui Kyoraku. He’s the good old fashioned laid back, “let’s have a drink instead of a fight!” type character, and I love him for it. He doesn’t want to hurt Chad, Chad doesn’t necessarily want to hurt someone so nice (especially someone nice who can deflect his blasts with one hand…) but soon they meet an impasse when Chad says how he’d do anything for Ichigo, complete with a great flashback where Chad remembers his Mexican Grandfather taking a beating for him and telling him not to use his fists for selfish purposes, then remembers Ichigo helping him when he was attacked by an extremely criminal-like school gang and the two making the deal that “I’ll fight for you so you don’t have to use your fists for selfish reasons, but you use them to defend me instead”. Chad makes a desperate attack against his foe, but is easily cut down with a genuinely heartfelt sounding “Sorry” from the Squad Captain. It’s great, and without a doubt Chad’s best moment, which is a shame given how much longer the series goes on for…
*sigh*, all that’s left now is the last two episodes… I can’t help recapping stuff because it’s so fun to talk about! (at the moment…) Ganju and Hanataro successfully reach Rukia after being allowed to go on ahead when Ichigo and Zaraki clashed, but Ganju recognises the captive as the Shinigami who killed his brother. Rukia admits to this and is happy to die by his hands, but they’re interrupted by Byakuya. Ganju has none of Hanataro’s attempt at bravery so tries to face Byakuya himself, but is easily dispatched with nobleman’s Zanpakuto “Senbonzakura”, which turns into thousands of cherry blossom-like blades that slice through his opponent handily. Rukia’s Squad 13 Captain Ukitake arrives and stops Byakuya from going any further with his assault. Meanwhile Ichigo wakes up with more bandages and another Hollow mask protector and finds out that Yoruichi the male cat is actually a female human, which leads to some funny scenes… until Ichigo feels Byakuya’s presence and remembers Ganju and Hanataro went on ahead. He “borrows” Yourichi’s … flying cane… thing she just showed off and heads out for another battle. He arrives in front of Byakuya and then has a comedic argument with Rukia about not caring if she wants to be rescued or not (Rukia’s response of “What kind of tyrannical rescuer are you?!” always makes me laugh).
Ukitake notices the same resemblance that Byakuya noticed in the previous arc, but soon things are broken up by Yoruichi, who stops the Kuchiki member from activating his Zanpakuto. *SIGH*. Blimey. That’s a lot of writing, I hope I don’t get this into it for the next two parts as well… It is full of great moments though! It always felt like an odd place to split the arc in half, but there you go. Thought I may as well keep up the tradition!
I’ll honestly always remember watching this episode for the first time and just being blown away by this scene, with Kenpachi rushing forward and getting cut across the face without flinching. Terrifying!
The main “Bad” in this batch is Episode 33, which is a cut-away comedic filler featuring a bunch of characters left behind in Karakura Town acting like a Superhero team. It’s… somewhat amusing… a bit, but given it happens right after the Ichigo/Renji fight it’s… misplaced. Oh and for the record, I know it’s sort of not filler because of some comedic one-shots Kubo wrote at the time, but still… it’s filler in pretty much every way that counts…
I also have to say that I remembered more of a break between Ichigo fighting Renji, then fighting Kenpachi, then appearing in front of Byakuya. I know he’s the main character of a Shonen story and Tite tried to hide it with the Hollow mask thing, but man it does stretch the believability a tad to see him get so badly shredded so frequently! I know, I know, it’s a story about Shinigami living in a feudal Japan-like Afterlife, there are weirder things, but still…
Ukitake, Rukia’s long-teased Captain, appears in style!
The Soul Society Arc goes into full-drive as Ichigo gets sliced up by two opponents and confronts a third all within 10 episodes. There are some great moments though, and Zaraki and especially Kyoraku are some of my favourite characters in the show, so… I’m always happy to see the fountains of blood getting flung all over the place as these over-the-top battles take place… and we’re only halfway!