We reach the climax of the Soul Society Arc and with it get some great battles, classic moments, and the birth of one of anime’s best villains. How does it all come together? Let’s take a look!
Rukia has been saved, but in order for her to get away safely Ichigo starts battling her brother Byakuya. Meanwhile several Captains have started fighting each other, including the Head Captain himself! And while all this is going on, someone is about to make his final move…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
For those of you who are fed up of transforming swords! (Though if that’s the case, you may want to stop watching now…)
Before we get to the main event of the arc, there are a couple of good moments to do with other characters. Mainly Head Captain Yamamoto fighting against his top two students in Captains Kyoraku and Ukitake, and although the actual fight isn’t shown, the implication of just how powerful the Head Captain is, as well as a tease of the other two’s Zanpakuto releases (without seeing what they do) are all really well written to get the reader/viewer interested in reveals down the line. We then see Squad 2 Captain Soi Fon fight against former Squad 2 Captain Yoruichi, the two showing how being the leader of Squad 2 (and therefore the secret assassination squad) means you can fight hand-to-hand at crazy-high speeds. Soi Fon gets the edge and unveils her new move, Shunko, but Yoruichi shows that it’s not new at all and in fact a well known top-level technique for the leader of the assassination squad. The two clash again but Yoruichi gets the upper hand, leading to a flashback where we see a child Soi Fon look up to Yoruichi like a Goddess, then the two developing a sisterly bond, leading to Soi Fon hating her former friend for leaving without taking her along. She breaks down into tears in front of her to end the fight…
After a few brief cut-aways to Lieutenants fighting, Captains running to locations unknown, and Ichigo’s friends reaching the foot of the Sokyoku Hill, we get the big confrontation between Ichigo and Byakuya. It starts off shaky as Ichigo, for SOME reason, tries to take on his opponent’s Bankai with his regular release and gets injured for it (which even he beats himself up about how stupid that was) but he then unveils his own Bankai, and manages to out-pace his foe and even block all his thousands of cherry blossom-like blades with little effort. We actually see a look of shock on the nobleman’s eyes, but it doesn’t last, as Byakuya’s Bankai keeps evolving, and eventually becomes a dome of pink swords, the Captain stating it as a form that forgoes all defence in favour of offense. Ichigo is critically injured as he believes his opponent has sped up, but Byakuya reveals that actually Ichigo has slowed down, more than likely due to inexperience using his Bankai.
I’d say “Ichigo’s long awaited Bankai”, but we only just heard of the concept 15 or so episodes ago…
Just when things seem grim Ichigo suddenly half-Hollowfies, his inner demon literally taking over his body and managing to critically injure Byakuya in a mad showing of skill. Before any more damage can be done, Ichigo takes control of his body back and apologises, not wanting to win that way. Byakuya says they both only have one good strike left, so focuses all his power on one strike, and Ichigo does the same, the two clashing in a display of black and white energy. Ichigo stops himself from falling, and Byakuya concedes defeat, telling Ichigo that he made a promise as a nobleman to always set a good example and follow the law, even if that law is to oversee the execution of your own sister. Ichigo says if he were in Byakuya’s position he’d fight the law, which makes the Captain’s eyes go wide, momentarily. He leaves as Ichigo lets out a victory cry, and then falls backwards into the waiting head of Orihime, who then starts to heal her friend.
This is where we get to the big reveals as Hitsugaya and his Lt. Matsumoto arrive at the “Central 46”, the off-limits court that makes all the decisions involving Soul Society. When they break their way in, with no alarms, they find the Central 46 all dead, and they’ve been that way for some time. The two Squad 10 heads are lured outside by Kira, who then tells Hitsugaya that his friend Hinamori was following him and has entered the Central 46 chamber. Matsumoto takes on Kira (who gleefully tells her of his Zanpakuto’s ability to double the weight of whatever it strikes) as her Captain makes a dash back to the C46, but it’s too late, as we see Gin isn’t the mastermind behind everything, it was his former Captain… Aizen! Hinamori is overjoyed to see her idol alive and well, only to be mercilessly stabbed by him. Hitsugaya arrives and tries to kill him in revenge, but is taken out in a single blow, with Aizen pretty much revealing he manipulated Hinamori for no other reason than to get her to fight and get killed by her old friend and cause a bit of a distraction, for those who are most devoted are the easiest to manipulate… Damn. Then Squad 4 Captain Unohana arrives and Aizen… quickly departs, but not before explaining how he did it: his Zanpakuto’s release ability is “complete hypnosis”, whoever sees it get released has his or her five senses under Aizen’s complete control.
What’s the opposite of a loving embrace? This.
Sees being the key word, as along with Aizen and Gin is Captain Tosen, who being blind has meant he was on their side all along. The three Captains appear on Sokyoku Hill, the latter bringing Renji and Rukia with him. Aizen spends nearly two episodes explaining that Urahara had implanted a powerful object known as the Hogyoku inside Rukia to try and destroy it as the former Shinigami became human in his special Gigai (false human body) and Aizen had engineered Rukia to be executed by the Sogyoku as the blade is powerful enough to separate the object with Rukia’s soul. Now that didn’t work he uses a special extractor that Urahara invented and retrieves it that way, though not before taking down Captain Komamura, Renji and still-in-Bankai Ichigo while barely breaking a sweat (he infamously catches a swing from Ichigo’s sword with a single finger, humorously stopping his cheesy “Number 1” theme from playing in the process). Byakuya puts his body in the way of a killing blow meant for Rukia, and then a bunch of Captains and Lieutenants, plus Yoruich and a few other guests, try to capture the traitors… only for them to escape with the help of the Menos Grande from Hueco Mundo, the realm of Hollows. Aizen crushes his glasses and sweeps his hair back, making sure everyone knows he’s a bad-ass before leaving…
It’s a great moment, and it does sort of make me sad retroactively, because although it has some great moments, the next (canon) arc, the Arrancar Arc, doesn’t really do this set up justice. Ah well. We then get the post arc wrap up, Byakuya reveals he took Rukia in because his ex-wife, who passed away, was Rukia’s older sister who regretting abandoning Rukia as a child. He made a promise to look after her, but then promised to never break a rule again, so got stuck between his two vows, though Ichigo showed him he probably should have stuck with the first one. All the Captains (that are left) and Lieutenants make up and Ichigo and co head back to the world of the living, each getting dropped off at their homes (and Urahara apologising to Ichigo for not telling him or Rukia about the whole Hogyoku thing…)
Byakuya’s expression of “what the actual f-” says it all!
Nothing springs to mind, it’s the big finale and it was all built up well. At the time I wanted to see more of the fight between Yamamoto and his two oldest students, but retroactively each of them showing off their abilities over the course of the series was a more exciting way of doing it. Also, as mentioned, Ichigo trying to take on Byakuya’s Bankai with just his standard release was beyond stupid, but there you go… at least he admitted it afterwards…
The beginning of the beautiful friendship…. ?
The Soul Society Arc comes to a big finale, with a satisfying fight between Ichigo and Byakuya being the highlight, but Aizen’s rise from a side character who had already been killed off to main villain of the whole series is still among my favourite moments. When I first watched the show I hadn’t read the Manga and wasn’t on any Bleach-centric forums, so it completely blindsided me, and that memory of “WHAT?!” when he stabbed Hinamori will stay with me forever. Still a top quality story arc, and the next three canon story arcs will, sadly, never reach this height again…