The next phase of the Arrancar Arc decides to pause the main conflict and shine a light on the Lieutenants of Soul Society, giving them some focus and fodder to defeat before inevitably fading into the background (with the exception of one, anyway…) Is that a bad thing? No, not really. There are some popular characters receiving some forward momentum, which is never a bad thing when the cast is as large as Bleach’s. Let’s take a look!
As Aizen and his top ranked Espada arrive in the fake Karakura town they face off with several of the top Captains of Soul Society, though before the leaders begin fighting it’s time for the lower ranked soldiers to get their time to shine…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Yumichka gets his one time to shine… facing a guy in a skirt. Hooray!
As mentioned this chunk of story is good if you like the subordinates of the series as Head Captain Yamamoto immediately confines Aizen, Tosen and Gin behind a wall of flames so his men can focus on taking out the Espada, but before that can happen Barragan sends some of his Fracciónes to the pillars that keep the fake town in place of the real one to destroy them, but they’d headed off by four high-ranking Shinigami. Luckily the Captains and Espada are happy to sit and wait to see what happens at each of these key points so we get complete focus on Kira, Shuhei and Yumichka, with Ikkaku on the fourth pillar (more on that later) each facing off with a randomly created underling of the oldest Espada.
First up is Yumichka, who has to face off with “Charlotte Chuhlhourne” who occupies that classic personality trope of being ugly but effeminate and thinking he’s actually beautiful. This of course clashes with Squad 11’s Fifth Seat, who is super vein and thinks everything that isn’t him is ugly anyway… Charlotte is evenly matched with his foe until he activates his Resurrección (which takes the form of… God knows, a well-hung male ballerina?) and soon starts beating Yumichka quite effortlessly. His final “insult” is to cover his and his foe’s battleground in thick bramble so nobody will see Yumichka’s final moments but this ends up as a mistake when we finally see Yumichka’s zanpakuto’s true form, a form that absorbs his foe’s life energy and turns them into flowers he can use to restore his own wellbeing. This is what he used off-screen on Shuhei during the Soul Society arc, and he keeps it hidden because a kido type zanpakuto would get him kicked off the fight-obsessed 11th Squad, so in keeping the battlefield hidden from everyone’s sight Mr. Chuhlhourne gave his opponent the only chance of winning. It was good stuff, and literally now the one and only time Yumichka really does anything in the series…
Kira makes good use of his square-shaped Zanpakuto!
Next up Kira defeats the bird-based Arrancar named Avirama Redder by using his zanpakuto’s weight-doubling ability on his foe’s wings. It’s fine, but only an episode and we already knew all about his abilities. Then we get Shuhei Hisagi fighting Findor Calius which is not only one of the better animated fights but also finally gives us a look at Shuhei’s zanpakuto release, which despite being a popular character had remained a mystery at this point. It’s name is Kazeshini and takes the form of two double-bladed scythes connected with a long black chain, something that puts Hisagi off because it looks too much like something that is meant to reap life. As he then easily dispatches Findor (who for the record had a quirk where he kept talking partly in Spanish, which was good for a laugh) and tells him he lost because he didn’t fear his own sword and power, something his former Captain Tosen taught him. That’s something else I liked, Gin was sarcastically happy to see feel Kira in action, but Tosen was indifferent to the arrival of Hisagi. Ikkaku then falls to his Arrancar foe, Choe Neng Poww, because he already got to show his stuff earlier in the arc, but you’d think this would lead to fellow Lieutenant Tetsuzaemon Iba to finally show his stuff but instead his Captain Komomura swats Poww with one Bankai strike after he became a massive whale-like … thing.
The pillars are defended but Barragan still has two Fraccion left, and fellow Espada Halibel has three, so we get some more Fraccion vs. Lieutenant action before the main event (which technically starts at the same time in some cases, but I’ll get to that in a second). Barragan’s last two underlings I’ll get to in the “Bad” section, but Halibel’s three Fraccion Emilou Apacci, Franceska Mila Rose, and Cyan Sung-Sun face off with Matsumoto and eventually Hinamori (who Aizen reacts to by saying it was “literally nothing important”, or something to that effect. Damn…) The three Fracciones are injured by the latter’s ability with Kido, then get bored and decide to wrap things up quickly and each sacrifice their left arms to summon a giant mindless creature named Ayon, who soon tears through Matsumoto (literally), crushes Hinamori and easily defeats Hisagi. As it moves towards Kira, who is desperately trying to heal Matsumoto, Captain General Yamamoto steps in and easily carves the beast up, incinerates it and gives the three Fracciones a good roasting for good measure. It was a great moment and gave you just that smallest of hints towards the Head Captain’s powers.
Hisagi shows off his shikai at long last! Didn’t he give any consideration to filler arcs and movies that had to use him before this?!
We then end with the top three Espada pairing off, with Halibel facing off with Hitsugaya, Barragan squaring off with Soifon, and Stark starring down Kyoraku. One of my all-time favourite fights is the one between laidback Stark and equally blasé Kyoraku, though the latter really does want to get his opponent to take the fight more seriously. Right at the end Halibel reveals her #3 mark (on her breasts…) so Kyoraku makes the obvious assumption that the old man member must be #1, but instead Stark removes a glove and shows his #1 mark, which Kyoraku sighs about. This had me flipping out when I read the manga at the time, I loved Stark’s design, I always wanted to see more of Kyoraku and now it was all happening in the same fight. Great stuff. We then head back to Hueco Mundo to see Rukia, Chad and Renji fighting off the Exequias while Ichigo confronts Ulquiorra. In the past this led into a year-plus long filler arc, but for us we’re jumping straight ahead to the fated showdown next week!
Always loved the design of Ayon, the misdirection of his “nose mask” being his face then slowly seeing his mouth and eyes underneath it… great stuff!
The stand-out negative (apart from the entirely recap Episode 215) has to be the fight between Soifon and her Lieutenant Omaeda against Barragan’s last two Fracciones Ggio Vega and Nirgge Parduoc. Omaeda vs. Nirgge is one long comedic run-around with the former being an overweight arrogant rich guy, so rather hard to route for, and the other looking like an idiot with his mammoth-based release. It goes on for ages as well, with several false finishes! Then Soifon has trouble with a low-tier Fraccion, which is stupid, but then reveals she was just pretending and wanted to gauge how much extra power an Arrancar gets when it releases its sword, which is equally stupid as she took several hits into buildings and stuff… and why on Earth would you do that anyway? Just let the Arrancar release and go “oh that’s how much you’ve improved. Great. Thanks” and then kill it. What a waste of two episodes, especially as Soifon has a major role in the next chunk of story anyway so there was no reason to give her extra focus.
I’ll also mention poor old Tetsuzaemon, who not only had to watch on as his Captain took out a Fraccion foe that you’d think he would do (especially as Komomura has a major role to play still…) but when Ayon starts tearing through the Lieutenants he sneaks up behind it, zanpkauto already released (once again off-screen) and then gets taken out by a single Cero blast. That my friends ends his story in the Arrancar Arc. Guy can’t catch a break!
There is it, the best number reveal in Bleach history!
The Arrancar Arc takes a bit of a breather to show off some lesser-shown characters and then sets up the big Captain v Espada fights to come. There are a lot of fun bits, some really annoying bits and one of my all-time favourite scenes (as seen above!). Overall just about more good than bad, but it’s all action and very little story, so…