A Tale of Two Kubos: Book the Third

Posted on Nov 18 2010

Hope you all weren’t scared away by my filler update. Assuming you’re back and ready for more this week, we’re finally getting back to the story. Once we move past the Soul Society Arc we get what inevitably became the downfall of Bleach, as the story slowly began to creak and crack. The introduction of the Vizard and Arrancar opened up a whole new can of worms, as the Arrancar had their own sword releases that followed a different set of guidelines in terms of design.

There are a good number of very clear discrepancies in the way the Arrancar work that Kubo seems to just patch up as he goes. The first and most notable of these inconsistencies is the Garganta, the mouth-like rift cut between worlds that the Arrancar use to travel between their home in Hueco Mundo and the Human world. Originally the Hollows would just punch holes in the sky and crawl through, so logically the Garganta being a cleaner method of doing essentially the same thing seems to make sense.


However, the first time the Arrancar Ulquiorra Cifer and Yammy Riyalgo show up, they don’t use a Garganta, for whatever reason they come crashing down out of the sky, creating a massive crater upon landing. The reasons and methods of this entrance are never explained, but it is very often suggested by fans, and entirely likely, that Kubo just did this as a sort of homage to Akira Toriyama’s characters, Vegeta and Nappa, and their initial entrance in Dragon Ball Z, and the Garganta was only thought up afterwards once Kubo needed a way for them to retreat.

Yasutora “Chad” Sado has his arm torn off by Yammy Riyalgo in chapter 191. Yammy Riyalgo loses an arm to Kurosaki Ichigo in chapter 193. Lost arm count=9.

While we’re on the subject of the early Arrancar appearances, there’s another thing worth noting: Yammy, Ulquiorra, Grimmjow, and his little gang all very clearly wear the same uniform, with only subtle changes in style. The uniform consists of a clean white top with a black lining and zipper that runs down the front length and bottom edge, which has a short outcropping in the front. The rest of the uniform consists of a white hakama with black sash, and black tabi with white sandal-like frames. Even several miscellaneous Arrancar who are never named, and what appears to have been a prototype design of Tia Harribel who are seen briefly in chapter 198, all wear the same standard uniform. Personally I felt it was a good look, and like the conventions of typical Japanese high school series, the way the characters wore their uniforms said something about their character. Yammy, Grimmjow, Edrad, and DiRoy all wore their shirts open, which marked them as typical delinquent type characters, where as the quieter, more calm and collected characters like Shawlong and Ulquiorra wore their uniforms zipped up properly.

This was very clearly intended to parallel the shinigami’s black kimono uniforms, but undoubtedly Kubo found it problematic to limit an entire cast of characters to just a few small variations on one uniform. It has worked with the Shinigami by adding little accessories to accent the outfits in different ways, rather than just relying on facial difference and a small selection of different body types. To remedy this monotonous look and feel of things, Kubo par the limitations of the Arrancar uniforms down to a simple criteria of being a white uniform with black lining. This makes for a slightly jarring change 30 or so chapters later in 229 when we suddenly see the fully assembled Espada all with their own unique outfits, save of course for Ulquiorra, Yammy, and Grimmjow.

Edrad Liones loses an arm in his fight with Madarame Ikkaku in chapter 206, Shawlong QuFang loses a hand to Hitsugaya Toushiro and Yylfordt Granz loses an arm to Abarai Renji in chapter 210, and Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez l Lost arm count=12.

Looking at the story thus far from the writer’s perspective, it seems fairly clear that the priority after returning from Soul Society was to establish a new threat and segue into a short training arc. It was only after this objective had been tucked away that Kubo really seemed to stop and consider where to go next, and it was at this point that he started upon a few plot points that would set him up for disaster later down the road. He clearly had two goals in mind around the time of chapter 227, where he set two things in motion.


The first of these was the long term goal: stop Aizen from obtaining the Ouken (Lit. King Key), yet another magical macguffin said to open the gate to the realm of the King of Soul Society. The second goal was simple enough and short term for the next arc, Orihime is about to be kidnapped, and then she will need to be rescued. Now, I say this is where Kubo began first upon his path to disaster, but know that there has been no true disaster just yet: we have certainly begun upon the section of story in which Kubo will begin his slippery decent into nonsense, but as it stands there was nothing particularly bad about this plot set up for the next arc.

Heroes Entrance

As the new Rescue Orihime Arc/Hueco Mundo Arc began, things were off to a decent, albeit all too familiar start. Ichigo, Uryuu, and Chad head to Urahara’s to find a way into Hueco Mundo so they might go and save Orihime. Urahara of course hooks them up without hesitation or difficulty, and they three come crashing into the hollow world… miles from their target… They meet a goofy bunch of side characters and gain some traveling companions.


The three make for a good addition as they serve a comedic foil to the heroes, allowing the heroes to get serious later without worry for balancing the mood, as the comedy relief can butt in at any moment for a few antics without having the hero break face. In any case, the heroes grab their new goons and make for the big enemy fortress, only to be stopped by a giant guardsman. Sound familiar? It should. Up until this point, and even for quite a ways afterwards, the Hueco Mundo arc played itself out like a condensed mirror of the Soul Society arc, nearly bit for bit.

Ashido Kanou

Alright before we move on I need to complain and rant about the anime again. Just following the battle with the guardian and with Rukia and Renji joining the party in episode 146, the gang gets sucked into a wormhole that arbitrarily lands them in a place dubbed The Forest of Menos, where they run into a shinigami named Kanou Ashido, who has been stranded in Hueco Mundo for centuries. Now, supposedly this character was a scrapped idea that Kubo meant to introduce sometime in the manga at a point similar to where the anime dropped him in. However I can say almost for certain that even if the design was Kubo’s originally, the story was very much on the heads of the anime staff.

The main fault here are with plot holes that include Ashido using no shikai and perhaps having no functional shikai at all, yet living in Hueco Mundo with no food or water for centuries while fighting off high level hollows and Adjuchas class Arrancar by himself. I’m willing to bet that if Kubo had anything at all to say about the plot, he may have given a basic premise along the lines of “he’s stuck in Hueco Mundo and wears a hollow mask” and left the rest to the anime staff.

The Cross Roads

Now getting back to the story just ever so briefly we find the heroes back where they first fell into the sand hole after defeating the guardian Runuganga. The gang break down an outer wall of Aizen’s fortress, Los Noches, and make their way inside where they find a convenient number of diverging paths. It is at this point that Ichigo says goodbye to his goofy traveling companions, in what I am nearly sure was an attempt to actually drop them from the cast, despite their brief and minor roles. Instead however they continue to tag along a few chapters later. I’m almost certain they stayed on due to a surprisingly positive response to them from fans. In any case the gang makes their way into the fortress and in an interesting move, Kubo has Ichigo try to move forward as a group, only to have Renji and Rukia argue that they should split up to save time finding Orihime.

Now, Ichigo makes a very reasonable and very valid point, that the team is in the middle of enemy territory and they stand a better chance of getting everyone out unharmed if they stick together. In fact it was getting split up at the beginning of the Soul Society Rescue operation that got the whole thing screwed up in the first place. Despite this sound logic however, Ichigo concedes to his friends when they more or less play the overblown ego card to guilt trip him into letting them split up, telling him that he only wants to protect them because he thinks they’re too weak to take care of themselves and they insist he should have more faith in them.

parting ways

Alright, now I’m going to go back off on a theoretical tangent, because this is just too big of a train wreck to pass up. It is at this point in the story that there is a very dramatic moment where the plot basically stops everything for a chapter just to have a big “goodbye” sort of moment right as everyone parts ways. It is at this point that the anime studio and their writers made the biggest possible mistake they could have: They let the story go on exactly as written in the manga. Now, you may ask, “But how is that a problem?”, and I will answer, “Because they wasted a perfect opportunity.” You see, there had been 3 different filler stories by this point, all of which attempted to fit themselves into the current story lines at the time, and two of which failed miserably, the third of which did a passable job, but was still sufficiently awkward and noticeably out of place.

Had the writers any sense they would have just stopped the story right as the gang parted ways -which, mind you, was even the very last thing done in that episode- and started a filler arc with the heroes wandering through Hueco Mundo fighting filler Arrancar characters. Because they had already been conveniently split up, there was every excuse to give each character their own short story spanning over several episodes, and with Ichigo, Uryuu, Chad, Rukia, and Renji, that’d be enough material for at least 10 filler episodes, if not more, and come the end of the filler, they’d wind up right at their normal destination with no problems or inconsistencies to worry about. To this day I can not for the life of me understand why any writer would have passed up that perfect opportunity, it honestly makes no sense to me.

Privaron Espada

In any event the story presses on with our first three heroes running into some minor threats along the way. Each hero gets to show off his new powers and then move on, with brief references to another future character dropped along the way. Here’s where things start to change from the pace of the Soul Society arc: First Chad is beaten in a single stroke by the 5th Espada, Nnoitra Gilga. Then the fight between Rukia and the 9th Espada Aaroniero Arleri ends on a wonderfully bitter note with Rukia in critical condition, suffering from potentially mortal wounds, and in a clever cinematic move, Kubo manages to pass the baton along to Renji who is in the process of fighting 8th Espada, Szayelaporro Granz, with little luck even after being assisted by Uryuu. At the same time we find that Ichigo has been confronted by Ulquiorra, who in the following fight actually kills Ichigo after revealing that he is only the 4th strongest ranked Espada.

Now, the message here seems fairly clear: Ichigo and friends have gotten in WAY over their heads, and they can’t even hold their own against the lower ranked Espada. This is a good twist. Given the way things had been going, everyone was sort of expecting the Soul Society Arc to repeat itself, but now we find that both the readers and the heroes have overestimated their chances of success.

I think it’s also well worth noting that after a long stint of relatively tame content all around, Kubo suddenly decides once in Hueco Mundo to really push his limits with Jump’s editors. For one, back before entering Los Noches the guardian Runuganga shows a genuinely ghastly looking face before being beaten. Not a huge deal on its own, but a fair starting place of what was to come. Aaroniero, who starts off as being the awkward looking cone-headed guy at the back of the table, turns out to be a walking tank of nightmare fuel: between his true face, and his transformation scenes, his sword’s released form, and the fact that he’s essentially all of Rukia’s character trauma in one character, he really sets the pace for the rest of Kubo’s little stunts.

Orihime takes the spotlight for awhile, being savagely beaten by two female Arrancar before being rescued by Grimmjow, who rather cruelly and murders her assailants. Then there’s the issue of Szayelaporro Granz, who first bites the head off one of his own live subordinate before eating him whole, then releases his sword, named Fornicaras/”The Debaucherous Wife” to the sounds of sexual climax.

Meanwhile Nnoitra has been taking his time beating Ichigo into the ground, going out of his way to break the hero’s wrist before handing Ichigo over to an underling to kick around while Nnoitra manhandles Orihime. Oh, and he also makes a point of kicking babies and booting Ichigo in the side of the head during the middle of a friendship speech.

Then of course there’s the whole mess of Szayelaporro impregnating Nemu in order to rebirth himself, leaving his host a dry withered shell in the process. So, once again, Kubo seems to get a real kick out of seeing just how much he can get away being published in a magazine aimed at young kids.


Here’s where things start to slip up, though. The rescue arc by this point had been dragging on for well over a year, and in what seems like a push from the editorial offices, Kubo suddenly jumped the entire plot ahead by leaps and bounds once the captains, Unohana, Byakuya, Zaraki, and Mayuri appear to rescue the rescue team.

This was something a good number of fans had been predicting for quite some time now, the only question had been as to who would be doing the rescuing. Some suggested the Vizard would break in to help Ichigo and company, while some though it would be Soul Society. Other still suggested that perhaps Urahara and his team would show up, possibly accompanied by the fathers, Ishida and Kurosaki. Others still (namely me) suggested that it might be a mix of all of the above; with Byakuya retrieving Renji and Rukia, while the Vizard picked up Ichigo, and Ryuuken picked up his son.

Time now for another personal rant.

You might have noticed that my little theory didn’t mention anyone rescuing Chad, and that is for a very good reason. Given the pace of the story at the time and the outcomes of all the fights, it had seemed clear that the heroes were no match for the Espada and wouldn’t be able to rescue Orihime.

My personal thoughts were that Ichigo might scramble his way as far as getting to Orihime, but that she’d make some vague comment saying she doesn’t want to leave, and then the rescuers pt.2 would take Ichigo’s original rescue team and flee Hueco Mundo in preparation for the upcoming war. The returning heroes would go through training, driven by their recent failure to rescue Orihime, and by their helplessness in the face of their enemies.

I was genuinely expecting Chad to be left behind, because as it had been stated, his powers had grown exponentially since being in Hueco Mundo, and his powers which were still a mystery to him, seemed to be more like a hollow’s than anything else. It’d only make sense then that he’d stay in Hueco Mundo to train, as it would be the only place for him. He’d likely tag along with Nnoitra and Tesra, seeing as Nnoitra had made the clear statement that he wouldn’t kill a weakling, ensuring Chad’s survival if he was with them. There’d be plenty of room for drama with Orihime trying to gain Aizen’s trust, Chad trying to gain more power while possibly masquerading as an arrancar. Chad would also be there to question Orihime’s loyalties to Ichigo and Aizen.

Meanwhile the Vizard would lock Ichigo up again in their little warehouse and this time insist he not leave until his training was done, and then Rukia and Renji would be towed back to Soul Society by Byakuya. This isolation would leave Ichigo to wonder what ever happened to Rukia, the last thing he had heard being that she died fighting Aaronierro. This would give him plenty of drive to grow stronger, having assumed he not only failed to save Orihime but let Chad and Rukia both “die”. And then of course there would be Uryuu’s punishment for having broken the contract with his father never to associate with Shinigami again, as he’d of course been found fighting Szayelaporro alongside Renji. Renji of course would probably be bearing the brunt of Byakuya’s wrath for having let Rukia go off on her own, when he had pretty clearly been sent with her to protect her in the first place, as she’s only around a vice-captain’s level. So with all that, the team would be broken up and then come crashing back together come the eventual war.

Anyway, rant over.

Invading Karakura-cho

As you ought to know, none of what I just mentioned actually happened, and instead what we got was the captains jumping in and finishing off three of the Espada, leaving Espada #1, 2, 3, 4, and 10 still alive. It was at this point, that Aizen pulls a twist where he claims to have kidnapped Orihime, not for any of the reasons he himself explained to her in earlier portions of the story, but instead all as a distraction to lure the captains into a place he could trap them, and then goes on to launch an attack on the human world.

The problem here is that the story had a fairly clear direction before this point: the young heroes would try to rescue Orihime and fail, serving a clever foil to the first rescue arc in SoulSociety, and at the same time Orihime, a previously “useless” character in the eyes of most fans, would be given the spotlight and the opportunity to rid Aizen of his magical macguffin and paving the way to victory for the rest of the heroes. My guess here is that Kubo’s editor wanted the story to move faster because fans were getting a bit tired of still wandering around Hueco Mundo hopping from battle to battle with no major story development.

So, rather than forward the plot in a natural way, Kubo made up a reason on the spot for the whole Hueco Mundo adventure to end on a sudden stop and then turned the direction of everything around and sent the heroes back to the real world. But, as I have said before, the fact that the rescue team had to be rescued pretty clearly suggested that the heroes were just not cut out for this mission in the first place: they just lost to numbers 5 and below out of 10. They never even made it half way up the ranks of the Espada, never mind the possibility of fighting Aizen himself.

Well then, what would be the next logical step at this point in the story? HAVE ICHIGO GO FIGHT THE GUY WHO KILLED HIM IN THEIR LAST DUEL. Seriously, even by shounen rules of near-death=powerup, this was a stretch. So then, Ichigo runs off the fight Ulquiorra, who proceeds to punch ANOTHER hole in Ichigo’s chest… killing him… again… But then the magical power of Orihime’s unspoken and unrequited love brings our hero back to finish the fight… as a single minded, nightmarish killing machine who makes quick work of literally tearing Ulquiorra to pieces.

Now, let me make it clear that Ichigo has now twice been killed by the second lowest ranking of 7 villains (that being Espada 1, 2, and 3, and then Tousen, Gin, and Aizen himself. I’ll get to Yammy in a bit. ) and yet he’s about to go off and fight the big bad. Oh, and let’s not forget that he’s once again lost himself to his dark side, which as a little rule of thumb in shounen is something that MUST be overcome by the end of the story, and usually not just by the end but as a key to defeating the final villain.

So our emotionally/spiritually/psychologically volatile and imperfect, twice dead, and thrice rescued hero (Grimmjow+Orihime saved him from Ulquiorra, then Nel saved him from Nnoitra, and then Zaraki saved him from Nnoitra.) is now running off to face down the big bad… You can’t possibly tell me this makes sense to you anymore… And more than this other characters are proclaiming that Ichigo is the only one who can save them… With 6 perfectly capable captains, one of which is el súper capitán, and 8 vice-captains already trying to handle things.


It was after the Pendulum side story that the story turned on its head and Kubo started having to backpedal like mad to cover his tracks and he stumbled his way towards some kind of resolution. I’ll take this one brief moment to go over the Pendulum side story if only because I feel obligated to mention it to some degree, even if it was entirely pointless. It was a side story taking place 110 years in the past, roughly 11 years relative to the rate at which shinigami age, and it served no functional purpose in the plot or story, as it only went to serve as an excuse to have redesigned characters make cameo apperances. As far as the plot goes, it really just took about 12 chapters to establish the fact that Aizen is the badguy, and his henchmen are Gin and Tousen. Quite literally, those are the only relevant points in the Pendulum arc’s story, and as you’re well aware, both are things we’ve known since the end of the Soul Society arc. Nothing has been gained. Moving along… As I’ve suggested, it would seem that Kubo made a sudden change of plans in the direction of the Hueco Mundo arc and so it now segues directly into the War between Aizen and Soul Society happening in the human realm.

Katen Kyoukotsu - Kageoni

Once the war got under way most of the fights were fairly straight forward, although there was a huge problem concerning the Vizard. The Espada put up more than a fight for the captains and the Vizard finally make it to the battlefield to provide backup. I want to point out that it had been years since the Vizard had been introduced by this point, and only once had we ever seen any of them fight in the present time (that being Hirako in the fight against a one-armed Grimmjow) and now, in their first big debut battles… they all fail miserably. To add insult to injury, Love and Rose, a pair of Vizard with Ichigo’s level of power amplification who had supposedly been training for 100 years, lose in a two-on-one fight with the #1 Espada, only to be upstaged by Captain Kyoraku alone. If it wasn’t clear before, it was now, that the power scale was in serious need of calibration.

Ushouda Hachigen

Another big problem I had personally was the fight between the #2 Espada, Barragan Luisenbarn, and the kidou specialist Vizard, Hacchi. The fight went thus: Hacchi uses barriers as his fighting style. Barragan “ages” the barriers to dissolve them. After running around a bit, Hacchi’s hand starts to decay. Hacchi then severs and teleports his arm inside Barragan. Barragan’s own powers decay him. Alright, now here are my problems with this: Hacchi inexplicably gained the power to teleport things. By the reasoning given he could have just teleported a cloud of Barragan’s aging breath inside of him. He had no reason to lose an arm. More importantly however, Hacchi’s powers, specifically his barriers, have been stated and implied to function on the same principle of event rejection as Orihime’s powers. That means his barriers are made by rejecting everything within a space, meaning nothing can pass in or out of that space. By this logic, Barragan’s aging powers should have been useless. What baffles me is that Kubo seemed to be aware of this when he put the two against each other in the first place, yet somehow he just sort of forgot what he was doing.

47 end of the chrysalis age

Moving on… The fights continue. The Espada are defeated. Tousen turns into a monster. Tousen is defeated. Tousen explodes. Then suddenly Ichigo is back. Ichigo fails to be of any use. Everyone else fights Aizen and lose. Backup arrives in the form of Urahara, Yoruichi, and Isshin. Aizen transforms into a coccoon man. Aizen walks away. Ichigo and Isshin follow. Suddenly there’s a hyperbolic time chamber training gimmick. Aizen terrorizes the comedy relief humans for awhile. Gin stabs Aizen in the back. Aizen saw it coming. Aizen technically dies. But the Hougyoku brings him back as a butterfly. Butterflaizen kills Gin. Ichigo comes in and beats up Butterflaizen. Butterflaizen transforms into some high octane nightmare fuel. Ichigo is unimpressed. Flashbacks to Ichigo’s training. Ichigo fights his inner-hollowxTensaZangetsu. Back in the boss fight, Ichigo loses his shinigami powers after narrowly FAILING to finish Aizen off. Urahara appears and seals Aizen away at the last moment. Aizen mutters some last words before he’s locked away. Now, fast forward the story by a little over a year, and here you are just 4 chapters behind current publications!

Now, I know some of you may recall I teased that I’d include a lengthy rant on one of my patented crackpot theories concerning Urahara, but if I included that now, it might easily double the length of this article. So, instead I’ll end this article here, and make a solemn vow to you, you readers, that I will find the time to include my ranting in some sort of supplemental update. Possibly as an article all its own… or maybe, just maybe, as a video update! In any case, I leave you now, after two long months of Bleach tomfoolery, to mull over my impassioned ramblings as you continue to read Bleach, and perhaps pick up Zombie Powder for the first time. Rest assured, I won’t be doing a multi-piece review like this one again for quite some time, so look forward to hearing something new come my next update! Until then, this has been The Owl in the Rafters, and I hope I’ve kept you entertained, because if you’ve enjoyed this anywhere near half as much as I have, then you’ve enjoyed it twice as much.

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