A Tale of Two Kubos II – Electric Boogaloo – A Very Special, Belated, Bonus Hidden Track

Posted on Apr 20 2011

Hello, and welcome back to another week with the Owl in the Rafters! Let me start with a brief intro and recap for those of you who are popping your heads in for the first time: My usual shtick is supposed to be giving overviews of the careers of various artists, authors, and directors in anime. So, normally, I try to get around as much as I can, albeit within the limitations of what I know and have read, without dwelling too much on popular titles that everyone already knows about. “Normally” he says…

There was one big exception to this however, when once upon a time I took a good chunk of back-to-back updates and sat my readers through a particularly excruciating, rambling review on Kubo Tite and of course his hit anime/manga, Bleach. If you haven’t read my Bleach review, you might want to do so now, though I won’t say you “have” to. If you haven’t read any of my reviews, I can’t help but feel like this may not be the one to start with, so I’d like to direct you to the rest of my articles first. Still, if you’re a die-hard Bleach fan and don’t particularly mind the mildly insane conspiracy theories of a fanboy on his soapbox, then go right ahead and keep on reading.

To further elaborate on where I’m going with this; at the end of the second part of my lengthy Bleach rant, I sort of promised to divulge a bit of my withheld inner Bleach fanboy theories in the third and final part of the review, but come the end of part three, the review had already gone on so long that I didn’t have the heart to stretch it out any more by tacking on the promised conspiracy rant. Instead, I just sort of offhandedly, may have made some kind of ambiguously, vague-ish, thing that might be considered a “promise” to cover the theory at a later date… and in a video update.

Well, the video thing is just not going to work for me anytime soon, and frankly with the current events of the Bleach manga, my theories may not be so crazy after all! So, before I miss the chance to get my theories out on the table, and subsequently lose my chance at the rights to say “I told you so” to the entirety of the Bleach fan-base, I decided that today would be the day we jump headfirst into the murky, speculative waters stewing in between the lines of Kubo Tite’s big cash-cow, Bleach.

This theory is something I’ve actually had building up in the back of my head for years now. The furthest back I can recall playing with this idea and digging for evidence in the subtext of Bleach may have been in 2006, not too long after Kubo had wrapped up the last of the Soul Society arc and first introduced the Vizard in the original Japanese Weekly Jump publication.

The hunch/observation that caught my attention, that only seemed to make more and more sense the deeper I kept looking into things, was that Urahara Kisuke had been the single cause of every major plot point in the series and then what will seem like a sudden jump in logic that Urahara was also somehow destined to be not only a villain at some point, but the final boss of the story.

Now, I’m sure this theory may rub a number of fans out there the wrong way, as some may be fairly reluctant to suspect Urahara as any sort of villain, let alone the end all ultimate evil in the series, but just hear me out, and once I’m through I’ll leave it to you to saying whether I’m a just loon or if there may be some method to my madness.

I’ll try to run you through this in the way that makes the most sense to me. We’ll start with the big lynch pin that started everything for me, the moment in chapter 182 where Urahara apologizes to Ichigo. At this point Urahara is apologizing for having kept a number of secret from Ichigo and for using Ichigo and his friends like pawns. It seems that all is forgiven when Ichigo gives Urahara a friendly knuckle sandwich and says he’ll call it even, but something still seemed out of place.

For starters, Ichigo learned about Urahara’s manipulation in the first place, from Aizen, who in effect had admitted in chapter 175 that he and Urahara were playing a chess game with each other throughout the entirety of the manga thus far with the entire cast of characters, but namely the heroes: Urahara hid the Hougyoku away in Rukia and manipulated Ichigo and company to cover it up and later retrieve it, while Aizen had slaughtered the Central 46 and had been manipulating all of the Gotei13 to find Rukia and extract the Hougyoku from her.

I have to make clear that while character integrity can easily be debated, especially in the case of Aizen, the bottom line is that Urahara can be confirmed for having some ulterior motives. Now what those motives were, or why he would hide furthering them I won’t bother with right now. As with any work of fiction, debating or investigating the characters’ specific motivations or intentions from a standpoint within the story will prove ultimately fruitless as any and all details of such speculation can neither be adequately proven nor disproven.

So, while at this point you might start to wonder what Urahara’s motivations were in hiding all the facts from Ichigo and sending him blindly into what had really amounted to little less than a kamikaze mission, I’ll have dissuade you from trying to get inside the character’s head. Instead I want to first try and lay out the facts we know about Urahara’s character; or at least I would, but the funny thing is, that after going over the whole manga again, you might realize that by the end of the Soul Society arc alone, we know next to nothing about Urahara, apart from the fact that he’s the mysterious gadget guy that used to run the Gotei13’s tech department.

More specifically however, we knew at the time that he was once a captain of the Gotei13, the former head of the Technological R&D department, the creator of the Hougyoku, the one who hid the Hougyoku in Rukia, the creator of the reiatsu-erasing gigai that hid Rukia, the inventor and sole success of the 3-day bankai training method (excusing Ichigo of course), someone who was equipped to give Ichigo back his shinigami powers, as well as hollow powers via the Shattered Shaft method, and an exile from Soul Society on the run for what were at the time unknown reasons. Taking a step off the factual path, we could also argue that he is the creator of the modsouls –considering first that they were developed by the R&D department, which Urahara founded, and second that circumstances make it seem unlikely that Kurotsuchi Mayuri was involved with the project, implications are that Urahara was the head of the Vanguard Project/Spearhead Project. So, as I stated; Urahara had been the lone source of every major plot point in the series up until that point.

Again though, apart from his inventions and some shadowy looks from under the brim of his hat, we never really saw or heard much about who Urahara really was or what he was after. In fact, to this very day we don’t know too much else about Urahara’s goals. But before I get ahead of myself, I’ll walk you to the next step of building this theory. I said that I wanted to avoiding trying to get into the heads of characters, as that only leads to ever vaguer territories of speculation. What I won’t discourage in the slightest however is the attempt to get into the head of the author. In fact, the bulk of this theory rests on getting into Kubo’s head, making note of his habits, and indeed trying to read his mind.

In part one of my original Kubo Tite article, I addressed Kubo’s first serialized title, Zombie Powder, that was axed after just 4 volumes worth and a little under a year of weekly publication. I mentioned just briefly that Kubo actually salvaged a large number of basic designs, themes, and motifs from Zombie Powder and rebuilt them into the story of Bleach. Of the several characters to be reincarnated from Zombie Powder to Bleach, one character gets a lot more attention than some of the others. That character went by the name C.T. Smith.

In Zombie Powder, C.T. Smith was first introduced as a sharp shooting pistol wielding villain-of-the-week who turned out to be a friend of the hero, Gamma, and his partner in crime as they quested for the eponymous Zombie Powder together. But more than just a wing-man, Gamma and Smith both made a very clear point of saying that they were not just friends but rivals, and the only people capable of fighting on even grounds with each other: make note of that because it’s important. Smith was also the makeshift guardian figure for the young tag-along kid character, Elwood, who he’d show off a goofier, friendlier side to, not at all dissimilar to the easy going facade of our favorite smiling shop keeper.

Now here is where we get to a bit of the fun behind this theory of mine. As the projectile fighter, the glasses guy, the hat guy, the two-faced guy, the snarky fighter, the one with the mysterious background, the mentor, and the rival/partner to the hero, Smith actually provides the basis to more than just one character in Bleach. The first is obviously Urahara as that was the point of bringing him up at all: the two share the blond hair and hat motif, and both have an initially mysterious background that includes an reputation that can strike fear into people by name alone.

You may have also put two and two together at this point and noticed that, save for the difference in age, Smith bares a striking resemblance to Ishida Uryuu, Kubo’s other snarky, glasses wearing, projectile using, sidekick/self-proclaimed rival. Indeed, while the personalities aren’t as similar as Urahara’s and Smith’s are, Uryuu fills the same basic niche in the cast that Smith did. There is one more character however, and if you haven’t noticed it now, your one hint is this: the glasses.

Yes, Smith’s kindly smile and gentle, fatherly eyes hiding behind the ominous glare of those thick square framed glasses are the same ones we saw when Aizen Sousuke was first introduced as the mild mannered 5th Division Captain of the Gotei13. More than that, when Smith finds himself in battle he dawns a colder more malevolent personality that leaves him prone to the sort of expressions Aizen started making after his big reveal as the central villain of the Soul Society arc.

Now let me point a few things out that are important to this: First, we establish that Kubo recycled major plot points and thematic elements of Zombie Powder when he made Bleach –I could try covering this in extreme detail but instead I’ll opt for giving only brief examples and encouraging you to go read Zombie Powder for yourself– Not to count against Kubo for this as it’s perfectly understandable when you consider he had just started working on developing a real story to Zombie Powder when it was canceled. The quest for the wish granting magical macguffin; the magical macguffin getting stuck in the chest of a hostage that needed to be rescued; the hero wielding a giant sword wreathed in black flames while fending off an encroaching evil persona; young boys traumatized by watching a mother-figure in their life killed in front of them; and a long list of other things…

I could just keep breaking things down gimmick-by-gimmick and panel-by-panel, (it’s plenty of fun, really) but I won’t because that isn’t the point right now. The point is that there are very clear signs of Kubo wanting to bring his unused or unfulfilled ideas from Zombie Powder back in Bleach for a second shot. This idea is important because it establishes a link that is key to my theory; that Urahara Kisuke and Aizen Sousuke are both functional reincarnations of C.T. Smith. What this implies is that both of them are doing what Smith would have done, and that Smith would have done what Aizen and Urahara have done and will eventually do.

I know that is a vague and convluted way to put it, but here’s what it boils down to: Aizen was based on Smith, and Aizen turned traitor on his “friends”. This doesn’t say much by itself, but the catch is that if we can establish that Aizen’s betrayal was originally part of Smith’s character that Kubo brought back, we can cite that trend in making a case for the idea that Urahara may do something similar at some point in the story. So again, that means that if we can find reason to believe Aizen’s betrayal came from Smith’s betrayal, then we can suggest that Smith’s betrayal could mean Urahara will make a betrayal. So, to form this link we need to look at what Zombie Powder had done, and try to figure out where Kubo was going. It sounds far fetched, but I think it’ll all start to make more sense once you’ve heard me out.

So for now, let’s forget the nitty-gritty details. There’s no way we can make accurate or even reasonable guesses on everything, but to start with basics, let’s look at the premise of Zombie Powder: Collect twelve Rings of the Dead and receive Zombie Powder. But what does the Zombie Powder do? Two options: the first is to use it to resurrect the dead and the second is to grant immortality to the living. Ok, so then let’s consider now the obviously implied but unspoken fact that C.T. Smith is trying to get the Zombie Powder. We already knew this really, but stop now and think about that actually means. We can safely assume that C.T. Smith as a character is motivated by one of two things in his pursuit of the Zombie Powder; either he wants to bring someone back from the dead, or he wants immortality. See where this is headed?

Now, by virtue of literary convention and considering the way the Rings of the Dead strongly parallel the Dragon Balls –this being one of the chief criticisms of Zombie Powder held against it in the first place– and with the way the globe-trotting quest also echos of the original Dragon Ball, while not an infallible assumption, it is at least a reasonable guess to say that the Zombie Powder would likely have afforded the heroes only one single use once they had it. Between Gamma and Elwood, both wanted to wish a woman back from the dead, but as the hero of the story, Gamma would inevitably have to overcome his past and get over the death of the woman he ambiguously “killed”. That said, he would most likely give the Zombie Powder to Elwood to bring back his sister.

But what about Smith? He had no background to support any specific motives but there are some pretty basic options here:

1) A background story Kubo never got around to would reveal that Smith also lost someone important to him and he wants bring that person back,

2) Smith went on the whole adventure just to help Gamma for whatever reason as some kind of a favor, or…

3) Smith wanted the Zombie Powder in order to grant himself immortality.

I think we can agree that option 1 is a little redundant, given that Gamma and Elwood both have the reviving the dead motive pretty cleanly covered, and option 2 just seems unlikely and generally unsatisfying as a motive, so that leaves option 3 as what I think is the most reasonable conclusion.

So let’s talk about the theoretical end of the story. The goal was to get the Zombie Powder, so obviously that’s the most logical place we can expect the series to end up at. Of course there is a small chance that the story could have swerved violently away from the premise and turned into some kind of save-the-world plot, but seeing as any drastic deviations from the basic premise have no evidence or grounds for speculation for or against we’ll stick with what we know, and what we can toy with: the Zomibe Powder.

We’ll start by assuming that by the end of the story, our two central heroes, Elwood and Gamma, do in fact gather all twelve Rings of the Dead and manage to create the Zombie Powder. Now, we have to ask, “Where is Smith?” Again, there are three likely options:

1) Kubo wrote him out of the picture somewhere in the middle of the adventure and he gave up on the Zombie Powder and went off to do his own thing,

2) He got killed off at some point in the story, likely in some kind of heroic or ambiguous sacrifice, or…

3) He sticks with the team for the whole journey and he’s right there with Elwood and Gamma when they finally get a hold of the Zombie Powder.

At first glance, all of these seem fairly possible, but if we look forward at Bleach for a moment we might notice a few things that’ll narrow it down. First off, any Bleach fan will know that Kubo doesn’t really kill off his heroes; they might “die” but he won’t ever kill them off for good. In fact, he has had ample opportunities to kill of heroes, major and minor, and every time he brings them back with a couple of bandages and by the next adventure they’re back in fighting fit shape. He did once made a hero out of a villain on the character’s very deathbed, but other than that the heroes never die, no matter how grievous the wounds, so with that in consideration option number 2 is out.

Option 1 might seem harder to disprove considering how many characters Kubo has pushed off to the side with little to no explanation throughout Bleach, but if we consider the fact that he liked Smith enough to base not 1, not 2, but 3 different characters off of him, when even the hero, Gamma didn’t get quite as many nods or throwbacks to in Bleach, I think it’s fair to say that Smith was a personal favorite for Kubo. That said, it’s not likely Kubo would kill off his favorite, especially when you consider how often Kubo has taken the time to give even some of the most minor characters in Bleach elaborate background stories.

So in the end this leaves us with the perfectly reasonable assumption that Smith would probably last until the end of the series, had Kubo been given the chance to keep it going.

Alright, now think back to one of the first things I said about C.T. Smith –something I told you to make note of because it would be important later. I said that both Smith and Gamma had declared that they were an even match for each other: the only ones capable of giving each other a real run for his money in an even fight. Also recall that we established the idea that Smith more than likely wanted the Zombie Powder for himself, and that with only two options, he would more than likely lean in the direction of the whole immortality deal. Consider then, that as Gamma’s closest ally and one of the chief expository voices in Zombie Powder –taking the reins in explaining each of Gamma’s new emerging abilities, techniques, and secrets– that Smith is easily the one person who knows the most about both Gamma’s strengths and weaknesses.

Does it start to make sense now, even if it is just a theory; that C.T. Smith behind the goofy smiles and the sinister badass hero glasses, he could very easily, if not entirely likely, have been the final boss for Zombie Powder, stealing the Zombie Powder out from under Gamma’s nose at the last second and ascending to immortal final-boss-hood? Now, obviously I can’t claim any of this as solid fact, it’s all purely conjecture, but let’s look back at how this projection relates to Bleach for a second and try to put this all in perspective…

So, Smith would be really have been using Gamma to help get the magical macguffin to grant him immortality, rather than constantly battle with Gamma for each of twelve rings. At the climax, when every other enemy was defeated, he would take the chance to turn on Gamma, when no one expected it. He would then take aforementioned magical macguffin, and use it to obtain immortality, resulting of course in an epic final battle. Aizen already did all of this with Soul Society when he used the Gotei13 to track down Rukia for him, waited for Ichigo & co. to distract them before grabbing the hougyoku for himself and running with it. He then took the magical macguffin in question and used it to gain immortality, resulting in an epic (somewhat) final battle.

Yet, at the very end of the fight, Ichigo didn’t actually land the final blow. No. When Ichigo had just barely fallen short, who else but Urahara stepped in to seal Aizen away himself, maintaining the point that Urahara has single-handedly been behind every major plot point in the series. Consider also the final words that Aizen spat out at Urahara, which brought to light several questions about Urahara’s own motives and history; the first real questions about the subject that we’ve had in all this time. And then look at the current story arc of Bleach where Urahara has finally, for the first time in 10 years of publication, come into question as a possible villain –and strangely enough in a startling sudden jump in assumptions on Ichigo’s part, when considering things from within the story. When you consider how both powerful and influential Urahara has been over the story of Bleach thus far, it’s not hard to imagine how easily he could be given the motives to become a twist villain. He is easily the most potentially threatening character in the story in terms of resources, and when you consider Kubo’s history –or perhaps call it a trend– of fast consecutive curve balls ever since Aizen’s betrayal, it’s really not hard to believe.

So, as I said when I started this: with the way the story has been headed, there has been a little more suggestion that Urahara may just be a villain of some sort. The theory I’ve posited here through the above reasoning is that Urahara will not only fulfill these hints at his being a villain, but that the “twist” of it all will be something Kubo has been sitting on and waiting to spring on readers for over a decade since Zombie Powder was canceled.

Now, Bleach fans, I invite you! Consider what I have presented you with in the above: My reasoning, my logic, my assumptions and tell me where you stand either in regards to my theory, or in regards to my sanity, in the comments section below! Until next time, this has been another tangenducational rant with Tyto, The Owl in the Rafters!

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  • Bargain Gamer April 20, 2011 at 9:48 PM

    You, my friend, are one crazy SOB.

    Crazy like a fox! I like it. ^ ^

  • nerdwerld April 21, 2011 at 10:26 AM

    You are crazy theoretician and I love it. I have always suspected Urahara in an antagonistic role actually surprised it hasn’t happened earlier.

  • […] back to The Owl in the Rafters! For those of you who know me already, you realize by now that I’m a bit of a Bleach fan. So, while not exactly a surprise with the way it has been going, many Bleach fans were saddened to […]

  • sasukeuzi June 12, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    o god i laughed so hard when u posted “WHY ARE NONE OF YOU PEOPLE DEAD?!” but srsly i never considered Urahara a possible antagonist until now. and i totally agree with u on that part. and what about those two lil kids he’s hordin o_O?! well Jinta isnt so special but Ururu does kick a lot of ass. its dissatisfying when Kubo doesnt do backstories for people who dont but also at the same time DO matter to the series. he never went to explain wat happened to Ururu that night when she saved Renji’s life back when Ilford beat the crap out of him, or did i miss some special chapter/filler episode?!

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