Many of us have fell back into our old comforts during this pandemic, what is needed more than an TV show from 2003 that comes in the form of a warm hug whilst we shut ourselves off from the horror of the world for a few minutes?
For me, Bleach was that solace. The anime that aired in 2005, based on a manga of the same name, which featured teenager Ichigo Kurosaki’s life change forever after a fateful encounter with Shinigami (Soul Reaper) Rukia Kuchiki one night. The rest is, well, definitely not history, but it’s 366 episodes, 70+ volumes of manga, multiple games, 4 animated movies, one live action movie, spin off CDs, novels and manga, and a final anime series returning in 2021.
At age 13 the shinigami were the coolest thing to me. They each have a magical sword (zanpakutou) with an individual personality, form and powers, only they can access through years, in some cases, decades, of training. Their primary job is ensuring the souls of departed humans make their way to the after life, the Soul Society, by performing a ‘konso’ on them. Lest they become food for devious creatures known as hollows, or become separated from their human form so long that they fall into an emotional black hole and emerge as a hollow themselves.
They sound like the perfect heroes right?
Turns out Soul Society isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, and they’ve turned these guardians of justice into their foot soldiers for…capitalism in the afterlife? Like what the fuck? How is the after life benefiting from your labour? We say we’ll work until we’re dead with retirement ages going back, but never fear, you’ll work until you die AGAIN, unless you’re lucky enough to evolve into a hollow and roam the white sands of Hueco Mundo for all eternity.
You see, after a konso is performed on your wandering soul, you end up in Rukongai. That is, unless you end up in hell.
So the afterlife, do you go through those pearly gates and find yourself dining on the finest of foods with Marilyn Monroe, your third great grandpa and Julius Caesar?
No, you find yourself in abject poverty with none of the indulges of modern life, separated from your friends and family and very unlikely to ever find them again. And in a sick, Hunger Games-like move, the higher the district number, the worse the conditions. There are 320 districts surrounding the Seireitei, the hub of shinigami, number 1-80 and split by their relative location to the Seireitei (North, South, etc).
Conditions are said to plummet after district 50, with no records of anyone in a district beyond 59 wearing sandals in the last 550 years. They’re poor, poor. District 78 is where Rukia and Hisana ended up after dying as children, and lived in such poverty, Hisana ended up abandoning Rukia as she couldn’t keep the two of them alive, a burden she carried until her death*.
*second death I guess
Is Hisana to blame? No way. It’s not like the money isn’t there. By some happenstance, Hisana ends up married to Byakuya Kuchiki, head of the Kuchiki House, one of the four Great Noble Houses.
Oh and he owns a scarf worth 10 mansions. Just a casual scarf he wears into battle. Does he sell this after hearing his wife’s tale of poverty? No, he keeps it but ends up adopting Rukia eventually, and doing nothing for poor people ever again. Good going Byakuya, you rich dickhead.
That’s skipping over that whole part where he was keen on executing Rukia for her crimes, which she didn’t really commit anyway. Dick.
So going onto nobility. They all seem to suck, apart from Yoruichi and Yushiro Shihoin, and I guess Rukia since she was adopted into it, coming from absolute poverty and being forced to steal to survive.
To highlight on the hereditary power these people hold for no real reason other than birthright, here’s an excerpt from the Bleach wiki:
The Noble Houses of Soul Society have an unclear role in the culture, social and governmental aspects of that dimensions existence. The Four Noble Families (四大貴族, Yondai Kizoku; lit. “Four Great Noble Families”) carry the most weight and appear to have some influence over the governmental institutions (i.e. Central 46 Chambers) and even institutions outside of the government (i.e. Shin’ō Academy). The military (i.e. Gotei 13, Kidō Corps & Onmitsukidō) have no authority to act against a noble family without evidence that their actions are treasonous to Soul Society.
Yeah, so they get an extremely unfair benefit. And they also have a bad history, look at the Can’t Fear Your Own World novels for the Tokinada family being a hot mess, and the Kuchiki family has had it’s darkness in its past.
Plus it seems that they’re not even loyal to their own, with the Shiba Clan being downgraded from a high noble status after the deaths of Vice Captain and 3rd Seat of Squad 13, Kaien and Miyako Shiba, and the disappearance of Squad 10 Captain, Isshin Shiba.
As you’ll see from this, many positions in the Gotei 13 are occupied by those of noble descent – Shihoin, Kuchiki, Ise, Kyouraku, Fon, Omaeda are just a few houses of nobility that have been heavily represented.
Did the Soul Society help the mourning and scarred Shiba clan? No, they considered them outcasts and really didn’t bother too hard to ever find Isshin, who was living in Karakura Town with a Quincy wife, looking exactly the same as he did when he disappeared. It’s no wonder the remaining Shiba hate the Seireitei and nobility, but it’s important to note they remain close with those who share their experience of being wrong by the Soul Society’s judgements, namely, Yoruichi Shihoin and Kisuke Urahara.
The Soul Society fuck up a lot. They get things wrong A LOT and it comes back to bite them in the ass constantly. Look at literally every single anime filler arc, the final manga arc and how Central 46 treated the Visoreds, Yoruichi, Kisuke and Tessai Tsukabishi over 100 years ago.
Central 46, where do we begin? It’s the House of Lords. They also seem to be mainly middle aged men from good, sandal wearing backgrounds. At least until after the Quincy invasion and one young woman manages to gain a lot of influence to push the Soul Society forward.
Central 46 live and work in the same, small section of the Seireitei, but make decisions despite never experiencing outside life themselves, they literally have no idea whats going on. They’re so distant that NOBODY noticed they were dead for a long time after Aizen killed them during the Ryoka invasion.
Even when they’re in power, they’re often incompetent, exiling Urahara and Tessai and ordering the KILLING of SEVEN Captains and Vice-Captains (the visoreds) without even attempting to help them? Their own fear of what they can’t control themselves is so apparent in their actions, and also in their lack of true pardon for Urahara and Tessai, despite it being open knowledge that they were fully wrong.
Yoruichi is the one good noble once more, who defected against them without hesitation to save lives. Stan Yoruichi tbh, she gave up everything because these dudes are inept.
I mean, Aizen was there THE WHOLE TIME. and NONE of them questioned how Tosen was the only person from 9th squad to survive? Genuine idiots. They also dispelled any testimony from Urahara and Tessai about Aizen without looking into it properly. Not very good due process tbh.
Their power is not as absolute as they’d like, just look at the amount of Captains, Vice-Captains and Seated Officers which openly rebelled and campaigned to save Rukia after their* order to execute her for minor crimes was passed.
However not only their judgement, but Head Captain Yamamoto’s influence and power must be question. He was unable to bring himself to question Central 46 and their unjust orders against Rukia, technically a noble herself, I mean, in CFYOW novels, we see a noble get away with murdering another noble, but this noble is quickly sentenced to death for saving the lives of a family by transferring shinigami powers? Seems unlegit but ok.
He didn’t even realise that pretty much half of the captains were rebelling against him in different ways about this, including his two apprentices and practically his sons. He didn’t think ‘maybe I’m wrong’, instead he decided to fight them and threaten to kill them?
Sounds like a sane leader to me!
One that remained in power for thousands of years and no one questioned it! Soul Society is in better hands with Kyouraku in charge, as from the spin off materials, it seems he is unafraid of making progress and creating a more equal Soul Society, as well as brokering relationships with surviving Quincies and Arrancar! You know who else did this? Kisuke Urahara!
Yamamoto often used Urahara’s abilities, where’s his compensation? My man better be on a freelance rate and he better have set that shit sky high. He’s saved the people that couldn’t have given a shit about him more times than we can count. Too good for them, should have gone over to the Arrancar and spent his days in Las Noches.
Back to the above, why am I referring to these communities as survivors I hear you ask? Oh, just the Soul Society, at the behest of Yamamoto and Central 46, treated the Quincies and Hollow as mortal enemies for so long that they committed mass genocide more than once.
Oh, and before we bring this to a close, let’s just remembered that this series kicks off with a bunch of teenagers with brand new powers, and a cat, breaking in and absolutely decimating them.
Definitely my protectors of the universe. Should have left it all to the Espada.