Friday, 6 April 2012

Attack From Behind: Filler Arc Review [7]

So that's what a Dutch pimp looks like...

When people say that filler is better than canon, what they really mean is this: "The Zampakutou Rebellion Arc was a million times better than Fake Karakura + Deicide."

And it's pretty difficult to argue otherwise. While Fake Karakura was frustration after frustration and Deicide was contrivance after contrivance, the Zampakutou Rebellion Arc reminded us of the vibrant creativity that the SS Arc injected into the series by introducing so many characters--and their swords, with their unique appearances and abilities. At this point, saying that the various swords are the best thing about BLEACH is a no-brainer. Before the series became a rudderless, unintelligible bugfuck train wreck, a fan probably would have pointed to "the characters" as being the series's best aspect. No longer, since Kubo's demonstrated how much he cares about characterization and consistency in the Fullbringer Arc (i.e., not a whole lot).

So, the anime guys remembered the whole Zampak materialization thing (Zangetsu as an old man with shades, Zabimaru as that snake-tailed ape), and they made an arc out of turning the Gotei 13's swords against them. Who would be the villain of this arc? None other than a Zampakutou spirit himself. You've got to hand it to them, that is a clever and creative idea. He's gonna emancipate all Zampakutou spirits from their shinigami slavemasters, and he's got just the ability he needs to do it--the ability to... emancipate Zampakutou spirits.

Meet Muramasa.

"Actually, I became a pimp to keep my nails long and deadly, not the other way around."

It's like he's one of those rare kids in high school who turned Goth and actually meant it. Muramasa went all in, baby, and he's not regretting a goddamn day. Muramasa is too cool for Hot Topic; this dude shops at Cold Tangent.

Fucker even cries blood!

"Sorry, I just read the chapter where Hinamori got stabbed again, and my brain tried to flee for its life."

So why is it Muramasa is so likeable!? Unironically even! I think it's because while his design is very these wounds, they will, not HEE-UHL, his personality is premium-grade stoic badass. Usually I think "stoic badass" isn't terribly compelling, since all too often it's executed without any flair, but Muramasa pulls it off with aplomb. He's even got his own awesome theme music, courtesy of the ever impressive Sagisu Shirou.

"I've got a fur coat on, does that mean I get to be on a volume cover?"


Though I suppose it's not really Muramasa's choice how he looks or behaves, it's whatever his former wielder's inner psyche whipped up when he (or she!) first became a shinigami. Yeesh, no wonder it's believable you'd kill him (or her! Okay yeah it's a him). Your wielder probably spent all his time writing really unpleasant poetry that wedges words like "ichor" and "tendril" into every other stanza.

We're going to have loads of fun, you and I.

Speaking of his former wielder, a prevailing fan theory at the time this arc was going on held that Muramasa must be Kenpachi's sword (which sadly remains nameless). That so many would buy into the notion that a filler arc would reveal something so anticipated is proof of how desperately languid the pacing has become in canon. That's another reason the filler is superior: THINGS HAPPEN EPISODE TO EPISODE. Or at least enough to warrant hope that characters will get proper development, and that the series isn't just spinning its wheels with no clear direction.

Shall we begin the story proper? The arc opens with a teaser featuring mysterious characters (the materializations of everyone's swords, but we don't know that yet) in one of Soul Society's many swank caves.

Say what you want about Soul Society, but don't knock its caves.

And then Muramasa's all like


But I suppose that needs context. Without further ado, let's run down all the Zampak spirits that appear here.

First there's Rangiku's sword Haineko, which you'll remember means "Ash Cat." They took a rather literal approach and made her a catty cat.

"Considering the shit Rangiku buys when she's got two pennies to rub together, is this really all that much of a surprise?"

Hinamori's Tobiume, who they decided will be Haineko's comic relief tetchy rival.

"These? They're the manifestation of Momo finally growing some balls."

The breathtaking Sode no Shirayuki:

  "Why'd you have to give your powers to that dumb human when you could have just used me? You're so dense sometimes, Rukia. Now if you excuse me, I'm going to hit up another 'sleeve of white snow,' if you know what I mean."

Kazeshini, Hisagi's blade ("Killer Wind"). Hisagi hates his sword because it looks like something that kills. So they made Kazeshini a bloodlusty psycho slaughterer.

"First your morally upright captain up and turns traitor, then your sword spirit's personality ends up being exactly what you most loathe. With your luck perhaps it's for the best that I kill you now, Hisagi."

The majestic ice dragon Hyourinmaru, now in underwear model form.

"If his eyes were smoldering any more he'd become a fire elemental--in my cooch!!"

They made him an amnesiac, because hey, wouldn't you love to forget Hitsugaya, too? He's certainly doing way better for himself away from Hitsugaya, he's the heartthrob of Zampak Town.

 "If only they knew this X is actually a terminal case of... FACE HERPES!!"

And then there's Zabimaru. Who used to look like this:

 "Oh man, when Renji wakes up, he's gonna get such a scolding. Just you wait."

And now looks like this:


This is the one design choice I don't agree with. I can understand making Zabimaru humanoid--rather awkward crossing swords with a gorilla. And the monkey woman is kinda hot. It's just that the snake boy seems superfluous, not to mention he looks stupid. Couldn't they have just given her a snake tail?

Let's save the rest for later~

Ichigo awakens in his inner world with Zangetsu, for no apparent reason other than I guess Zangetsu wanted to ask him a question.

"Whippersnappers all. I'm still the coolest Zampak spirit."

 "Can you hear it, Ichigo?"


Something's up!

We first know something's wrong with their Zampaks during a sparring match between Byakuya and Renji, where Renji shockingly exhibits actual competence--but probably only due to Muramasa's secret interference. "Hear my voice!"

"If I use my hands, I can make my petals twice as fast. However, I never lift my arms because my body is 92% Xanax."

Hitsu summons Hyourinmaru, sensing something's amiss.

"Hey, remember that time you were that other guy's sword, too? No? Gooooood."

Hyourinmaru dissipates before Hitsu's very eyes. And not long thereafter, it would seem Rangiku's sword won't speak to her, no matter how earnestly she tries to strike a conversation with Haineko. Rangiku badmouths Haineko, but Hinamori scolds her and counters with how her sword, Tobiume, was there for her when she felt alone. However, it's looking like everybody's swords are getting more and more unresponsive.

Some more weird-looking characters come to the 1st Division's gate looking to start some trouble.

Lookout: "This it it. The apotheosis of my job! I'll never spot any ryoka breaking into the 1st Division after this!!"

Isn't there anybody ever mucking about near the 1st Division? You'd think they'd at least have lookouts. But then, Yamamoto's security has a rather gaping hole in canon, too--he doesn't have any.

"Who's there!?...
Oh, right, that line never works, does it?"

And then the little kid Zampak spirits defeated the august and mighty Sasakibe by poking him lightly in the knee. (Note: definitely sarcasm.)

"Yamamoto" summons everybody important in the Gotei 13 via hell butterfly, and they all arrive, only to discover it wasn't an order by Yamamoto at all. Unless, that is, Sasakibe's only collapsed before everyone because he lost a soul-staring contest against Yamamoto after an especially boring evening.

"Oh come on, give him a line here, at least."
"No, it's too funny. No lines for Sasakibe, ever."

It was instead a ruse by Muramasa to declare war on the shinigami, and to show them that their Zampakutou shall pay them no heed from this point forward. It is the Zampakutou that will rule the shinigami, not the other way around! Viva la Revolution!

That's cute, the writers remembered Komamura is fiercely loyal to Yamamoto, as well as his lovable tendency to stand up to main villains, only to get brushed off like a fly

Tenken in all his obscure glory:

 "I'm not even close to a fox-guy-thing? Your self-esteem needs work, Sajin."

He's actually modeled after a myouou angry Buddha statue, since his bankai form's name is Kokujou Tenken Myouou.

I'm surprised he didn't end up being one of Aizen's Hougyoku forms.

Also, isn't it a tad early for Muramasa to be revealing his ultimate technique:

  "You will not make jokes."

In all seriousness, did you SEE that godly animation? Talk about a strong start!

I know fodder shinigami being absolutely pathetic is all but canon, but come on, a fucking ladder!?

"Shikai... doesn't work!"

After which Renji tries shikai. Renji is proof positive that early childhood malnutrition can't make a very sound foundation brainwise. Rangiku and Ikkaku follow his lead, and they don't even have bankai. We know Rangiku suffered some malnutrition, and we can assume Ikkaku drank all his common sense away with that gourd he keeps passing back and forth with Iba. That would also explain his Lucky Dance, which will make its triumphal return shortly. In any case, Renji is an especial idiot for trying to release his sword twice.

As you may have noted, Kenpachi isn't around, and won't be for a while. The in-story explanation for why Kenpachi didn't answer his summons is that he was just being his blatantly-insubordinate-without-any-consequences self. The out-of-story explanation is so that Muramasa couldn't pull out his Zampak and reveal it before Kubo did, and also to hold "KENPACHI RETURNS!" as a plot trump card.

Wondering whose sword this guy is?

"Do we have a generic lightning sword? No generic lightning sword, I'm hearing no generic lightning sword. Notes, fellas, take notes!"

Be prepared for an uncommonly topical rant. It's Gonryoumaru, the sword of none other than Sasakibe!! That most beloved of all characters, whose titanic list of achievements includes getting curb stomped by Ichigo with a single effortless punch, and becoming the first good guy (..."good guy") to die in the series.

Patras wishes he could look this sexy

Said death happened, like, a week or two before this article went up, making for a strange serendipity. For you see, while much was made of Sasakibe during his funeral in the manga--including that he had a bankai he never saw fit to use (even when his beloved Captain Commander's life was in danger, fancy that ass pull ass pull ass pull)--according to anime continuity, they literally have his sword spirit chafe at the notion that Sasakibe is a nobody in his division. (Of course, Kubo did make Sasakibe's utter invisibility a retroactive character trait.) I like how, in the anime, Sasakibe's sword spirit plays a far more important role and has way more lines than his own wielder. Also, Kubo's asinine retcon makes it nonsensical that Gonryoumaru never pulled bankai while free of Sasakibe's control. And it's so shamelessly copy-pasted from Ikkaku's own only marginally workable excuse for why he suddenly had bankai that it boggles the mind. At least with Ikkaku, Kubo had Iba talk some sense into him for recklessly abstaining from bankai during the war just so he could remain an underling of the great Kenpachi. Sasakibe was practically praised for the same dysfunctional "loyalty" he supposedly displayed by... choosing the quickest way to the floor after anyone drew breath too close to him, so he could properly grovel. If I were your sword spirit, I'd resent the hell out of you too, you shitwipe.

Anyway! Muramasa has Yamamoto sealed, using the materializations of Ukitake, Unohana and Kyouraku's swords as energy points in the barrier. That eyepatch girl was Kyouraku's Katen Kyoukotsu, and the little twins were Ukitake's Sougyo no Kotowari. The hooded figure was Unohana's Mikazuki.

Byakuya has to outpace a surging blast of his own petals, which presumably suffer for speed because they're not being conducted directly by hand. Oh, and he's got that whole God of Flash thing going on, too. But that doesn't stop him from getting devoured by the petals. Byakuya is the only shinigami who is simultaneously the king of speed and of sloth.

This is Senbonzakura. In my opinion, he's got the most badass design of them all. Samurai weep at the beauty of falling sakura petals... and then they MURDER PEOPLE WITH THEM.

Rukia and Renji witness Byakuya succumbing to Senbonzakura's attack, and despair when Sode no Shirayuki attacks them as well. They only barely manage to claw their way out of Soul Society.

I see this screencap and I like to believe the moon is firing an energy beam at Byakuya. "Maybe Renji can only touch my reflection on the water, but I sure as hell can touch YOU!!" ...said the moon.

Rukia escapes through a portal to the real world, and Sode no Shirayuki follows in to kill her through her own portal (makes sense--after all, it's the swords that unlock the portals). Luckily, Ichigo just happened to be in the vicinity to defend her.

"Baby, you cold as ice."
"Shut the fuck u--"
 "Hold on, lemme fetch my fur coat so we can pose for a picture, it'll be great." 

One obligatory everybody (including anime-only modsouls) talking it out at Urahara Shop scene later, and Yoruichi returns with news of Seireitei's sacking and massive injury rates. Muramasa buggered off with the other Zampak spirits, and most all the squads are searching for them.

Worried sick over Byakuya's fate, Rukia sneaks back off to Soul Society and Ichigo hurries after her, and Yoruichi agrees to come with.

Sode no Shirayuki is the first to renew the Zampak assault.

Everything about this is made of win. Rukia has always been likeable, but, apart from maybe her fight against Aaraoniero, I think this is the first time we could call her badass. I also really like Sode no Shirayuki's hatred and desire for absolute freedom--what right has Rukia to lay claim to her power and beauty and pride herself for them? She strikes me as spoiled and callous, which is a wonderful contrast.

Muramasa confronts Ichigo, and what Rukia feared would happen if Ichigo came to Soul Society does indeed happen--Ichigo succumbs to the selfsame estrangement with his sword. You see, the only reason Rukia escaped to the real world in the first place was as bait Muramasa laid for Ichigo to arrive within his scrapy-nailed clutches. "Welcome to my world." Said like a true pimp. And it's not a mere boast: he can toy with Ichigo through invisible means, like a puppet on strings or a pinned insect.

This is some freaky shit right here. Fucking goddamn.

My cynical assumption going into this filler would have been that in order for Ichigo to be the one who saves everybody, they'd grant him an immunity to Muramasa's call with the heart hax excuse. Well, don't ya know, Ichigo's bond with Zangetsu is super special uniquely strong, so Muramasa's met his match!! Thankfully, this is not the case. Poor schmuck, he's just as susceptible as everyone else.

And before you scoff that Ichigo can just use his Hollow form, you forget that that's kind of a bad thing, too. Exhibit A:

Can't lie, this is damn cool.

Remember when Ichigo dreaded and loathed his Hollow form after SS Arc? As a source of drama, that wasn't half bad, and it informed his character. Now it's back. As you're beginning to notice, I have next to nothing bad to say about this early stage of the arc. It's well thought out, well executed, well animated, and, well, entertaining. And not in the "WTF is this" way that the Bount arc was entertaining.

And initially, Ichigo falls--without Zangetsu, he's no match, even with his Hollow side activated. Cut to his inner world.

Muramasa killed his master, and with the same stroke he struck down all hopes of cramping his style.

In yet another bit of freaky terrifyingness, Muramasa soul-rapes a hole in Ichigo's psyche, pulling out his Hollow self's manifestation in order to interrogate it about Ichigo's strange power. This results in an unholy swarm of pale, scrabbling arms.

Wait, when did we start reading fanfic? Though technically, filler arcs really are fanfic. See? It's all coming together.

Okay, so let's talk about instinct and how it relates to goings-on. Throughout all the fights occurring simultaneously with Ichigo's struggle against Muramasa's probing, the Zampak spirits coolly aver that, after having heard Muramasa's cry for freedom, they are now following their instincts free of shinigami possession, of shinigami suppression. In Ichigo's case, it's a bit more complicated. Zangetsu is indeed a separate entity from Ichigo, born when Ichigo became a shinigami. But his Hollow side isn't a separate entity. Hollow Ichigo is Ichigo. Being a Hollow means unceasing hunger, and that's what half of Ichigo has become. He wants to take over Ichigo's body, but only in the sense that it's the side of Ichigo that screams for release so that he can gobble, munch, murder and savage, a Hollow's naked greed--the opposite of the instinct exhibited by Ichigo's human side, the instinct to protect. That's what Ichigo's character used to be before Kubo forgot, anyway. To summarize, Ichigo wants to protect, but he's also got the side of him that loves to fight (that's been alluded to a number of times by whomever he happens to be fighting, from Kenpachi to Grimmjow and Ulquiorra.). When Ichigo inadvertently became half-Hollow, the side of him that loves to fight also gained a gnawing urge to take over and steal and pillage. And however much he may hate it, Ichigo can't just kill what's become a part of himself; it would be like lobotomizing himself. And we all know that's Kubo's job, drawing it out by degrees.

Ichigo exercises his will and evicts Muramasa out of his inner world. Now to take back Zangetsu--as a shinigami, he's simply not whole without him.

Zangetsu states that even if he were to kill Ichigo in their clash, he would be okay with that outcome. This flies in the face of Zangetsu's characterization while Ichigo leveled up his sword in the Dangai Precipice World before facing Aizen for their final battle. His goal, he stated, was quite different from Ichigo's. Ichigo wanted to protect his loved ones--Zangetsu just wanted to protect Ichigo. And he sacrificed himself to do it.

Now, those characterizations are definitely incompatible, but I kind of like both. However, it doesn't make sense for Zangetsu to bankai here, only for canon to assert that Zangetsu's appearance in bankai form is that of a conveniently handsome bishie.

"I'm not cool enough yet to wear shades at night. Sorry."

Two more things I want to mention that really seal this scene. The return of the mask that appeared in the generic energy aura when Ichigo fought Kenpachi:

Which is amazing attention to detail, since it symbolizes that Ichigo is relying on his Hollow side's power nigh exclusively.

And I also want to mention another impressive callback. Muramasa asks Ichigo why he wasn't afraid he'd destroy his sword forever--that's been established as a real possibility in each of the Zampak vs. shinigami fights. Ichigo answers that he knows Zangetsu would never fall back, he'd never retreat, and neither could Ichigo.


Of course, now Ichigo runs like a ninny out the window of his own fucking house. What a disgrace.

Honestly, I'd rather this page have been mostly empty space.

Muramasa reveals another symptom of Swank Ass Mother Syndrome along with crying blood and unnatural nail extension--mild cough--and excuses himself. I smell a well prepared plot point.

Even a pimp of his caliber can snork so much he begins to vanish.

 And we shall leave it off here. There's only so much I can gush before my cynicism spells revolt. Until next time!


  1. So they took one of the only established zanpakuto manifestations (Zabimaru) and turned it into TWO humanoid characters, with only one having even slight similarities to the original form Oo ?
    At least the other designs look neat, especially Katen Kyoukotsu. Someone must've watched Gurren Lagann when designing her XD

    So far, the arc doesn't look half bad, Might give it a shot.