Sunday, 6 May 2012

Attack From Behind: Filler Arc Review [9]

NOTE: From this article on, I'll be relying on subbed video inserts, because the English dub simply isn't past this point yet. Bear with me, since finding all this stuff on YouTube is going to become much harder once I can't take it all from a single convenient YouTube channel (I should probably take this time to thank the dude behind the Bleachfullfights channel for his hard work. Link here)

When last we left off, Muramasa had successfully played Ichigo for a fool, redirecting his power to crash through Yamamoto's inner world and allow Muramasa to rob Ryuujin Jakka. It looked a lot like this:

With a little of this thrown in for good measure:

With the heroes trapped in an inescapable cage of flame, Muramasa can now fulfill his TRUE OBJECTIVE, which involves Chad's abuelo punching him in the gut

And then Ashisogi Jizou brandished a banana

And then this Buck Rogers-y alien Shakespeare dude showed up

Buuuuut maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

What is Muramasa's true objective? To what end is he munching on Hollows, deceiving the entire Gotei 13 AND their Zampakutou spirits, and marching off to the human world in triumph?

Yamamoto lays it all bare: Muramasa entered his inner world for more than just Ryuujin Jakka; he did it in order to gain access to information only Yamamoto knew. Muramasa did NOT kill his master. Far from it: all this scheming and all these machinations were undertaken to revive his sealed master, the despicable indiscriminate slaughterer of souls Kuchiki Kouga.

Kuchiki Kouga. (Not to be confused with Koga the Bount, alias John Goodman.)

And what do ya know, Kouga's tomb just happens to be located in Karakura, too! At which point Ichigo's inner world decided to forgo raining altogether as every particle of his psyche just shat itself in frustration and the water level rose up to the sideways clouds. God, that makes this the second time a Kuchiki has ruined Ichigo's entire fucking life. First, Byakuya took away the power Rukia gave him, forcing Ichigo to train to rescue her by regaining shinigaminess in a way that permanently rendered him a half-Hollow. Now, a Kuchiki that should be dead is going to kill everyone in Karakura for giggles, and there's not a damn thing Ichigo can do to stop him. If I were Ichigo I'd need a padded cell after this.

Ichigo does escape the sentient cage of flames, however, with the help of Hyourinmaru's nonsensical fire-freezing. When it comes to ice powers in fiction, I've more or less given up.

Meanwhile, Muramasa finds Kouga's tomb, but passes out before he can get to it. Orihime sees a crushing sadness in the stranger's eyes, and heals him up. Muramasa mocks her for displaying such a kindness to an enemy and interloper, and petulantly yells "You can't possibly understand me, woman!" Without Kouga, Muramasa feels utterly alone. Byakuya and Senbonzakura help Muramasa beat back Chad and Ishida, as well as Rukia and Ichigo after they arrive on the scene.

You know, whenever Karakura is in peril, what are Isshin and Ryuuken off doing? Shouldn't they be on the case, too?

Muramasa uses his vague illusiony powers to punch Chad in the gut as his abuelo. Shouldn't Muramasa only be able to enter the inner world/ read the mind of a shinigami? Maybe the victim's mind concocts its own fearsome illusion, and Muramasa just instigates that megrim of hallucinations.

Muramasa manages to free Kouga from his hidden sarcophagus.

And with the proper incantation, Kouga is set free after centuries of imprisonment.

But instead of a sword entering back into its master, the master is going to be shoving a sword into Muramasa.

But why? Why, Kouga? I did this all for you...

The stabbing actually took place in between the (two episode long!) Kouga and Muramasa backstory as a cliffhanger.

The Kouga backstory is pretty awesome. It's definitely better than Turn Back the Pendulum--the one bit of extended backstory Kubo ever gave us after Rukia's (and hers, admittedly, was pretty good)--and Turn Back the Pendulum is probably the only stretch of story after SS arc that left a decent impression (despite its own issues). So, without further ado

The Doleful Tale of Kouga and Muramasa

Watch the videos if you like, but I'll be tackling these two episodes quite extensively (and soberly). This backstory is thematically vital, and it's jam-packed with characterization.

NOTE: The following clips are a bit mismatched. All the fight scenes have been clumped together into the third video.

Meet Kouga, as he appeared in the prime of his power some several hundred years ago.

You'll notice he's got the same sort of hair ornament (kenseikan) Byakuya does. He's recently married into the noble house of Kuchiki, and eager to make a name for himself. As an extraordinarily and abnormally strong and versatile fighter, his star rises as quickly; he effortlessly dispatches wave after wave of rebel insurgent shinigami by simply calling upon Muramasa's ability. But he'll soon discover there may be sourer sentiments towards him among the shinigami higher-ups than mere admiration and gratefulness.

As for the warring rebel shinigami, we're never given a reason to see them as evil or even wrong. It's blatantly obvious to us the viewers that Seireitei could use a nice regime change. The side of the status quo establishment--that is, Yamamoto's rulership--isn't treated as particularly just, either. However, Yamamoto does pay lip service to preserving order and keeping casualties to a minimum. In the end, it doesn't matter whether or not the rebellion was in the right; all that matters is how Kouga handled it. Which is to say, he was overconfident and lacked heart.

Kuchiki Ginrei, head of the clan and 6th Squad captain before Byakuya.

Kouga comes to resent Ginrei's unimpressed demeanor every time they talk; Kouga expects praise for doing so well at his task. Even after Yamamoto appoints Kouga as head of the rebellion-squashing force, Kouga continues to lecture Kouga about how he must act more reserved and less self-assured. Without heart, power will only end up consuming the wielder.

Eventually, a small group of corrupt shinigami conspirators from an unnamed rival faction devise a plan to halt Kouga's meteoric rise by staining his reputation and getting him court martialed. They frame Kouga for killing his own subordinates in a supposed burst of bloodlust.

Muramasa often materializes when Kouga fights. He can even materialize of his own volition.

Ginrei urges him to go to his jail cell quietly, as resisting arrest will not help his case. Ginrei visits him behind bars, and tells him that while he believes he's innocent, he believes he brought this upon himself by being the nail that stuck out above the others. But it's not Kouga in particular the higher-ups fear; it's the specter of what would happen if Muramasa went out of control. The sentence coming down the pipeline is not only to strip Kouga of his position, but also to concertedly nullify Muramasa. Kouga laments: Ginrei is jealous of my power, too! Why does everybody hate me?

Muramasa materializes to free him--proud of their joint power, he's been encouraging Kouga that he should just believe in himself, and go so far as create a new order where his power could be appreciated and respected instead of cursed and jealously reviled.

This is how the lower half of Kouga's muzzle is sliced off.

Having swallowed this way of thinking wholesale, Kouga warns Muramasa to understand his place--he is a mere sword, and Kouga is the one who will be issuing the orders. However, Kouga is still left with some humanity, as when he escapes his prison to confront the conspirators who put him there, he fully expects them to be wracked with guilt and penitent. Instead he finds them laughing over sake. And Kouga totally loses it and kills them all. This, this is justice. But why does his anger persist?

His descent into mad paranoia is rapid. There's no absolving him now. Ginrei isn't strong enough to subdue Kouga and Muramasa, but he can guard his heart against them. When they Ginrei seeks him out, it's a standstill. Kouga cuts off the lock of hair attached to his kenseikan and tosses it at Ginrei, reveling aloud that he'll enjoy killing Ginrei last. You see, it's time for Kouga's own personal revolt against Soul Society.

Kouga begins derangedly murdering innocent souls in the Rukongai.

Murmasa materializes and implores him--why are you stuck dwelling on past injustices? It's time to let go of the grudge and forge ahead with our new world! But Kouga is in too deep, obsessed and murmuring murder. He slaps down Muramasa at every turn as nothing more than his tool. He turns so self-absorbed and mistrustful that, little by little, Kouga's voice fades into inaudibility, even within his own inner world. The emotional connection between shinigami and Zampakutou is unraveling, and Kouga's mind is twisting into base, black kill-or-be-killed neurosis.

Ginrei and Yamamoto can't used their swords to take Muramasa down, so they'll have to seal him away with a binding spell. They wheel in the heavy artillery-- bladed pikes that will immobilize Kouga.

Kouga raves about how he has abandoned ideals and bathed himself in despair, despair that dissolves all the bonds holding him back. Kouga's might makes right. As Ginrei had feared might happen, Muramasa's power gained control of him, not the other way around.

When Kouga beckons Muramasa, nothing happens, which provide Ginrei and Yamamoto an opening to attack. They defeat him while he's caught off guard by Muramasa's absence.

BY THE WAY, nobody remembers any of this because all details of the rebellion were erased from history. By our noble heroes! Shinigami are better at killing each other than they are at killing Hollows, no wonder the Quincies took matters in their own hands.


That's why Kouga stabbed Muramasa--because he didn't come to save him in his direst hour. Who needs a sword that doesn't work? So what if Muramasa revived him--the only reason he was trapped in the tomb in the first place was because Muramasa failed to aid him!

"But... your voice never reached me! I swear it!"

Muramasa is crushed. Endless years eking out a meager existence, always on the edge of disappearing altogether--all for the sake of his master. And that master has forsaken him as worthless.

After once again rejecting the notion that he and Muramasa were "comrades," Kouga sneers and kicks his pathetic, malfunctioning tool into a bleeding heap on the grass. He moves in for the killing blow, but is intercepted by none other than Byakuya.

Byakuya announces his disdain for so-called "shinigami" who would kill their own sword spirits. Uhh... not for nothing, Byak Byak, but you did technically break Sode no Shirayuki. I guess he didn't call her names while he stabbed her, so it was okay.

Here's the skinny on why Byakuya and Senbonzakura staged the whole betrayal thing--so that they could help Muramasa revive Kouga, so that Byakuya, as the 28th head of the Kuchiki family, could take a crack at Muramasa and kill him for good. It's a battle for honor--of course he would make it seem as though he betrayed Soul Society! Oh Byakuya, always with the "selfless" selfish shitheadery that everyone treats like he just pooped gold. (Of course, I'm not going to see that as detracting from the arc, because that's perfectly in line with canon.) Well, at least the whole of reality isn't at stake. Looking at you, Movie 2 Hitsugaya.

Byakuya and Kouga square off for their death match. Muramasa lobbies one last time, begging Kouga to accept him as his sword. Insult to injury:

Here, my heart truly breaks for Muramasa. Can you imagine his despair? The realization that your lifelong efforts have been in vain, that the man with whose soul you're entwined--the man you exist for--rejects you so utterly, so without hesitation?

And then there's the fact that he erupts into a nightmarish cascade of the Hollows he's devoured, still shouting "Kouuuuga," screaming "Kouuuuga!!!"

This swarm of Hollows ends up attracting massive numbers of Hollows from Hueco Mundo, through a spontaneous portal in the sky. This gives the rest of the cast something to do while Byakuya and Kouga slug it out. At the very end, all the Gotei 13 shinigami and their Zampakutou spirits descend to Karakura to seal up the portal by combining their energies. It's kind of lame and Captain Planety, but oh well. (I'm not even going to bother screencapping it, lol.)

The real attractions to enjoy are Byakuya vs. Kouga, and Ichigo vs. Muramasa.

Byakuya vs. Kouga

Kouga, believing might makes right, declares himself king. His power is unique, feared and coveted by all, he needs no one but himself, and all will bow before him. Muramasa was no friend or even ally, he was a tool that broke, a shattered mirror.

The unique spells Muramasa was able to use--the string binding attack, the illusion attack--were derived from Kouga's genius. Kouga uses those spells on Byakuya, but Byakuya is fighting alongside Senbonzakura; together, they can't lose.

Ironically, Kouga spends his dying breath calling out for Muramasa. But Muramasa's a bit busy exploding with despair and writhing in wretched misery... and once again, Kouga's voice doesn't reach him. If only Kouga had understood true strength--the strength to communicate.

Wait. I was with you guys up until Senbonzakura said that. What an ass licker. How is that different from what Kouga did? It's not, at all. It's exactly the fucking same. Kouga also sullied his name and became a traitor to fight for his own beliefs ("I'm going to be the new ruler with my unique, unrivaled might, no one can stop me then! I'll slaughter innocents so that everyone will be forced to reckon with the juggernaut that I am!") There's no doubt those beliefs were patently evil and warped, but still, it amounts to the selfsame level of conviction Byakuya exhibited. Maybe what they (the writers) meant is that Kouga was branded as an outcast first, and then he went it solo (and psycho). Or maybe they meant that Byakuya's actions were spurred by a duty thrust upon him, whereas Kouga eschewed any and all ties to humanity. No, fuck that--the actual justification is that Byakuya's clueless fuckstick nature is rubbing off on Senbonzakura now that he's materialized.

Let's compare Kouga and Byakuya!

Byakuya: You aimed to destroy your own Zampakutou, you knave.

Kouga: You did destroy a Zampakutou! MORE THAN ONCE!

Byakuya: You killed innocent people in your lunatic quest to become king.

Kouga: And I suppose all those shinigami guards and retainers you neck-chopped and slashed left and right were all wanton criminals? What about how you tried to have your own sister killed? In order to maintain your beloved status quo. The status quo that just so happens to leave you in a position of power and prestige, how convenient.

Byakuya: ...I wish certain snarky reviewers would forget about that. Let's go with... I learned my mistake! Now I've flouted the law in order to do what's right.

Kouga: Noooo, you just followed one order (Ginrei's) over another (Seireitei's). You know, whichever gets you killing the most.


"Well, fuck you too, Master."

Hollow Form Muramasa

The Menos around Muramasa are sucked into his black hole of despair and condense into the form you see before you. Muramasa's still fighting for control over the Hollow consciousness that has bubbled to the surface, in a compelling parallel to Ichigo's own condition. Muramasa is now an Adjuchas-level Menos, his sword spirit self buried in his inner world. This powerful Hollow mindlessly attacks our heroes until Muramasa's consciousness's efforts to regain control cause his body to blow up once again.

He transforms into a dome that swallows up Ichigo as well as spews Gillians.

Ichigo vs. Muramasa

Ichigo finds himself in Muramasa's inner world--which, poignantly, looks to be an exact replica of Kouga's.

However, this world is rapidly crumbling away under the weight of the combined resent of countless Hollows, and all Muramasa has left is the sheer willpower to resist his soul's corrosion.

Why fight Ichigo? Why not. For Muramasa, this is all that remains. It's the only thing left to do.
Why does Ichigo fight? Because Zangetsu tells him that if he keeps exploding like an unstable reiatsu freak, Karakura might get obliterated.

Turns out that the invisible string power Muramasa possesses only works when it casts a reflection; should that reflection come undone, the strings binding the victim dissipate. I'm not sure that gels with how that attack worked each time either Muramasa or Kouga used it earlier, but in any case it's an admirably creative idea for a spell.

Muramasa also tries the illusion thing, but since Ichigo and Zangetsu are working in unison as shinigami and Zampakutou, and Muramasa is still battling the Hollows wrestling for dominance over his mind, it's a struggle Muramasa is destined to lose.

A final blow, and the Hollow dome fades; Ichigo and Muramasa blink back into the living world. In his final moments, Muramasa blames himself, his pride in Kouga's potential, as his master's downfall. But Ichigo reassures him that everyone makes mistakes, it's not too late, and he can make amends.

Muramasa breathes: "Someday, I will definitely..."

And he dies.

All the Zampaks return to their wielders, and Byakuya tersely thanks Ichigo for his help. End of the arc proper.

Final Verdict: 8.5/10

I am overcome with the urge to compare and contrast this arc with the Bount arc (as you may have surmised, I don't generally deem the Amagai arc worthy of comparison).

I found the Bount arc quite entertaining, but after much deliberation, my ultimate verdict was that on the whole it was perfectly average. What was holding the Bount arc back? Several things:

A) The inclusion of the Bounts into the universe of BLEACH came from nowhere, save for allusions to Soul Society experimenting on artificial life in the form of modsouls. But that's a very tenuous link. Suddenly we're to understand that there's a whole race of vampiric humans that can summon familiars and feed on souls--why did they never come up before? How is it possible that such a huge deal could be kept a perfect secret from all of humanity for centuries? The point I'm getting at is that it didn't feel like a natural extension of the canon universe, like a filler arc ought to. Here's a bunch of ages-old vampires that are deciding to advance their plans now for some reason!

B) The villains, amusing as they were, didn't have compelling connections to the heroes they fought--they didn't serve as adequate foils. The Zampakutou spirits, on the other hand, knew the heroes intimately, making for more dynamic confrontations. There's also the comparison of themes to be made. Kariya had a theme going on, but only at the very, very end fight, as an afterthought. Muramasa's characterization deepened near the end, too, with the revelation of his real objective, but it felt better paced and more organic--not to mention it was less cliche and more impactful than I'm stupid strong but I'm subconsciously waiting for someone to kill me so the endless cycle ends!!

C) More superficially, there's the cool factor. Of all the Bounts, only Kariya could perhaps be seen as "cool" (he wins at ADULT'S card games!!). No one's writing home about the other Bounts or their dolls (except for me, lol). The Zampakutou spirits are way more engaging as characters in this sense. Muramasa and (pre-baby) Kazeshini have their own fan bases. They've just captured some of that cool.

D) The Bount arc's plot felt extremely contrived, whereas the only notable contrivance in the Zampak arc is why on Earth is Kouga's tomb in Karakura? And maybe why didn't Ginrei just tell Byakuya where they put Kouga's tomb?

E) The heroes eke out some important initial victories in the Zampak arc, which is important so that viewers don't go "Oh come the fuck on." Whereas in the Bount arc we got a scene where a beer belly fat guy sporting a mohawk and a tanktop beat the shit out of Ichigo with his bare hands.

Now, I do have one link to draw regarding the Amagai arc as well. You may recall my claiming that the end fight of the Amagai arc was the most entertaining filler arc closing battle. But I meant that more in the popcorn sense. Ichigo's climactic clash with Kariya was boring, so the Amagai fight was great in comparison from an action standpoint. It's clear, however, that in terms of character, the Muramasa fight is the best, simply because Muramasa is the best filler character. Damn sight better than fucking Amagai, he of the idiotic last-minute face heel turn and the 180 degree personality shift that defied explanation.

But hold your horses, I have even more praise for this arc.

The animation and art direction were visually stunning.

The new OST tailored for the Zampakutou Rebellion Arc (OST 4) was just as rocking as OST 3. (Seriously, treat yourself to some of that lovely music.)

Intensely creative, while working within the confines of the universe.

Forget best filler character, Muramasa is the best character in BLEACH, period. In fact, the only other character that comes close to Muramasa for both depth and likability is Rukia. Sure, characters like Mayuri and Kenpachi are certainly likable, but, the odd philosophical speech aside, they're both about as deep as mudfish.

Exploring Muramasa

This arc had a theme! Themes, even. Let's explore, shall we?

During their final fight, Ichigo told Muramasa that he didn't have to follow the orders of an insane and cruel master who abused him. However, look at it from the perspective of a Zampakutou spirit--you don't just exist alongside your master, you were born for him or her. You have no purpose apart from aiding your master. Lending your master your power and ushering his or her way to greatness is your one and only drive.

But--aha!--as the Zampakutou rebellion showed us, that's not really true, is it? Zampakutou spirits have their own identities, their own personalities, their own latent desires. In a sense, they're beings with free will, just like you and me, but shackled to the path of an arbitrary master over whom they had no selection or control.

So can Muramasa be said to be a tragic figure, a golem who was just following his programming? No. As Muramasa himself admitted, part of the reason Kouga slipped into madness was because of Muramasa's actions. It was Muramasa who freed Kouga, even though he must have understood Ginrei's reasoning about why waiting it out would have been better--after all, all Muramasa ever does is wait, wait, wait for release. Well what if the Zampakutou wants to speed things up? What if he or she wants, at long last, some agency? What if the Zampakutou deems connections with other shinigami a frivolous pursuit in light of your immense power as comrades?

There's also the question of, if Muramasa respected his own bond with Kouga so highly, why did he make a mockery of the bonds of other shinigami and their own Zampakutou by exercising his ability? Muramasa answers: because that was his ability. Duh. The interesting dilemma is how much an entity's unique power defines what he or she does. Moreover, this ties in with the quandary of what's really in control, the person or the power? If Muramasa didn't have the power to do what he did, what he have still attempted to revive Kouga? Would Kouga have still attempted to make himself king?

We can explore what makes Muramasa such an effective character, as well. You can scoff if you like, but the scenes where Orihime comments on Muramasa's great sadness and loneliness definitely helped--as did Muramasa's rejection of the pity of others. Others don't matter, their thoughts don't matter. All that matters is reuniting with Kouga, all that matters is Kouga's thoughts.

And when Kouga rejects him, the foundation of Muramasa's psyche--his confidence, his raison d'etre--literally collapses. Muramasa committed an evil act by staging a rebellion that ended up killing shinigami (by the way, that blood should also be on the hands of the individual Zampak spirits, but it's a shame that's never addressed), but it's nevertheless difficult not to sympathize with Muramasa's plight.

There's the ever present theme of bonds. Shinigami who work as one with their swords are strong; no matter how powerful, a man who breaks connections like Kouga can never win.

Finally, there's how Muramasa had to struggle against an inner Hollow, just like Ichigo. Just thought I'd throw that there.

koe ga... todokanakatta...


I consider Muramasa's defeat the end of the Zampak arc proper, but there's more one-shot filler episodes to cover before the Zampak spirits return to their owners' swords and the anime returns to canon. I'm going to give each episode a brief run-through, nothing too in depth.

In a nutshell, even though Muramasa has been defeated and he has shuffled off the mortal coil, the effect of his ability keeps stirring up conflict in the form of rogue, berserker-rage sword spirits of the rank and file shinigami, named TOUJUU (lit. "sword beasts"). According to Mayuri, these "Toujuu" have flipped the fuck out in various ways since their former shinigami masters died during the Zampak rebellion, yet they persist as unnatural aberrations utterly severed from shinigami. Those Toujuu are also said to be really strong--"constant
bankai level," or so Mayuri states. I'm rather incredulous of that, number one, it's declared multiple times that the true path to get stronger is for shinigami and Zampakutou to unite, number two, look at this guy

His bankai relies heavily on the assumption that you'll be too disgusted to look his way.


Then tell me he's bankai level.

A lot of the Toujuu designs are goofy as fuck. I mean I get they had to be creative with all the various unique sword releases Gotei 13 shinigami are supposed to have, but what is that thing? A surgical tool for extremely squeamish giant surgeons? And let us reflect on the sort of mind that would spawn that guy as their soul-counterpart, and then let's stop reflecting on that.

Episode 256, the start of the brief Toujuu arc.

Two Toujuu show up to wreak havoc at a sakura petal party at Casa Kuchiki.

The character designer for the Zampak arc made sure every sword spirit was rocking some killer abs

In order to lure the Toujuu back, Sode no Shirayuki and Senbonzakura strike upon a plan to... throw another party, this time in Hitsugaya's division. Hey, if I were a Zampak spirit and I were finally out and about, I'd enjoy it, too. Take it from Muramasa, while inside a shinigami's inner world the only thing to look forward to is your master calling you out. And we know Ichigo's inner world rains when he's sad, poor Zangetsu.

The thing to take from this episode is Sode no Shirayuki's heart to heart with Rukia. Sode no Shirayuki apologizes over succumbing to Muramasa's ability and giving in to her latent weaknesses--her overweening pride, her selfish desire for freedom. She laments that she's just a weapon, and that her own heart doesn't cut it without Rukia. Rukia reassures Sode no Shirayuki that she's been with her in good times and bad. Rukia needs her just as much as Sode no Shirayuki needs Rukia.

It was touching.

Episode 257, a Toujuu in Karakura fuses with a Hollow

Some Toujuu have found their way to Karakura somehow. Doesn't that mean they'd have invaded other parts of the world, too? Ahh, I'm sure Soul Society has slotted the rest of the world as a top priority alongside Karakura. They're just targeting this one because it's wearing pink.

The sword spirit calls in vain for his master. As Muramasa demonstrated, sword spirits can fuse with other beings like Hollows relatively easily (Ichigo's Hollow side and Zangetsu seem to be so linked as well, within his mind). That makes sense: After all, sword spirits are contingent souls, the only reason they exist on a fundamental level is as part of another being.

So this pink one fuses with a random Hollow.

We'll see more fusions like this later, some rather unexpected.

On the lighter side, Kyouraku and Ukitake's Zampak spirits are driving them nuts, and so they speculate aloud that maybe it'd better if they returned to their swords after all. Katen Kyoukotsu and Sougyo no Kotowari don't take kindly to this notion, and beat the shit out of the ancient god-tier captains.

Ukitake's a frail and sickly type, too. Those punches are probably going to leave welts.

We get an explanation for why swords that were broken by third parties, like Sode no Shirayuki and Wabisuke, were able to return back to normal-- Mayuri's science hax regeneration tubes.

Sode no Shirayuki: I'm glad you revived my consciousness as opposed to just whipping her up new Sode no Shirayuki. It was regrettable that Captain Kuchiki had no choice but to destroy me. By the way, whatever happened to the iteration of Sode no Shirayuki that Rukia gave Ichigo when she transferred her powers?

Mayuri: She died. Captain Kuchiki destroyed her.

Episode 258, Zabimaru's snakey half wanders around Karakura

Renji and Zabimaru pursue a Toujuu in Karakura, but the snake boy half of Zabimaru is focused on little kid stuff like chasing fish jumping out of the river--causing them to lose the Toujuu and angering the monkey half. She rues letting the snake boy off his chain, which if you think about it is kind of fucked up. Snakey understandably yearns for freedom.

This Toujuu's got a boomerang.

"All the other Zampaks  have super hax like killing sakura petals and illusions. Me? I make due with me boomerang."

And he tells Snakey that striking it by one's lonesome is fucking awesome, so Snakey tramps off on his own to enjoy the human world. Karin stumbles across him and brings him home for an evening of TV and video games, imparting into him how important it is to have friends, as opposed to being alone. Then he and the sexy monkey lady half of Zabimaru reconcile and defeat the Toujuu.

The thing I have to say about this episode is laugh at that boomerang guy's hair. That concludes my obligation to this episode.

Episode 259, Hanatarou and Hisagomaru

Shit keeps getting stolen from the 4th division (Hanatarou's healing squad), including four chickens Hanatarou was tasked to look after.

"Oh, I dunno. Give me something to force the animators to draw."

He, Nanao, Ikkaku and Houzukimaru follow a lead into the sewers. There are rumors that the sewers are haunted by the souls who died constructing them.

 I'll just let this one go.

Nanao gets scared by mere drops of water falling from cracks in the ceiling. But then they encounter a genuine terror of all Japanese females, a bona fide tentacle monster. It wrecks everyone's shit because they can't fight tidal waves, and it abducts Ikkaku.

Despondent, the gang comes across a robot thing, which turns out to be the materialization of Hanatarou's sword, Hisagomaru.

Muramasa's voice reached him, but since Hisagomaru had no complaints with his master whatsoever, he only tried to dive back into Hanatarou's sword (which Hanatarou left in his bedroom). Unable to do so, Hisagomaru despairingly began to believe it was because Hanatarou rejected him as useless. That bar on Hisagomaru's face mirrors the one on the sword proper.

Hisagomaru pathetically heals enemies' wounds whenever Hanatarou slashes at an enemy, but that fills up the gauge on the blade. When that gauge is full, he can launch a powerful slash with a tiny scalpel, Akeiro Hisagomaru. Hanatarou stabs Ikkaku in order to both heal him and fill up Hisagomaru's gauge.

BLEACH has jerked us around a lot, but all these hours watching/talking about it have been worth it just for Ikkaku's treasure trove of expressions.

Akeiro Hisagomaru looks like this in materialization form:

Damn, Hanatarou is packing. Maybe it's not just the shinigami's mind the Zampakutou takes after.

Episode 260, Kazeshini suddenly cares about babies and becomes good

The less I have to talk about this episode, the better.

Kazeshini hasn't seen the light--he's been freed of Muramasa's ability, but he's still a psycho killer at heart. He keeps sneak attacking Hisagi, but Hisagi's priority is protecting innocent people from Toujuu attacks. Then, Kazeshini finds himself protecting a mewling babe from a Toujuu attack himself.

God it's depressing that Soul Society has soul babies. Granted, it makes sense, but still.

Kazeshini has zero reason to feel responsible for the baby or even to tolerate its existence other than that the plot demands it. He even endures the teasing of the other Zampaks over it. He and Hisagi clash again one last time, and Kazeshini is slashed to the ground. He reluctantly accepts Hisagi after asking "If we become one again, what will we fight for?" and Hisagi responds with that most fundamental of shounen tropes, "to protect."

Kazeshini's stomach churns, but he returns to Hisagi's employ. Whatevs.

Episode 261, a Toujuu fuses with a living human

And it's a new transfer student to Ichigo's class!!

I wonder if there are detectives knocking on the door of that hapless teacher inquiring about all the transfer students in her class that disappear after major incidents. Rukia's still the only transfer student I'll accept; her being a transfer student doesn't make a lick of sense either but hey it's Rukia.

Would you turn away a student who suddenly became special needs?

There's a mysterious Toujuu attacking teenage girls, but they're having trouble locating it. It's because it's fused with the transfer student. Kyouko has always been spiritually aware. She had a best friend, but that friend eventually called Kyouko a freak after Kyouko correctly predicted the questions on a test, and stalkerishly warned her not to date a guy whom she knew to be a cheating dick.

Kyouko is drawn to Orihime because, as humans with powers, they can understand each other. Orihime says she's just normal, but she'd love to be friends anyway. The Toujuu fused to Kyouko tells her to kill, kill, and a sword suddenly materializes in her hand.

They defeat the Toujuu after Orihime refuses to accept it's too late to save Kyouko and rejects their fusion.

 "Why do I hate teenage girls?' I don't understand the question."

Episode 262, Haineko crushes on a tragic Toujuu-to-be

There's nothing to this one. All the Zampaks are still hunting and killing Toujuu/capturing them for research. Word from the research department is that there's just no stopping a stray sword spirit's descent into madness. However, Haineko spots a bishie sword spirit named Narunosuke and crushes on him hard.

She keeps him secret from the Toujuu-killing squads and steals shit from Rangiku's division, including Rangiku's own food, to feed him and bandage him up (it's way too easy to steal from these military barracks, huh?). She refuses to accept that a kind and tender soul like Narunosuke will transform into a mindless killer, even though he's suffering from migraines more and more frequently. And she's on cloud 9 from his compliments.

So when you make a woman happy, they express their feelings with random acts of violence. Duly noted.

Eventually, he does turn into a killer, and Haineko kills Narunosuke, the end.

Episode 263, the hilarious one with Senbonzakura the bungler

Seriously, watch this episode.

Zabimaru is facing heat for being hotheaded and faring worse than the cool and collected Senbonzakura at taking down Toujuu. Zabimaru gets tired of the constant unfavorable comparisons to Senbonakura and bitch about paperwork on their way to delivering a broken Toujuu sword to the research department, only to discover the entire squad's off on a field trip. Less than wisely, they break in.

This is mildly terrifying.

But they soon discover that Senbonzakura has also arrived to deliver another specimen for research--and he's made an entrance for himself.

Senbonzakura is not the patient and reserved man everyone thinks he is. When they go to an empty sword spirit sciencey regeneration tube to deposit the sword, Senbonzakura fiddles with a remote and inadvertently triggers the emergency alarm cage.

The cage is made to withstand Toujuu attacks, so they have little choice but to wait for Squad 12 to return. Senbonzakura sits and waits.. for all of five seconds, then he screams that he can't take waiting any more.


The lulz continue as Ashisogi Jizou arrives, only to break the remote.

Senbonzakura loses it and bankais, which levels most of the room, triggering yet another emergency defense system. They rush through a series of closing gates and happen on the research department's secret surveillance room, which monitors every shinigami as they recline and enjoy themselves using Squad 12 technology.

Apparently, from what we can tell from the surveillance footage,

  • Hisagi and Kazeshini are boiling tea
  • Renji is taking a nice warm bath
  • Nanao is doing the laundry
  • Omaeda and Gegetsuburi are yukking it up over a barbecue
  • Rangiku and Haineko are on treadmills
  • Secret Women's Society meeting at Byakuya's
Senbonzakura's righteous indignation at Squad 12's illegal espionage causes him to seek a way to shut down the infernal control panel--by pressing all the keys at once. All the appliances go haywire, and explosions rock Seireitei (for the ninth time that month, no doubt).

Ashisogi Jizou's bankai form crashes through, and he's got a bone to pick with the intruders. Senbonzakura extends a calming hand:


Their clash of sakura shards and poison gas destroys most of the barracks, and Zabimaru bankais to put an end to it all. Seireitei is not pleased by the wreckage.

Zabimaru and Senbonzakura play the blame game, but Zabimaru still gets saddled with tons and tons of paperwork. Zabimaru and Renji find out from Kyouraku and Ukitake that Senbonzakura's behavior mirrors closely that of young Byakuya, who was quite the brat. As for Squad 12's illegal spying, well... let's say Mayuri's suffered enough, seeing as his entire department has been razed to the ground.

Episode 264, the episode about the mute half of Katen Kyoukotsu (that no one wanted)

So Kyouraku and Katen Kyoukotsu be chillin'

Kyouraku's lieutenant, the straight-laced Nanao, insists Kyouraku get off his ass and help kill some Toujuu. Kyouraku tells her to do it herself, and gives her Katen Kyoukotsu, but only the mute half of Katen Kyoukotsu is willing to go kill some Toujuu.

Evidently, she likes playing with her prey a little too much. She's the kind who rips legs off helpless insects. Nanao does not approve.

I'd have to agree--when faced with an entity so hideous, it's perverse to delay its demise.

Disturbed by her unfeeling nature, Nanao attacks the girl with a lightning bolt, allowing the Toujuu to escape.

As a sword, Katen Kyoukotsu reacts violently when she's accosted. Nanao enlists Rengiku's help to get through to her with clothes and candy, things little girls like, but it doesn't work. Then Nanao notices that she is transfixed by tree blossoms, and she puts a flower in her hair.

The Toujuu returns to wreak vengeance

 Whatt happened to a Zampak being able to materialize their own swords at will?

And after a brief struggle, Kyouraku comes and coolly defeats him.

Episode 265, the last hurrah

There's a final, big bad monstrosity of a Toujuu named Kirikaze, that can absorb other sword spirits, and turn into mist to evade hits.

The various Zampaks believe Kirikaze to be the worst possible adversary for a shinigami--not sure I understand why--and they decide to tackle the beast by themselves as a last hurrah, and they pay their respects to their respective shinigami, but in the end the shinigami arrive to help their swords defeat it. They return to their blade forms, the shinigami look reflective, the end.

The thing to take from this episode is the restaurant scene.

Not only does Rangiku get soused to the point of needing to puke and getting carried back home in Hinamori and Nanao's arms, but Nanao is asked whether it's really okay to leave Kyouraku and the older, sexier half of Katen Kyoukotsu alone unsupervised; she responds "Of course, she's just a sword!" Lol.

Okay, that's all for now. See you next time, when I review Movie 4. 


  1. The only thing that sucks is nothing good came after this arc. In fact, I stopped watching the anime after episode 265.

  2. Wait, Gliblord, you wrote this? I went through all of these articles in a blur the first time through, so figures I missed that. But...this article suddenly makes a lot less sense. This story arc is deserving of praise: it's quite possibly the best story arc in the extended Bleach universe. It's certainly the best of the filler arcs. But It also has problems. Several glaring plot holes and a meandering plot, for one. It also didn't have a ton of high points, though it was consistently solid.

    Now, that's not nearly enough to call this arc bad. It's still quite good. But it doesn't really gel with your Fullbring article. I mean, if you can call this arc great, then it's not like you're judging by some incredibly strict scale. The Fullbring arc, while deeply flawed, has far more positives than you give it credit for. Your article was so hilarious that I found myself taken up by your pace. It wasn't until I stepped back and took another look at the arc that I remembered that it wasn't as bad as you said it was.