Sunday, 18 November 2012

Bleach Analysis: The Life and Times of Zaraki Kenpachi

Hello, everyone. I am a newbie poster to the Applied Logic blog, but I follow it all the time.

I am known as MetaMario on Arlong Park Forums, and let me just thank contributor D. Jones for allowing me to share my thoughts. My first post will focus on one of Bleach's most....controversial characters,

Zaraki Kenpachi (in case you missed the title)

 

Before I move on, I have to say how much I loved Kenpachi. He was my favorite character, because not only didn't he have to rely on some gimmick to win, he was a jerk and knew it. Plus his design was great.

Huh? Then why did I use the past tense? I'll explain.


Kenpachi is one of those characters that was great at first but soon, very soon....and slowly, at that....became a victim of Kubo's terrible writing. Like Orihime, Uryu, Rukia, Chad, and others.

What do I mean?


Well, nowadays the general consensus is that you either hate the guy with a burning passion or love the guy with a burning passion. I was close to the latter, but keep in mind I wasn't some drooling fanboy that believes Kenpachi's strength is only matched by Yamamoto's. No, I'm realistic. Keep that in mind.

So naturally I hate when I see people say he's completely super-powerful or a god. That made us realistic Kenny fans (all 8 of us) look bad. Let's walk through some history here.

Kenpachi's first appearance was when he and Gin taunted Byakuya about Rukia being executed. Then Gin took him away by wrapping him up with a cloth to escape Byakuya's wrath. Priceless.

He's present with the other captains later when they address the issue of Ichigo's gang trespassing. Kenpachi, being the fight maniac he is, sets out to find the ryoka and fight them. With Yachiru's bad sense of direction, he doesn't get there until after Ichigo beats Renji and Ikkaku.

Now, hold up. Kenny detractors accuse him of being some one-dimensional lunkhead with only being able to express "fight, fight, and more fight". This was not the case (at least BACK THEN).

See, Kenpachi and Ichigo fight. It's a tough fight, and Kenny even removes his eyepatch (which limits his reiatsu) to go all-out. By listening to Zangetsu, Ichigo bites back, and matches his power.

The two of them fall defeated and bloody, but Yachiru comes and brings Kenpachi up to a building. There, he acknowledges that Ichigo won (or rather, he lost), much to his sidekick's disagreement.

In fact, that's where we get some more context. Kenpachi encountered Yachiru when both of them were in Rukongai and when the latter was no more than a toddler. Amazed by Yachiru touching his bloody sword and laughing, he decides to not only keep her, but name her after "the person I admired". He even explains that he had no name himself, opting to name himself "Zaraki Kenpachi", Zaraki being the district he came from and Kenpachi being the title the strongest of Shinigami keep. All 11th Division Captains had Kenpachi in their name.

Not only that, but Kenpachi holds up his broken zanpakutou in the present and regretfully asks for its name. See, Kenpachi has a shit-ton of raw power and reiatsu, but does not know the name of his sword (a major plot point back when Bleach was good), and thus, cannot use Shikai or Bankai.

As the scene closes, Kenpachi screams to the sky that he wants to get stronger. Most likely, by learning the name of his zanpakutou.



 Now......does this suggest a one-dimensional character? Not at all. It suggests depth to what Kenpachi is presented as, and even makes us fans wonder...."will he learn the name? or talk more with his zanpakutou"?

And keep in mind, not all of Kenpachi's battles are solved with brute force.

Later on, still interested in Ichigo and his strength, he goes with Orihime to break Ishida, Ganju, and Chad from prison and continues on to find the orange-head. Unfortunately, this catches the eye of Komamura and Tousen, active captains at the time. Their vice-captains go to take on Ikkaku and Yumichika, while the two of them opt to stop Kenpachi. The latter is just amused by all this.

Now, you may be thinking "helping prisoners escape and searching for their leader just to fight/encounter him again, and not arrest" is counter-productive to the Gotei's efforts to eliminate intruders. And dumb. Yeah, he's not doing his job. But again, we know he's an asshole. Moving on.....

He battles Komamura and Tousen 2-on-1 style, and tanks Tousen's Shikai with no problem. He even berates Komamura for hiding his wolf-appearance, stating appearance does not matter, only the fight. (edit: this is after Tousen's Bankai)

…I dunno, I thought that page was awesome.

Tousen uses his Bankai and traps Kenpachi in a circle, where sight, smell, reiatsu-sensing, and any other sense is disabled. For a straight-forward fighter like Kenpachi, this is a problem.

Since Yachiru, Yumichika, and Ikkaku all have terrible advice, he had to think of his own strategy.

Yes, a strategy. Not blindly (lol) charging at Tousen and trying to whack him. One-dimensional, my ass. He manages to figure out the only way to attack is grabbing Tousen's zanpakutou and move while he's in his grasp.

Because while other senses are disabled, touch is not. Kenpachi was able to feel when Tousen's blade was cutting his skin and clothes. From there, Kenpachi regains the senses when he briefly touches his blade and beats him.



Again, that was strategy, not swinging the blade and getting lucky. So with this, his relationship with Yachiru, and his problem of not knowing his sword's name, we have a lot in store for us, right?

Too bad that after Soul Society, characterization takes a nose dive, thanks to Kubo.

Kenpachi shows up once to retrieve the Hitsugaya Arrancar team, but really re-appears during the Hueco Mundo mission. Ichigo, battered and bruised, is about to face Tesla's released form, when:

Kenpachi blocks the strike and cuts Tesla in half without trying. What an entrance!

Now, I'm not gonna get into the whole story idiocy why the Captains arrived then, not sooner, and by Yamamoto changing his mind and listening to Urahara. The active criminal that was still in exile and not apologized to.

.....moving on.....

So his Espada opponent is Nnoitra. Like Byakuya took on Zommari and Mayuri took on Szayel. Now, here's another thing for the record:

I HATED Nnoitra. Yes, I know he loves fighting like Kenpachi, but the man was a raging sexist. He couldn't accept Nel was stronger than him, a woman, and was such a major sore loser that he had to trick Nel and use Szayel's help to kick out her of the Espada and turn her into a child.

He believed women were weaker. Yes, this is a shonen, but we live in the 21th century. Also, his whole personality consists of obnoxious raging and yelling; between that and the annoying buck teeth, I just couldn't stomach the guy.

Speaking of Nel, that's something I didn't like too much. She was back her adult form, kicking Nnoitra's ass and defending Ichigo until poof! Nel turned back and got shafted so Kubo can have Kenpachi fight instead.

.....fine, show me what you got, Kubo.



The actual battle, Kenpachi vs Nnoitra, lacked the strategy of the Tousen battle and the internal struggle of the Ichigo battle. It was back and forth slashing and cutting. I enjoyed it for what it was, but there's no denying it was a plain battle.

And Kubo, if you're trying to give Kenpachi depth, you failed.

1) There was literally no inner thoughts between Kenpachi and his zanpakutou. Wasn't that an ongoing struggle? Story wise, it's been....what, at least a few days since the SS arc? Or a month? Give me something! There was no zanpakutou talk or Kenpachi looking to it for the answers!

2) Nothing on his relationship with Yachiru. I mean the little one, it's understandable the one Kenpachi admired would have to wait for some emotional climax, right? But Yachiru merely watched the fight with Orihime and Ichigo, and cheerfully warned Nnoitra that going after her would be a bad move.

....I dunno, couldn't Kubo put in a scene where Nnoitra seriously harms Yachiru? From there, Kenpachi realizes this is not a game anymore, remembers another scene where the two of them traveled together, and gets serious.

Or how about, Yachiru is the one that fights Tesla, and uses what she learned from Kenpachi to beat him. She remembers her father figure and how he trained her in swordplay (Yachiru is implied to be relatively strong), and vows to keep fighting?

Those two things are what give Kenny depth, but Kubo couldn't deliver this time. He just wanted a "cool" fight, and in the process, makes Kenpachi seem shallower than what he was. Much to the chagrin of a realistic fan like me.

....then things get crazy. In one of the most controversial moves of the manga, Kenpachi finishes off Nnoitra by using two hands and slashing in a big flashy panel, called "kendo".

Chances are, you think it's extremely stupid or so stupid it's hilarious. I opt for the latter. But why is it so bad?

The logic is sound. If you use two hands to hold your sword, you steady the weight better and swing with more strength because you're holding it....with two hands.

It's the execution where it falls flat.

1. Kenpachi's previous fights had him swinging around his sword with one hand, no problem. His sword looks kinda heavy to begin with. So how can two hands achieve victory? It doesn't make THAT big of a difference, does it?

2. Kendo was presented as some big flashy, powerful move. Granted, Kenpachi can't use Shikai or Bankai, so his moves are limited to basic swordplay, no gimmick. But the page makes it look just that.

Really, it would be fine if Kenpachi used two hands and DIDN'T finish Nnoitra in one such stroke.

Unfortunately, things get MORE complicated. See, by winning the battle with brute strength, Kenpachi has trapped himself into a power level circle. You see..

-Shikai Ichigo (barely) beat Kenpachi when the latter had removed his eyepatch and gone all out.
-Grimmjow in his first appearanced trashed Shikai Ichigo.
-Grimmjow overwhelms Bankai Ichigo in the same appearance.
-Bankai Ichigo (barely) beat Grimmjow at their third battle, using the Vizard mask to help.
-Nnoitra easily finished off Grimmjow. (no release!)
-Nnoitra beats the bruised Bankai Ichigo around like a rag doll. (no release!)
-Kenpachi (with no eyepatch and lolkendo) beats Nnoitra's released form. We can conclude:

Kenpachi > Nnoitra > Vizard Ichigo > Grimmjow > Bankai Ichigo > Shikai Ichigo > Kenpachi

which reduces to:

Kenpachi > Kenpachi

WHAT THE FUCK

This (again) makes no goddamn sense! Let's try counter arguments, to try to explain this....

1) Maybe Kenpachi trained intensely after Ichigo and the gang left SS.
Not out of the question, Ichigo learned Bankai in three days.....but that's just it, Kenpachi didn't have Urahara or Yoruchi to speed-train for him. Not to mention, all Kenpachi did to win was use reiatsu and brute strength. No zanpakutou skill at all was even used!

2) Ichigo was tired after beating Grimmjow, ergo he was not at full power
He was at full power upon their third battle. And he barely won that, so it's clear the difference between him and Grimmjow was not that much. And Nnoitra outranks Grimmjow, of course he'd be stronger. And don't give me the excuse that Espada rankings are based off of "reiatsu", and nothing else. First off, why is it that way? Second, seeing as how Aizen used his reiatsu to subdue Grimmjow and Kenpachi's reiatsu scared Hanataro and Ganju, reiatsu is a pretty powerful tool in the Bleach world.

3) Kubo's inconsistent, and a terrible writer.
There you go! That's what happens when your manga has DBZ levels of power and destruction. If you don't keep a tab on it, one mistake will make you look bad and trash the whole system.

So.....now you see the problem. It's not just the kendo, it's this power level mess. Between that and the lack of zanpakutou/Yachiru issues this fight had, it slowly detracted from what made Kenpachi great....but not completely.

Let's....keep going.

Kenpachi wins, Byakuya wins, Mayuri wins, and the only Espada remaining in HM are Ulquiorra and Yammy.

Ulquiorra has his efforts tackled up by battling Ichigo (this fucks up the power levels more, but I'm not going into that). But....Yammy? #10? The annoying loud-mouth who Ichigo, Urahara, and Yoruichi all beat up during the Karakura invasions? How's he gonna beat THREE Captains?!

Yammy: "Who said the Espada go from one to 10?"

.....Jesus Christ, there is no god. In another of the most controversial moves, Yammy reveals that he is fact #0, the Cero Espada, and hereby the strongest.

Oh my....aside from this blatant retcon, Kubo obviously did this to make Yammy relevant again.

Some people on AP wanted a Chad vs. Yammy (10) fight, that would've rocked.

Now....how does this terrible piece of writing involve Kenpachi?

Do the math, my friends. Yammy, as Mr. 0, punts Rukia, Chad, Ichigo, Renji, and Ishida around like rag dolls, tanking all their attacks and overwhelming them. The Captains then show up to assist.

 
Mayuri makes a science comment and sits on the sidelines while Kenpachi and Byakuya go to fight. They argue with each other on who should finish him off, but eventually the scene ends with the both of them attacking the giant.

we have to suffer through Aizen soloing everyone, the Hogyoku nonsense, Ichigo's final power-up, and the worst fight in the series (Ichigo vs Aizen) before we can finally, finally, FINALLY see the outcome of the Yammy battle. I hope its worth it, because I'll take Yammy getting beat up over anything any day of the week.

....And what happens? Yammy is defeated, OFF SCREEN, while Kenpachi and Byakuya look unharmed. And Kenpachi remarks the fight was boring.

..........Excuse me, I have to scream into a wall.

..

You understand how dumb this is right? First off, Kubo was obviously so focused on his precious Ichigo and his precious Aizen that once he finished their beef, he fast-forwarded through the one thing that I wanted to see. Nothing's worse than an off-panel defeat, except:

An off-panel defeat with someone dubbed #0, therefore the strongest of the Espada!!!


And how did Kenpachi and Byakuya win, anyway? They both struggled to beat their opponents. Yammy should've wrecked the both of them, given the injuries. See look, I had loved Kenpachi at this point, but I cried foul.

This is where the fanboys really got out of hand. Thanks to Kubo, Kenpachi beat #0. That means he's stronger than Yamamoto or Shunsui (who struggled to beat #1!), right?

Drooling Kenpachi Fanboy: Yep, he's GODPACHI !!!!!1!!!
Anti-Kenpachi Fan: No, he's not, Kubo's just a terrible writer.
Realistic Kenpachi Fan: No, he's not, Kubo's just a terrible writer.
Average Bleach Reader: No, he's not, Kubo's just a terrible writer.
Myself: No he's not, Kubo's just a terrible writer.

It's just so obvious Kubo had the two of them win because they seem to be the Shinigami ambassadors for the fanbase. Not as popular as Hitsugaya, but important enough to fall victim to shoddy writing.

For me, my interest in Kenpachi was starting to slip. In one arc, his power has been blown out of proportion by Kubo, TWICE!

But hey.....it's not that bad, right? We still have depth?

I warn you, this is where I officially lose my patience.


Fast-forward through the horrible and unbearable Fullbringer arc, where the popular Shinigami all jump out and decide to give Ichigo a hand.

(Kenpachi, Ikkaku, Byakuya, Renji, and Hitsugaya)

Keep in mind that while I was really happy to see Kenpachi and Ikkaku in this arc, it was pretty clear Kubo did it to save his ratings. And from a narrative standpoint, they had no reason to be there. If Kubo had any sense, he would give Orihime, Uryu, and Chad (neglected mains!) a chance to shine here.

But no, like the man does anything logical.

So they split off to fight the Failbringers. Kenpachi wants to take on Tsukishima, but is stuck with King Bradley....I mean Giriko. The dude with the sash over his eye.

*facepalm* I just realize he and Nnoitra share that quality with Kenny. Kubo, can't you differentiate match-ups?

Giriko uses his enhanced Fullbring to ignore his powers (of setting up conditions in time to makethings burn to dust) to copy Yammy, grow enraged, and become giant.

I didn't realize "lack of common sense" was an improvement. And what happens?



Kenpachi casually cuts Giriko in half before anything could happen, remarking the fight is "boring".

EXACTLY LIKE YAMMY.

At the time, I was happy at first, because first-glance made it look cool, and hooray, one terrible Fullbringer to hit the dust. But as others talked about it, and as I re-read it....I was not satisfied. For a number of reasons.

1. Aesthetically, Kenpachi looked all wrong. The hair looked bad, and the eyepatch was different. But....Kenpachi had NO BELLS ON. He wore them before to give himself a handicap, so the enemy could sense him coming. He's all about handicaps, from the bells, to the eyepatch, to even giving Ichigo a free hit! So wtf?

2. Again, no handicap at all. Kenpachi cripples himself to make him enjoy the battles and make them last longer. If he ran around with no eyepatch and no bells, he could easily defeat 80% of the Bleach cast. No, I'm not being unrealistic here, reiatsu is a powerful thing and the man can take a lot of wounds. He would lose to the obvious 20% (Urahara, Aizen, Yamamoto, Shunsui, Ukitake, Unohana, Wonderweiss, Stark, Barragan, Harribel, Ulquiorra, Ichigo, and so on).

So why didn't he do it? He didn't even let Giriko take a free shot. And you think if Kubo kept the "time tells no lies" theme, we could've had an interesting battle that had....depth! Like Tousen's battle! Imagine Kenpachi struggling to satisfy insane conditions to avoid being burnt to a crisp.

Too bad it doesn't matter either way, because Kubo wrote himself into a corner with the Fullbring fights.

Have the the Shinigami blaze through, you essentially raise the question of "what was the point?" and make it even more obvious Kubo showed them for a ratings jump.

Have the Shinigami struggle, you make them look pathetic (losing to humans) and repeat Fake Karakura's dragged out fights.

......anyway, it's like Kubo was slowly taking away all the things that made Kenpachi interesting in the first place. No zanpakutou mention at ALL (he forgot by this point, I'm guessing), and while Yachiru appeared, it was only to scold Kenpachi and show that she has a cross-bones pin in her hair now. Cool, but it's like Kubo saying to me:

"There, I remembered Yachiru. She goes with Kenpachi, right? Phew, now to design Ichigo's next power-up!"

All the extra elements are fading. Kubo doesn't care. But.....we're not at the worst part yet.

Some artist named Narita made a light-novel titled "Spirits Are With You!" and discusses the other Kenpachis of history; their stories, what they looked like, and look! Something about Zaraki?

Novel:
Zaraki's power is to match the reiatsu level of his foes. He's immune to things like Barragan's Respira and Stark's Cero wolves. Oh yeah, and Aizen kidnapped Orihime to lure Ichigo to lure Kenpachi because he feared his power.

.....wow, what a load of crap. At least it's cano-


Kubo: Cool, I like that! Let's make it canon!

FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!!!!!!!!!

Excuse the mindless cursing, but this is completely awful. Kubo basically said "yeah, Kenpachi is as broken as Aizen, although more so, because he feared him".

Do I HAVE to spell out why this is a horrible move? Yes? Sadists.

1) Reiatsu is an important property, but it's not the only thing that makes a Bleach battle. Speed, strength, intelligence, Kido, and other things matter. Kenpachi has a lot of reiatsu, but to be able to do all of THAT while not having an active zanpakutou link is crap.

2) Part of the reason why I liked Kenpachi is because he handicapped himself and only had raw power. Part of the reason why I hated Aizen is because he had a broken, unfair power. Now Kenpachi and Aizen's powers in the same category, BROKEN AS ALL HELL. What's the point in enjoying him fight now if everyone is automatically inferior? He might as well be fighting babies and the elderly!

3) The drooling fanboys have jumped to extremes. Logically, the anti-Kenpachi fans are pissed off. And I'm pissed off too, because this is bullshit. Kubo has ruined my once-favorite character.

Just as planned, am I right?!


So when Kenpachi recently appeared, with three wounded Stern Ritters on his back, I couldn't get excited. How could I? How could I cheer and like such a broken and unbeatable character? What's the point in seeing him anymore?

Kubo forgot all the elements that gave Kenpachi depth (Yachiru and his zanpakutou), or just couldn't be bothered to follow through. A once good character has been destroyed.

Then Kenpachi attacks Juha Bach, the leader, who is logically stronger than 98% of the cast and is Yama's equal.

What happens?


Kenpachi loses OFF-SCREEN. Yes, he was made to be virtually invincible, but still loses.
Then wait! It's revealed that wasn't the REAL Bach, but the work of his twin minions Royd and Loyd. A pointless flashback reveals one of them switched in Bach's place.

So Kenpachi loses off-screen, to a body-swapping MINION, while made to be virtually invincible.

The anti-Kenny fans are laughing at my face. Go ahead, guys, I should've known to pull away before it was too late. Kubo ruined him like he did to Orihime, Uryu, Chad, and Rukia, all characters I once loved.

....this "ruining" was completely atrocious though, and proves to me that Kubo honestly doesn't care what he does to his characters if you're not named Ichigo or Aizen.


Nowadays I can't stomach what Kenpachi has become. And I can't stomach the author that made him.

Good day, folks. I hope the active readers of the blog enjoyed my post, as well as the local contributors. I have other analysis/rants, if I can get green-lighted for it.

4 comments:

  1. A hearty welcome to the blog, Meta!

    I look forward to more

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm with you every step of the way. Kenpachi, to me, was a visual interesting character who had one of the best fights in series early in Bleach and he had a background with the potietal for good story telling plus making him more relatable to the audience. But as you pointed out, Kubo doesn't seem to give two-bit fats about his characters anymore. In his mind, "telling good stories and developing my characters is for losers and people read for plot. I want flashy fights that look cool but later won't amount to a damn thing and new costumes for characters because I like drawing things that are cool."

    ReplyDelete