The fandom is riled up. I've had three impassioned discussions, two and a half arguments, and one near fist-fight this morning over what's going to happen next in Bleach. I've had to calm at least one panic-attacked shipper and offer cyber chamomille to another fan who I haven't seen this nervous since the night of the 2008 US presidential election.
Orihime haters, of all kinds, are fuming because Orihime's got the stage. Orihime fans, of all kinds, are biting their nails because Orihime's got the stage. Just as a lot of fanbois are pleased that Ichigo got pwned in this last fight (as by all rights he should have because of the power disparity between him and Numero Quatro) so these fanbois are hoping to be surprised by the next fight, the fangirls (and all of those who like character development in our manga--excuse my sometimes awful gender generalizations) are unable to predict how what happens next will impact the relationships of those we care about so much. Will Orihime redeem Ulquiorra? Will Ichigo wake up and notice that Orihime loves him? Will Orihime notice that Ishida loves her? Will the fifth tower fall? What does it all mean?
Shishou, if you cut away to the Fake Karakura Town fights now, expect your home to be torched by angry fans!
Okay, I'm interested in fighting if it includes psychological drama or exceptionally beautiful opponents (my all-time fangirl fantasy of all time of seeing White Angel Ishida versus Black Demon Ulquiorra is a possibility now--the mere visual would be enough to make me shoot blood out my ears, arrgh!) As a person with two x chromosomes, though, my real interest is in the way characters relate in shounen manga without stabbing and kicking and punching. I'm a fan of looks and words that don't mean what they say, oh my.
That's why I'm crazy about the Orihime and Ulquiorra relationship.
Like my slash-loving friend Neha, who is so perceptive about text and subtext and endearingly honest about when her fanon desires clash with authorial intent, likes to say about Ulqui and Hime, you'd have to be BLIND not to see the tension. I mean, dear Lord, the slap that is as old as romance literature, the whole captor-captive dynamic, the gothic Byronic dude and the virgin optimist.
LB7-sensei and I talk about it occasionally--she ships UlquiHime hard and I ship it with a more detached fascination (my heart is in IshiHime and RenIshi) and although neither of us expect Ulquiorra and Orihime to become a canon couple with babies by the end of the manga (I'm not ruling it out--I keep pointing out what happened with Bulma and Vegeta, written by Kubo's mentor, Toriyama--a really similar case of famous story ingenue for some years meets dark murderer and woah!), we expect great things from the Ulquiorra and Orihime story. In fact, we're expecting them soon. Like, next week! (Give us a break, we're still high on the fact that we called the wings and LB7 called the second release... we're on a roll here).
I wanted to quote a very lovely post that LB7-sensei made in the UlquiHime FC at BA. She wrote it in part to assuage a fanclub that was going berserk with anticipation and fear.
We all need to realize that we are being manipulated here by KT. He knows Ulquiorra is a sympathetic character that many fans really love so he needed to show us a side of him that we've never seen before. Ulquiorra is about to suffer a major beatdown from somewhere, we don't know where yet, so KT is setting us up to accept it.
You might say Ulqui is almost OOC right now - but not if you look at in context with the seven sins. In each chapter, every character shown exhibits the sin from the title to some extent or another, Ulquiorra, of course being one of the most obvious. He and Ichigo have pushed and goaded each other to this point. Ulquiorra is more powerful at the moment, plus he wants to make a point about how stupid this whole "hearts" thing is. From his pov, what he is doing is simply the most obvious thing. He may not even feel that he is being especially cruel - after all, he does not understand friendship or love in any way (or if he does, he vehemently denies it's existence).
It's unrealistic to expect him to change in any way, if indeed he will, without a major beating. Srsly. If Kubo wants to save this character, he has to beat him down, and hard - otherwise it would be a betrayal of all of Ulqui's characterization up till now.
Just like Ichigo needed to undergo what has happened to him, so Ulqui will get his just deserts as well. KT wants to take the edge off our sympathy for him so we can stand to watch it w/out screaming plotkai and everything else. Honestly, I expect him to get worse before it's all over. He's in big time denial about the possibility of any humanity on his part, even though he has been hybridized with shinigami. Denial makes people behave in pretty nasty ways.
Begin shipping notes:
Orihime is a big source of that denial on Ulquiorra's part so his apparent cruelty toward her is not very surprising. SHE is the sticking point of this whole hearts issue as far as he is concerned.
Remember, never once has KT misled us about Ulquiorra and Orihime. He's made it plain at the beginning that Ulqui is fascinated by Orihime (out of all the humans in the Conquistadors chapters) but his reasons are perfectly logical as far as he is concerned. He thinks her power might be useful. He develops an elaborate scheme to abscond with her that he thinks will keep anyone from coming after her by making her look like a traitor. After all, he'd just as soon avoid unnecessary conflict.
Now that he has the girl, is she making him feel uncomfortable things? I think we can safely say she is - anger and confusion if nothing else. She slaps him and he reacts with restrained astonishment. Not because of the voilence of her act but because she cared enough to put herself in danger for her feelings. These are things he does not understand but because he is hybridized with shinigami, he must have some of these feeling himself now and they make him act in ways that are unusual for him, which only feeds his frustration and anger. But he keeps a lid on it all.
Ever heard the English saying, "Hell with the lid off?" Well that's Ulqui now. His plan backfired, the girl is creating problems for his nihilistic outlook on existence and obviously he cares or why would he have bothered to question her in the throne room? Those very questions leading to the "hearts conversation." If he was truly the automaton he (and some fans) believe him to be, he would have simply waited for Ichigo and paid Orihime no mind at all. But he's a curious creature, if nothing else, and that curiosity has lead him to places that make him very uncomfortable and he's basically having a tantrum about it. Unfortunately, when a being that powerful loses his cool, everyone in close proximity is going to get hurt.
I'm actually quite impressed with KT's understanding of psychology here - that or shounen tropes are just working out that way, but it seems like an awfully big coincidence.
I was kind depressed too earlier because I couldn't see a way out of this "corner" people say KT has written himself into - but now I do. I think KT is going to take the dark road. I mean look at what he just did. But the dark rode is the only one out of this situation that could redeem all three characters in this triangle - including Ichigo - because he's developed quite a number of issues himself - and certainly Orihime with her obsessive infatuation and low self esteem- and most especially Ulquiorra. Ulquiorra is struggling to grasp something that frankly can only be beaten into him because of the circumstances. Orihime is going to play an integral role in that (as is Ichigo), and a tiny little place in Ulquiorra's tiny little bit of humanity knows that and this is why he is inexplicably drawn to her, no matter how vehemently he may want to deny it.
This is our ship peeps. It's not about flowers and rainbows and unicorns. It's about clawing your way out of the darkness.
I find the growth of the UlquiHime shipping fandom fascinating--it's just exploded in the time I've been a Bleach fan. I really wonder what Kubo's hit here. It might just be the Bulma-Vegeta fair maiden and dark lord thing but there's something more that speaks to the essential themes and dichotomies in Bleach, I think. I'm really curious as to how the relationship will play out.
Now, if you'll excuse me, my husband the mild-mannered philosophy professor is watching kick boxing on cable and wondering why I haven't stopped babbling with my "Trekkie" friends all weekend about some damn cartoon. "Did somebody kiss at last? Is that why you"re excited?"
Noooo, someone got killed, which is just as good. As Chad's tattoo reminds us Amor y Muerte are close, really close. And this is Bleach. In the midst of death, we have talk of the heart and even though there's despair, we have promises of love.