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20 May 2013 @ 12:51 am

Part Two: Never the Same River Twice

Welcome back to part two!  Part one (found here) is an introduction to the historical significance of the Rubicon metaphor.  Since part three will conclusively prove we will see a second “Quincy Archer Hates You” storyline, today's focus will be on the roles parallel storylines play in Bleach, what they tell us about the past, and what they promise for the future. (and suffers the dreaded "second part of a trilogy curse" by not being as entertaining or interesting but please hang in with me for part three on Tuesday!)

Before scrolling too further down, consider if you will the two following images.

Which one holds more interest, visually?  Although the solid uniformity on top may be comforting or more organized, the one on the bottom has rhythm, a feel, a flow, character.

They are both patterns of solid black lines, no tonal differentiation whatsoever.  However, the second image has a NARRATION!

Misconception about parallels: They are NOT straight out of the box copy-pastes. Never the same river twice. Yes, they are all lines.  Yes, they are all the same color and height.  However, parallels in literature are meant to showcase the DIFFERENCES in each situation, not the similarities.

Parallels are NOT lazy storytelling, nor are they meant to bore the reader.  If an author with arcs as well thought out as Kubo’s presents a repeat situation, it means you BETTER SIT UP AND PAY ATTENTION.

The Point of Parallels is to either a.) emphasize a point the author wants made/remembered or b.) showcase how different characters succeed/fail in the same situation.

What has happened before must happen again and again until the characters involved ultimately succeed or fail in their objectives. It may seem like Kubo cycles his situations endlessly or haphazardly but I will lay out and discuss the two specific patterns of parallels I have dug up reading Bleach. (Fact: these are not their real names. I made them up. They just fit.)

1: The Fractal, an endlessly repeating pattern made up of tiny shapes that reflect the full set.

2. Chiasmus, situations mirrored about a central focal point.

Lemme ‘splain.

The Fractal Parallel:

See this broccoli?  Cool looking broccoli! (thanks, wikipedia fractal page!)

A fractal pattern is when a shape is made up of smaller and smaller versions of the same shape.



Yes, yes, please control your awe over my incredible art skills.  Bleach is a story about Ichigo, how he gains his powers, trains, and eventually overcomes the enemy.  It is broken up into smaller arcs that revolve around (brace yourselves) Ichigo gaining powers, training, and eventually overcoming the enemy.

The entire story is built around smaller versions of itself!  An endlessly repeating cycle.  Ichigo training is not the only repeated story line in Bleach.  Other examples include:

--Older brothers putting their younger sisters in danger, ultimately rescuing them. (Byakuya/Rukia, Sora/Orihime, Ichigo/Yuzu+Karin)

--A loss of power/position and the shame/challenge that comes with it. (Ichigo, Ishida, Isshin, the Vaizards, Urahara)

--Fighting to be someone’s equal, to attain their level. (Kenpachi/Unohana, Hisagi/Kensei, Renji/Byakuya, Nnoitora/Neliel, Soifon/Yoruichi)

--Spending time in similar prisons (Renji/Hinamori/Kira, Orihime/Rukia)
--Fight Kurosaki Ichigo. (basically everyone)

Take a second and think about how these characters (placed in identical situations) react differently to their surroundings.  Some of these characters find success. Think about how many of them fail. It must also be recognized that there are ENTIRE ARCS repeated. Hueco Mundo and Soul Society, while an important part of the fractal repetition within Bleach, will be discussed in further detail as they plug in better to the chiasmus section of the analysis.

David Eddings wrote two series of 5 books each.  The first series focuses on a farm boy who goes on a grand quest with assorted companions to fulfill his magical heritage, defeat the dark lord and become king. (spoilers, but seriously who did NOT see that coming?)

Second series is a few years in the future. Turns out our fearless hero did not do as complete a job as he thought defeating the evil overlord and he sets out again with many of the same folk. Deja vu a few times here and there until they discover they are on the EXACT SAME QUEST from the first series!  They come across the same archetypes, find themselves in eerily similar situations, and it is revealed they are not the first to embark on this particular quest and they will not be the last unless they break it.

Bleach is in much of the same boat. The Bleach universe and everyone in it are trapped in an endless cycle, a la Groundhogs day.  Ichigo is the key to unlocking everything and setting it moving again.

In recent Bleach  history, you can’t get much more blatant repetition than the rescue of Masaki and the rescue of Rukia.  Isshin and Ichigo even use THE SAME LINES.  However, considering Isshin eventually lost Masaki, that story gets the brand of INCOMPLETE, meaning the Bleach universe needs to repeat that situation again and again until COMPLETED.  Ichigo is the fulfiller--the gap-plugger. In part one I mentioned how he fulfills/changes people.  He does the same for these repeating patterns.  Ichigo helps the stories come to their end.  One by one he is completing the cycles.

Time is not a straight line in Bleach. Time in Bleach is measured through arcs and closed loops, events that endlessly repeat with subtle changes.  Kubo likes to reference time and time keeping devices in his titles. For example, the pendulum and the rotator. Let's take a look at a pendulum first.

You can’t turn back a pendulum--turning back refers to the hands and face of a clock. It’s poetic coolness on Kubo’s part that refers to the fact the past and present are doomed to be reflections of each other. Graphing the position of a point on the pendulum can be expressed like this, and repeated INTO INFINITY. Ok, not infinity, it loses momentum and speed, leaking energy, unless you have a weight system keeping the pendulum going.  The stagnation of the different dimensions in Bleach? SS unchanging million year blah-ness, Hueco Mundo's endless foodchain, those are just two examples of the weights trapping Bleach in place.

(Don’t worry, not going in any deeper sciency-er than that.  (I COULD THOUGH. I COULD. BE GRATEFUL)

Guess what? Graph a point on the outside edge of a rotator and you get THE SAME IMAGE! Turn back the pendulum all you want, but once you let it go it will only continue on in the same path until (ch -97) you break the weights off their chains and stop the pendulum. That’s Ichigo’s role.

The fractal stories, echoes, repeats, will cycle through again and again UNTIL they have a satisfactory ending. (Thanks, Ichi!) However, since the story of Bleach is not yet finished, even excellent/good stories that have already reached their full potential have a another option--the “dark universe” parallel where everything goes absolutely wrong, a perversion of the original/best options. (See: Ichi v Byakuya compared to Ichi v Ulquiorra)

Let’s sum up Fractal Parallels (which is not a real literary term. I don’t know what the real lit term for this is but I like Fractal Parallels and I stick my flag in it and claim it for literature).  Bleach, and everyone in it, are stuck in these repeating stories. Ichigo is not immune, but he is the only one with the power to fix it.  It’s already been remarked by Rukia that he’s changed Soul Society, we’ve seen how he’s busted up Hueco Mundo, those Quincies better watch their backs.

Stories will end. Cycles will be broken. Characters WILL die.

Now to the second form of (and more intensely personal) parallels the chiasmus.


In rhetoric writing, a chiasmus refers to two clauses mirrored about each other.  It comes from the Greek word meaning to shape like the letter X.  Easier to picture like A B C . C B A

A great deal of ancient Hebrew scripture uses this


A. Many that are last

B. Shall be first

B. and many that are first

A. Shall be last

Read up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiasmus

Although historically tied to shorter phrases, many longer works follow this structure. Like the entirety of Paradise Lost!

A: Satan's sinful actions (Books 1-3)

B: Entry into Paradise (Book 4)

C: War in heaven (destruction) (Books 5-6)

C': Creation of the world (Books 7-8)

B': Loss of paradise (Book 9)

A': Humankind's sinful actions (Books 10-12)

I became interested in the idea of chiastic structures upon discovering that THE ENTIRE HARRY POTTER SERIES is one huge chiasmus! Used it to predict a great deal of book 7 and was hailed as a seer among my peers.  (Good SHORT write up on that idea can be found here: http://jathacker.xanga.com/604423028/the-chiastic-structure-of-harry-potter/ )

Bleach is a little different--the entire story does not revolve around one single central idea.  Instead, every character’s personal development is structured in a chiasmus with their core flaw highlighted as the center point.

One key difference--these stories have a dark and a light side, that the opposites are not only mirrored but “seen through a glass, darkly”

Short form, let’s go with Unohana.

B: Unohana, her life of empty violence

A:She fights a young Kenpachi

  Gives up fighting, feels nothing. This is her core problem.

A': She fights the older Kenpachi.

B': Unohana, her death (?) full of passion

Short form two, Byakuya

C:Emotions and liveliness and competitiveness! (lives!)

B: Loss of Hisana, his failure to help her.

A: Lock off of emotions, particularly with Rukia

      Hides his heart in pride/duty/honor

A':Confesses truth to Rukia.

B': Helps Rukia get to AND fight her way through Hueco Mundo--Saves her

C': Emotions and (sly) sense of humor and competitiveness! (dies?)

When a character solves the problem at their heart, their core, their development as a character is over. The trend of characters who complete their cycles and apparently die worries me though. Ol’ man yama had one of these but I’d rather look at our longest, most complete character development.

Rukia.  Kuchiki Rukia is a complete, whole character.  She has already had her entire development arc and now USES what she has learned to whip Ichigo’s butt into gear.

E:Imperfect life out of her control.

D:Decision to develop her shinigami powers.

  C:Taken out of her school life by Byakuya. Loses Renji, Byakuya is unfeeling.

  B:Becomes part of 13th squad, develops friendship with Kaien.


          Decides her life is worthless, not worth living--loses heart.

    A':Ichigo SURVIVES his MitR battle. (SUPER parallel here)

   B':Buddy good times in KK town with Ichigo, develops friendship.

  C': Entrapment and rescue, regains Renji, kindles family with Byakuya!

D':Decision to STAY, re-develop her shinigami powers!


This character journey is tested to its limits when she faces the dark Kaien.  And Rukia, mah bb, she stands up for her friends, stands up for herself, and breaks from her cycle using a NEW DANCE and STABBITY STABS THAT MOTHERFATHER IN THE FACE.


Ichigo as magic star boy star of Bleach gets multiple of these arcs.  The one I’d like you to roll over in your mind is this one--

SS rescue arc. (Happy awesome good times)

His desire for power vs. the price he pays for it, starring Inner Hollow.

HM rescue arc. (Dark parallel)

That’s it. Taking my hands off the keyboard, not even touching that one tonight. (I gotta start making a list of all the essay topics I want to touch...)

Ishida’s role:

I believe the heart of Ishida’s story is the loss/regaining of his power.  His decision to turn  his back on Quincy and Soul Society and follow Ichigo to Hueco Mundo.  What happens at the start must happen at the end Since his journey began at the banks of his own personal Rubicon, he will come to it’s end (or HIS end, dun dun duuuun) at the far edge of his chiastic story.

PART THREE can be found here!  Now this pesky backstory is out of the way, part three will be an Ishida love fest, diving deep into where he’s come from, where he’s been, and what this arc spells out for our favorite bespectacled hero!
Silvia: sexy ikkaku approvednightshade_ave on May 20th, 2013 11:09 pm (UTC)
I can't wait for part three, I'm loving this series so much. <3<3<3<3<3
oh gallant piglet,: dragonflyaizome on May 21st, 2013 12:30 am (UTC)
I feel so much smarter after having read that, lol. XD But really, I wasn't aware of the different types of parallels before. And the way you explained them makes them very easy to understand. Thank you for this! Looking forward to part three!
♀*La Muerte Chiquita*♀: SoSexyla_kalaka on May 21st, 2013 04:53 am (UTC)
Like Aizome said, i feel more smarter than before. Thank you very much for this well explained lesson about what paralels are and how sensei applies them in Bleach.

I think was Debbie who said that Sensei doesn't repeat stories, he makes parallels. You really know your stuff, I never though about Byakuya's sotry in that way, but now that you mention it, I think I know how Uryuu's sotry gonna end and I am pretty optimistic about it :3

Sames goes for Orihime that got her dark arc at the same time that Ichigo, but was a character that in the beggining was brave, strong and heroic and rescue the "dragon" that always protected her. Is that a hint i am seeing considering that Uryuu is also another "dragon" that has protected her?

I am so ready for part three, my favorite character being analized thoroughly... i am ready!

thanks for this Skilly, you are my guiding light here *_*//
liaciferlawliet: Byakuyaliaciferlawliet on May 21st, 2013 05:49 am (UTC)
I'm really grateful to you for writing this. I'd been fiddling with similar thoughts since the start of this arc but I hadn't been able to put it in precise words. I actually have some jumbled notes that I took on a moment of epiphany about the Quincy Archer Hates You and its relevance for this last arc, but most importantly, the title for Volume 6 "The Death Trilogy Overture", the volume that concludes the Quincy Archer Hates You storyline with the Back to Back chapters.

This title had bugged me for a long time, since I had first thought it meant Bleach would finish after three arcs (Soul Society, Hueco Mundo, Fake Karakura -all arcs are named after a location). When this didn't happen I forgot about it for a while, but since the Blood War arc started and now with these essays, I think I'm making for sense of it. For me, it's now pretty clear that the Death Trilogy is:
1. The Arrancar arc. The Winter War.
2. The Fullbringer arc. Ichigo as a Human and as a Shinigami
3. The Thousand Year Blood War. The war with Quincies.

The most important part of this is that this trilogy is centered around the different races in the Bleach Universe (Arrancar/Hollow-Shinigami-Quincy, with Ichigo's humanity being ever present in the story). And all these races converge for the first time in one moment: The Quincy Archer Hates You, especifically, Ichigo and Ishida fighting the Menos Grande Back to Back. To be even more specific, Ichigo becomes the point of convergence, first receiving the Menos's Cero, and then having Uryuu release all his explosive reiatsu through his arrows.

To make it short, I think this arc is bringing back the old thread of Ishida and Ichigo fighting back to back (or perhaps, face to face?), and also, of everything converging in Ichigo -this time, in Ichigo being a vessel to every kind of power-
nehalenianehalenia on May 21st, 2013 08:10 pm (UTC)
Another awesome post. I love your Fractal idea, and I definitely see what you mean. I think there's been a general awareness that the HM arc paralleled the SS arc, but your Chiasmus theory, where HM is the dark mirror of SS, makes me see it in a slightly different viewpoint.

I know it's dangerous territory, but after reading this, I couldn't help doing a quick comparison of Rukia and Orihime in their respective prisons. What troubled me was that Rukia didn't have a relationship with a "keeper" as Orihime did with Ulquiorra. It only just occurred to me that, whatever the role Aizen gave him, Ulquiorra's real narrative purpose wasn't to be Orihime's keeper, but to speak those dark, hopeless thoughts that Rukia told herself. Rukia's own internal feelings of worthlessness, that she deserved to die for killing Kaien, can't be mirrored the same way with Orihime. They're different characters with different pasts, so for Orihime, instead of flashbacks -- like Rukia's own "Memories in the Rain" -- Orihime's dark thoughts are voiced by Ulquiorra.

And now I must wonder: how much of what Ulquiorra said were things that Orihime was actually thinking herself but couldn't allow herself to voice? Why did she lose it that one time and slap Ulquiorra? Was it really because he told her Chad was dead, or that if he wasn't yet, he would be?

Or was it because despite her mouth saying "He's not dead", that was exactly what her heart feared?

Damn it, woman. Now I'm going to have to go re-read all the Ulquiorra/Orihime convos in the HM arc. Gah. *claws face*

Bring on Uryuu, say I! XD
_debbiechan_: Ishida hearts_debbiechan_ on May 23rd, 2013 01:34 pm (UTC)

I love you Megan.

You are my sunshine.

I know fractals parallels isn't a literary term but I'm going to start using it.

Thank you so much for this. I've been so busy with school this year and so jaded with fandom that I'd just about given up on this community but as always friends and their lovely creativity and intelligence and goodness pull me back. I look forward to meeting you in my own home this August and I didn't expect this lovely lovely essay to bless my fan-blog right after your graduation and to reinforce so many of my thoughts about my favorite manga.

I'm just so happy you posted this.

I hope to contribute more to bleachness as I recover from the semester (still recovering--last official day of work was this past Monday). Fandom kookity may take longer to recover from, but I'm looking forward to part 3 of this essay even more than Kubo's next chapter I think! :D
david_j_1david_j_1 on May 25th, 2013 04:20 am (UTC)
Wow. Never looked at story structures this way. I'm very impressed. Looking forward to part 3! :D