Glitterlace (PG, Ishida, Orihime)
Next, for the record, I can't STAND Nnoitra. He's despicable. He cheats, kicks babies, brags--yeah, Kubo did a good job of designing a slimeball all right. Noi's got a tooth-ringed hole in his head and a memory problem. Oh, and he's a misogynist. Or is he?
The last thing I'd ever thought I'd be typing up one breezy Saturday morning is a NnoiNel manifesto. The pairing first occurred to a couple of my fellow Bleach buds after chapter 293, "Urge for Unite," in which a scantily clad Neliel and a wickedly bare-chested Nnoitra FREEZE and can't deliver one another deadly blows. Two Hollow who can't kill one another---hmmmm. Romance? The Hollow Way? I didn't think so, but I was eager for a backstory.
"Tell me I can't ship it!" posted benizakura with a defiant squee! Now Shini ships weird pairings--I expected this of her, but ET TU, quaedam? Q's got an eye for artistic subtext---among her big ships are IchiRuki of Bleach and L/Light of DeathNote. She's been known to check out quaint and curious volumes of esoterica in cultural design and whatnot to substantiate her shipping notions. (DENY IT, Q!)
I wasn't sold. Yet. The chapter title about this urge for er... uniting ...thing for me had to do with Szayel slurping up Ishida with that awful fornicaras technique and quasi-raping him or whatever happened in that chapter and the "unite" word echoed the "united front" chapters in which Renji and Ichigo and Renji and Ishida made their (failed) combined attacks against an enemy.
But what if the "urge to unite" meant something else too? Like Hollow UST?
Kubo, you are a poet.
You're not a poet just because you can play with a chapter title in so many ways (and there are plenty readers who think you're a pretentious snot high-fiving other pretentious snots or else yanking our chains and that chapters titles are in no way the equivalent of a well-told story), but you are a poet because you can play with characterization in a poetic way. Not every character design denotes a single type; Nnoitra is a well-made asshole. Hollow are monsters. Those are the simple denotations.
Now let's play with what else you've shown us. Hollow have humanity; Neliel is likable--lovable even. Nnoitra is not who he appears to be because--and I'm convinced of this--he has feeeeeeeeelings for Nel.
Oh he says he hates her.
Oh yeah, Nnoitra the misogynist. Oh I hated him so much. This is the fucker who stuck his fingers into Orihime's mouth and called her "pet-sama" and digusted me in so many ways. Clearly an asshole. But he seems to single out Neliel for special attention. Why not special hate for Halibel who is a woman and ranked higher at the present time in the manga? In chapter 312, as he is falling to his death, he defines himself--"I don't do mercy." Yet he did show mercy to Nel once. He didn't kill her when she reverted to child form; he allowed her to live in the desert and then again when they fought in HM in front of Ichigo, they both froze at an impasse. Mercy? What? Nnoitra had something to prove, perhaps. His superiority in strength over Nel would be the obvious answer, but wouldn't that be proven with a fatal blow?
The opposite of love isn't hate, it's said. It's indifference
Most frequently we see Hollow being subservient to others in a military heirarchy--such as fraccion to their superiors in Aizen's army. But as Pesh and Don showed us, devotion doesn't have to be defined by rank. Those two remain devoted to Nel even after she loses her power and status.
Nel doesn't like fighting. We are told this over and over. In chapter 212, it's made clear in Nnoitra's flashback that she disapproves of Nnoitra's senseless slaughtering of Hollow.
Why didn't she stop him? The lives of those Hollow meant only so much--abstractly, she didn't like the idea of their perishing because, as she tells Nnoi, she and he were once like them.
But she cares more about Nnoitra than those nameless Hollow. She states so. She says that she followed Nnoitra on his suicidal missions because she was looking out for one of Aizen's Espada. The explanation doesn't really make sense to me. This is the dog-eat-dog world of Hueco Mundo where strong fighters are vying for Espada positions all the time. Nel's explanation doesn't make sense to Nnoitra either because he presses her. "Why do ya keep following me around like this?"
Any shipper fanatic who's studied Kubo's panels closely will tell you that when Kubo shows a close-up of a mouth, you're in for a lie. Or at the very least a character who is trying to hold back his or her true emotions. The trope repeats itself through out the manga. BIG EMOTION--close up of the mouth. CHARACTER DOESN'T KNOW WHAT TO SAY--close up of mouth. CHARACTER LIES--we see big lips.
This is a fighting manga. This is the last chapter of Nnoi's battle against Kenpachi. We get a flashback that defines Nnoitra's true character for us, and three whole panels of that flashback are devoted to Neliel's response to Nnoitra's question, "Why do ya keep following me around like this?"
The response hurt him. Her feelings, whatever they were---pity? Superiority? Love? Those feelings hurt him. And as Nnoitra dies, he admits this, and Kubo again, makes us feel sympathy for an asshole. Grimmjow--the villain who wouldn't eat his comrades and who went down howling--was always a bit sympathetic. He was good-looking, for one thing, and when he defied Aizen, Grimmjow looked like a dashing loner. Nnoitra--although some fangirls found his skinny creepiness kinda hawt,--was a braggart and a cheater. I found the guy just a total gross-out in every way, and yet, as he died this week, I felt for him. And the reason I felt for him was because of his relationship with Nel.
He scanned the horizon for her, and as fate (or Kubo) would have it, Nel regains consciousness just in time to see Nnoitra fall. The pair lock eyes. She speaks his name--that utterance tells us that her memory is restored but what else? Did she love him? Did she pity him? Did she wish a better life for him? Will she mourn him?
Does he know?
Strength, he desired, say the shippers, translates into Nnoitra's desiring Nel. I'm not sure about that. All I know is that Kubo intended a connection. Between the nasty, indelicate, sexually aware Nel ("I'm a masochist! It doesn't mean anything if I don't cry!") and the horrific villian Nnoitra, there was a connection. Design-wise, it resonated in the crescent moons in their weapons, in dark marks under the eyes in his released form and hers, in their horns (I like how he seemed devilish but she seemed more playful Pan-like). That last eye-lock spoke volumes for me. The fourteen year old boys who read shounen manga can just glaze over it, but count me in the group who's going to nod in the direction of Japan and go "oh yeah, Kubo, you did it again. You gave me the LOVE vibes.