balladbird (balladbird) wrote in bleachness,

Balladbird's character essays: Kaname Tousen

I understand that Kaname Tousen isn't really a hot-button character. He doesn't have many fans, and while he's regarded as the scrappy, most fans aren't willing to exert the energy necessary to actively hate him. He's something like the vanilla ice cream of fandom, we give him a passing thought when he's right in front of us, but regard him as rather plain, and tend to forget about him once he's gone. Upon finishing that sentence, I realized the irony of comparing Tousen to vanilla ice cream, and in the interest of finding a segue from the unfortunate implications one might interpret from that, allow me to introduce:

Kaname Tousen
Balladbird's Character Analysis (the first one I ever made, but the second one I completed.)

I can't imagine there'll be much of an audience for an essay on Tousen's character, but I like to write these for characters who catch my eye, and there's no Bleach this week, so if nothing else maybe I'll help to assuage some of the fandom tensions that have started to set on Bleachness like cabin fever. 

This one won't be nearly as long as my Ulquiorra essay, in part because Tousen's role in the story was more quickly contained, and in part because I'll be looking at his character as a whole for this work, rather than going chapter by chapter. As anyone who's read one of my LJ entries can attest, I don't know how to do highfalutin things like add pictures, and nine times out of ten my attempts to even make the font look cool or flashy are thwarted by my technological ineptitude. My apologies for an essay lacking in flash. ^^ 


I like to start all my essays off with a needlessly complex literary concept or quote, and I won't let Tousen be an exception. If I were to choose one word that best describes him as a character, that word would be “wrath.” It's especially fitting if one uses it by the definition the word had when it was identified as a sin, stating that a person who committed the sin of wrath was any man who abandoned a life in pursuit of love and happiness in favor of a life pursuing hatred and vengeance. Probably the most developed facet of Tousen's character is the parallel that exists between the ties he severed when he betrayed the Soul Society, and the hatred he feels toward the organization itself for wronging him.

In second place for my obscure one-name description contest, I would choose “justice.” Ah, justice, that powerful word with a definition so vague that it can be twisted to mean pretty much anything you want it to. Tousen really loved the word, using it with the frequency and precision that a normal man might use a period, although what it meant to him seems confusing and contradictory, although one thing that we never find ourselves doubting is that at its heart, Tousen's justice lies in gaining revenge.

My knowledge of Japanese is cursory at best, but if the internet hasn't misinformed me, the Japanese concept of revenge falls into two distinct categories. The first, “tenchu” is used to describe divine retribution. If someone uses this word to describe an act of vengeance, they are essentially saying that it is the justice of God which has been carried out. The second category, “jinchu” is used to describe a more personal type of revenge. Perhaps it's more selfish, or less than noble, however, it is a vindication a person feels they are owed. Someone who strikes vengeance in the name of jinchu is saying, in essence, “maybe God wouldn't see fit to punish you for what you've done, but I do.” The distinctions are fine and dandy, I suppose. The problem that arises is that people, being the biased and temperamental bastards that they are, tend to have trouble being able to tell exactly where divine justice ends and their personal vendettas begin.

The entire concept, much like wrath, seems to fit Tousen perfectly. His grudge against the Soul Society has valid roots, yet the actions he takes against them, even after learning that not everyone within it was as amoral and monstrous as the man who killed his friend, seems to defy logic. He expresses a hatred of many things, not the least of which being himself.

Part the first: Tousen Organized

One of the first problems I had when I decided to really sit down and re-read Tousen's chapters again is the fact that his backstory is told in a disjointed and out of order way. Knowing what events occurred when was important to me, since his actions during his final fight were confusing to me, and I wanted to see a logical transition of his motives and personality from start to finish. Therefore, when I read the chapters over again, I took note of when each event to occur would have happened, as well as how much time passed between them. I'll go ahead and start by listing them, so that it's easier to follow my more elaborate observations regarding each scene. Here's everything that we're shown about Tousen's past, from the eldest to the most recent:

1.)  Tousen lived in an unidentified district of the rukongai, happily spending days with his only friend, toward whom he expresses absolute adoration. She has a strong sense of justice, and a desire to protect peace. Because of this, she eventually gets married and becomes a shinigami.

2.) During a drunken quarrel, her husband murders a colleague over something trifling. When she confronts him with his wrongdoing, he kills her as well. What becomes of the husband is never explicitly stated, but the strong implication is that he received little, if any, punishment. An outraged Tousen demands to appeal the decision from central 46, but is denied even access to the Seireitei.

3.)  At his friend's wake, Tousen claims her zanpaku-to as his own, stating that if the world truly lacks justice, then he will create it himself. At some unspecified time between now and the events of TBTP, he will achieve bankai. The exact amount of time that passes is unknown, but after this he joins the soul society, eventually reaching the rank of fifth seat in the ninth division.

4.)  Through never revealed circumstances, he is invited into the fold of Aizen's conspiracy, becoming his first subordinate, and working with him to sabotage the Soul Society. Shortly afterward, the events of TBTP occur, with Tousen using his hidden bankai against his fellow ninth division members, killing many and wounding his captain, Kensei Mugurama.

5.)  Following the events of TBTP, Aizen's plans go into an extended hiatus, during which time Tousen behaves as an ordinary shinigami. An unknown number of decades pass, and Tousen becomes an acquaintance of Sajin Komamura. Both of them rise to the rank of captain at some point a fair time afterward.

6.)  A crestfallen Shuuhei Hisagi confides in Tousen that he feels a paralyzing fear of both the enemy and himself, believing that this shortcoming makes him unfit for combat. Tousen responds by saying that fear is an important trait for a warrior to have, as fear of one's own power prevents one from abusing it, and keeps them always aware of the pain they inflict onto others, ensuring that they only wield their sword to protect. Hisagi would engrave these words into his heart, eventually making them the center of his combat philosophy. At some point after this event, Hisagi is promoted to Tousen's vice captain in squad nine.

7.)  The events of the Soul Society arc of the manga occur. Tousen incapacitates Ishida, battles Kenpachi, and is revealed as Aizen's co-conspirator. From here, Tousen resumes acting toward the downfall of Soul Society.

8.)  The early HM arc unfolds, with Tousen disarming Grimmjow, forming a unique bond with Wonderweiss, and... turning on a projector? Yeah, Tousen didn't really do much during the HM arc.

9.)  The fake KT arc unfolds, and the fight between Tousen, Hisagi, and Komamura begins. Tousen reveals his reason for joining Soul Society, stabs Hisagi, and rejects Komamura's ideal of justice. He engages in an arrancar ressurecion, which restores his sight, but this new sense overwhelms him, allowing him to be stabbed by Hisagi.

10.)  A dying Tousen makes his peace with Komamura, and asks to see Hisagi's face. He then blows up, for reasons unexplained of yet.

Now that we've gotten the order of events out of the way, I'll begin to explain my observations on them, starting from the top. Bear in mind that when it comes to Tousen's thinking, motivations, and actions, almost nothing was explicitly stated, leaving large blanks, which I have filled in by making inferences about Tousen based on the context of the manga. Naturally, that makes a lot of what I will say subjective, so feel free to disagree with some or all of it.

Part the second: Tousen the Pure (from his origin to TBTP): The very first thing I want to say about Tousen's origin is something that is so painfully obvious to anyone who has read Bleach that I'm astounded that Tousen never realized it himself. That being: Tousen loved his friend. I'm not necessarily saying that in a shipping way, it could very well have been a platonic love. All the same, she was someone so important to him, and who impacted his life so completely, that the title of “friend” simply isn't strong enough to describe her.

Nothing is ever said on the matter, but it appears that Tousen lead a solitary existence without her. Whether this was his personal choice, or he was regarded as a social pariah for whatever reason isn't clear, but his sole confidant seemed to be his friend, and the two held one another in the highest of regard. The fact that there friendship served as his only apparent emotional connection makes for an interesting parallel, which I'll get into a little later.

Really, not a lot about things that occurred before the death of his friend, and even the events immediately afterward, need any elaboration on my part. Someone close to him was killed for virtually no reason, the killer suffered no inconvenience for doing it, and, dammit, he just wasn't going to take it. It's safe to say that at this point he had an absolute hatred of all shinigami, and would probably have contributed to Soul Society's downfall even if doing so tore the skin from his body. Apparently he found that the best way to do this was from within, so he decided to wield his friend's zanpaku-to.

I'm not sure which came first, his joining Soul Society, or his mastery of bankai, but I'm curious to know how he could have learned it in such a short amount of time. Perhaps he spent ten years obtaining his bankai prior to joining, or perhaps he attempted to learn it in secret once he'd already enlisted. It's not really an important point, but it's something we don't know, and I don't like having unknowns floating through my head without at least trying to theorize about them. ^^

Also unknown is how Tousen came to conspire with Aizen, although it's not hard to figure out. Aizen being the observant fellow he is, I can't imagine he missed the fact that there was a seated officer who was blind, and thus immune to his shikai. I think there must have been something that tipped Aizen off to Tousen's bankai, and thus the possibility that he could use him as a pawn, since otherwise I imagine a guy like Aizen would be more prone to arranging an accidental death for someone who could be a threat to his plan, rather than taking the unnecessary risk of allying with them. Still, once it was revealed that Aizen planned to destroy the Soul Society, and disestablish the world order (which Tousen found inherently corrupt, anyway) I'm sure he didn't need to say much to convince Tousen to join his efforts. The two may even have met before Tousen's joining the Society. It's all conjecture, but fun to think about.

The final unknown factor of his past is precisely how long he had been in the ranks of the Soul Society before TBTP occurred. Since it's also unknown how long passed between the death of his friend and his joining in the first place, there's no way to do anything but conjecture. Personally, I'm of the mind that TBTP occurred very soon (by shinigami standards, anyway) after Tousen's enlistment. I base my belief of this on the fact that, as Tousen's ruthless actions prove, his hatred of the shinigami still seemed very fresh and very hot.

Tousen got virtually no dialogue during the flashback, and what little he did get was less than helpful in establishing his mindset, non the less, since he seemed prone to growing soft in times of peace (another point I'll get into later) TBTP must have happened at a time when he still considered him very much separate from the shinigami.

His being a dick to Kensei aside, Tousen didn't really begin to interact with other characters in an interesting way until events that happened long after the visored had departed the SeireiTei...

Part the third: Tousen the shinigami (from after TBTP to fake KT)

When Tousen confronted Komamura and Hisagi during their final battle, he revealed that the greatest fear he had had during his time in the Soul Society was that he would become assimilated by the shinigami, and losing his desire for vengeance. The fact that he had this fear more or less proves that it was beginning to happen, and it's only logical for it, if you think of it.

Following TBTP, Aizen's plan fell into remission for decades, now Tousen was no longer really scheming or plotting, and only living out his life as a shinigami. It's profoundly hard to hate a group of people when you're living among them, seeing them as relatable human beings rather than monsters like the man who murdered your friend. Tousen's entire hatred of the shinigami society was based on the actions of one man, and the corrupt ruling of a body the readers already know to be corrupt shortly into the manga, which probably made his hatred even harder to maintain. Decades passing in relative peace make even the hottest of emotions fade, especially when you make a friend like Komamura.

Tousen's relationship with Komamura is one of the most important things there is about his character development. He was someone who was held at arms length by others because he looked... well... like a giant plush doll, but who found acceptance in Tousen thanks to his blindness. Tousen's reaching out, and becoming the one friend Komamura could count on in a world where he felt completely alone was a bit of an ironic move, as it created a parallel of Tousen's relationship with his friend from long before. Indeed, Tousen quite literally became to Komamura what his friend was to him, making Balladbird happy, as he's an enormous fan of parallels.

I would also like to call attention to his pep talk with Hisagi, since it's another scene left ambiguous enough to have many interpretations. Hisagi's fear, and Tousen's telling him to embrace that fear seems straightforward enough. The problem is unearthed during the final battle, when Tousen essentially says that he never feared anything, and that it was all garbage.

This had a large portion of fandom deduce that he purposefully gave Hisagi bad advice to sabotage his future battles, which is a valid interpretation, especially if one takes Tousen's words at face value. I personally disagree with it, however, based first on the fact that I don't believe Tousen when he says it (more on that later) and second because of the kind of person Tousen was before his friend's death. Most of what he accepts as justice was the philosophy of his friend, who seemed to be a pacifistic soul. The philosophy that fear was a strength and not a weakness is actually a very intelligent and rationale one, as well as being one which I can believe that his friend would embrace. Because of this, I'm inclined to believe that it was a philosophy that Tousen embraced, or would have, had he not become a monster who lived only for revenge.

I don't know what path Hisagi will take from here on, but I don't think he'll ever fully discard his belief in fear for the fight, nor do I believe he will suffer much for following it.

From here, we finally get to the Soul Society arc. Based on Tousen's words during his final fight, he must have found Aizen's decision to spring back into action to be quite the relief. He was tempted to simply remain in his role as a shinigami, however slightly; to the point where he would admit later on that living his life as a captain would be the “good” thing to do. However, his time of stagnation was over, the plan was marching forward, and at last he was confronted with his choice. Did he abandon his desire for vengence, or the life and friends he had made for himself in the past century? He pushed himself into selecting the latter, and seems to have spent the remainder of his time in the manga convincing himself that it was the correct path, driving himself virtually to madness. That's more for the final fight discussion, though.

On the events in the manga leading up to the final fight, I have surprisingly little to say. I do wish to share that I've always been of a theory regarding Tousen's incessant hatred of characters with violent/bloodlusting personalities. Once the full extent of his flashback is seen, it makes sense that he would equate all men who love fighting and killing with the man who murdered his friend, and would thus resent them strongly.

I also can't help but notice that most of his aggression was always reserved for Shinigami, and seems to reinforce my belief that he hatred of them as a race. He massacred his division during TBTP, but spared Ishida, and even expressed regret for putting an end to his attempt afterward. He hates Grimmjow, but that seems tied into what I addressed above. Anyway, most of his time in the HM arc was less than spectacular, with only his relationship with Wonderweiss standing out as interesting. He identified himself as pure, and stated this as the reason why Wonderweiss, who was also pure, was drawn to him. While it seems a ludicrous thing to say, I do believe that Tousen was pure, but remember, as TV tropes will caution you, that pure is not good. Remember that his every action since the death of his friend was dictated by a single emotion, and that was wrath.

Part the Fourth: Tousen the Avenger (His final battle and death)

Tousen, it must be said here, was an incredibly selfish character. It's strange to say that, when one sees that his motive of avenging another seems the opposite, and yet, knowing so little but so much about Tousen's friend, we already know that she would never have wanted him to follow the path he did. He sought revenge because he wanted vindication for his loss, he wanted to make those who stole his friend from him suffer. That was his justice.

Now, he was engaging in a battle that he knew had to happen, because in order for him to fully accept that he threw away everything he had grown to care about during his life as a shinigami. He had to kill Komamura.

Tousen's heavy-handed way of fighting struck me as surreal and out of character when I first saw it. It seemed unprovoked, and so far removed from how he had always acted before. Again there's no definite answer to be had, but based on Tousen's words and past, I developed my own idea of why he behaved as he did.

As I said, during his time among the shinigami, Tousen felt himself begin to “institutionalize” I guess you could say. He felt it, he feared it, and he hated himself for letting it happen. How could he live a life of peace when his friend lay dead because of the shinigami? How could he abandon his hatred? To do so would be a perversion of everything he had spent probably two centuries trying to accomplish. Still, hating himself for feeling attached to his shinigami life did nothing to change the fact that, at the end of the day, he still felt attached to his shinigami life.

The melodramatic cruelty with which he composed his fight against Komamura and Hisagi was his way of trying to convince himself that they meant nothing to him, that his vengeance was all that he really cared about, and he would feel nothing for killing them. When looked at as self-denial to the point of madness, Tousen's sudden change from stoic to madman makes a great deal more sense.

The battle helped to establish Tousen's motivation, and pointed out the reason for his apparent hypocrisy, but also helped to establish just how well Komamura had come to know him, even though he had originaly misunderstood Tousen's motives.

Komamura believed that Tousen joined the Shinigami to attempt to carry on the same ideals of justice that his friend held. Thus, he saw Tousen's defection to Aizen as his betraying the justice that he had always held for no reason except to acquire power.

What he hadn't known was that Tousen's entire reason for joining the Soul Society was to exact revenge. That he had always hated the shinigami, and had begun to hate himself for slowly losing this anger in the peaceful life he found as a shinigami captain. When Aizen gave him the chance to aid him, he agreed because it gave him the chance to cease his being "assimilated by the shinigami" and once again act in vengeance for his fallen friend.

Thus, when he said that he "misjudged" Tousen, he was referring to this misunderstanding. The resignation to the fact that he would have to kill Tousen came from this, as well. After all, Tousen's reason for living is his hatred of the shinigami, meaning that he can never peacefully co-exist Soul Society. Still, this doesn't mean that he's evil, and that's what I think Komamura meant when he went on to say that he didn't want to kill Tousen.

Tousen is twisted and corrupt, but his reasons for being that way are tragic and understandable to Komamura. He doesn't desire status, or to subjugate others like Aizen, he lives swallowed by the hatred that has consumed him for centuries. Thus, Komamura is able to forgive him in his heart as he resigns himself to their inevitable duel to the death.

Tousen's rampage goes on, he reveals his mask, which is blank, and thus open to interpretations. Since I'm the one writing an essay right now, you get to hear mine! Be grateful.

I think the blank mask represents the purity Tousen alluded to earlier. In his soul he saw himself as an instrument of revenge, and existed for nothing else. The reason the mask cracked and chipped away as he exploded in rage at Komamura was because his feelings for Komamura ran against the purity of his motivation, and thus chipped away at his perfect visage, leaving cracks and eventually a hole. Remember that white is a color representing evil in Bleach, so it makes sense for a pure evil intent to be shown as a white mask.

Yes, I like to over-think things.

Tousen releases rather than using Bankai, an act that restores his sight, rather than blinding his opponent. (Do I dare call parallel again? ... no... no I don't, but it was tempting!) He looks at Komamura and the first thing he says is that he's ugly.

This was definitely the most dickish thing that Tousen ever did... and this is a guy who stabbed Kensei and sent Hisagi flying off a building. Still, the interesting thing is that Tousen, having just received the ability to see thirty seconds prior, would have no actual way of telling what is legitimately ugly from what is beautiful. His saying that Komamura was ugly was an attack against both his old friend and his inner doubt, since Tousen's acceptance of Komamura without judging his appearance was the foundation of their friendship.

Needless to say, it does little to persuade Komamura to hate Tousen, and he apologizes to his friend for being unable to stop him even as he believes that he's seconds from death. Fortunately, Hisagi the unstoppable is there, and promptly sticks a sword through his old captain's skull.

A lot seems to change immediately after this occurs, and since there's virtually no transition it can seem like a random mood swing for Tousen to suddenly be calm and friendly again, and a few even called it an ass pull. (that's a favorite saying in fandom, I find.) Realistically, though, it makes sense, especially following the logic I've expressed about Tousen's motivations. Shonen tends to make a big deal about “communicating with your fists,” the belief that men can trade their feelings with punches rather than words. The old pearl of wisdom isn't dropped literally in this scene, but Tousen's drive for revenge having been stopped by his old friend and his disciple probably finally revealed to him that there were things he felt stronger than his hatred.

The scene doesn't redeem Tousen, but it does something equally important, especially since Aizen was revealed as a monster. As I said in discussion on Bleachness this morning:

“ I think the reason Kubo showed us Tousen's dying moments with the last chapter instead of the one before it was to show that, unlike Aizen's kindly alter ego, (whom Aizen himself confirmed was never more than an illusion) the man that Komamura befriended and Shuuhei admired really did exist inside the monster of revenge that he became. “

He asks to see Hisagi's face, which can be interpreted as selfish and inadvertently cruel if one recalls that Hisagi attacked Tousen in such a way as to avoid looking directly at him. Personally I withhold my opinion on that matter until it's confirmed that Hisagi's attack really was what killed Tousen. Either way, the simple fact that he wanted to remember Hisagi's face implies that under all the words he said during his hollow craze, he truly did care about his vice captain, which also gives credence to my theory about his comforting words during Hisagi's time of doubt.

Here is where Tousen dies. Unlike Ulquiorra, I wasn't attached to Tousen in the kind of way that made me want him to live on no matter what, and truthfully I don't expect him to ever rise again. Nontheless, he was my favorite non-arrancar character in Bleach, and I'm not remotely ashamed of it, given the potential for depth he had.

Part the final: Tousen overview

This essay was a lot to read, and so many holes were left for personal interpretation that it was more of a character interpretation than a character essay. Feel free to voice any doubts or disagreements you have, as I would love to discuss Tousen some, and we have a week to kill anyway.

Tousen was complex, yet really quite simple. He was always motivated by single emotions, and eventually transformed into a monster, he turned against those who loved him, and he turned against the wishes of the one whose death began his despair.

Tousen's personality can almost be likened to an anthill, the deeper you try to delve, the more confusing it gets, and the more creatures may emerge to attack you. Still, I sincerely believe that if one were to try to cut straight to the center of Tousen's character, they would find nothing more than an ordinary man, with a wounded heart, and a broken dream.

Whether Tousen really was nothing more than the loyal hound of Aizen, marked by nothing more than his willingness to slaughter even those who thought of him as a comrade without expression, is a matter of interpretation, and either side can be argued.

My personal interpretation is the opposite, however. Tousen had the chance to let his hatred go, and became attached to a friend and to a follower, despite his best attempts to discard them. I wonder how different the Tousen who didn't act on hate was from the Tousen of the past... I'm very fond of thinking that the man whom Hisagi admired as a mentor, and Komamura loved as a brother, was the very same Kaname Tousen who once sat on a grassy hi
ll with his dear friend, watching the sky, and secretly loving the clouds.
Tags: hisagi, komamura, tousen
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