It's me. I'm not dead. I've just been busy with work and children and my new puppy, but I still love Bleach more than ever and will always be married to it. Speaking of marriage, mazel tov to Kubo-sensei on his nuptials which were announced in WSJ a couple weeks ago with the succinct but dramatic words "I got married." Oh Kubo, Kubo, Kubo. What's next? "Today I ate extra cake in celebration of the baby?" He has always spoken of his characters as his children, but aren't we all imagining Kubo as RL papa now? Maybe an Isshin and Ukitake come to life with a little bit of Ryuuken thrown in for style? Of course, whatever course Sensei chooses for his life, he has all our love AND BEST WISHES (and our projected desires!) He also obviously wants his privacy, so no one ask me for the name of his wife.
I'll always be his gf. Le sigh.
It's also that time of year for a manga year in review. Last year's was popular and got translated in a French forum, and it always pleases me when my little ramblings go global so I'm devoting this evening to screencapping some favorite 2012 Bleach manga moments instead of overdosing on decaf cappuccino and scrolling through cat gifs during my precious free time!
BLEACH 2012 YEAR IN REVIEW
Unlike a lot of people I enjoyed the Fullbringer arc last year, but many people were happy to see this panel because, yey, END OF THAT ARC FULL OF BRINGERS NO ONE REALLY CARED ABOUT:
If you liked the character at all, it was a very poignant drawing of Ginjou, ne? The guy was going to diiiiiiiiie. Classic Kubo farewell. Of course, death is only an illusion in Bleach and no one really dies. Not recently, the guy shows up again in Soul Society (that's Ginjou far right--Ganjou, whose name oddly enough I kept typing as Ginjou's as for months, is the sinister-sexy dude in the middle with trailer-park hair)
Some people call "foul" about the lack of true character death in this series but Ginjou's reappearance in SS only verifies his soul as human and makes perfect sense. Tsukishima's death in that ambiguous last scene is confirmed (I always SAID he was dead!) but I do wonder why creepy watch-guy Giriko didn't get shuffled off to HELL for killing his wife just for the fun of it.
So the beginning of 2012 was the end of the FB arc.
Tsukishima was my favorite character of the FB arc and while some may have found his death (or fading away into a bromance in the early dawn's light and the side text promising a new beginning) as the true end of the arc, I felt like Tsuki's story and Ginjou's story were far from complete. Other fans felt cheated of a backstory too. The reappearance of the characters in this last arc satiates me in that regard.
For me, the true end of the FB arc was in Ichigo's narrative.
The FB arc ended beautifully, I thought, as a mini coming-of-age tale within a larger shounen coming-of-age tale.
ICHIGO YOU ARE NOW A MAN
The whole point was to revitalize the main character, give a nod to the series beginnings in a which a powerless boy is made a part-time DEATH G-D, and in this short arc he relives his wish of "a nornal" life a la some Frank Capra movie and those g-dly powers are gone---Ichigo's whole world is devastated, his power to protect the way he truly wanted is gone too and those he wants to protect don't want his protection and AGAIN (as with Ulquiorra and even Aizen) Ichigo identifies with his antagonist when he fights Ginjou. This time, Ichigo is given his powers again--by Rukia piercing him with a sword like the first time but unlike the first time when it was done as a crime and against the knowledge of SS--this time all the shinigami captains have put their reiatsu into the sword and the directive comes from the Captain Commander. There is a glorious scene where Ichigo stomps into Soul Society to claim Ginjou's body and confronts the Captain Commander and asserts his presence and identity as a shinigami. Ichigo knows the extent to which SS has "used" him and to what extent Ichigo is still not fully accepted by SS. Ichigo, like Ginjou was, is still ONLY a shinigami representative and not considered a full shinigami. It's such a glorious scene. Asked how he can forgive Ginjou after all the man has done to his family and friends, Ichigo gives a sly answer loaded with double-meaning and insolence. I felt my heart swell with nachas and all the Jewish mama molecules in my being go verklempt at Ichigo acting so clever and grown-up.
Shinji only side-eyed Ichigo.
Like fucking wow, Ichigo. You sassed old man Yama. In the very next panel, just in case you didn't get it, the Captain Commander asks Ichigo directly if he meant something by his particular turn of words.
Kurosaki Ichigo doesn't consider himself a mere shinigami representative and he's got plans in the Gotei hierarchy. Career plans. When you think of it, it makes a lovely parallel. His father Isshin gave up life in SS to live on Earth. It only makes a Kubo-esgue symmetry that Ichigo will leave Earth to take a role in SS. His fighting so dearly in the beginning of this new arc for SS is only the beginning. His standing with the captains to greet the Royal Guard as if he were one of the captains is only the beginning. His being whisked to the Royal Realm--well, your guess is as good as mine there. Who knows what those clowns are up to and who the king really is?
But take a look at these two Jewish mamas.
NEW PEOPLE, THE OLD READERS DON'T LIKE NEW PEOPLE! BRING BACK THE OLD PEOPLE!
Then came the new arc and instead of telling a new story with beloved familiar characters, Kubo-sensei did what so many of his long-time readers DREAD and that is INTRODUCE NEW CHARACTERS.
I saw immediately how the POV of these characters worked as a narrative device, how the new naive shinigami were needed when the MC was now all growing up, and maybe Kubo (as always) was a few years (and a snails' pace) ahead of his audience and these characters would have telling roles along down the line, but like everyone else.... I didn't want to see them as much as I wanted to see my old favorites.
Otherwise.... as Shino says to Yuki in the panel below, "That'd be such a waste of time. There'd be no point for both of us to be here!"
I dunno. There have been few Kubo characters who were absolute throw-aways. Ikumi Unigaya's little son Kaoru served to show her motherly side .... so it was clear that she was being motherly with Ichigo and not perving on him later when she squashed him to her breasts. I remember when people thought Kaoru would turn out to be Tsukishima's longlost son. Sometimes the characters are just there to be funny---like the yakuza guy in the Fullbringer arc who was NOT that funny. Sometimes they're a fighting opponent who's a boring fighter. I just have an inkling these two will matter a little bit in the story later on. After all, Kubo's bothered enough to give Yuki two color pages!
The special!SPECIAL!SPECIAL!sekrit! information let out by Jump during Bleach's three week hiatus pretty much let readers know that we were in for a Quincy arc, that Kubo wanted to draw Aizen in bondage again, and that Grimmjow in all likelihood would reappear (TOLD YA TOLD YA TOLD YA SO--now aren't you glad I shut up all discussion about "Grimmjow's DEATH CONFIRMED" here in bleachness?)
Soon enough, we got Quincy galore and the return of old favorite characters. I was hopping crazy excited for Quincy. They looked like weird modified Arrancar hybrid freaks to me---deadly and wack. The first one we saw was hilarious. Everyone fully expected him to stick around for a while. But like another comedic character of old, Dordoni, he up and died QUICK.
Here he is. Ebern, holding up what seems to be a Quincy sand-dollar and chanting a spell in German somesuch. I liked him.
I could NOT STAND the next major Quincy character that showed up. This one would NOT die soon enough. He served his purpose of exposition well enough---he let out little hints about Quincy powers and teased about how Uryuu's arrows "should" be stronger than he was, AND YES, I know he was important to the narrative but it was amusing to see all the "When will OPIE DIIIIIE?" threads on Bleach forums. The Nazi-resemblance was creepy enough--especially since I've always called the Quincy the Jews of the Bleachverse... and now, in a classic Kubo twist, the victims had become the Evil ones.
Nel came back, Pesche came back, Mila Rose---but you know who I was really cheered to see? There's a Bleach character who really gave me deep feelings once. You'll never guess. I love all his symbolic implications. This guy:
Isn't he creepy? I love him. He's a true chimera, a thing made up of PARTS--he doesn't take orders from anyone really, not even his creators. He's a THING, a destroyer. He was a beautiful foreshadower of IchiThing in the Lust arc--that Ichigo transformation that was part human, part shinigami, part Hollow, all corrupted instinct of "I will protect" and here again, he seems to allude to the THINGS that are these weird Quincy--because whatever these Quincy are, they are not what Souken and the Ishida line are. They are grotesque absorbing mutations.
And of course, Allon just helps Opie get fuglier.
Opie starts OUT fugly, in an outfit that would make Uryuu want to shoot him and even makes Ichigo say he would shoot him for Uryuu's sake:
But then, OMG, I'll never forget the day I saw this manga page. It was a good thing I wasn't holding my morning coffee in my hand or I would've spillled it. Kubooooooooo, you love drawing shit like this don't you, loooool:
I think the only other panel this arc that made me drop my jaw as much was the grotesque fanservice page of Harribel in chains. Hey, I know what kind of magazine Bleach runs in, and I know Kubo doesn't draw HALF of the ecchi stuff that goes on in some other shounen manga but that doesn't mean that as a woman I have to like this stuff. Thankfully, I hadn't seen anything this yuck since Orihime's bondage scene with Grimmjow. Yeah, yeah, it's only a comic--it's playful and innocent enough--but QUESTION, KUBO, WHY IS SHE IN HER "PRETTY" RELEASED ZANPAKUTOU FORM and not in her skeletal face form if she's subdued?
Eh, I always forgive Sensei for such panels when he's also capable of drawing ones like the following--the one that shows the Captain Commander bent in grief at his lieutenant's funeral:
FAREWELL OLD GUARD
Most fans felt the end of the old man was near upon seeing this panel. Ichigo's coming of age notwithstanding, the time for the Old Guard to pass was approaching. Yamamoto's death card was dealt the moment he agreed with Mayuri that wiping out all those souls in the Rukongai was the right thing to do. Ambiguious morality cometh before the fall. There was an old man and his lieutenant backstory. It was the beginning of the end.
In fact, we know who's going to die. It's not just the Old Man. Mayuri's had a Quincy Arrow with his name on it since the beginning of Bleach. I, for one, appreciate that the old evil Mayuri is back (not the lulzy Mayuri or the quasi-heroic one who gave beautiful speeches and saved Renji and Ishida from Szayel---who really understood THAT? I tried. I'd rather have that dark horrible Hueco Mundo arc than not, though--yes it was dark and horrible and long but maybe only us Ulquiorra fangirls with our black tears can truly appreciate the beautiful pain of it). Besides Mayuri dying in this arc, the King of the Quincy must die too because well, he's the arch-villain. The story is all set up. And I love how it's Mayuri who sets it up as the "Thousand Year War" like a battle of one ancient prince against another, a bro against bro sort of mythos that will resonate in whatever story there is between Isshin and Ryuuken, Ichigo and Uryuu.
I just looooooove how Mayuri has the g-ddamn balls to sass the Captain Commander. Seems like the Old Man was just getting cut down bit by bit before his eventual downfall. This scene--glorious drama.
Who is Juha Bach and why is a Quincy so old?
I think he's really sexy. Sexiest Quincy since Ishida Ryuuken.... oh come to me, all ye Quincy back-stories.... I can't wait.
I WILL BE NEEDING MY ISHIDA FIX SOON, SENSEI--I'VE BEEN PATIENT ALL YEAR.
Oh yeah, some stuff happened this past year in Soul Society. We were told in the TELL ALL SPOILERS from Jump that Soul Society would be left in ruins and that the Royal Guard would show up. That all happened really quickly, fairly efficiently, without an excess of boring fights (the only extended fight was Old Man Yama's and it was worth it to see the Head of the Gotei's SUPAH BAN KAI) But before that, I had to say goodbye to my favorite character and hold to my heart the tweet from Sensei that he promised to have Uryuu appear as "much as possible" in the final arc. I haven't seen Ishida Uryuu FOR ALMOST WHOLE YEAR NOW. But when we last saw him, we knew he was UP TO SOMETHING. Here he is in shadow, apologizing for not being able to join his friends in Hueco Mundo, and looking saaaaad.
Then we had a bit of foreshadowing from Orihime who smiled and smiled at Ishida and when Ishida asked what was the matter with her, she gave him some answer about how she liked his having bonded with Ichigo ...
which can only mean .... dun dun dun.... am I going to get an IchiIshi battle somewhere down the line? Am going to get my IshiHime ship fantasies stirred up later? Ishida blushed and it was such a cute scene (I still ship IshiHime like mad). In the 2013 manga calendar, Kubo-sensei slapped Ichigo and Ishida next to one another in a new duo fashion spread. I'm waiting for it---my Ichigo and Ishida scenes. Oh yeaaaah. Because if there's any pair that has more mad crazy gotta-watch-this fun-sentimental-adorable chemistry other than Ichigo and Rukia in Bleach, it's Ichigo and Ishida. <3
KUBO IS A SADIST, NOTHING NEW THERE
Onto to the fall of Soul Society. Well, a lot of it got smashed up, but it didn't exactly fall. Kubo teased a lot. He shot a hole in Kira that was really no bigger than the one we saw in Matsumoto when Allon went on a rampage. We still don't know what's up with Kira (he's currently undergoing what was called "Kensei Syndrome" in the previous arc). Trust me. He's fine. A shinigami has to have his head blown off to be really dead, right? Or as in the case of the old man, the head came off and he was blown to smithereens---plus a backstory and a color page. Don't forget the backstory and color page, two sure indicators of major character demise.
I enjoyed the fights in the SS demolition for what they were--swift and scary. And some character designs were especially clever.
Most fights were mercifully quick and they weren't "mini-stories." HORROR was the main point. Kubo is excellent at horror. He's a master.
YUCK. I'm not going to show you the Rukia skull because I'm sure it's emblazoned in your memory if you get the creepies from stuff like that the way I do.
Story-wise, what got to me most was the little flashback from Shunsui right before Old Man Yama died. The story was poetry--it had the sweep of generations and all the love between two characters and all that passing of the torch stuff. As well as a stern lesson--a warning, a foreboding. Arrgh. I was slain. I always knew Shunsui's character was serious as DEATH when he fought and killed Starrk and Lilynette
Yeah, that's one character who won't be coming back. This ain't no case of Kira, Bya, Grimmy (Or Ulqui XD)
MEANWHILE, Ichigo was stuck in a Quincy cage the whole time and couldn't do a damn thing but shout his signature battle cry and getsuga tenshou until he was red in the face.
I thought he might be transforming into IchiThing in that panel but I was wrong. I'll admit when I'm wrong--it happens. Another time I was wrong was when I thought the Kenpachi who showed up to save Ichigo from Nnoitra in HM was the Kenpachi of Ichigo's Inner World, but you can't always call Bleach 100%. Syn, who gets Bleach right more than just about anyone, told me that was blood on Ichigo's face, not a Hollow marking--but she thought Grimmjow was dead too, nyah, and wasn't sure about Byakuya. She did agree with me and Annie that if Kubo were to kill off Nii-sama, then the man would've received a Hisana flashback and a very sakura-endowed color page. My simple reasoning was hey, Byakuya, upon Ichigo's EVENTUAL (tooo late) arrival at the devastation that was SS, pleaded with Ichigo to win. And by all rights, it simply wasn't Ichigo's turn to win. No shounen hero wins in his first round against the Big Bad. Byakuya could not die in vain. It would have been a too tragic request. Kubo does tragic, but not with a good guy like Byakuya.
I wasn't worried for a second. Not a single second.
It was kind of a pretty delight, though, to watch Byakuya suffer and Kubo draw out the tortuous game. So many of you were SO FREAKING SURE Byakuya was dead. Haha.
Sometimes I wish Sensei would lay off the teasing. It's getting old. But apparently he still manages to fool a lot of people, so he keeps at it. I mean, as I understand it, there are still some fans arguing over whether or not Rukia was the mysterygami shown putting her reiatsu into the sword that Urahara was forging way back in the Fullbringer arc. When a mystery swordsman showed up to put an end to Opie, most people guessed it was Grimmjow and now Kubo is teasing by not showing the guy's face, but du'uh.
To be fair, Kubo has been letting out some major reveals this year. This arc is tying up loose ends and implying that some of the big packages that Kubo started filling years ago will finally be wrapped up and those loose ends tied up into pretty bows on top. WE SAW THE ROYAL GUARD AT LAST, Y'ALL. We saw them. They're a bunch of freaks, and hasn't the manga been fun since?
Oh yes, the big reveal was that Ichigo is part Quincy. Kubo-sensei said that audience would be blown away by some revelation about Ichigo's birth but I suspect that this revelation hasn't come to full fruition yet. I'm still waiting for the Isshin backstory and what all my handsome chain-smoking Ryuuken has to do with this. Many Ishida fans had been speculating for yeaaaaars that Masaki was related to Ryuuken somehow so this reveal didn't throw some of us off our feet.
The reveal that had me yelling like a teenager on Twitter and capslocking on Tumblr was the UNOHANA WAS THE FIRST KENPACHI reveal.
I SHIP IT SO HARD
OH WOW. THIS IS WHY EVERYONE HAS ALWAYS BEEN AFRAID OF HER. AND HER NAME IS YACHIRU. THIS IS ONLY PERSON ZARAKI ADMIRED AND WANTED TO BE LIKE AND WHO HE NAMED HIS FOUNDLING AFTER. I flipped every fangirl lid I had--I've been shipping Kenpachi and Unohana as pure crack ever since I wrote my first Bleach story in 2004 and had the two interact, ever since I drew http://debbiechan.deviantart.com/art/KenoHana-Bells-23876352 in 2005. I thought maybe Kubo himself had started to fancy the ship when he wrote a scene for the pair in one of the musicals but never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd see a nod to my cracky ship and NEVER DID I DREAM RETSU WOULD BE TRAINING KEN-CHAN TO FIGHT IN CANON MANGA.
*clutches heart* Of course Syn says that we probably won't see that training and I reluctantly agree---it will happen off panel so that the first time audiences see the Unohana battle they've been peeing in their pants for, it will be against a Quincy in a real honest to the death scene ... when the murderous true Retsu of old emerges.
Speaking of reveals, yeah, wow, we finally saw none other than the SPIRIT KING this year. Cute little bugger. A little sparkly, not at all the scary monster I thought he'd be.
There's not much more to add about the peachy ass that rocked the fandom except THE END because I'm really hungry after typing up all this and I have to go make dinner.
Oh, one more thing. Bleach is fun right now and I can't wait for upcoming chapters! More please, Sensei! MORE PLEASE?
So, now, you tell me your favorite parts of 2012, bother me about shipping, etc. Have at it... I may not be back on the comp until I've had a lot of noodles and a nap and then some. Love you, Deb