I’M BAAAAAAACK EVERYONE! I’ve been ghosting in the fandom for the past few years while I finished university and now it’s OVER and I’m all grown up and it’s time to start deluging ALL THE FEELS. Ever since we discovered Quincies were the Big Bad in this arc, my dreams of a Ishida v. Ichigo “Crossing the Rubicon” reprise awoke, roaring. Spent the whole day at work with all my old theories a-whirl in my brain and so THIS IS WHAT FOLLOWED.
2 disclaimers, first I am SO OUT OF PRACTICE when it comes to Bleach essays. second I got lazy and didn't put in enough pictures. Maybe more for part 2.
This essay comes to you in 3 parts like a fancy novel!
Part 1: Understanding the Rubicon: Historical background, the “Rubicon” of Bleach, and all the characters who find themselves playing Caesar. (Thursday, May 16th)
Part 2: Never the Same River Twice: The roles parallel storylines play in Bleach, what they tell us about the past, and what they promise for the future (Sunday, May 19th)
Part 3: Render Unto Caesar: Ishida and Ichigo, the first true enemies, the final two fighters, and the fate of the Shinigami/Quincy conflict. (Sunday, May 26th)
Part One: Understanding the Rubicon
“Crossing the Rubicon”, the title of Bleach chapter 37 (remember that long ago? That was during the series’ FIRST YEAR) is a phrase that means ‘the point of no return’. But where did it come from? And why would Kubo choose that reference above any others? What (or in my theory who) represents the Rubicon in Bleach? And WHEN did this Manga start it’s inevitable journey to this final arc?
HISTORY LESSON!!! The river Rubicon was the boundary between the Cisalpine Gaul (and other Roman provinces, ruled by assorted governors) and Italy proper (controlled directly by Rome) to the south.
Governors of provinces had power called imperium, a “right to command”. Meant they were generals of their armies ONLY in their home province. Any promagistrate who led his army across the Rubicon into Italy would FORFEIT his right to imperium and would be counted along with his men as outlaws and condemned to death. You HAD TO DISBAND YOUR ARMIES if you wanted to enter Italy.
Enter Caesar. Part of the first Roman triumvirate, the Senate sent him to rule southern France (Cisalpine Gaul) to keep him out of their hair. Caesar didn’t stay put very well and started conquering and stuff all through present-day France and Great Britan. Made him a hero to the Roman people but boy, did it make the Senate uneasy. In 49 BC Caesar was summoned back to Rome. His buddy in the triumvirate (Crassus) was dead and the third guy, Pompey, NOT A CAESAR FAN was the one doing the summoning. If Caesar came back to Rome without an army he would be at best imprisoned, at worst, stabbity-stabbed to death. If he came to Rome WITH an army...see above paragraph.
So in (probably) January 49 BC, Caesar had a choice to make. Historical accounts by Suetonius make it seem Caesar was indecisive while approaching the river, and attributes the decision to cross to some kind of “supernatural apparition”. At last, with a remark of “Alea iacta est!” Caesar took his army, Crossed the Rubuicon, broke imperium, and made armed conflict inevitable. This move was so bold and his army was so imposing Pompey and most of the Roman senate fled in fear. Caesar ended up winning the Caesar Civil War.
Since then the phrase Crossing the Rubicon is a phrase is loaded with connotations of conflict, betrayal, war, and a fight for power. The moment you cross the otherside, no take-backsies. It’s not like “Oh, that was THIS river? Oh man, total mistake, yeah we’ll just turn around, no hard feelings.” It COULD NOT be mistaken for anything other than hostility.
So, Bleach 37. On the very last page of 36, Ishida, snapping his tiny piece of bait in half, is acting like a total villain. Of course in his own mind he's acting hero (KEEP THIS IN MIND).
He renouces Ichigo’s morality, which means he sees himself answering to a different authority, and declares with grand bravado his intention to complete the entire challenge on his own. Almost instantly the hollows gather, bleeding through into Karakura.
See the highlighted red? “Alea iacta est!”, Caesar's famous remark meaning, “The die is cast!” Now Ishida’s identity as Caesar in this metaphor will be discussed more in depth in part three, along with an examination of this scene as his own specific, personal crossing.
WHAT IS THE RUBICON RIVER OF THE BLEACH UNIVERSE?
I would like to contend that Ichigo himself is the Rubicon.
Throughout the manga, any character who crosses Ichigo, crosses paths, crosses swords, heck even just makes him feel CROSS is a character who is bound (doomed?) to undergo an unstoppable character journey. It’s Ichigo’s influence as a shounen hero to unintentionally inspire and change the people around him simply by going forward in his beliefs, leading by example. (Naruto and Luffy and a host of other Shounen heros fulfill the same role.) A river is one of the best metaphors for his character. He charges forward on his chosen path, coursing through and changing landscapes around him. Sometimes hits a blockage or a path, droughts can leave him wakened, rain throws him out of control, but he always surges onwards.
Ichigo also serves as the border, the barrier between the different ‘territories’ in Bleach. He is tied to every faction, shinigami, human, hollow, quincy, fullbringer, vaizard--and I do NOT see this as a Marty Stu/Avatar situation. Ichigo MUST have common ground with everyone--these connections are what enable his abilities to connect with the stale stagnation of the souls around him and drive them to change and grow. They all see a reflection of themselves (or a better version) inside Ichigo.
Every Bleach character who has ever changed IN ANY MEASURE for the positive has come through interaction with Ichigo. There are three parts to this development:
1. Cross. Cross paths, cross swords, don’t really matter. Fairly straightforward. Sit down and talk or smash at each other with weapons, OR be influenced by another character who has gone through the same change. (Ol’ man Yama was an example of the last one) Through the strength of Ichigo’s resolve these characters are FORCED to examine their lives and past choices, and find themselves with a desire to change.
2. Personal Training. They now stand on the other side of the river. They take their forces, invading their own personal Rome, with every intent to attack and change the lack now evident in their souls. This phase can be quite fast (Chad’s decision while Ichigo fights the gangsters) This part can also take an incredible amount of time. (Rukia’s character arc is in my opinion the most beautiful, significant change in the sereis...but that’s for another time) These characters chase their personal Pompeys out of Rome, either attaining physical strength through training or fixing their emotional weaknesses through a change of heart.
3. The third, and most important part is that these newly evolved characters (more confidance/abilities/whatever) come back as allies to help Ichigo. Perhaps not directly or even incredibly helpfully, but the point is every character who crosses the Rubicon eventually uses what they have learned/the changes they have gone through to make the universe of Bleach a better place. Ichigo has (without even being aware of it) been creating a better, more perfect world just by crashing through on his predetermined course. (It is important to note that only one character has been able to change Ichigo himself...but as teased before, that’s for another time)
Some of these turnarounds are incredibly quick with instantaneous benifits (A la Sora). Some have taken a bit more time and force (*cough* Kenpachi, I’mlookingatyou *cough*) Let’s examine a few of what I think are the rarest recognized Caesars.
Inoue Sora: Yes, I am counting him as the very first. Although his love for Orihime is the number one influence on his change of heart, Ichigo’s lines about Orihime’s hairpins + the roles of a brother, combined with his compassion for a once-human monster (a chilling bit of forshadowing) is enough for Sora to complete the job that was so detestable for Ichigo, the taking of a human life. From destesting Kurosaki Ichigo from afar to paying the ultimate price for his sister, Sora regained his humanity through this interactions.
Don Kanonji! No, I’m SERIOUS! Ichigo helped him fulfill the true potential for his gifts and gave him the knowledge that was the key to unlocking his own powers. Lo and behold, this fluttery weakseeming TV actor comes back to help hundreds of chapters later and has the balls to ATTACK BUTTERFLAIZEN.
Ganju and Kuukaku: OMGOSH YOU GUYS THEY ARE COUSINS I AM SO EXCITED oh wait, that’s not what this episode is about...Ichigo shows Ganju his predjudices agains the shinigami are incorrect and even helps mend the bond between Rukia and the Shibas. Ganju and Kuukaku are in an offscreen training arc with fullbringers at the moment, but they are going to be coming to support and help ichigo in this final battle, bet your life on it.
Kenpachi: HE INSPIRES KENPACHI TO ASK HIS ZANPAKUTO’S NAME. No immediate payoff, but good things come to those who wait...and Kenpachi showed up in Hueco Mundo to 1.) Drag our hero’s butt out of the fire and 2.) Remind our awesome-but-sometimes-thick-headed hero what he was REALLY in Hueco Mundo for.
There are assorted others where this same change is painfully obvious: Chad, Renji, Byakuya, Kenpachi, Ikkaku, Yamaji. (Rukia guys. Rukia. Not even gonna start typing it all out, just...Rukia.) These characters (or others close to them the audience trusts) outright state the changes wrought in them through their interactions with Kurosaki. All of these characters found themselves wallowing in uncertainty
Now--for a look into the future, here are a few unexpected Caesar’s who I believe WILL finish their journey by the end of Bleach.
ORIHIME: Look, I know she’s in a bit of a character rut right now--it may not seem like she’s had too much growth over the second half of Bleach. She has yet to make it to the other side of the river, to look back and really LEARN from the past. It’s as if she’s floundering, swept up in her heroic idealizations of Kurosaki-kun. I firmly believe, however, she will fulfill the promise to herself to become helpful to Ichigo. I also know she will continue FORWARD, leaving the Rubicon far behind her as she marches towards a glorious victory in her own personal Rome.
GRIMMJOW: He’s back, he’s back RIGHT NOW ready to join Ichigo’s forces and fight with him. (Because if the enemy kills him, Grimmy won’t have a chance)
AIZEN: Something very telling at the end of Deicide was Ichigo’s comments on the loneliness Aizen feels. Aizen’s vanity and pride, his incredulous disbelief that anyone could equal him, much less PASS him, is what led to that defeat. Crossing swords with Ichigo forced Aizen to face something he had refused to believe--his own weakness. And, shady though his intentions may be, Aizen will fight on Ichigo’s side in this final conflict, whether it be against the Quincies or the Soul King.
(Oy, folks in the comments! Any I missed or others you think deserve to be pointed out?)
Now, jumping back to chapter 37--when Bleach hit the point of no return. “What? Rediculous!” you claim. The series wasn’t even a full year old yet! Kubo probably didn’t even HAVE the final arc in mind! (Which I fully disagree with, I think he’s been holding on to this ending for ages) However, today we examine this battle as signifying a Rubicon Crossing for the entire series--the precise moment when we move from one-on-one conflicts with the monster of the week to overarching storylines with enemies and motives that become both increasingly epic in proportion and intensely personal in their affectation. From this point on, many, many characters will each take the part of Caesar as they cross the Rubicon of Bleach.
That day, Ichigo fights his very first human enemy. He’s faced down hollows and mod souls, easy little skirmishes and huge battles in the rain, but Ishida is something entirely different. Ishida is not a hollow lost to rage or instinct--he is a highly intellectual, meticulously planning boy using this facade battle to exact what he sees as well deserved revenge. Although now we clearly realize Ishida is NOT the last Quincy and Ichigo was a terrible choice to represent the entirety of the Soul Society, Ishida’s actions on this day was the first indicator of the terrible, terrible final battle between Quincy and Shinigami.
Think back to 49 BC. Caesar’s war was not instantaneous--there was no opposing force WAITING for them on the opposite bank. In fact conflicts and official recorded battles didn’t start for another year or two. Crossing the Rubicon itself did not instigate the violence--it simply lit the long fuse for an inevitable war. Ishida was correct, there was no going back here...but he could never have dreamed the situation he was putting himself into. What he believed was a battle of worth between once quincy and one shinigami would snowball into THE FINAL BLOOD WAR.
If Kurosaki Ichigo is the Rubicon, then chapters “Quincy Archer Hates You” through “Quincy Archer Hates You 2” represent ALL factions in the final war of Bleach crossing the river. We have Aizen’s extra and mutated hollows, which both hint to Aizen’s manipulations and the realm of Hueco Mundo; Urahara representing the cast-off factions of SS (Isshin, the Vaizards); Chad and Orihime for the Fullbringers, Tatsuki and Chizuru the humans; Rukia for SS; and finally, Ishida Uryuu--”The Last Quincy”, our true Caesar, the Dark Horse hero of Bleach, who threw us off the banks of a river and into the surging course of the entire manga.
The pieces are set on the board--the game has been running for some time, cycling, a stalemate, for hundreds of years re-running parallel stories again and again. It is not until Ishida Uryuu’s actions, seemingly small in scale, redirected the course of an entire river and lit the long, slow fuse leading to this final epic showdown between the dimensions.
That’s it for part one! Part Two: Never the Same River Twice can be found HERE.