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06 November 2015 @ 06:54 am
Happy Birthday Uryuu  
I am so very very sorry to have not hosted the annual Ishida birthday celebration this year.  In so many ways, the contest wasn't do-able, but I don't love Ishida any less and I know his fans don't. Last night, after a very long week, I scrambled to write up a character analysis thingie as an offering. I've been sketching our boy off and on for a while so I may post a sketch later today. Here's my little essay--I still love writing about you, Uryuu, and happy birthday.

Happy Birthday, Uryuu
By debbiechan

Haschwalth’s suspicions are wrong.   Ishida Uryuu does not seek revenge for his mother’s death. Vengeance, the very concept, is antithetical to what that mother devoted her life.

Katagiri Kanae served Ishida Ryuuken with patience and love, not as a maid, but as someone who listened to all his troubles and held him accountable to his better self. She was a model of compassion, and her son knew her for nine years of his life before losing her to the Auswahlen.

The Ishida family, despite a couple members who give off the strong impression of being the unfriendly, cunningly dangerous type, are an honorable and practical people. Honor is practical; honor constructs a system of values by which one weighs one’s own humanity. Ishida Souken spoke of honoring both sides of a war: "Be it Human or Shinigami, seeing a sad face is unbearable to me." Ishida Ryuuken chose to devote his life to medicine, to saving the lives of the living, rather than to save souls of the Dead by wielding his Quincy powers against Hollow monsters. Ishida Uryuu took bombs and help from Captain Kurotsuchi, the torturer and murderer of so many Quincy and of his own grandfather Souken, in order to rescue a friend, Inoue Orihime. Honor is practical; honor can save a friend’s life but beyond that, it defines one’s own life. Every decision made with honorable intent is another birthday of the soul.

Who is Ishida Uryuu if not an honorable person born of one difficult decision after another?  His antagonizing Kurosaki Ichigo to a duel was followed by the decision to save the Shinigami’s life. He stepped out into the night to save Rukia, a Shinigami he didn’t even know, from being arrested, and later, followed Ichigo to Soul Society on the rescue mission that would be arc one in defining himself. Soul Society was the scene of his great victory against a gotei captain and yet he lost all his powers there. Soul Society was where we learned of Ishida Uryuu’s famous compassion, the softness his father despises.  Uryuu also made the decision not to aim for Kurotsuchi’s head in some gesture of mercy that seemed like a bizarre weakness at the time, but at the current moment in the Bleach plot, Kurotsuchi Mayuri is proving to be of some use to all the powers of Good still. Mayuri, for all his loathsomeness, is that necessary sort of Evil like that little piece of floating yin in the yang.  (Like Uryuu, every decision Mayuri makes along the way is borne of practicality; unlike Uryuu, his decisions are selfish).

Following Soul Society, Uryuu had another important rebirth of the soul with the inevitable reclaiming of his powers—but not until he was done dwelling on an ultimatum made to him by his father. Ryuuken’s offer was simple, but the subtext, essentially, went like this: promise me you’ll never go near another Shinigami again and I may restore your powers…that is, if I don’t kill you first--you don’t know, really—I am scary as fuck … OR just hang there powerless among all the other teenagers in the safety of normal life and friendship. Choose the former and risk death and humiliation; choose the latter and be a weakling of no consequence.  Uryuu deliberates at school during a telling scene in which Inoue Orihime is beset by the unwanted affections of Shinji; everyone, even Keigo, leaps to defend her, and Uryuu, who was her champion in Soul Society, sits frowning at his desk, apparently preoccupied with Ryuuken’s proposal, maybe shamed by his impotency among his spiritually-gifted friends—a long strand of Inoue’s hair waving in the foreground of the panel.  Ishida Uryuu takes his father up on his offer, regains his powers, and then later leaves training in order to go save a kidnapped Inoue Orihime (who it becomes increasingly clear Uryuu loves in that sweeping-epic-shounen-myth-quest way as he foregoes fights in Hueco Mundo and declares “I’m not here to fight; I’m here to rescue Inoue-san”—all this in sharp contrast to the hero, Ichigo, who declares that he is there to fight as well as to rescue Inoue and take back all his friends). In the very name of friendship, betraying the vow he made to his father to never associate with Shinigami, Uryuu dramatically rescues Renji in Hueco Mundo (and has his life promptly saved by Renji in return), but Uryuu’s honorable nature probably reaches its apex on the Dome.

Ishida Uryuu was nothing if pure honor striving forward for its own sake on the Dome, no selfish regard, making sacrifice after sacrifice.  He looks like saint for a while: he gets his hand cut off and injects himself with pain-killer in the presence of a magical healer; hurling mid-air through a volley of flying rocks, he catches a girl with his one good arm; he walks right up to out-of-control friend who is mutilating a corpse, tells him to stop and is stabbed in the gut for his efforts.  But if Ishida Uryuu were meant to be only a moral compass, a symbol of goodness and not a fully realized character in this drama, he would’ve passed out, mercifully unconscious for the rest of the show. No, Uryuu, strangely enough, remains awake, an uncomfortable suffering witness to what happens next: Ulquiorra dies and it’s Ichigo who killed him and Orihime who doesn’t reach him in time to heal him. What does Uryuu make of this tragedy? What does this tragedy make of Uryuu?

The Dome drama happens at the very midpoint of Bleach’s story--a hotbed of mixed intentions, crossed purposes, and tragic consequences. Ichigo wanted to protect but his inner self ended up destroying; Inoue swore she wanted to fight at Ichigo’s side but she ended up calling for him to save her; Ulquiorra could not understand what he could not see but he finally grasped the very nature of the heart when he reached, too late, to make a connection with a human girl. Inoue, who had been afraid of the monster in Ichigo, was not afraid of the monster in the Hollow who had killed the man she said she loved. During all this craziness, it was Ishida Uryuu who sat, ignored by the plot, bleeding from a wound inflicted by his best friend and unhealed by the girl he loves—it was the cruelest of fates, a virtual martyrdom. No wonder audiences were squirming, many mocking the boy who pages before had been the epitome of noble sacrifice.

In the few glimpses we see of Ishida Uryuu in what remains of this arc, he seems to be no worse for wear, not bitter, smiling peacefully or gazing with tenderness on his friends. He is happy when Ichigo wakes up from a coma and is a quiet, reverent witness when Ichigo and Rukia say their goodbyes.  He doesn’t have a conversation or connection with anyone to reveal what’s he’s learned about himself or human nature.

Is Uryuu really that good? Has the tragedy of the Dome burnished him into that pure of a soul?

When we see him engaging people again, after a significant time skip, he’s squabbling with Ichigo or doing goofy schtick with Orihime.  (He seems to have made a deeper connection to friends, although some fans still identify Uryuu as a loner character or one wounded from events of the Dome—there’s no evidence to suggest that’s the case at all). The Fullbringer arc may advance Ishida Uryuu forward in literal birthdays, but insofar as character development goes, he spends most of the arc on his back in the hospital refusing to be healed by Orihime. His obstinacy is a hallmark of Ishida pride and also a plot device to keep him out of the fights or from identifying his attacker. When he does get the chance to fight, he doesn’t. What he does do, however, is apologize to Ichigo for not having spoken up earlier about some long-ago suspicions about Ichigo’s Shinigami badge. This sort of humility from Uryuu is unprecedented and is quickly met with a kick in the pants from Ichigo’s foot. This is the Ishida Uryuu the arc ultimately gives us: a thoughtful young man who would do anything to help someone in need, especially if that someone is Kurosaki Ichigo.

There you have it: the Ishida Uryuu who has joined the Quincy army is humble, sacrificing, a true friend, and an honorable soul.  There isn’t much in thousands of pages of story to suggest that he would enter the enemy ranks out of self-interest.

Yet so many readers seem to think that Ishida Uryuu’s primary motive for joining the Quincy, though, is to avenge his mother’s death.  Think about it—if killing his mother’s murderer would give him some personal satisfaction, it would be motivated by selfishness. Killing his mother’s murderer would not bring her back nor do much to right the countless injustices wrought by Yhwach’s reign of terror.

Obviously, Uryuu has some larger plan. Since when has Ishida Uryuu ever been without a plan? Ok, he’s walked headfirst into certain death before with nothing but Steele Schneider and his Quincy pride, but he’s usually the type to lay a plan, even set a trap with Mayuri’s bombs, and especially when it comes to a matter like joining the most dangerous army of final villains ever (and make no mistake, his joining was a deliberate move—he told Ichigo, Chad, and Inoue “I have something to do”), it only seems to follow he had a plan going in. Whether or not that plan was foiled by drinking royal elixir and becoming Yhwach’s heir is yet to be told.

There has been absolutely no internal monologue from Ishida Uryuu yet in this arc and that is solely for the purpose of building suspense and speculation. Some of the speculation has been a little on the silly side—that Uryuu is a pawn of Yhwach, that he is brain-washed or being held captive by him. So far the story seems to show a young man who, while in dire straits, is acting out of his own agency and in the best interests of his friends as usual. He shoots an arrow the size of a foam dart at Kurosaki and otherwise seems to avoid the mass-murdering of his compatriot Quincy.

The Bleach plot is in its final arc; major players are revealing their ban kai; teenagers we’ve followed for over a decade in real time are on the cusp of adulthood in the storyline and about to have their destinies fulfilled. More than that, heaven and earth themselves in the Bleachverse seem about to be reborn; the boundaries between dimensions are trembling, Soul Society has seen the death of its captain commander and a toppling of its infrastructure; the very Soul King in heaven has been overthrown. What sort of new birthday of the soul awaits Ishida Uryuu in all this? Beyond the obvious transformation he will make when he fights a final battle and shows us what I have no doubt will be a magnificent Vollstandig, there are decisions, as always, to be made—decisions that define a man.

Honor has always been the mother of Uryuu’s decisions.

The one word that Kubo Tite assigned to Ishida Uryuu in the databook Masked was “Dignity.”

Persons who are defined by such noble terms do not seek material reward, nor do they live their lives in pursuit of goals like vengeance. Honorable people live so that the lives of others will be made better. There doesn’t need to be a reward at the end of Ishida Uryuu’s story, but there needs to be a change, a kind of marker to show he’s reached adulthood, passed another test, survived another battle and made yet another right decision. What will that change be? Will be the next Quincy king? Will he somehow serve to bring balance to the universe in another role? Maybe he’ll make a more intimate connection with the girl who in the Soul Society arc reached with her hand for Ichigo Kurosaki in the skies above the Seireitei and missed, who in the Arrancar arc reached for Ulquiorra and lost him even as she found his heart. I’d like to think that Uryuu will make that sort of connection with the girl of his dreams, but I know he’s not pursuing it.

Whatever Ishida Uryuu’s final panel will be, it will not be a sad one. An honorable soul always wins by virtue of being an honorable soul. Happy birthday, Uryuu.
luminous85: Moiluminous85 on November 6th, 2015 06:36 pm (UTC)
I almost cried at the end of this essay(I feel kind of silly admitting that). I wish to elaborate after work today, but I just adore this character and admire how well you understand him. Happy Birthday to Ishida Uryuu indeed!!
_debbiechan_: Ishihime daaw_debbiechan_ on November 7th, 2015 10:06 pm (UTC)

Ever faithful Lumi. So nice to see you here. How have you been?
loverofstoriesloverofstories on November 7th, 2015 02:34 am (UTC)
Lovely essay for our beloved Quincy. I enjoyed it <3

I didn't know and/or forgot that Uryuu was assigned the word "dignity" in the Masked databook - that suits him so much. Looking forward to what else Kubo has in store for him. :)
_debbiechan_: I am SILVER_debbiechan_ on November 7th, 2015 10:08 pm (UTC)

People credit Kubo-sensei with assigning the titles to the characters in the character book and I have some reason to believe there's a fair chance he did this--in any event, there's not a better word, really, for Uryuu.
nehalenianehalenia on November 7th, 2015 10:24 pm (UTC)
This is an amazing essay. I have to laugh because you said it wasn't very long. I know you could write a lot more about Uryuu Ishida, but this is a wonderful read, and you hit major points of his personality.

One aspect you mentioned that doesn't get a lot of attention is his compassion, calling it "the softness his father despises". It makes me wonder why Ryuuken despises it so much when the "Everything But The Rain" gaiden showed Ryuuken's own compassion in his younger years? It occurs to me that what Ryuuken really despises is himself and that he sees that self in his son. Of course, Uryuu's compassion seems to only be apparent to Ryuuken, who views it as a weakness, and Orihime, who has always seen beyond the cool mask he wears (and possibly Ichigo, if he really thinks about it).

Along with his honor/pride/dignity, another facet of his character that is often ignored is his incredibly strong will. It must be his character design that makes people peg him as weak, delicate, or fragile because canon shows that he is anything but. This is a boy who's been living on his own since his early teens. Unlike Orihime or Sado, who were abandoned or orphaned, Uryuu upsets the usual parental abandonment trope by leaving his father (apparently over their difference of opinion about the Quincy, but who really knows?) He spent a week without sleep and without help or guidance mastering the Sanrei glove. In Soul Society, he finds himself out of his element, in a situation he didn't really anticipate and comes off as a bit hapless for awhile. The moment one of his friends is threatened, though, any hint of awkwardness vanishes to be replaced with the "killing intent" of a warrior. Even Kurotsuchi remarks on his "iron will". Kubo consistently shows Uryuu's emotional toughness; the only time we've seen him cry is after the Menos battle when he asked Souken to forgive him. The only other time he comes close is when Ichigo loses all hope after Ginjou takes his powers.

It's because of Uryuu's usual reserve that I find his expression in this moment so telling, especially in this arc:

Kubo takes pains with his characters' expressions, and this is one of regret. Ichigo reads it as "I'm sad I can't go along with my friends", but we know differently. This moment is especially important because when Ichigo and the others next see Ishida, exactly 100 chapters later, the cold mask is back in place, along with the persona of a Sternritter loyal to Yhwach.

Unlike so many other fans, there is no question in my mind about Uryuu's true loyalties. I don't know what his plan is, although it seems most likely that he joined the Sternritter for access to something -- knowledge and information, a special weapon, or Yhwach himself, there's no telling at this moment, but it's clear to me that he's protecting what he cares about: his friends, his world, maybe even his father. I think that what we'll find at the end of this arc is that Uryuu has finally discovered what he wants to protect.

Edited at 2015-11-07 11:11 pm (UTC)
_debbiechan_: Ishida hearts_debbiechan_ on November 8th, 2015 12:31 pm (UTC)

Omg, thank you Neha--for being a great Ishida fan, a great friend and editor and for always thinking better than I do---yes, that was a marvelous reply and of course the great unanswered question since SS was Souken telling Uryuu that one day he will find out what he wants to protect and ho-boy, it does take Kubo fucking forever to tell a story but the pay offs are huge. Of course we'll find out in this arc--the answers are probably what you said--his father, his family, his world, Ichigo and Orihime, all of them--and I would add, his honor and what he always knew was his calling to protect those who could not protect themselves--but HOW he accomplishes this task or discovers this about himself is all the story. I can't wait. I can slog through whatever (the Mayuri/Nemu and Shunsui/Nanao stories currently are NOT slogs for me... neither was the Juugo/Bazz story--I'm actually enjoying this arc but Kubo's writing *is* slow) to get to the pay-off. I read a piece on animenewsnetwork yesterday that was all about how Bleach had declined and why --it got some things painfully right (and got few things laughably wrong but I won't get into that) about why the series sucks, but it was mostly dead on about why fans have left the series in droves. Too many characters and a molasses pace have been issues with Kubo since way back when. But there are still delights--namely character reveals, the art, and a very atmospheric poetic narrative that works in parables and symbols--it isn't everyone's thing, it doesn't zip along like a movie anymore (although EBTR had that narrative energy--I don't understand why it wasn't more popular--the TBTP backstory was wildly popular but as always the shinigami elements in that story won--Isshin's backstory was essentially a romance and the story about the hollow itself was convoluted and dropped more confusion on what was already confusion about Ichigo's genetic make-up). Anyway, hell yeah, so looking forward to when Ishida fights, more so to Quincy reveals. I only kept teasing about Ryuuken in this essay--I wrote it with a fever--and I am dyinnnng to know more about Ryuuken. Ryuuken, of course, is the biggest tsundere ever. He came off as the scariest fuck too, in the beginning of Bleach--we were supposed to think he was capable of killing his own son--and now at some point in this Quincy arc, Kubo teased that Uryuu was capable of killing Ichigo and his friends? No, sorry, not buying it. Uryuu doesn't do Ryuuken. He can try on the costume, has tried it on various times throughout Bleach, has given off the unfriendly air too but doesn't carry it off. Nope. Although apparently not all fans see him for who he is. I do laugh whenever people wring their hands over Uryuu's villainy.
_debbiechan_: SWEATDROPPING Ishida by Pisotoru_debbiechan_ on November 8th, 2015 12:33 pm (UTC)

Shit that was a long reply. Sorry. Still running fever. I need you to beta that in your mind.
nehalenianehalenia on November 8th, 2015 05:01 pm (UTC)
You did just fine. I'm dying to know more about Ryuuken, too, and get the whole Ishida family reveal. I know EBTR was supposed to be the story of Isshin & Masaki & Ichigo's weird heritage, but Ryuuken is the most memorable figure. One of the things I love about it is how we get to see this more relaxed and caring Ryuuken, the one who lets his shirt go untucked and tries to pacify his angry mother and yet still feels so bound by the Quincy rules. Maybe he despises Uryuu's compassion because he feels that his own compassion for Masaki's situation is what led to her being tainted?

The Ishida men are a study in contrast, both in their own growth and in how they are seen by each other. We first see Souken as a wise, gentle, caring grandfather to Uryuu until EBTR presents him as an absentee husband and father, apparently more concerned with Quincy matters than with his own family.

Ryuuken is indeed presented as a cool, scary and oh so sexy figure coming out of the darkness to surprise, ridicule, and yet protect his son. He is always cool, perfectly put together in his white suit or doctor's coat, powerful, and callous. Then we get the perceptive whiplash of seeing him as a young man, probably not much older than Uryuu, well-off, secure in his status, more relaxed than his older self and yet troubled by his rather dysfunctional family and the dying Quincy heritage.

Uryuu's changes are more subtle, perhaps because he's the one we see most so the progression seems more natural. Still, he goes from being a stiff-backed, almost prim student with his perfect tie, his neatly tucked shirt, and his cold way of speaking -- from a boy with a very black & white moral code who seems to put a lot of stock in appearance (especially his own) -- to the young man we see lounging against Ichigo's closet door in 486, his hair longer, especially in the back, wearing an unconstructed jacket or hoodie and looking, for Uryuu, at least, almost relaxed. In that scene, he echoes young Ryuuken with his tousled hair and untucked shirt. He's still as snarky to Ichigo as ever, but Orihime -- and probably everyone else -- realizes it's just a front.

Ugh, I need the Ishida/Quincy backstory. I had hoped we'd get the full tale back in EBTR, but no. As always, we must wait.
and then we lit it on fire: bleach ishida yowelectricalgwen on November 9th, 2015 12:12 am (UTC)
Thank you for writing this! Beautiful, thoughtful and so insightful. <3