I remember thinking when I first watched Bleach that the Soul Society wasn’t very believable. It was this authoritarian run place where the rich elite did whatever they wanted while the poor suffered. No branch of government seemed capable of communicating with other branches and half the people in leadership positions were basically sociopaths or downright violent idiots. It’s now 2022 and when I look at the ruling class in many parts of the world I’m starting to think that Soul Society wasn’t nearly as unbelievable as I thought it initially was. And it’s a good thing that Soul Society is such an uncoordinated mess because if not for that there is no way Ichigo’s group would have been half as successful as it was. But let’s not jump too far ahead.
The crew lands in what is basically the slums after going through a strange tunnel that connects Soul Society to the real world. We’ll see quite a bit more of this tunnel as the story continues but for it did its job. The gate into Soul Society proper is guarded by Jidanbo, a massive soul reaper wielding two axes. Without too much issue, Ichigo manages to defeat him and he turns out to be a pretty reasonable guy. A loss is a loss and he opens the gate for Ichigo and crew. Unfortunately they’re not lucky enough to just waltz into the premises. Instead they’re met with one of the Captains of the Seireitei: Ichimaru Gin. He’s a creepy looking dude who’s always smiling like he’s scheming something. His Zanpakuto is able to extend at rapid speeds and he pushes everyone out of the gate, firmly shutting it, without much issue. He doesn’t finish off the intruders though, I wonder why that is.
The gang is now in need of a plan to enter into the Soul Society proper, which is guarded by barriers that they need to get through. Luckily, Yoruichi has some contacts in town, one of which is Shiba Kukaku. I forgot about this character completely if i’m honest but immediately fell in love with her design again. If memory serves, she doesn’t appear much later on, but hot damn does she look stunning. Ichigo and the gang need to train with special orbs and pour their spiritual energy into them so they will help them pierce through the barrier. How are they going to be sent to the barrier? That’s simple, we put them into a massive cannon and just launch them. Sounds good? Great, let’s do this!
After making their way through the barriers, all hell breaks loose as the 13 squads are on high alert because of these Ryouka intruders. This is where the severe lack of communication comes in handy, because everyone’s just doing their own thing, allowing Ichigo and friends to make their way through the streets fairly easily. Ishida shows off his new gears and bullies a soul reaper. Ichigo and Ganju, who is Kukaku’s brother and joined them to help out, fight the two joint third seats of the eleventh squad: Yumechika and Ikkaku. Ikkaku is a great character, he’s a brute with an awesome fighting style and Ichigo has a tough time against this opponent but manages to beat him in the end. Ichigo brings up Urahara during the fight and there’s a moment of recognition on Ikkaku’s side. We know that Urahara has soul reaper abilities and was rejected by the gate to Soul Society, and now we know that he is a known person in the Soul Society. Ganju beats out Yumechika with trickery and the two then head towards where Rukia is. Ikkaku told Ichigo where to find her, but later also tells Zaraki Kenpachi, the eleventh squad captain, where he sent Ichigo. They find a squad four member who helps them out through the sewers and before long Ichigo and Ganju find themselves in front of Abarai Renji once more, who is defeated by Ichigo after a drawn out battle. Renji tells Ichigo to save Rukia and we get a flashback of their past where it shows their life in the poor Rukon district before joining the soul reaper academy.
Meanwhile the thirteen captains aren’t sitting still either. Some of them are moving about town and trying to find the intruders while others seem disinterested or are just doing their own thing. Ichimaru Gin, who we talked about earlier, is also under suspicion of doing some treacherous things but we don’t learn much yet about what this could be. The meeting is cut short regardless because that is the moment where Ichigo and friends entered through the barrier.
We do see some of the captains. There’s thirteen in total, as the name implies. I’ll go over all of them when they become relevant to the story, so for now just know that most of them are very cool and one of them has the same voice as Edward Elric and also gets made fun of for being short. He’s great by the way. Moving on, and bear with me since this post is getting long already.
Things escalate very quickly from here on out. First Sado runs into first division captain Kyoraku Shinsui and gets defeated easily. Kyoraku is a very laid-back person who doesn’t want to put in too much effort. But he recognizes Sado’s resolve and fights him seriously at the end, defeating him with ease. A moment after that fight ends he gets the news we as viewers already know. Aizen Sosuke, captain of the fifth division, has been murdered. We don’t have much time to process this as viewers because we dive straight into Zaraki Kenpachi fighting Ichigo, dealing him a grave wound in the process. But why does his Zanpakuto’s human form appear before him? This is the first good look we get into Ichigo’s Zanpakuto. From his flowing cape he summons a bleached (get it) looking version of Ichigo to help him out. They’re working together, with the old man being called Zangetsu and the other Ichigo seeming to have their own will yet also being a part of Zangetsu. After this second wind Ichigo pushes Kenpachi quite a bit and the latter has to remove his eyepatch. Keep in mind he’s supposed to be the strongest captain of the strongest squad. So barring Yamamoto Genryuusai he’s probably the strongest Soul Reaper in the Seireitei. Either way, his second wind isn’t enough to secure the victory and instead the fight ends up in a draw.
Next up we see Ichigo retrieved by Yoruichi who reveals her (that’s right, her) real form. Turns out she’s a very attractive woman and former leader of the stealth squad. Ichigo then runs off to help Hanataro and Ganju fight against Byakuya but before he’s allowed to do so, Yoruichi intervenes. Due to her interference and Ukitake being present, the worst case scenario is avoided. Ichigo now starts his training to unlock his Bankai, the second state of release that a Zanpakuto has. Elsewhere, Ishida uses his trump card to fight the captain of the twelfth division, Kurotsuchi Mayuri, defeating him but giving up his powers in the process. After being given the antidote to Kurotsuchi’s poison he goes towards Rukia but is quickly defeated by the captain of the ninth division, Kaname Tosen. With Sado, Ganju, Ishida, Inoue, Rukia and Renji all caught in some way by the Soul Reapers, we start the second leg of this arc. I wanted to cover quite a bit in this post because things quickly ramp up from here on out. I’ve left out a few details that I will talk about in the nex post, it just makes more sense to move these around a bit. Thanks for taking the time to read this and I’ll see you next week for the next installment!