‘Such bothersome things’Rukia Kuchiki
To anyone that’s really been paying attention, the central (yet underlying) conflict of the story of Bleach so far hasn’t been Ichigo’s unexpected transformation or the tragic past that spurred it, nor the ‘Hollow of the Week’ format the show has been following somewhat up to this point. What it has really been about is the internal conflict of Rukia Kuchiki (she was the first character we ever met, after all), her unspoken and unexplained misalignment with, and exile from, the mysterious world she originated from, and her increasing infatuation with the human world she unwittingly threw herself into; the emotional bonds with her new friends that she’s become accustomed to, which she is beginning to think may all have been a big mistake for her in the long run. And now it’s all going to hell. The Soul Society has arrived and they mean business.
We’re not exactly sure of what she’s guilty of, besides hints that giving human beings supernatural shinigami powers (guilty as charged) and spending too much unnecessary time in the world of the living (also guilty as charged) being considered infractions of some consequence, at least according to the ironclad rules of the Soul Society. Exactly how powerful are these people/entities anyway?
We begin to get some idea with the two shinigami interlopers hunting down Rukia. One of them, with red spiky hair (remind you of anyone?) and a devilish grin to match, Rukia immediately recognises as Renji Abarai. He taunts her for being too lax for a shinigami, and delivers a powerful strike with his zanpakuto, barely missing her.
Renji cuts to the chase and asks her about powers, or lack thereof, and the human she gave them to. Rukia gets evasive about this topic, but it’s clear that Renji somehow knows the truth. Actually Renji knows a lot, and it seems that they have a long history. He gets into some exposition about Rukia’s background; they come from the same district (there’s districts in the afterlife?) and she was taken in by nobility and groomed to become a great shinigami with their considerable resources. From this we can deduce that money and social status also play a big part in the afterlife; it unfortunately doesn’t sound too different from world of the living, when it comes down to it.
The other shinigami, presumably as deadly as he is silent, makes his appearance. Renji introduces him as Captain Kuchiki, a foster relative of Rukia. Rukia identifies him as ‘brother’.There’s a lot of history to go around here.
His full name is Byakuya Kuchiki, and he has an air of silent mystery, as he is surrounded by swirl of cherry blossom petals, a manifestation of some sort of power or ability he has. Renji then announces their intention to execute Rukia for her crimes. He delivers another swipe of his sword, which Rukia barely avoids again, only this time she gets a small cut on her cheek. De-powered and slow, it looks like Rukia is done for… then unexpected help arrives. The kind of help that really can’t stand shinigami.
As is the norm, Ishida, introducing himself, really gets under Renji’s skin and pisses him off (like he does everyone else). Meanwhile, Ichigo, concerned about Rukia’s extended absence, finds Kon gagged and tied to the back of the toilet.
Kon then explains that it was Rukia, and that she left a coded farewell note in his bedroom, warning him not to follow, and to stay hidden for a while. Ichigo, being Ichigo, ignores this advice. Then, Urahara, once again the master of surprise entrances, appears through Ichigo’s bedroom window, looking pleased with himself. It looks like he has a plan of some sort…
Meanwhile, Ishida’s clash with Renji isn’t going well, and he’s seen falling to the ground, bleeding. Before Renji can finish the job, Ichigo arrives, stunning him with a sudden attack, which he barely dodges. Renji is surprised by the power of the attack and the size of Ichigo’s zanpakuto. They proceed to have a sword fight, which results in Ichigo sustaining a bloody injury.
The previously silent Byakuya speaks for the first time, recognising Ichigo as the one who single-handedly defeated a Menos Grande. Renji asks the name of Ichigo’s zanpakuto, but Ichigo has no idea what he’s talking about. Bellowing a war cry of ’Roar! Zabimaru!’, Renji’s sword suddenly transforms and extends itself into a spiked, snakelike weapon, and he resumes his attack, drawing Ichigo’s blood again. A stoic Byakuya and a horrified Rukia look on.
Does this spell certain death for Ichigo?
…Well, of course not, he’s the MC. But the narrative of the show is about to expand in most imaginative and unexpected ways. Things are only getting started. On to Episode 17…