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Friday, 12 August 2016

Editorial: 4 Ways Bleach's 1000 Year Blood War arc Could Have Been Improved.

Look, I'm sorry, it was either this or Independence Day: Resurgence.

Editorial: 4 Ways Bleach's 1000 Year Blood War arc
Could Have Been Improved.

Next week, Bleach comes to its rather abrupt - which is an odd thing to say about a series with nearly seven-hundred chapters - close, finish off the slightly weird 1000 Year Blood War arc that has been taking place for the past few years now.

Widely panned, the 1000 Year Blood War arc more or less exemplified all of the major issues with Bleach as a series, and then amplified them to the nth degree. Here are four ways it could have been improved.

1. Have a smaller villain group.

There are twenty-six Sternritter, guys. That's twenty-six plus Yhwach himself, making twenty-seven, and if we include the two random arrancar who show up as part of the Vandenreich (something which is mentioned again, but never really plot relevant), that's twenty-nine villains. Compare and contrast with the Espada, who had ten people plus three previously introduced villains.

The thing is, with twenty-six Sternritter, nobody can possibly tell them all apart. Most of them die in fairly undramatic ways, and none of them have a chance to really display any character, or grab readers' interest in any way. They're just a parade of forgettable faces and names.

In fact, they remain forgettable even when Kubo Tite goes to absurd lengths to make them memorable. Why is there a luchador Sternritter who gets his powers from being cheered? Why is there a brain in a jar who is essentially a high-end reality warper? Why is there a character called 'NaNaNa' ?

Here's a thought: Instead of twenty-six Sternritter, have twelve: Lille Barro, Jugram Haschwalth, Royd Lloyd, Gerard Valkyrie, Bazz-B, As Nodt, Driscoll Berci, Pernida Parnkgjas, Quilge Opie, Askin Nakk Le Vaar, Candice Catnipp, and Uryu Ishida.

That's plenty, and it covers basically all of the ones who have interesting powers or personalities, or who are plot-relevant.

2. Have a smaller protagonist group.

Here's the thing: Every time Kubo Tite introduces villains, he then has some - or even a lot of them - stick around as protagonists. At the start of the Soul Society arc, we had effectively a six man band plus one mentor: Ichigo, Rukia, Ishida, Orihime, Chad, and Yoruichi, with Urahara as the mentor. By the end of the Soul Society arc, we had a thirty man band. By the end of the Las Noches arc, we had a thirty-nine man band. By halfway through the 1000 Year Blood War arc, we had forty-nine good guys.

Forty-nine. That's ridiculous.

This is probably part of why the villain group for this arc was so obscenely large, but really, it would have worked better if some of the cast had been discretely moved into the background. For starters, there was no reason for the three dead Xcution members to show up, and much as it pains me to say it, we didn't really need Grimmjow or Nel either. Most of the lieutenants (Rukia, Renji, and Nanao notwithstanding) could have been easily shuffled into the background as well, until we're left with just the captains.

Similarly, Kubo could have cut the Royal Guard characters by just revealing certain other characters to be, unbeknownst to their colleagues, Royal Guards, since they're meant to be secretive anyway. Why not Unohana? Why not Ukitake, who was revealed to have a connection to the Soul King anyway?

Instead, we got an unmanageable number of characters swarming the story, especially as Kubo seemed unable to let any of them go - which is how we got things like Random Cyborg Kira and Hisagi getting his Bankai only to be taken out before he can use it.

Kubo does make some steps towards reducing his cast by killing off a few people, but only barely manages to make a dent in his numbers.

3. Introduce Yhwach prior to the start of the arc (and make his motivations clearer).

Not!Zangetsu doesn't count.

Look, we got to know Aizen pretty early on. He was quite prominent in the early parts of the Soul Society arc, and we met Gin and Tousen pretty early on as well, meaning that we knew all of these characters before Aizen became the main antagonist.

But we can't say the same for Yhwach. He, in fact, hadn't even been mentioned prior to his appearance as the arch-villain of an arc. Introducing him early on would have worked a lot better, since by the time he became the main villain, we'd have some attachment to him.

There are unlimited possibilities for this. Have Uryu make mention of Yhwach, the father of all Quincies. Have Yamamoto constantly accompanied by a small child who's both blind and deaf, but who Aizen is visibly cautious around and afraid of. Have the Sternritter appear briefly during the early parts of the battle in Karakura Town, to establish this mysterious force watching events and ready to make their move. All of the above at the same time. 

Endless possibilities, but we need some kind of hint of Yhwach's existence before he becomes the villain, otherwise he's just a random moustache guy.

4. Give the Vandenreich something to make them distinct.

Making the arrancar distinct was easy. Since they were in opposition to the shinigami, Kubo Tite could easily just reverse things. They wore close-fitting white where the shinigami wore loose black. Their powers altered their bodies while the shinigami's powers altered their swords or produced magical effects. They were hyper-modern where the shinigami were old-fashioned.

Doing the same for the Vandenreich was more difficult, not least because Quincies have never really had a distinct identity of their own. So what we got was an organisation that honestly seemed incredibly vague, with nothing to really demarcate it from either the shinigami or the arrancar.

Adding to that, we never really found anything out about the Vandenreich as a culture. By the end of the Las Noches arc, we knew why the arrancar followed Aizen, what their culture was like, what their history was like pre-Aizen. But the Vandenreich were always just a collection of faces with no history, no real culture, and no clear motivation for following Yhwach.

When we do get a brief glimpse at their history, in the form of viewing Haschwalth and Bazz-B's past, it's startlingly generic, to the point where it's pretty much impossible to draw any conclusions about what these people are like as a society from it.

Giving us something concrete and distinctive about the Vandenreich would have not only grounded them a lot more, it would have made them more memorable, both as a group and as individuals.

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