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It's been over three months since I last wrote a blog on here and I don't know how many people are actually gonna see this, but I figure it's worth a shot.
The final arc's handling of characters old and new was...inconsistent, to say the least. Many characters, such as the Visored, who should've had their time to shine were pushed aside yet again, while mainstays like Kenpachi, Hitsugaya, and Byakuya were not only heavily featured, especially toward the end, but even brought back from the dead due to fan outcry (I stand by the fact that this happened to Byakuya fite me scrubs). However, I want to take time to focus on the characters, returning and newly introduced during the final 207 chapters, who were genuinely and properly handled for most if not all of their screen time.
That's right, folks, we're starting off with the oddly-horned researcher himself. Past arcs have only ever made Akon relevant once or twice and in a very background-y way (Ikkaku mentioning that he makes dental implants, Akon himself appearing in the Maggots' Nest during TBtP, etc.), but he had something of a starring role this time around. In fact, he ended up doing more than Byakuya when you really think about it. Let's rattle off what he was doing in all his appearances:
- Investigated the Hollow disappearances
- Reported and explained the initial invasion to Ryūnosuke so Ichigo would know what happened
- Explained the situation to the captains
- Made the executive decision to contact Ichigo when the Seireitei was attacked again and the Medallions were brought out
- Filled Ichigo in on the second invasion and the threat of the Wandenreich
- Eventually freed Ichigo from the Dangai himself despite having been attacked by a Sternritter
- Installed cameras in the private laboratory of Mayuri, the mad bomber himself, just to keep tabs on the craziest man in Soul Society
- Explained the reality of Nemu's existence
Throughout all of this, he was level-headed and serious, never once dropping the ball and always thinking on a larger scale. He may not have had as much impact or focus as other characters, but Akon did right by everyone whenever he was onscreen.
I know this guy had even less screentime than Akon, but hear me out. BG9, though underutilized, was a fresh idea for the Bleachverse - a cyborg/robot/Terminator Quincy, or whatever he was supposed to be underneath that mask. He was set apart from every other character as soon as he started speaking with square text bubbles, and his fight with Marechiyo and Suì-Fēng established him as a ruthlessly pragmatic killing machine with no qualms about killing children for leverage just to find someone. His coldly logical way of analyzing situations provided a great contrast to his weapons being machine guns, rockets, steel tendrils and explosives, as well as to his later breakdown when confronted with the idea of dying. I wish he could've been left alive and developed more later in the arc, but I don't mind what we got.
Oh, Urahara. Probably the only fan-favorite whom I never saw any complaints about during this final arc, he was constantly thinking ahead and helping counteract the Wandenreich's insane advantages over the Shinigami, from the Medallions to the god-tier threat that was Askin (more on him later); on top of that, his involvement in Isshin and Masaki's origin story was both believable and consistent with what we'd learned up until that point about souls and Quincies. Throughout all this, Urahara remained great comic relief (his reactions during Everything But the Rain were priceless) and an awesome combatant. Hell, his long-awaited Bankai reveal was page-for-page one of the best chapters of the arc, if not the series as a whole, and even though we didn't get to see more of it and Urahara was left hanging, I like what we got.
Yamamoto only lasted for 40 chapters, but I'll be damned if his appearances weren't worthy and fitting of the hype that'd been built up around him over the years. His declaration that his mere presence is the best security ever was but a hint of the awesome to come, and I loved the emotional backstory he shared with Chōjirō, even if it was a bit late in the game. The real reason for his place on this list, however, is everything that happened between chapter 504 and chapter 511. Yamamoto uses his Shikai in the most brutal way every, blasts through the sky like a comet (inspiring the rest of the Shinigami in the process), and then confronts Roydwach and finally, FINALLY uses his Bankai to utterly trash the poor bastard. Speaking of which, Zanka no Tachi is one of the few Bankai in the series that I think everyone can agree is absolute perfection given its wielder, from its four-pronged usage to its drawbacks. I know his death is controversial to some, but given the flashback preceding it I'm willing to accept it as him just giving up after reverting to his old ways and losing his Bankai (on top of having been hurt by actually using said Bankai). Rest in peace, Old Man Genocide.
Like pretty much all characters introduced with their face and/or body obscured, Pernida was the subject of much speculation from the outset. Was it male, female, or some non-gendered schmuck like BG9? How on earth did The Compulsory work, and what did its name mean? WHY WAS ITS HOOD PROPPED UP SO WEIRD?!?! These questions remained unanswered and only intensified in the dozens of chapters between its first appearance and when it started fighting Kenpachi and Mayuri...but hoo boy were we in for a treat. Pernida ended up being not only a non-Human, as some guessed, but something that just about no one predicted despite its relevance from 20 chapters ago: the left arm of the Soul King. The fight suddenly went from 0 to 60 as Pernida underwent some completely insane evolutions and displayed the ability to overcome just about anything that Mayuri, scientist supreme and lord of all that is messed up, could throw at it. Even Nemu's Super Saiyan blitz couldn't stop it, and it was only taken down by super-ultra-mega-cancer. Pernida wasn't as involved as many of the other characters on this list, but it's hard to deny how amazing its blaze of glory was.
Ichibei was a quirky newcomer right from the get-go. He was hyped up as one of the Royal Guard...then he spent nearly 100 chapters just goofin' and gaffin' around, with the occasional infodump thrown in. Not that it wasn't entertaining, but all the other Royal Guards had some serious moments reflecting their status thrown in, while Ichibei just kept being Santa Claus.
But then Yhwach tried to square up with him, and all HELL was unleashed.
In the most whiplash-inducing personality flip since Unohana, Ichibei went from a jovial and goofy man to a hardcore badass who tossed the main villain around like a hackeysack. While his ability to determine names had been set up 40 chapters prior, Ichibei's fight with Yhwach demonstrated just how integral names were to his powerset, and Ichimonji ended up being another rare example of a perfect Zanpakutō, with each level of release building on the last until we reached a truly insane reality-warping Bankai that no one but the leader of the most elite Shinigami ever would deserve. Its conclusion was a bit sour, but I hold Ichibei vs. Yhwach as one of the best fights of the entire series because Ichibei more than proved his worth as a Shinigami of his position. Goofy Santa never die (at least not for long).
Mayuri's a very interesting character as far as portrayal and reception go. During his introduction in the Soul Society arc, he was a completely ruthless, amoral, and sadistic man without even an ounce of comic relief or levity; his blowing up his own men and how he treated Nemu are the most mentioned examples of how evil he was, even for the morally ambiguous Gotei 13, and he was the only character ever drawn entire in silhouette to further emphasize his nastiness. But then, he appeared in Hueco Mundo to fight fellow mad scientist Szayelaporro, and while his character hadn't pulled a 180 by any means, he was definitely...different. Much of the fight was him trolling Szayelaporro, making funny faces, and generally being comic relief with overtones of his usual crazy self - a far cry from his Soul Society persona. From what I've seen, fans were split as to whether this was a good or bad change, as well as whether some of his actions (such as saving Nemu) made sense. But in this final arc, I think Kubo finally reached an equilibrium with how he portrayed Mayuri. Yes, he was involved in a lot of hilarious scenes, but those were equaled, if not outweighed, by his serious and classic mad scientist moments, including his standing up to Yamamoto, taking control of Giselle's zombies, and of course his entire fight with Pernida. More than anything, I think this arc served to develop Mayuri into more than a mad scientist with some slightly less reprehensible traits and some funny faces: while he was never actively kind or compassionate to just about anyone else, Mayuri worked and fought for the greater good while proving repeatedly that he was very close to keikaku-master Urahara himself in terms of adaptability and planning. Nowhere was this better exemplified than his battle with the literal embodiment of progress itself, Pernida. We all thought Uryū had been the one to push Mayuri to his limits back in Soul Society, but Pernida took it several steps further by engaging in a progressively escalating counterattack war with Mayuri, who was eventually so outmatched that his daughter had to step in and save him - and when the chips were truly down, his Arrancar counterpart came back to mock him into action. Notably, the end of that fight is the one time we've ever seen Mayuri with his hair down and disheveled, and it was also the first and last time we saw him treating people normally and being laid back. For that, he earns this spot on my list quite solidly.
I will forever stand by my claim that Yhwach is the single best main antagonist of the entire series, far outdoing Aizen and Ginjō (and Byakuya if you're into that). I thoroughly enjoyed the pragmatism, efficiency, grandstanding, and overall badassery that he put on display in most every chapter he appeared in. Whether it was his tricking Yamamoto into wasting his time and energy so he could try and recruit Aizen, thoroughly wrecking Ichigo in most of their battles, cleverly putting Uryū between a rock and a hard place as his successor, replacing THE ENTIRE SEIREITEI with his own city, or properly and actually usurping the Soul King in about half the time it took Aizen to get to the real Karakura Town, he was an amazing shonen villain who just kept going no matter what the heroes threw at him, and his fight with Ichibei cemented him as a great combatant even though he kept getting outmatched. Plus, his overall design is highly memorable and unusual for Bleach's artstyle, so he's got that going for him on this list. Even though he kinda fell off the wagon toward the end, that doesn't diminish how much I love what he did for the arc as a whole.
You might be surprised that a mere Sternritter occupies a higher place on this list than my beloved Swaggy Y.H., but while Yhwach was a standard shonen villain done right, Askin felt like he was from another genre altogether. It was clear he was destined for greatness when his first appearance consisted of him memeing two other Sternritter while simultaneously stopping their fight with a ball, but the second/third invasion and his battles in the Royal Realm are what really set him apart from the rest. Unlike so many enemies in this series, Askin had a very realistic handle on his own level of power and never tried to bite off more than he could chew - tellingly, he never initiated a single one of his fights, instead either reacting to someone else attacking him or just trying to get the hell out of dodge to avoid fighting them. On top of this, he had a very unique power in The Deathdealing that always kept his fights interesting and even let him take out plot-armored Ichigo himself, and a good portion of the comic relief toward the end of the arc was provided by him alone (see: his picnic during the Gremmy fight, him fleeing from Grimmjow twice, getting wrecked by Yoruichi, and so on), but it meshed well enough with his overall self-deprecating and sarcastic personality that it never felt out-of-place or forced. Sure, his face looked a fair amount like Aizen's, but I think we can all agree that by the end of his role, Askin was his own character, and a standout one at that.
Before I explain my #1 pick, I think it's only fair that I list some honorable mentions and why they didn't make the cut. For all of these, you should also keep in mind that I ended up selecting characters who were important to the arc as a whole rather than just my favorites.
- Äs was an exceedingly scary villain during his introduction, and it was incredible to watch how completely he took down Byakuya with nary a scratch. However, he went from creepy and intimidating to kind of silly during his fight with Rukia (though Tatarforas still spooks me pretty hard) and that battle devolved into a battle of ridiculous and unnecessary counters, culminating in Rukia's unforeseen Bankai to finish the guy off. Not a very good end for what was once the scariest villain ever.
- I love the hammy wrestler stereotype that is Mask to death, but he wasn't relevant beyond a couple fights and was basically a "look how badass Renji is now" villain.
- It may sound strange, but had Byakuya died during the first invasion as I'm sure Kubo intended him to, he'd probably be #6 or #7 on this list because of how well-done his fall and death scene were. Him throwing away his pride and begging Ichigo to save Soul Society in his stead is one of the most heartwrenching scenes in the entire manga, and it really completed his character arc. But then, he was revived and did...nothing. He underwent training, came back and helped Rukia in a way that she could have accomplished on her own were he dead, offscreened some Sternritter, acted like a complete moron in the battle against PePe, watched some pretty lights, and then failed to kill Gerard with a finishing blow on two separate occasions. He should have died before he underwent such humiliation.
- Renji was cool and all, but he was out of focus for much of the arc and didn't do much beyond killing one Sternritter and making some cool one-liners/speeches.
- Haschwalth was a very consistently well-written character, but I can count how many things he actually did during the arc on one hand. He may have been Yhwach's no. 2 and I like him and his backstory a lot, but he was in the background too much of the time.
- Though short, Unohana's fierce battle with Kenpachi and the backstory accompanying it were amazing, but the problem lies therein; she died before she could do much else. Surprisingly, I don't mind her death and how she died in a vacuum, but she simply wasn't present for 4/5ths of the arc.
- Aizen, while still cool, didn't do much beyond putting Yhwach under the impression in chapter 683.
- Nimaiya was alternately hilarious, serious, and badass on a dime, and I also loved every scene he was in, particularly his trashing of the Schutzstaffel, but he really wasn't relevant to the arc as a whole beyond reforging Zangetsu and the aforementioned trashing. He's still #11 in my heart, if that makes you feel any better.
But onto the main event, what everyone's been waiting for...
I can say without a shred of hesitation or doubt that Bazz-B is one of the most well-written and, more important, completely written characters in the entire series, despite having only one arc to develop in. He started off strong enough as a Shinigami-killing, Yamamoto-attacking, Yhwach-questioning son of a gun, but it was during the second invasion and the beginning of the Royal Realm invasion that he really kicked it into high gear. Not only was he a constant badass who took down Captain Popularity and nearly burned Ichigo, but he was always entertaining to watch, and the brief glimpses we got into his less evil side made a future heel-face turn or past exploration an interesting and viable possibility. Then came the revelations about his history with Haschwalth, and hoo boy golly did it cement his quality as a character. What we saw of him as a boy and a young man encountering Haschwalth and Yhwach for the first time put everything else in perspective, and even though we only had four chapters to learn about and witness it, his relationship and dynamic with Haschwalth was so potent that you could feel his emotions when he screamed at the heavens and, 1200 years later, finally admitted his defeat against Haschwalth. It was a complete and compelling character arc, and due to that and his sick mohawk, Bazz-B will remain in the memories of fans for a long time to come.
But that's just my personal rankings, what are yours?