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branchandroot: butterfly on a desk with a world in a bottle (butterfly glass desk)
[personal profile] branchandroot
I've been poking at the structure of Bleach, now that the second cycle is finished and a new one is starting, because I honestly kind of expected the fall of Aizen to be the end. Looking back on it, that may have been foolish, because the end of the Hollow cycle matches the end of the shinigami cycle very closely: there is a huge confrontation in which martial ability is useful, is necessary to survive, but does not actually accomplish the desired end. In fact, no one gets a perfectly happy ending and things are still a hot mess afterward.

Now we have a new cycle, which looks like it may be focused on human powers, and that brought my thoughts back to my earlier speculation on KT's apparent cosmological model. In the first cycle, we had a trip to Soul Society, home of the shinigami (Asura). In the second cycle, we had a trip to Hueca Mundo, home of the Hollows (hungry ghosts). Perhaps this cycle will represent the human world.

To be sure, the story in general returns to humans as a touchstone, again and again, but that makes a certain amount of sense if the world-structure really is inspired by the six worlds of the realm of desire. The human realm, the human existence, is, after all, the one to which the greatest potential for enlightenment is attributed. This also makes a certain cosmological sense of why it's the humans who progress so astonishingly quickly, in Bleach.

Thinking about all that, though, brought me back to the basic point that KT really seems to love parallelism and symbolism, and that the personal aspects of the Hollow cycle didn't seem nearly as parallel to the shinigami cycle as I was expecting. Maybe they were, though--parallel in light of the worlds in question, anyway.

The shinigami cycle particularly showcased two inner journeys: Rukia's and Ichigo's. They were fairly similar, at heart. Both of them were carrying survivor guilt over loved ones they felt had been killed for their sake or because of their actions. Both of them were wrestling with feeling ineffectual, disconnected, never good enough to do the really important things, to save what's precious to them. Rukia starts, though her involvement with Ichigo and his general chaos, to reconnect, to recover herself. But that only lasts for a little while before she's whisked away from that progress and incarcerated in the pit of despair. In the process of breaking her out, both she and Ichigo manage to work their ways back to feeling effectual and valued. To feeling good enough. The parting of friends, at the end, is bittersweet, and the larger political situation is frankly a wreck, but things are emotionally brighter than they had been for both Rukia and Ichigo.

I was expecting something like that for the next cycle, too. I was expecting Orihime to parallel Rukia emotionally. After all, the set-up was the same: Orihime, feeling ineffectual, started to work on changing that, on honing her power, and in the middle of this is kidnapped and incarcerated in the pit of despair, from which her friends come to break her out.

Perhaps, though, I didn't take into account the difference in the worlds these cycles center on, or the nature of Orihime's power. After all, the first cycle deals with the shinigami, who stand in for heavenly but warlike spirits. Of course that cycle would focus on struggle and of course the best outcome would be that the struggle is effectual, at least on a personal level. The second cycle, however, deals with the Hollows, those possessed by insatiable desire. The best outcome for a cycle in that world might simply be to conquer that metastatic desire and return to the limited human realm. And this brings us to Orihime's power, which is denial of reality. Orihime seems, according to the comments of a few characters in this cycle, capable of denying limits and bounds entirely. What should we expect to come out of honing this?

The point of the second cycle might be what happens when "enough" becomes "too much".

Ichigo's journey certainly follows that theme. No sooner does he reach his "good enough" point than he starts to take it too far. He tells his friends to stay out of battle, he denies that he needs help with his inner Hollow, he attempts to go after Orihime alone, he even tells Orihime to back off and not aid him against Ulquiorra. There's no denying Ichigo is the tactical nuke of the group, but he falls quickly into believing that means he can or should or has to do everything alone and that his power and determination will carry him through every time. This is a denial of the larger lesson the ending of the first cycle showed us, and works about as well as we might therefore expect.

Orihime, in a reverse reflection of that, seems to deny that she can do anything alone once she is in Hueca Mundo, her reliance on her friends burgeoning out of control. The break out seems to be where her parallel with Rukia becomes colored most strongly by the realm this cycle centers on; they both fall prey to a negative aspect of the world in question, but those aspects, and the recovery from them, differ. As Rukia, when imprisoned, turns from struggle to despair, Orihime turns from determination to desire for rescue, made insatiable by an accompanying denial of what rescue might realistically require. Likely spurred by Aizen's pretense that he kidnapped her for her power, Orihime sinks into denial of all power that seems dangerous or absolute, both her own and Ichigo's, and this only worsens over time. When Ulquiorra puts a hole in Ichigo, not even for the first time, Orihime backs away from engaging her own power fully, even to "heal" this time; instead she calls for Ichigo's help, wanting him to be what he thinks he is and to rescue her. In the perfect meeting point of their respective denial and desire this calls forth the absolute manifestation of a hungry ghost: Ichigo's completely unrestrained, totally instinct-driven Hollow form.

This, of course, is the turning point, the point at which both Orihime and Ichigo understand that they have gone too far, that Orihime needs to accept the reality of her own capability and responsibility, to release her desire to be saved by another, and that Ichigo needs to release his desire to personally and solely protect, to accept the aid and agency of his companions. This is the personal realization they receive in return for their journeys this cycle.

Of course the cycle isn't quite over yet, and, predictably enough in cosmological terms, the shinigami Ichigo deals with keep on encouraging him to think that his combat abilities and his unusual level of power are the truly critical things in the confrontation with Aizen. This is completely contradicted by the actual train of events: even after Ichigo masters his absolute final attack, it fails. It is, instead, either Urahara's cunning or Aizen's own hidden desires that save as much of the day as can be saved at that point. The shape of this particular cycle suggests that Aizen's hidden desire to be normal, to not have great power setting him apart, is most instrumental. Is that not, after all, exactly where Ichigo ends up also?

And so we come to the third cycle: human power and human potential.

Given the story so far, I predict that Ichigo will not quite have learned the larger lesson and will still be unbalanced. He's still early in the cycle of reincarnation after all. Orihime may have better luck, if she continues to parallel Rukia, but it seems equally likely that both Rukia and Orihime will remain prone to the weaknesses of the worlds they are associated with.

I still expect this to end up, eventually, in the realm of the Devas, whatever that inspired KT to create, but I've temporarily given over predicting what that might be. Will it be whatever Isshin is? Whatever Ichigo is becoming? Something we haven't seen (or recognized) any sign of yet? Is it Urahara? I suppose we'll have to wait and see. The one thing I don't expect is for this new cycle to be the last.

Date: 2010-12-20 09:05 pm (UTC)
jetsam: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jetsam
I was expecting to end with Aizen as well, but equally I was feeling we weren't getting enough from Isshin and Ryuuken to be completely done. Hopefully that's what's coming up

Your model works better than anything else I've seen as a theory

Date: 2010-12-20 10:52 pm (UTC)
chronolith: (Default)
From: [personal profile] chronolith
I kinda don't think we are done with Aizen. I also think we might go through these cycles, if that is what he is doing, more than once. Diecide had all these references to a spirit king in ominous ways. I kinda half expect for it to turn out that this linchpin keeping soul society together actual eats human souls or something and for Aizen to get some sort of redemption out of that, even if he was a total extremist.

But then I play a lot of Final Fantasy games and thus am suspicious of twists like that.

Date: 2010-12-20 11:11 pm (UTC)
chronolith: (Default)
From: [personal profile] chronolith
It definitely doesn't sound anything that was ever human, for sure. Though there seems to be hints that it is at least sentient? Not entirely sure. I have this cracked out theory that Soul Society is a thing/place which should not even exist and its existence creates the hollows and all this fucked upness. I mean. Why else would afterlife be permanently stuck in Sengokujidai, you know? Seems a little odd, that bit.

I also have to wonder if Aizen will turn out to have been, in some dreadful way, right all along, yeah

When he starts screaming at Uruhara about a "loser's logic" and how one should look at the way "the world ought to be, not the way the world is" I really do have to wonder if what he really is, is some sort knight templar extremist. Because generally the entire 'changing the world' thing is a shonen hero's schtick, you know? The world is sucky, I am going to save/redeem it! But somehow Aizen has gone terribly wrong.

I am itching to know Kugo Ginjo's story.
Edited Date: 2010-12-20 11:24 pm (UTC)

Date: 2010-12-22 11:22 pm (UTC)
willidan: (Default)
From: [personal profile] willidan
I have to agree about Aizen. I've thought it more likely that he's right, though too far gone, all along.

And I am getting very weary of the arcs. I'm this close to giving up on Bleach altogether, because it never ends(!). Though, having said that, I do feel there will need to be more Ryuuken (and Isshin) to come. There's no reason for Ryuuken to be parceled out the way he has been. And that is one thing that I have been anxious to see develop.

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