Revisiting Bleach: The Rescue Episodes 42–63

Kurosaki.Ichigo.HollowThe third season of Bleach sees the conclusion of Ichigo’s efforts to save Rukia. In many ways, The Rescue and The Entry feel like one big season, not two separate arcs. Not only are our main characters still in Soul Society, they’re also still dealing with the same plot threads introduced in The Entry. The Entry introduces us to a lot of conflicts—Rukia’s execution, Ganju’s dislike of Shinigami, Byakuya’s strained relationship with his sister, etc.—and those conflicts don’t get resolved until the conclusion of The Rescue.

Once again, there are spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t watched this.

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Revisiting Bleach: The Entry Episodes 21–41

Kurosaki.Ichigo.HollowAs much as I loved The Substitute, The Entry is where Bleach really takes off and starts to get more interesting. We left off with Ichigo and his friends invading the Soul Society so they could save Rukia from her impending execution. This is the first time we’re really going to get to explore the spirit world, so The Entry deals with a lot of worldbuilding. This is also around the point in the series where our cast starts to grow and we’re introduced to no less than twenty new characters.

Spoilers ahead in case you don’t know how the story goes.

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Revisiting Bleach: The Substitute Episodes 1–20

Kurosaki.Ichigo.HollowOther than Studio Ghibli’s films, it’s been quite a while since I’ve watched anime. Though I enjoy the occasional manga, it’s not something that I go out of my way to consume. This is probably because I’m not the biggest fan of either shounen or shoujo. I personally find both these genres much more structured than I would like. All too often, one shounen will feel too much like another, and that goes for me and shoujo as well.

But despite my feelings against this kind of narrative formula, there still remain some aspects of the shounen genre that I really do love. And if there was one shounen that I knew I wouldn’t mind sitting down and rewatching, it was, without a doubt, Bleach.

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Magical Mondays: Ghosts in Geek Culture

Ghosts are a common feature in many speculative fiction stories, from Harry Potter to Supernatural to Saga and a million things in between. They can be scary, or silly, or solemn, but they tend to have one thing in common: ghosts cling to the mortal plane because of some sort of unfinished business in our realm. Because of this, ghosts are often used in one of two ways in storytelling: either as a horror trope, to pop up and say boo and scare you, or as a way to teach the living characters something about themselves—namely, how to avoid the circumstances that led them to being a ghost. And while there can be something tragic or terrifying about the horror type of ghost, I think that ghosts are more effective as a storytelling trope when they’re used to teach a lesson.

Speaking of ghosts, can anyone explain why this creepy little fricker was so popular?

Speaking of ghosts, can anyone explain why this creepy little fricker was so popular?

Spoilers for Hikaru no Go below the jump. Continue reading

Manga Mondays: The One Piece Journey Continues

one_piece_anime_ice_cream_nico_robin_namiPart 1
Part 2

Well, after my last One Piece post, I kinda/sorta said I wouldn’t read it again. However, during a bout with a cold and nothing better to do, I picked it back up again. And it finally made me realize what’s wrong with this series.

Say what you want about the complicated and elongated plots of Naruto and Bleach, but they always seem like they are heading somewhere for a reason (well, maybe excluding the random-as-hell fight between Unohana and Kenpachi in Bleach). In One Piece, they’re just wandering and doing whatever. There is no concrete, overarching plot direction. Yeah they’re supposedly looking for the One Piece, but in the 250+ chapters I’ve been reading it now, they’ve only mentioned it a handful of times. In addition, everything in One Piece is too drawn out. Not to continue to compare One Piece to Bleach and Naruto, but the other two series keep having things happen. One Piece devoted an entire chapter to drinking pumpkin juice for (seemingly) no other reason than pumpkin juice is delicious. It’s just so slow.

Anyway, I’m in the middle of the sky island bit with God and and those priest people and fighting and things. That’s all I know, which I guess is part three of the problem. The things they should explain, they don’t, and instead devote serious page time to pumpkin juice. I have no idea who half of the sky people are at this point.

Part of me really wants to love Nico Robin, but the other part doesn’t know enough about her to like her. She’s there, and I love that she’s the nerd of the group, but she’s distant. There are ways to be a “distant” character and still be lovable (Raven from Teen Titans is the only example coming into my head right now, but I’m sure there are others). Robin doesn’t seem all that likable, which makes me sad because I usually like characters like her.

Now I don’t want to end every One Piece post with a cliff hanger of “Will I keep reading?!” because I think I will continue to keep it up for now. But the series better start showing why everybody loves it so much soon, or else I might stop.

Oh, My Pop Culture Shinigami: The Gods of Death

Lady Geek Girl has posted about Death him (or her)self and Death’s role in relation to religion for OMPCJ before (cliffs notes version: Death is a major focus of a lot of religious doctrine in basically every faith), but what about Death’s representatives? Reapers who answer to Death are fairly commonplace if you know where to look, even just in the anime world. (Yes, I am going to avoid Supernatural for one post; no pony die of shock, please.) I could look at probably a dozen series (Bleach, Yami no Matsuei, Black Butler, Death Note, Soul Eater, the list goes on), but for the sake of brevity today I’ll just look at Bleach, Black Butler, and Death Note.

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Manga Mondays: The Portrayal of Masculinity and Femininity in Manga and Anime

From an historical viewpoint, just about every culture on the planet has idealized males as dominate figures, while dismissing females as the lesser sex. Japan is certainly no exception to this way of thinking. Though in recent years, while the gap between both genders has slimmed, it is still there, and the Japanese reflect this ideology in their manga and anime. Manga has been around for quite some time, and anime first appeared in the last century to represent manga on the television screen. While manga has an incredibly wide fan base that continues to grow each year, it normally targets either boys or girls. Manga for boys is called shounen, and for girls it’s shoujo.

Both may display similar characteristics regarding gender roles, but they are quite dissimilar in their portrayal, and normally cater to different genres. Shoujo, for instance, tends to center more on romance and finding true love, while shounen, even though it may also have romance, focuses more on action and adventure. This is not to say that shoujo has neither action nor adventure; those are just not the main focus in a typical shoujo.

So what I’m going to talk about today are two different shounen, Kisimoto Masasi’s Naruto and Takahasi Rumiko’s InuYasha. I also hope to explain why they are both shounen and not shoujo. Obviously, Naruto is a shounen, but there are some discrepancies about what category InuYasha falls under. And you’re going to have to brace yourselves, but I’m also going to be discussing gender roles.

Okay, let’s get to it.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Lucy Heartfilia

Fairy Tail is set in the imaginary kingdom of Fiore, and because of this, you can’t necessarily make assumptions about their ideas of sexuality—that is, they may differ from the way sexuality is perceived in the real world.

However, a hundred and thirty episodes and 200+ episodes in, the only character who is obviously written gay in the stereotypical flirtatious effeminate anime style is Bob, the leader of the Blue Pegasus guild. And honestly, I’m a little tired of this being practically the only way queer characters are portrayed in anime. You get the predatory girlish gay guys, and the predatory tomboyish lesbian girls, and that’s about it. So today I’m going to look at Lucy Heartfilia, one of Fairy Tail’s main characters, and speculate that she’s not entirely straight, and think wishfully about the future of the anime and manga world.

Before we go any farther and I start any shipping wars, let me lay something on the table. Lucy is going to end up with Natsu. This is a shounen anime to the hilt, and looking at the way shounen heroes get paired off with shounen heroines, I can tell you: Lucy is going to end up with Natsu. In the same way Supernatural‘s writers will never have the balls to actually put Dean and Cas in a relationship (EVEN THOUGH IT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE GAWD), Mashima Hiro is never gonna pair off his leading lady with anyone but his hero, just because that’s the way anime/manga work in this day and age.

THAT SAID: I think there’s a fair case to be made for Lucy’s bisexuality.

In the very first episode we see her fangirling over a magazine’s feature on Fairy Tail (the guild)—but she is particularly squee-filled about the centerfold of FT’s at-that-time-spokesmodel, Mirajane. I don’t know many straight girls who get excited about how hot a booby chick in a bikini looks, so that’s what started me wondering.

Her fangirl crush on Mira continues well into the following episodes, that is, after she joins the guild. She is also often in awe of Erza—although that may in fairness be because Erza is objectively awesome, not necessarily because Lucy is crushing. In one of the OVAs, though, (which lol are toooootally canon >.>), the Fairy Tail girls’ dorm does decide in a poll that the Lucy’s best love-match is Erza.

Although it’s sort of baby steps, and although I think that Mashima Hiro is probably not sitting around in his studio wondering what kind of strides he can make in portraying queer characters today as he draws next week’s Fairy Tail chapter, it is nice that, however unintentionally, Lucy is a girl in a well-known anime who can appear to like other girls without being portrayed like, well, this:

Thanks for being a beacon of stereotypically pervy assault-y queerness to the masses, Chizuru from Bleach, it’s totally appreciated.

Sexualized Saturdays: Soifon

If you’re looking for romance in Bleach, you’re gonna be looking for a long time. Pretty much the only canon admission of feelings comes when Orihime says goodbye to a sleeping Ichigo before being taken away by Ulquiorra. But even though Ichigo himself is a whole separate can of worms when it comes to sexuality, today we’re going to look at one of Bleach’s most badass ladies: Soul Society’s Second Squad Captain Soifon.

Apparently-queer characters, are surprisingly a dime-a-dozen in Bleach, (Yumichika, Szayel and Ylforte, Charlotte Cuulhorne, Chizuru, Rose, Lisa, the list goes on) but barring a few noteworthy exceptions, they’re mostly predatory fruity stereotypes.

Soifon, on the other hand, first appears as a proud and hardboiled assassin; after all, the Second Squad are the special forces of Soul Society. And then she fights Yoruichi, and it becomes clear that a lot of her hard outer shell is a side effect of being betrayed by someone she idolized. In a later flashback arc we see that Yoruichi was the first person to help Soifon out of her shell, and easily the first person that she could call a friend.

So noble, so beautiful and so terrifyingly strong. She was everything I ever wanted to be. I very strongly admired her. No, that feeling was beyond admiration. I worshipped her.”—Soifon, Chapter 159

But when Urahara and the shinigami who would become the Vaizards were framed, Yoruichi chose to stick with Urahara and go into hiding in the human world.

When Yoruichi and Soifon fight that first time, Soifon is ruthless, but when the topic of this abandonment is finally breached, the question Soifon asks, as she breaks down in tears, is: Why didn’t you take me with you?

“I was extremely disappointed in you! I hated you! I cursed you! I swore to arrest you one day with my own hands! Then to surpass you, I struggled.. gained strength… I will never forgive you, Yoruichi! For betraying my respect and trust I will never forgive you! Why… Why… Why didn’t you take me with you Yoruichi-sama?”—Soifon, Chapter 159

She cared deeply enough about Yoruichi that she would have thrown away her honor, and her rank, and her responsibilities just for the chance to stay by Yoruichi’s side.

From that fight forward, Soifon’s crush on Yoruichi is often played for laughs in the anime’s omakes; Yoruichi can turn into a black cat, so you see Soifon cuddling cat plushies, unselfconsciously submitting cat-adorned designs for Shinigami Women’s Association contests, and so on. But it’s pretty straightforwardly acknowledged that it is a crush. Soifon blushes and becomes uncharacteristically emotional around her mentor; she continues to be wildly jealous of and hateful toward Urahara and the fact that Yoruichi still seems to have chosen him over her. And although it may be obvious to everyone except Soifon herself, essential immortality (barring any mishaps or violent death) means she potentially has millenia to work herself up to an actual love confession.

This post sort of became more of a history of the Soifon/Yoruichi ship rather than solely focusing on Soifon’s sexuality. But I think it’s really impossible to talk about Soifon without discussing the most important figure in her life, and the fandom’s justification for suggesting she’s a lesbian. So dear readers, what do you think? Does the Second Squad’s leading lady carry a torch for her former captain, or is it strictly platonic? Let me know in the comments.

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All the Single …Folks: An Anime Top Ten

So. It’s apparently Valentine’s Day or something. The lead up to this manufactured pink holiday has the unfortunate cultural side effect of shaming all the people who lack a significant other into feeling alone and miserable. Well, being single ain’t all bad. Here are ten of the most kick-ass folks in anime who don’t need no romantic interest to be awesome.

1. Mirajane Strauss Mirajane is the most badass single lady in Fairy Tail.  She’s too concerned with keeping her family together and kicking ass in the name of the guild (either with or without her magical abilities) to worry about the long line of dudes (and ladies) that want to get with her.

2. Nathan Seymour a.k.a. Fire Emblem Fire Emblem is easily the most flirtatious of the Heroes of Sternbild’s Hero TV.  But that doesn’t mean he’s pinned down.  And don’t let his looks and playful personality fool you – he’s also the CEO of his own company and a powerful NEXT in his own right.

3. Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing Integra has a lot on her hands. Stopping the invasion of London by thousands upon thousands of neo-Nazi vampires is one of those things. Keeping a leash on her bff/trump card/vampire servant Alucard is another, and keeping track of the silly human girl he turned is yet another. Add in the superviolent secret Iscariot branch of the Catholic Church trying to take out her organization under the guise of stopping the invasion, and really, she does not have time to deal with suitors.

4. Kurosaki Ichigo You would think that with all the girls Ichigo’s always rushing to save (no one’s saying Bleach is a paragon of feminist awesomeness) that he’d end up with one of them. But he seems to have other things on his mind (defeating Aizen, gaining, losing, and regaining powers left and right, etc.), so he remains happily single.

5. Olivier Armstrong Olivier (pronounced Olivia) Armstrong is more awesome than you can ever hope to be. She is a General, so she outranks you. She has kept the invading forces of Drachma at bay for how many years now in that brutally cold fortress in the bitter north? And if she can simply adapt and win when the world is literally breaking into its component parts around her, I’m pretty sure a little thing like being single on Valentine’s Day is none of her concern.

6. Heiwajima Shizuo Shizuo is a sweet guy with a bit of an anger problem.  He definitely has his heart in the right place – he’s a great friend, a loyal brother, and a fierce defender of his turf.  He’s just too busy throwing vending machines at Izaya to worry about hooking up.

7. Fujioka Haruhi Our first Haruhi could care less about gender labels, let alone societally-imposed celebrations of heteronormativity.  She spends the entirety of her free time being surrounded (and often courted) by the most attractive boys at Ouran Academy, but all she really wants to do is get through high school so she can become a lawyer like her mom.

8. Hatake Kakashi He’s powerful and mysterious. He’s a sweet and loyal guy with a metric shitton of baggage.  He was even Hokage for all of ten minutes (once, I think). And right now (at least manga-wise) he’s fighting the biggest baddie of the Narutoverse head-on.  So maybe his singleness is a symptom of his inability to open up to others since Obito’s death. I think he may just have bigger concerns.

9. Suzumiya Haruhi  This Haruhi is only interested in non-normal things. And we’re not talking like underwater basket-weaving or hot sauce on ice cream – she wants to meet and befriend aliens, telepaths, and time travelers. No normal people need apply.  And when you’re basically God in the body of a wacky high-school girl, you don’t bother wasting time with significant others who can’t keep up with you.

10. Byakuran  Depending on where you are in the series, Byakuran can be awfully loyal to Yuni, but she has no hold over his actual heart – he’s free for the taking (ladies and gentlefolks, wink wink).  Just make sure to provide lots of candy. He loooves him some candy. But don’t be sad if he turns you down. Byakuran is the man who was almost king – of a thousand parallel dimensions.  He arguably has standards higher that Haruhi Suzumiya’s.

I hope you enjoyed this walk through the awesome single folks of anime, and it’s helped you feel a little less forever alone on this day celebrating relationships.  Happy Singles Awareness to all my fellow readers without a special somepony. ^_~