The Thousand Year Blood War is fully underway at this point. Fans of Tite Kubo’s insanely popular manga can finally rejoice. After an original anime adaptation with lengthy filler arcs and a ten-year cliffhanger, the drought is over: Ichigo is back, baby.
We’re seven episodes in to Bleach: The Thousand Year Blood War and the conflict shows no sign of slowing down. If you’ll remember, the last time we saw our hero Ichigo Kurosaki, the strawberry-haired substitute shinigami was trapped in the endless void known as Garganta. A Quincy named Quilge trapped Ichigo in a Reishi jail, and not even the full extent of his spiritual pressure is enough to break out.
Meanwhile, the Soul Society is under attack by Yhwach, the Quincy leader. Yhwach had already proven himself to be a formidable foe, perhaps even scarier than former main antagonist, Sosuke Aizen. That potential competition was previously alluded to, but Yhwach makes a strong case for himself by achieving something Aizen was unable to.
This week’s episode is called “Born in the Dark.” It’s a title that holds a lot of meaning behind it, especially for the characters involved in the episode’s conflict. Right on the heels of last week’s episode, “THE FIRE,” this episode sees that fire snuffed out, our protagonists forced to face the darkness that threatens to consume them. Even in pitch black, if there’s a spark, it can be seen. This spark can grow bigger and brighter until a great flame is born, illuminating the darkness and lighting a path for those who might be lost in the void.
But for as bright as Genryusai Yamamoto’s fire burns, for as large the flames get, they were still born from darkness. Yamamoto reflects on this in a flashback sequence after the opening credits. He gazes at a photo of a great flame with his pupil, and laments the tale attached to it. This great flame was necessary to carry out the near-eradication of the Quincy. It became the catalyst for the Soul Society’s victory, and helped restore balance to the different realms that make up the world of Bleach.
However, that’s not exactly the way Yamamoto remembers it. A flashback of the first conflict between the Soul Society and Quincy reveals bloodshed on both sides. When the smoke clears, all that’s left are Yhwach, Yamamoto, and the destructive flames of his fiery bankai. In the millennium that follows, the Soul Society enjoyed a time of relative peace, and Yamamoto vowed never to tap into his darkness again.
1000 years later, and Yhwach has stolen Yamamoto’s bankai and used it to completely incinerate him. This major loss is felt by every member of the Court Captains, who mourn their fallen Head Captain. Yamamoto’s death continues the cycle of darkness, as it was his allowance of this darkness to consume him, one two occasions now, that resulted in present events even being possible. This darkness also absorbed Yhwach, putting the Quincy King through a sort of rebirth, with nothing but revenge and redemption on his mind. It was revealed at the beginning of TYBW that Yhwach was without a body, soul or mind, for nearly a millennium. He bided his time in complete darkness before emerging from it to seek justice from the present Soul Society.
But this conflict isn’t really about justice, a point this episode really drives home. The Soul Reapers and the Quincy both believe themselves to be just in their beliefs. Either one is only a threat to the other because they refuse to come to an agreement. And considering that this current war is happening in large part due to Yamamoto’s genocidal attack, it’s hard even to side with our heroes here. That’s what makes Ichigo such an intriguing key figure in this, as we quickly learn that the darkness within him puts him at the very center of the conflict.
Naturally, Ichigo sides with his friends when he arrives. Furious over the wrecked Soul Society before him, he hardly lets Yhwach get a word in before he strikes. The following battle might just be the greatest in either series, certainly the greatest we’ve seen in this series so far. Stunning, lightning-quick visuals are accompanied by an epic chorus — booming choir chants and striking strings — befitting for a Bleach boss fight. Especially one we’ve been waiting years to see animated. I had to rewind at least ten times because, reader, this sequence is just so damn satisfying. Even when Ichigo is defeated — because of course he’s not gonna beat the main antagonist so early in the series — I couldn’t help but grin at the screen because of what I’d just witnessed. TYBW is Bleach at its strongest. Insanely colorful and visually striking battles, monumental music, and high stakes.
But the near the end of it, Yhwach unleashes a shocking revelation upon Ichigo that takes the story to even greater heights. Even among the deeply complicated lore of his series, Ichigo is a convoluted protagonist. Since the first chapter, Ichigo has acquired upgrade after upgrade, mastering both his Soul Reaper powers and taming his inner Hollow. He’s accomplished feats that both races once thought completely impossible, and with hardly any time at all, he’s mastered the strongest techniques and acquired a bankai that could probably kill Goku. He’s the only character who’s Wikipedia summary is probably longer than that of the actual series, and even ten years later, he shows no sign of slowing down.
After the revelation that the Quincy’s bankai-stealing devices don’t work on Ichigo earlier, it turns out the reason why is the substitute Soul Reaper and half-Hollow hero is also part-Quincy. His Quincy abilities were awakened in the dark void of the Garganta, after his own spiritual pressure was released and blended with pressure emanating from Quilge’s jail.
What does this mean for Ichigo? Well, besides a significant power increase and an even longer move set in the foreseeable future, it also means that Ichigo has more stake in this war than he thought.
As Yhwach prepares to exit, he calls Ichigo his “Son, Born in the Dark.” That “son” part is just Yhwach’s ego inflating him to believe he’s like a God-figure to the Quincy, not any kind of Isshin erasure (because we won’t stand for that). But as Yhwach finally signals in our title card, it becomes clear that there is much more hidden in the dark for Ichigo to explore. Just what he’ll find, and who he’ll end up becoming by the end of his explorative journey, is a question for another time. For now, we can expect a whole lot of mourning and preparation next episode, when Bleach: TYBW returns with “The Shooting Star Project (Zero Mix).”
Featured image via Viz Media
Bleach: Thousand Year Blood War - "Born in the Dark" - 9/10