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Byakuya Kuchiki (朽木 白哉 Kuchiki Byakuya?) is a fictional character in the anime and manga series Bleach created by Tite Kubo. He is the captain of the 6th Division in the Gotei 13. His lieutenant is Renji Abarai.

Character outline

Byakuya Kuchiki is the 28th head of the noble Kuchiki clan, one of the four great noble families in Soul Society.[1] As such, Byakuya acts in an aristocratic manner — he seems always serene and apathetic towards other people, even when he is actually deeply conflicted. He is also extremely calm, even in battle, and is very seldom surprised by even the most drastic of actions. Ironically, when he was younger, he was quick to anger and very hotheaded, as noted by his grandfather, Ginrei Kuchiki; similar to the way Ichigo and Renji are now.

Byakuya strongly believes in law and order. As the head of one of the great noble families and as a captain in the Gotei 13, he always works hard for a peaceful society. He thinks that if someone in his position doesn't follow the rules as a good example, then no one will follow them.[2] He believes that to maintain the order, all law-breakers must be punished, even if that goes against his own wishes. Despite his icy and regal manner, Byakuya cares for and protects those important to him, even referring to Rukia as his "pride".

Byakuya is popular among female shinigami and was voted number one in the "captain we desire to release a photo book for" poll taken by the Shinigami Women's Association. He likes Japanese cherry blossoms, night-time walks, spicy food, and bananas, but he does not like sweets.

Byakuya wears the standard captain uniform along with a white headpiece called a kenseikan (symbolizing his noble rank as the head of the Kuchiki family) and a white scarf made by the master weaver, Tsujishirō Kuroemon III. The scarf is made from silver-white windflower light silk (ginpaku kazahana no uzuginu) and is a family heirloom handed down through the generations to the head of the Kuchiki family. Forty five houses can be built for the cost of just one such scarf.[1] In the anime, the scarf is an extremely light green (episodes 52 and 53).

Byakuya seems to have a comic side to himself despite his extremely serious personality. He not only attends the lieutenants' meeting when Renji Abarai is absent, but also implies that he attends the meetings of the Soul Reaper Women's Association when Rukia is absent. In the Soul Reaper's Illustrated Picture Book in episode 118, he remarks"part of a captain's responsibilities are to make sure the lieutenant's responsibilities are taken care of." When Renji asks him if he also goes to Rukia's meetings, Byakuya responds only by smiling. In the Soul Reaper's Illustrated Picture Book in episode 113, Byakuya jokingly remarks that he uses Senbonzakura to cut his hair. In one of the omake chapters, Byakuya claims that life in general is not supposed to be entertaining, and even makes up an idea for a game that is not meant to be amusing. It was also shown in an omake chapter that Byakuya's artistic talent is similar to Rukia's (that is, non-existent) but to some people very beautiful. One of his drawings is seaweed ambassador. However, Rukia sees it as better than hers.[3]

History

Little is known about Byakuya's early history. When his grandfather, Ginrei Kuchiki, was still the captain of the 6th Division, Byakuya was preparing to take over leadership of the clan, although his grandfather was worried about his rash and hotheaded attitude.[4] During this time Yoruichi Shihouin would play pranks on him and goad him into games of tag using flash steps,[5] which she won every time.

Around 55 years before the main Bleach storyline,[6] Byakuya married Hisana, who was then a commoner from Inuzuri, one of the poorest districts of Rukongai; therefore, he broke the rules by accepting her into the noble Kuchiki family. Shortly before her death from illness, Hisana asked Byakuya to find, adopt, and protect her biological sister, Rukia, whom she had abandoned as a baby. She also made him promise that he would not tell Rukia about her real family, for she believed that by abandoning Rukia when she was younger she was not worthy to be called Rukia's sister.

One year later, during Rukia's time at the academy, Byakuya found her and immediately adopted her into the Kuchiki clan. By adopting her, Byakuya respected his wife's last wish, but had broken the rules of his clan again. He later swore upon his parents' graves that he would never break the rules again, no matter what. As a result, he, though entirely apathetic on the surface, is actually deeply conflicted with the matter of Rukia's execution. Should he intervene, it would require breaking the promise to his parents and the rules again; but should he do nothing he would fail to fulfill the last promise he made to his dying wife to protect Rukia as his own sister.

It is implied that Byakuya Kuchiki became captain of the 6th division about 50 years before the main Bleach storyline (shortly before Rukia had entered the Gotei 13).[7] Gin Ichimaru became captain of the 3rd Division at the same time, and Gin would commonly start pointless conversations with Byakuya during times they crossed paths. It seems that Gin did this to bug Rukia and make her feel uncomfortable.

Synopsis

Byakuya first appears on a mission with his lieutenant, Renji Abarai, to capture Rukia Kuchiki and kill Ichigo Kurosaki. They succeed in retrieving Rukia, and would have easily killed Ichigo, if not for Rukia's intervention, pleading for Byakuya not to give the finishing blow. Byakuya later interrupts Ganju Shiba and Hanatarō Yamada's attempt to rescue Rukia and, later on, Renji's attempt. When Ichigo succeeded in rescuing Rukia, he and Byakuya have an extended battle, where both use their bankai. However, Ichigo's inexperience with his new release and Byakuya switching to a more powerful form leaves Ichigo at a disadvantage, with the temporary emergence of Ichigo's inner hollow evening the odds out once more. Following Ichigo's inner hollow's forced submission, both channel all their remaining power into one final attack, resulting in Byakuya's sword temporary breaking while Ichigo uses up all his energy and falls down. Byakuya walking away from the fight and promises that he will not catch Rukia again. Later, when Sōsuke Aizen orders Gin Ichimaru to kill Rukia, Byakuya pulls her out of the attack and takes it instead. While being treated, Byakuya tells Rukia why she was adopted, apologizes to her and thanks Ichigo. Afterwards, Byakuya's attitude toward Rukia changes significantly. He is seen to care for Rukia in an indirect manner and displays a new view on the idea that the law is never perfect. However, he still appears to view Ichigo with disdain.

When the Bounts' threat to harm Soul Society becomes serious, Byakuya uses the Kuchiki Clan's records to gain information on the Bount for General Yamamoto. Byakuya, aiding Rukia in her battle with Yoshi, attempts to seek out the Bount leader Jin Kariya. The two meet, and engage in a battle that is interrupted by Ichigo and, later, Rantao. In the anime-exclusive Zanpakutō Unknown Tales arc, Byakuya betrays Soul Society and sides with the rogue Zanpakutō Muramasa, who had set the Soul Reapers' Zanpakutō, including Byakuya's own Senbonzakura, free from their control and was influencing them. He states his reasons for doing so were to maintain his pride, however, it is later revealed that Byakuya true intentions were to stay close to Muramasa so that he could locate and kill Muramasa's Soul Reaper Kōga Kuchiki for dishonoring the Kuchiki clan.

Byakuya reappears to retrieve Tōshirō Hitsugaya's team on General Yamamoto's order near the end of the Arrancar Arc, but he secretly allows Rukia and Renji to assist in Orihime's rescue. He reasons that he was only ordered to bring them back to Soul Society and that what they chose to do afterwards was none of his concern, though Ichigo and Rukia suspect otherwise. Byakuya appears later in Hueco Mundo to save Rukia from the 7th Espada, Zommari Leroux. After a quick clash using their speed, in which Byakuya is proven superior, Zommari releases his zanpakutō and takes control of Byakuya's body parts. When Byakuya cuts his left leg and arm tendons to negate the effect, Zommari turns his attention to Rukia, taking control of her body and forcing her own zanpakutō to her neck. Byakuya uses a binding spell to prevent Rukia's movement, then activates his bankai, engulfing Zommari with the millions of blades it creates. Zommari survives the attack, but finds himself powerless before Byakuya. He accuses Byakuya and all Soul Reaper of aristocratic pride, claiming that they "slay hollows as if it were their birthright", deeming Byakuya's actions as unjust. To this, Byakuya replies that he will kill Zommari, not because of "Soul Reaper protocol", but because he aspired to kill Rukia. He is finished off by a single strike from Byakuya's blade. Once Rukia is revived, Byakuya tells her to rest for the more important battles to come, and refuses treatment from the 4th squad lieutenant, captain, and 7th seat until Rukia is fully healed. He later appears to save Ichigo in his fight against the Cero Espada Yammy using a Kido spell to damage him, and then further engaging him in combat with Kenpachi Zaraki. When it seems that Byakuya and Kenpachi are about to defeat him, Yammy undergoes a monstrous new transformation. It's later revealed that he and Kenpachi succeeded in defeating Yammy, but receiving serious injuries in the process.

Abilities

As a captain of the Gotei 13, Byakuya is extremely skilled in all forms of Soul Reaper combat. In keeping with his rank, Byakuya's abilities allow him to defeat opponents of captain-level ability without much effort.

Of particular note is Byakuya's speed: he is skilled in the use of shunpo(flash step)s, having trained with (but never surpassed) Yoruichi Shihōin.[8] Yoruichi also taught Byakuya some techniques of her own creation that involved flash steps, including one called utsusemi (空蝉, lit. empty cicada, in reference to their molting), which allows Byakuya to move out of harm's way while leaving an afterimage behind. One of Byakuya's favorite techniques, as described by Renji, is senka (闪花, lit. Flash Blossom), a flash step combined with a spin to quickly move behind the enemy, followed by a combination of two quick thrusts to destroy the opponents soul chain and soul sleep in one move, destroying their power.[9] He manages to quickly dispatch Ichigo in their first encounter with this technique only. In his battle with Zommari Leroux, he is able to maintain his composure and fight at full speed, despite being forced to cut the tendons in his left leg and arm to prevent Zommari from gaining control of them.

Byakuya has also displayed knowledge of high level kidō spells, and is able to cast spells up to number 81 without the incantation.[10] He is adept at using them strategically, such as disrupting the movement of Renji's bankai with a well-timed fire spell and damaging Ichigo's right arm by using a low-level lightning spell at point-blank range to burn a hole through his shoulder.[11]

Senbonzakura

File:Senbonzakura.jpg

Byakuya Kuchiki's zanpakutō is Senbonzakura (千本桜?, literally "thousand cherry blossoms"). Its shikai is triggered by the command "scatter" (散れ chire?). In the English manga the phrase is translated inconsistently; at the start of volume fourteen it is translated as "die", though later in the same volume "scatter" is used instead. When manifested in the anime Zanpakutō Unknown Tales arc, Senbonzakura resembles a masked man in samurai armor with a half-cherry blossom decoration on his helmet.

In its shikai, Senbonzakura's blade separates into thousands of slender, petal-like blades. The release can be negated before it completes, such as when Yoruichi Shihouin wrapped the blade in cloth during Byakuya's short battle with Ichigo. While the blades are too small to see normally, they reflect light in such a way as to appear as cherry blossom petals. Byakuya can control the blades at will, allowing him to shred opponents at a distance and break through almost any defense. While Byakuya can control the blades with his mind alone, using his hands allows him to do so more effectively, making the blades move twice as fast.

File:Senbonzakura Kageyoshi Vibrant display of the thousand cherry blossoms.jpg

Byakuya's bankai, named Senbonzakura Kageyoshi (千本桜景厳?, literally "Vibrant Display of a Thousand Cherry Blossoms"), is essentially a much larger version of Senbonzakura's shikai. To activate it, Byakuya drops his sword. The sword passes through the ground and two rows of giant blades rise up from the ground. These then scatter into millions of tiny blades. The number of blades is great enough that Byakuya can use them for defense and offense at the same time. He commonly forms them into large masses of blades to crush opponents.[12][13] Like with his shikai, its attack is triggered with the phrase "scatter".

Byakuya's bankai has several forms, achieved by arranging the blades in different patterns. They are activated by saying the name of the technique followed by the name of his bankai. Each form presents a different advantage, such as increasing offense at the expense of defense.

Byakuya's attack form is "massacre scene" (殲景 senkei?, Viz: "annihilate"), which unites the scattered petals into complete swords that form rows of swords around Byakuya and his opponent. In this form, Byakuya abandons the defense potential of his many blades and concentrates on killing the enemy. While Byakuya can control these swords as he does his regular blades, he usually attacks with just one in hand. He remarks in his battle with Ichigo that he normally only shows senkei to those he has sworn to "kill by his own hand", Ichigo being the second to see this.[14] After immobilizing an opponent, he can call in the other blades to hit them while they're trapped. He can also use all the blades at once for one immensely powerful strike. Byakuya demonstrates that Senkei can also be used as a barrier to protect those inside from a barrage of Ceros blasts. He also displays the ability to activate Kageyoshi from inside Senkei, shattering all rows of swords at once.[15]

To overwhelm the defense of an opponent, Byakuya can use "pivotal scene" (吭景 gōkei?). This aligns every blade in a spherical formation around his opponent, which then collapses into them from every possible angle, leaving no blind spots and no chance to escape.[16]

As a final attack he can use "final scene" (終景 shūkei?, Viz: "last sight"). This condenses every one of his blades into a single sword, drastically increasing its cutting power. The blade appears bright white and its aura takes the form of a bird, earning it the name "white imperial sword" (白帝剣 hakuteiken?, Viz: "white emperor sword"). Byakuya also grows pure white wings and a halo-like circle in the back, both made of spiritual power.[17]

Appearances in other media

Byakuya appears in the Sealed Sword Frenzy OVA[18] and also in the feature length movies, Memories of Nobody, The Diamond Dust Rebellion and Bleach: Fade to Black[19]. He appears in the Bleach video games such as Blade Battlers Hanatareshi Yabou & Heat The Soul.[20][21][22] He has two songs in the latest Bleach Beat Collection, a solo entitled 'Yozora no Kawa' ("The River in the Nocturnal Skies"), and a duet with Rukia Kuchiki entitled 'Listen to One Story'.[23]

Reception

Byakuya ranked 7th in the most recent popularity poll with 4,010 votes, edging out Orihime Inoue by 35 votes.[24] In 2007, he was one of 4 Bleach characters to place in Newtype Japan's top 100 anime character listing.[citation needed] Dan Woren, Byakuya's English voice actor, liked how his character is able to deal with anything while staying cool. He also noted his need to stick to the rules but found it tragic due to the fact he becomes determined to execute Rukia Kuchiki, his sister.[25]

IGN praises his character's faults and contrasts with Ichigo shown during their climatic battle, stating that "his problem... is that he's arrogant." The battle was "made better by the fact that these two characters have such different personalities and they really seem to be bringing the best out of each other." His lack of truly villainous characteristics as an antagonistic role was also praised; in the same review, IGN notes that Ichigo and Byakuya are both "just two people fighting for what they think is right. Ichigo for friendship, and Byakuya for honor and Soul Society pride. Instead of the usual evil vs. good battle, it becomes more about whether honor and rules should come first before saving a friend."[26] At the end of the Soul Society arc, moments showing Byakuya's changes in character were heralded as being some of "the best in the episode"; IGN writes "while Byakuya has changed, he still enjoys some of the traditions of the Soul Society."[27]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Bleach Bleach souls Book.
  2. Bleach manga; chapter 167, page 08.
  3. Bleach at the Beach omake chapter
  4. Bleach manga; Chapter -105, page 14
  5. Bleach manga; Chapter -105, page 11-12
  6. Bleach manga; chapter 179, page 8.
  7. Bleach manga; chapter 145, page 5.
  8. Bleach manga; chapter 118, page 14.
  9. Bleach manga; chapter 140, page 15.
  10. Bleach manga; chapter 302
  11. Bleach manga; chapter 165, pages 10-11.
  12. Bleach manga; chapter 142.
  13. Bleach manga, chapter 161.
  14. Bleach manga; chapter 164, page 11.
  15. Kubo, Tite (2007). BLEACH The DiamondDust Rebellion もう一つの氷輪丸. Shueisha. ISBN 978-4-08-703189-8. 
  16. Bleach manga; chapter 301, page 22.
  17. Bleach manga; chapter 166, page 16.
  18. Anime News Network - Bleach: The Sealed Sword Frenzy
  19. Anime News Network - Bleach: Memories of Nobody
  20. Bleach Blade Battlers Main Page
  21. Bleach Heat The Soul 4 Main Page
  22. Bleach Heat The Soul 5 Main Page
  23. Bleach Beat Collection
  24. Bleach manga; chapter 307, pages 1 and 2
  25. Bleach Uncut Season 2 Box Set; Behind the scenes of Bleach. [DVD]. Viz Media. August 19, 2008.
  26. IGN: Unseal! The Black Blade, The Miraculous Power Review
  27. IGN: Rukia's Resolution, Ichigo's Feelings Review
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