Bleach 644 – In Which Many of My Prayers Are Answered

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Bleach 644 is out!  For once in my life, I’m going to suggest checking out MangaPanda, too, as they have a more direct/unaltered version of Kyouraku’s song/chant.

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SPOILERS

Okay, a lot happens in this chapter (for once, OMG, THANK YOU SO MUCH, KUBO-SENSEI. DOMO! DOMO!)

We open with the aftermath of the Kurotsuchi/Giant Hand fight.  We see that, in fact, Kurotsuchi has Nemu’s brain in his hand and discover that he did not get through the battle completely unscathed.  His legs are broken/ruined/crippled.  Luckily, Yumichika an Ikkaku are still standing around….

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…and are able to drag both Kurotsuchi and Kenpachi to the “specimen containers” Nemu had apparently been dragging around with her.  Good thing, too, because they are able to take out what was in the containers…. Lieutenant Matsumoto and… to the glee of fangrrls/boyz everywhere… Captain Hitsugaya.

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I think this is the face of my entire Tumblr feed, currently, actually.

At any rate, after that, we find out that Kurotsuchi has, as I long suspected, been living his life with one goal: to surpass Kisuke Urahara. (I knew there was a science bromance there at the very LEAST!)

As the container is closing down on him, Kurotsuchi tries to imagine Urahara’s face when he’s able to say that he’s finally out from under his shadow and created true, evolving life from scratch.  (This does, of course, make me wonder about Ururu, the little girl at Urahara shoten.  Is she… a NON-evolving life form?  Because, I’ve kind of long wondered if she and Jinta are actually Urahara’s creations.)

We then get a “thank you” montage, where Ikkaku and Yumichika thank Kurotsuchi for saving Kenpachi and Histugaya thanks Kurotsuchi for his life as well… which was kind of played for laughs when Yumichika mutters that the ground is thick with gratitude, but made me wonder if this was also one of those moment where we see the Soul Society changing a little.  Like, maybe all this monster needed was a little appreciation and he wouldn’t be so f*cking awful? (Not sure.)

At any rate, Kurotsuchi’s chapter seems to be at a close.  Both he and Kenpachi are effectively out of the fight for the unforeseeable future.

The action switches to where Urahara (hat and clogs), Kyouraku (flower-pink kimono), Renji (my bae!), Rukia, Shinji (backwards guy with the asymmetrical hair), and Nanao (flower’s lieutenant) are all running non-stop in an attempt to avoid getting sniper-ed by X-axis.

Here’s where things get really, really interesting.

Kyouraku tells everyone that running isn’t working.  Someone needs to stand and fight.  Someone needs to play bait so the rest of them can pinpoint where the shots are coming from.  Everyone pretty much tells Kyouraku he’s crazy, including X-axis who is monologuing about this same thing.  But, Kyouraku stops running and turns around, drawing both his blades.

When he does this, I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s totally your shikai pose, dude.  Why didn’t you call shikai?”

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Yeah, well…. turns out he did.

Because, in the next two panels it looks like Kyouraku has been shot straight through the heart.  But, then, there’s this slow, sing-song verse that get’s drawn out, panel by panel…

Da…ru…ma…sa…n… ga… ko…ro…n…da

And, bam!  Suddenly, Kyouraku appears behind X-axis and strikes!

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You can see the tip of released Katen Kyoukotsu there, under Kyouraku’s haori and kimono.  The cool thing is that this doesn’t have to be explained.  We all know that captain-level Shinigami can release shikai without calling it out.  We learned that in the rescue arc when Renji no longer had to call out Zabimaru once he’d achieved bankai.

What isn’t explained is WTF happened.  Most Japanese readers probably instantly understood as soon as they saw Daruma-san ga koronda’s ten syllables being slowly ‘counted’ out, that Kyouraku not only had released, but also was already playing one of his children’s games.

The game he’s playing is itself called Daruma-san ga koronda, and is kind of similar to an American children’s game known as “Red Light/Green Light,” where the object is to move without being tagged by ‘it.’  Since we may need to understand the full game for the up-coming battle, a description can be found at Nipponia (second one down.)

The phrase itself got me curious, as the Nipponia site translated it as, “The Daruma doll falls down.’  So, I looked up Daruma doll….

And, oh, holy sh*t.

I read the whole article at Wikipedia and I suggest you do, too.

But, first of all, MangaStream chose to translate this game into the creepy lullaby “Rock-a-bye, Baby…”  but I really think “Ring around the Rosey” would have been a closer choice.  The Daruma doll not only is a kind of webble doll (remember, “webbles wobble, but they don’t fall down”?) that is weighted so that it should NEVER fall down, but, because of their bright red color, they’re also associated with small pox.  So, when your daruma doll falls down, there *is* a strong connotation of ‘we all fall down,’ as it were–disease, plague and death.

Secondly, Thirdly, and the rest… wow, there are just a ton of Kyouraku connections to Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk that the Daruma doll is based on, and the doll itself.  The monk is super-lazy and known for staring at walls until his body parts atrophy–very reminiscent of Kyouraku’s in/famous laziness, no?  Also, the dolls are often red, but they can also be neon pink, the color of Kyouraku’s kimono. The dolls themselves have facial hair and often are shown missing one eye… which you fill in when you reach a goal.

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Maybe that last bit is a stretch, but a lot has been said in fandom about Kubo’s inability to remember to paint in Kyouraku’s eyepatch. The times it has shown up in the chapters/raws missing there’s been a huge furor over WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN??  I have to admit to taking a huge part in this mania… partly because Kyouraku is one of those characters whose loyalty is really unclear, and so the idea that the eyepatch was a ruse or maybe its absence a sign that Aizen’s illusion powers were involved…. well, it kept me engaged.

But there’s also always been a fan theory that Kyouraku’s eyepatch is going to be a THING, you know, where it’s going to be revealed that his eye was never that damaged all along…. or some other secret.  If Kubo is intending to go there (and hence his forgetting to draw the eye as damaged), this might be the fight in which it’s revealed, since the Daruma doll can have its eye painted in at the moment of achieving enlightenment/reaching a goal.

There’s also a very loose connection to the number eight, Kyouraku’s former/current regiment, because since the dolls aren’t usually easily knocked over, they’re often associated with the proverb regarding resilience which goes: “seven times down, eight times up.”

I don’t know if any of this means anything, really.  But it reminds me of the time I realized that Renji Abarai, whose soul is the nue demon, physically represented the chimera in that you could say that he had the arms and legs of a tiger (his tattoos), the body of the tanuki (being from hang dog/Inuzuri district, and the tanuki being the only native dog to Japan), the brain of a baboon (because he’s often comedic relief), and then, with the addition of Zabimaru, the snake’s tail.

But I’m really looking forward to next week’s chapter now.  Even if we don’t see Kyouraku’s bankai, I do think we’ll learn more about his game playing soul…. and having read the rules of Daruma-san ga koronda, I’m a little worried that, as usual, there are some things the enemy can exploit to turn tables.  Kyouraku’s games always seem to have this dangerous edge, so I’m going to be pretty nervous until the fight is done and dusted.

Hold on to your hat, Kyouraku.

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