Representing Fights With Kenpachi

Alright, let’s talk about a pet theory about a manga I stopped paying attention to and which wasn’t really made with a coherent explanation in mind by an author who was extraordinarily checked out in varying stages of the production. This is fanfiction but admit it you are here for it because you weren’t going to go check if I just said this authoritively.

Let’s talk about Yachiru, one of Bleach’s many dangling threads!

Understand that all of these things are said with caveats. There’s a fairly widespread* and accepted* fan* theory* that the character Yachiru from Bleach is Kenpachi’s sword. And like, if you’re familiar with Bleach you’re just like ah yeah that makes sense, and if you’re a sensible human who didn’t waste your life on this series, you’re rather sensibly going what the fuck are you talking about.

I’ve written about how, in Bleach, everything is a sword. I’ve also made a point that Kenpachi in particular, is notable for having a sword that isn’t, like, anything like anyone else’s sword. His sword is just the damaged notched up battered poky stick. Kenpachi has an offsider, and her name is Yachiru. Just look at them. This is obviously a perfect pairing of friends in a shounen fight anime. One of them is basically Godzilla with Gendou’s voice, the other is a sugar plum fairy. Both have knives.

I love this pairing, they’re great and they’re cool and I like them.

They’re both Shinigami, Soul Reapers, who live in the Gotei 13, basically a ‘city of the dead’ that exists on the other side of the wall ghosts are on. The Gotei 13 has a purpose and it needs things, infrastructurally (what do ghosts need), and so they divide up into squads that do things. Kenpachi’s squad is the 11th squad, and their job is fighting things. His lieutenant, the second most badass character in the squad if you believe the org chart, is Yachiru.

Yachiru is adorable and she’s great, and also she’s directly adjacent to one of the most dangerous characters in the series. You might think she’s his adorable mascot character, except of course she’s not because this is Bleach, and that means that when the plot finally ramps up to the point where the sorting algorithm of Fighting Shit ran out of fodder and was done stomping on Chad (sorry Chad), Yachiru finally showed up to fight.

She’s terrifying; her whole combat style is about not even thinking. You can’t anticipate her attacks because she’s not thinking about them, she’s not planning – she’s just operating on pure reflexes, and smacking people around. You don’t see her beating down on major plot opponents, because well, she’s not caught up in most of the major plots. Nonetheless, when Yachiru, cute little 8 year old whose sword has literal training wheels, actually starts throwing down with people, things stay thrown. Yachiru is a threat that other threats route around, and the only thing that stops her being the threat is that her best friend is The Goddamn Apocalypse.

But also, she’s really out of type? Like, everyone else in this universe is depicted as a semi-ageless adult entity who is part of a cycle of birth and death, reincarnation and recreation, and they all vary over time by what amounts to haircuts. Yachiru is apparently something like eight years old, or she’s a century old, or she’s a thousand, it doesn’t matter. She acts like a little kid, she presents as a little kid, and that’s that.

The fan theory about Yachiru, then, is that in a world where everyone has swords and all the swords serve as a sort of X-Men powerset, Kenpachi’s otherwise underexplained sword could be, in fact, so powerful that it is Yachiru, who sits next to him and runs around and can fist-fight people. That he has the sword in his hand and also Yachiru is also the sword. This makes total sense in the Bleach universe.

Okay, so, I’m sensing some skepticism.

When a Shinigami swords their sword (because everything is a sword), this is called shikai. Typically speaking, your Shikai is when your sword disappears as a sword and either becomes something else (often a sword, shut up), or changes the environment you’re in. Sometimes these shikai are relatively subtle, like Kira’s Wabisuke, which becomes a hooked sword, and sometimes they are completely bananacakes, like Komamura’s Tenken, which summons ghost giant arms to smash things for him. A character can sword their sworded sword more, for even more sworded sword, and the result is called bankai, whose appearance is something of a plot point later.

Basically, in Bleach, Ichigo spends a long time fighting all these characters and then finds that literally everyone important has a level of power above what they’ve been using with him and he’s just been playing footsy. Or swordsy. Swords are also feet.

Kenpachi’s sword is never in shikai, the theory runs, because it’s always in shikai, and it’s because Yachiru is literally that element of who he is. He’s so powerful and so lonely he imagined himself a friend, and he’s so powerful his imaginary friend is the most terrifying little girl you’ll ever meet, and she’s unfailing in her believing in him.

This is a theory that got a lot of sinew over the course of the story, particularly when we saw Yachiru draw her sword and use it in Shikai. Why? Wouldn’t that blow it out of the water, since she’s just a sword? Ah, you fool, you see, she’s such a powerful sword that she can have her own sword. And that sword when it’s in shikai, summons two monsters that hang with her (Boney and Lumpy) and she keeps her sword, signifying that, unlike many of other characters, Yachiru’s shikai just creates more entities, almost as if the whole point of the sword that she was created by was to just create more entities and isn’t it all coming together?!

One of my favourite explanations for this is that there’s a scene where Kenpachi asks questions of his sword, after a defeat, and he’s like, sitting there, sword in his hand, ruminating on the nature of combat, and he asks a question, and Yachiru pipes up to answer. See? See? It’s like she was listening to his questions when he was talking to his sword!

Now, you might make the very sensible counterpoint that she’s basically a precocious nine year old (who is also a thousand, don’t worry about it), who saw her best friend asking questions, didn’t figure anyone was answering, and said the first thing that sprang into her mind. But that would just be a sensible reflection on what’s actually there, and of course, all this theorising is from before the last part of the Bleach manga where we get to see Kenpachi use his shikai and eventual bankai, which kinda bankaiboshes that theory.

Anyway, my theory is that Yachiru is a Touhou,

I’m joking, I’m joking, c’mon.

Look, these theories are fun. They really are. They’re fun in part because they’re about stories within the stories. They’re about hey, you like that story, and this story? Well, what if I tell you another story in that story, and show you how you can add meaning to a story with another story. What if Kenpachi is a massive trans metaphor because his inner soul in fact wants to be a cute little girl who’d like to fight less and make more friends? What if Kenpachi is an ultimate big brother figure and all his power derives from having given him someone to fight for? What if Yachiru is a spirit parasite that’s glommed onto his infinite power and wants to make things right for him because she’s finally found a source of power that isn’t going to go away because she just wants a friend?

My actual theory, my thinking about this, is that Yachiru is exactly what she looks like, in an incredibly uncomplicated way. In the sorting mechanism of the Bleach universe, the terrifying monster man that knows only violence that is Kenpachi Zaraki made a friend that is both able to handle him, and is also a monstrous terror beast, just, you know, cute.

A found family can be a doom hulk and a tiny murder babby.

I do like the idea that, in a spiritual world where people seem to get to make choices about who they are and how they look, Yachiru just wants to look that way. Like, she just is a sort of eerie knife gremlin, whose powers of stealth and infiltration are just a byproduct of a want to do mischief. Better yet, then, I love the metaphor of what her combat powers represent; that beneath learning and beneath instinct, there is a knowledge that you want to fight someone, and if every part of you got out of the way, what you would do is fight them.

And be very cute.


Oh and if you want the origin of the title, it’s from this video, which will always ring in Nixie’s mind when I mention Bleach.

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