I truly, truly did not think Byakuya would die, not in a thousand years of Bleach. But from the words of the Vandenreich, he just did. Seeing him being pulverized into a pile of shredded meat and blood by his own bankai was quite brutal, and with both Rukia and Renji completely helpless in the face of the enemy though, everything just looks really bleak. Should Byakuya actually be gone, it will be a huge milestone for the series – a death of a major protagonist. Of course, I’m not saying a character death a good thing, but it definitely raises questions when a series needs a big death to revitalize itself, either through shock value or pure sentiment. That said however, I still have my doubts, only because, fatal injuries mean so very little in Bleach, and I find it hard to believe that there is no way to miraculously save him yet.
Unfortunately, Byakuya’s death, if he is dead, didn’t really cut it for me, and it honestly should have given its significance. Perhaps because of the suddenness of it or because of the lack of connection with his character (or with any of the characters for that matter), there’s just not enough there to care about what happens. Maybe other readers feel differently, and Byakuya fans are no doubt devastated, but the only thing that went through my mind was “no way, one of the good guys actually died?”. With only a few despondent last words given, the lack of the long, sappy flashbacks that usually accompany the passing of a character was also surprising, though it’s not clear if that indicates anything.
On the other hand, Kenpachi’s appearance towards the end left quite the impression, as he usually does. Apparently he has already scored the first victories for the shinigami, and he confronts the Vandenreich king with his previous opponent still skewered on his sword. Kenpachi’s lust for battle and lack of bankai make him uniquely suited to fighting the quincies, but after all their research they certainly have a contingency plan to deal with him, like they did with Ichigo. Still, I’m hoping to see him do some major damage. It’ll also be interesting to see if he responds to what happened to Byakuya; they are fellow captains after all, even if he’s never showed a liking or respect towards any of them.