Sōsuke Aizen by Tite Kubo
|First appearance||Bleach manga chapter 79
Bleach anime episode 23
|Created by||Tite Kubo|
Sōsuke Aizen (藍染 惣右介 Aizen Sōsuke) is a fictional character and the main antagonist for most of the first half of the manga series Bleach (and the most significant one for the entirety of the anime adaptation) created by Tite Kubo. He is the captain of the Fifth Division when he is first introduced, but later betrays the Soul Society and becomes the series' main antagonist, before Ichigo Kurosaki and Kisuke Urahara defeat him. His former lieutenant is Momo Hinamori.
Aizen spent much of his career in the 5th Division, eventually becoming its lieutenant under the former captain, Shinji Hirako. Aizen also gained followers in Gin Ichimaru and Kaname Tōsen. A century before the series' setting, after Kisuke Urahara created the Hōgyoku, an item that he believed creates Soul Reaper/Hollow hybrids, Aizen began to experiment using the Soul Reapers that became the Vizards. Among his test subjects was Shinji, who knew Aizen was up to no good but learned too late that Aizen used his mistrust against him. Having also framed Kisuke for the Vizards' creation and forced his exile, Aizen learned the Hōgyoku actually grants its user's desires if they have the will to carry it out. But as Kisuke took the Hōgyoku with him, Aizen bides his time to take the item when the time comes.
At some point, Aizen saw the potential of Shuhei Hisagi, Momo Hinamori, Izuru Kira and Renji Abarai, and Aizen took the latter three into his division, while sending Shuhei to the 9th division under Tōsen. While Kira and Hinamori were obedient and loyal, becoming the lieutenants of the 3rd and 5th Divisions under Gin and Aizen, respectively, Renji proved to be too rebellious and was transferred to the 11th Division (and later to the 6th, where he too became a lieutenant). Aizen also continued his experiments on Soul Reaper/Hollow hybrids with his creations Metastacia and White playing a respective role in the life of Rukia Kuchiki and those of Isshin Shiba and Masaki Kurosaki. In the case of Isshin and Masaki, Aizen knew of Ichigo's existence that resulted from White's actions and considered the youth a being worth studying to the point of engineering the hardships he would face later in life.
Sometime prior to his departure from Soul Society, Aizen and his two followers travelled to Hueco Mundo by arranging an alliance with the self-proclaimed god king of Hueco Mundo, Barragan Luisenbarn. As Barragan refused, Aizen revealed all of the Hollow's minions were killed during the discussion and forces Barragan into servitude. From there, Aizen appropriates Barragan's palace Las Noches and reconstructs it in his own image, recruiting Tier Halibel and the other Arrancars that would become his Espadas.
During his tenure as a Soul Reaper, Aizen created a public image of a bespectacled intellectual whose humility and warmth were equaled only by his dedication to the Thirteen Court Guard Squads. However, it eventually became apparent that this was a carefully crafted facade designed to draw suspicion away from his true, sinister nature. Tite Kubo stated in an interview that "part of Aizen's appeal is that he's mysterious", and for this reason he did not think it is a good idea to go too in-depth with the character. In truth, despite his apparent kindness, Aizen sees his subordinates as only pawns and warns them in advance not to trust him. By his own admission, he views morality and empathy as weaknesses which must be expunged in order to reach one's full potential as he is not above killing others to achieve his goals.
During his ascent to Hueco Mundo, Aizen discards his guise by removing his glasses and sweeps a hand through his hair to reveal menacing eyes and a very different hairstyle. Telling Jūshirō Ukitake he intends to "end the unbearable vacancy on the world's throne", Aizen's agenda is revealed to be the assassination of the Soul King so he can become the new ruler of the Soul Society. After fusing the Hōgyoku into himself, Aizen becomes overconfident to the point of believing him to be invincible. But when fighting Ichigo Kurosaki after he mastered the Final Getsuga Tensho, unnerved by a stronger foe, Aizen discards his calm nature and becomes crazed with rage. His arrogance ultimately led to his defeat at the hands of Ichigo, and his sealing by Urahara. As Ichigo later mentioned, there seemed be a hint of sadness in Aizen's reasoning and high level of power, and that his current condition by the time of his defeat may have been the Hōgyoku granting his subconscious desire. By the end of the series he becomes somewhat of a changed person, and voluntarily goes back to his sentence having a new outlook on life.
Aizen is an extremely powerful combatant, well above many captain-level Soul Reapers. When preparing to activate the Hōgyoku, he states that despite its half-awakened state, it can be fully activated temporarily when fusing with someone with at least twice as much spirit pressure as an average captain-level Soul Reaper, referring to himself. After Aizen embedded the Hōgyoku into his body, he undergoes a series of transformations that give him extraordinary boosts in both speed and strength. There are very few who can go toe to toe with him and survive.
Originally, Aizen carried a zanpakutō called Kyōka Suigetsu (鏡花水月, literally "flower in the mirror, moon on the water"). Kyōka Suigetsu's Shikai ability Kanzen Saimin (完全催眠, literally "Complete Hypnosis"), activated with the command "shatter" (砕けろ kudakero), is effective if the target watches the Shikai sequence once and thus can fall under Aizen's deception any time he wishes. There are only a few means to escape the sword's influence such as touching the blade before it is activated as Gin overheard. Though unaware of that fact, in his gambit to take down Aizen, Yamamoto grabbed the blade when it pierced him and read the blade's force to distinguish Aizen. After his final evolution by the Hōgyoku, made him immortal. It was only thanks to Ichigo's Mugetsu technique that Aizen was able to be sealed. Afterwards, Aizen finds that he no longer needs Kyōka Suigetsu itself as the weapon completely dissolves with its powers now a part of his being.
In Bleach manga and anime series
Setting up the events from the shadows, Aizen arranged for Rukia Kuchiki to meet with Ichigo Kurosaki so he can become a Soul Reaper. From there, by sending Hollows in Karakura Town to alert the Soul Society for the location to get the Hōgyoku that is concealed within her body, Aizen created an elaborate conspiracy among the Thirteen Court Squad captains by secretly killing the members of the Central 46 Chambers and using his Zanpakutō to create an illusion of them sentence Rukia to death. Gin fakes Aizen's death to have the captains and lieutenants fighting against themselves. However, Squad 4 Captain Retsu Unohana uncovered the truth as Aizen removed the Hōgyoku from Rukia, before he, Gin and Tōsen escape into Hueco Mundo. There, Aizen begins preparing for his true goal: Using the Hōgyoku to sacrifice the souls of Karakura Town in order to create an Ōken (王鍵) to kill the Soul King.
From there, Aizen begins to make several Arrancars in his service stronger using the Hōgyoku and sends some of his Espadas to the Land of the Living to gain information on Ichigo. Eventually, claiming to have an interest in her power, Aizen has Orihime Inoue brought to Las Noches on the notion that he needs her to save the powers of the deteriorating Hōgyoku. However, sacrificing the weakest members of the Espadas in the process, Aizen revealed the kidnapping to be a ruse to trick Ichigo and his friends into attempting a rescue as part of a scheme to cut the Soul Society's forces in half by the time he enacts his attack on Karakura Town. Though he came with three of his strongest Espadas, the defeat of Staark and Baraggan convinces Aizen that he's surpassed his own minions and strikes Halibel down to deal with the opposition personally. When confronted by Ichigo, who is the only person not affected by his Zanpakutō, Aizen reveals his role in the youth's life and struggles since meeting Rukia. Aizen then almost reveals Ichigo's lineage when Isshin intervened to take over the fight. Aizen reveals that he absorbed the Hōgyoku as it grants his desire for a Hollow-like form to easily defeat his enemies.
Aizen then makes his way to the Soul Society so that he can create the Ōken, finding Ichigo's school friends and deciding to kill them first before enacting his goal. Aizen is then fatally wounded by Gin, who reveals he tricked Aizen by pretending to be his right-hand man until the time was ideal to betray him. However, his will to survive answered by the Hōgyoku, Aizen evolves into another form and mortally wounds Gin as Ichigo arrives. Though expecting him not to be a threat due to his sudden lack of spirit energy, Aizen finds himself overwhelmed by Ichigo's newly enhanced physical strength. Though his fear caused the Hōgyoku to turn him into a Hollow-like monster, Aizen barely survived Ichigo's final attack as he evolved once more to the point that he became immortal. However, Ichigo's attack weakened and defeated Aizen to the point that the Hōgyoku no longer acknowledges him as he is reverted to his human form while engulfed in a specially made kidō "Seal" that Urahara planted on him. Ten days later, numerous seals placed on his body to render him immobile and to keep his now vast reiatsu around his body, Aizen is sentenced by Central 46 to 18,800 years of imprisonment in the lowest underground prison, the 8th prison known as "Muken". Aizen's arrogance towards the matter results with him being gagged as the final seals are added and the sentence escalated to 20,000 years.
Later, when the Wandenreich invade the Soul Society, Yhwach asks Aizen to join up with them, but he refuses and delays the time sufficiently in conversation and he is forced to retreat. During the second invasion by the Wandenreich, with the Soul King's Palace breached, Aizen is visited by the new Head-Captain Shunsui Kyōraku. Initially believing Aizen is being responsive, entrusted with the keys to unlock the seals, Shunsui claims to have three as he unseals the gag so Aizen can speak. However, this act of kindness allows Aizen to remove the other seals on his own with the exception of the last two. Once freed, Aizen accompanies Shunsui to the Seireitei where his power is needed as Yhwach reached the Soul King's chambers and killed the deity while taking his powers for his own. Despite the other Soul Reapers flustered by Shunsui freeing him after what he put them through, Aizen uses his powers to destroy the shadowy creatures that Yhwach produced from his body, before creating a path to the Soul King's Palace. Aizen later battles Yhwach, playing a role in the final battle when he nearly gets himself killed using his Kyoka Suigetsu illusion to give Ichigo an opening to fatally wound Yhwach. In the end, hearing Yhwach's dying worlds following his defeat at Ichigo's hands, Aizen willingly returns to his cell.
Ten years later, Aizen senses that the last remnants of Yhwach's Reiatsu have disappeared completely. He recalls Yhwach's final words about how his defeat meant the continuation of death and the fear accompanying it, remarking that the world Yhwach wanted would be a failed paradise. He states to create such a world would result in one which would be without hope. He remarks while people could go through life simply living, it does not compare to courageous individuals like Ichigo, who is willing to face death and cut through fate without fear.
In other media
Aizen appears in most of the Bleach video games, with the most recent ones with him in his post-Soul Society outfit. He also has his own Bleach Beat Collection, a brief CD of character image songs. The tracks are "Shinsen(sometimes translated as Hanabira)", "Kyōka Suigetsu" and a "Voice Message" from Aizen's voice actor, Show Hayami.
Charles White of IGN commented that the plot twist in the story and the truth about Aizen was "fascinating and interesting", but also criticized it, saying his Zanpakuto's power was "far-fetched" and overpowered, and Aizen did not have any flaws and that his betrayal was "too planned out to [be] believ[able]". Despite this, the change in mood accompanying Aizen's revelation as a villain was also praised; White praised the animators' job at "giving his face this evil thing about it" without changing anything about the animation itself, citing that "the Aizen that we first knew was the nicest guy ever, he looked it, and now this Aizen actually looks like the most evil jerk we've ever seen". Carl Kimlinger from Anime News Network comments that Aizen's revelation as an antagonist is "brutally unpredictable". He notes the violence from that part to be frustrating but in the same time satisfying, praising the large number of revelations. Aizen was additionally noted to have a remarkable development in his introduction as a villain with Kimlinger wondering "If only all villain grandstandings were so thrilling". Theron Martin from the same site noted that this scene makes the anime deserve credits for "one of the biggest 'I am a total bastard' moments in anime history". Mania Entertainment's Bryce Coulter noted that such episode "makes you [viewers] want to hate Aizen" due to how he controlled the character's actions in previous episodes and how he now easily defeats most of them. Aizen's English voice actor, Kyle Hebert, describes Aizen as a "mysterious, calm, cool character"" and that gives an air of "where does this guy come from?".
Nik Freeman of Anime News Network tried to summarize why Bleach's popularity declined between 2005 and 2015 from one of the most popular shonen series to "a shell of its former self that subsists on the memory of its glory days". Freeman's main thesis involving Aizen's declining popularity because of how Kubo changed his characterization within the series. The reviewer affirmed Aizen was the most important character on the series for most fans even surpassing Ichigo's influence. Initially a character that had "an excellent balance between being cool as hell and incredibly detestable", Aizen eventually "stopped bothering to devise clever schemes and instead relied purely on his own immense strength to get the job done. In other words, Aizen lost all the qualities that captivated fans when he first revealed himself as the villain." More positive was Carlo Santos from the same site who believed Aizen's character had grown "deliciously cruel" and that his ability to match the entirety of Soul Society via constantly-shifting technique made his battles "impossible to be bored with". Santos considered the battle between Aizen and Ichigo which ended Aizen's tenure as series villain a "predictable yet satisfying" scene which represented, for Tite Kubo, the culmination of many years of development as an artist. He felt, however, that after the years of buildup of Aizen as the villain, his defeat may have been too swift. Freeman was even more negative on the ending of Aizen's position as the series' main villain. He wrote that "when Aizen was defeated, the story felt finished" and that "a ton of people stopped reading at that point, even though it was widely known that the series would be continuing anyway".
- Bleach manga; chapter 176, page 6.
- Bleach manga; chapter -108, page 7.
- Bleach manga; chapter 371.
- Bleach manga; chapter 178, page 15.
- Bleach manga; chapter 229, page 15.
- Bleach manga; chapter 223, page 9.
- Freeman, Nik (November 6, 2015). "Whatever Happened to Bleach?". Anime News Network. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
- "Bleach: "Reality of the Despair, the Assassin's Dagger is Swung" Review". IGN. Ziff Davis Media. April 23, 2008. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
- "Bleach: "Aizen Stands! Horrible Ambitions" Review". IGN. Ziff Davis Media. April 30, 2008. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
- Kimlinger, Carl (March 17, 2009). "Bleach DVD 15 - Review". Anime News Network. Retrieved March 18, 2009.
- Martin, Theron (September 3, 2009). "Bleach DVD - Season 3 Uncut Box Set". Anime News Network. Retrieved November 16, 2009.
- Coulter, Bryce (April 29, 2009). "Mania: Bleach DVD 15 - Review". Mania Entertainment. Archived from the original on March 11, 2009. Retrieved August 18, 2009.
- Bleach Uncut Season 3 Box Set; Behind the scenes of Bleach (DVD). Viz Media. July 7, 2009.
- Santos, Carlo (August 25, 2012). "Bleach GN 44-45". Anime News Network. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
- Santos, Carlo (November 2, 2012). "Bleach GN 48-49". Anime News Network. Retrieved August 15, 2014.