The importance of language in the BLEACH universe


The world of BLEACH is a colorful, multi-layered realm that doesn’t get enough credit for its approach to one of the most challenging aspects of storytelling: world-building. The BLEACH the universe and the story are interconnected and arise from the same place; however, the differences between factions or races introduced into the universe rests on a device that Tite Kubo has used throughout his story: language as it is spoken or written.


BLEACH is filled with poetry, puns, and uses language as a central marker of difference between the various factions of the universe. How this is done can be explained by a quick look at each of the major races in the BLEACHverse, and how their assigned language relates to their influence in the story. This is how language is an important device in the BLEACH narrative.

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The cycle

Lost Souls Become Hollows Bleach

One of the most important elements when it comes to the interdependence of races in BLEACH, and how globally connected the worlds are, is how the entire premise and all of its characters grew out of the events surrounding one thing: the human soul. Humans die, their souls pass into the society of souls and exist there to a certain extent; or they are unfortunate enough not to pass to the other side, they become the evil spirits in the BLEACH universe – the Hollows.

On the other hand, living humans who have learned to manipulate spirit particles or reishi are considered Quincies; while humans who have prenatal circumstances that feature their mother’s close encounter with powerful Hollows become Fullbringers. The cycle of the soul in BLEACH demands that the souls of the dead be sent to Soul Society and that those of Hollows be purged so that they can also cross over; while the impact of the Quincies destroys that vital balance that maintains the boundaries between the realms BLEACH intact. The series uses English nomenclature for some of the series’ most fundamental concepts, such as Pluses, Hollows, and Soul Society to refer to benign human souls; evil spirits; and the afterlife respectively.

Shinigami

Bleach Gotei Thousand Year Bloody War 13

The Shinigami, or “Soul Reapers” in the anime’s English dub, are the franchise’s most notable faction, and they are the first organization introduced to the BLEACH series. They effectively oversee the safe passage of souls to the afterlife, as well as purging souls from Hollows so they can also return to Soul Society. Their main language and culture is Japanese, and it shows in their lingo and nomenclature as well as their dress and customs.

The term “Shinigami” directly translates to “God of Death”, which is a glimpse of their presence as psychopomps in the series. Their most notable abilities, Shikai – “initial release” and Bankai – “final release” are both Japanese words, while the very structure of the average Shinigami’s approach to combat situations consists of four known facets. collectively as “Zankensōki” – Zanjutsu, which is combat with the characteristic tool of the Shinigami: the Zanpakutō; Hakuda, unarmed combat; Hōhō, which refers to movement techniques in the Shinigami’s arsenal; and Kidō, the advanced offensive and defensive spells that require a user with high spiritual power and great proficiency in manipulating their reishi and reiatsu.

Hollow

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Since the introduction of the first Menos Grande in the series, Hollows have always been associated with Spanish in the BLEACH universe. As the series expanded on Hollows as a concept, the kingdom presided over by Hollows, known as “Hueco Mundo”, was introduced, and further down the line the Arrancar arc saw an even deeper exploration of the Spanishness of the Hollows. As with other races introduced after them, Hollows have various Shinigami-like concepts, with their own set of small differences. The Shinigami call their high-speed movement technique shunpo; as the Hollows call her sound. Since the Arrancar are by definition Hollows who have gained powers from Shinigami, these parallels make in-universe sense, especially when it comes to Sousuke Aizen’s master plan to transcend Shinigami or Hollow boundaries. While the Shinigami headquarters is called the Seireitei; Aizen’s base in Hueco Mundo was a place known as Las Noches – The nights.

In recognition of the Spanish origin of much of the Hollow nomenclature, the signature technique of the Menos Grande-class Hollows, the cero lends itself to the concept of negation embodied by Hollows, and it is aptly named because its destructive power reduces its target to nothing – zero. The Hollowfied version of the Shinigami’s Bankai is a technique Hollows call Resurrección; aptly named as it allows an Arrancar to access their true abilities and form when they were just Vasto Lordes. It’s the Spanish element in the Hollows that also lent itself to Chad’s self-discovery and allowed the character to come to terms with his origins in a half-allegorical, half-reality form. Kubo is said to have claimed that his reasoning behind establishing Spanish as the language of the Hollows is due to his experience of the language being “spellbinding and sweet”.

Visor

BLEACH Visored Subdue Hollow Ichigo

Although not a race per se, but rather a condition, the Vizards are an interesting faction in BLEACH linguistically for the simple fact that many of them simply don’t speak standard Japanese. Characters like Shinji Hirako, Hiyori Sarugaki, and Lisa Yadomaru, for example, all speak Japanese with a distinct Kansai accent. The Kansai region of Japan is of course home to Kyoto, the historic capital of the country and has served as such for eleven centuries. Having been high-ranking Gotei 13 officers prior to their defection/exile, the fact that Vizard members speak the Japanese spoken in an area known for its historical legislative significance is part of the stratification the language offers to the BLEACH narrative because at various levels, members of the Vizards are not: Standard Shinigami; nor are they high-ranking Shinigami at the time of their introduction into the story. As such, the Vizards speak Kansai-ben as it provides another way to relate them to the Shinigami while clarifying their differences and emphasizing some level of connection to a bygone era. Interestingly, despite not being a Vizard, former third team captain Gin Ichimaru also spoke with a Kansai accent.

Fullbringers

BLEACH Fullbringers

Again, not a race, but rather a condition, the Fullbringers are a faction introduced after Aizen’s defeat. In this climactic battle, Ichigo used a special technique that allowed him to harness the potential of his Zanpakuto at the cost of sealing his reiatsu forever. The arc begins when a strange man who seems to know all about Ichigo tells him that there is a way for him to get his powers back, through the use of a technique known as Fullbring. Fullbringers are spiritually aware humans capable of manipulating the soul into objects. Their powers come from neonatal contact with Hollow reishi, so a Fullbringer is invariably someone whose mother encountered a powerful Hollow during her pregnancy.

Xcution, the Fullbringer faction affiliated with the first Substitute Shinigami, Ginjo Kugo, all had techniques of English origin. Ginjo’s “Scaffolding Cross” allows him to transform his pendant into a broadsword; Yukio has an ability activated by his handheld game console called “Invaders Must Die”, which allows him to create a pocket dimension; and Riruka Dokugamine has her dollhouse, a powerful ability that allows her to move things of her choosing in and out of anything she finds cute. Although the Fullbrings are diverse, they retain an English nomenclature, which is interesting given the emergence of BURN THE WITCH and the western branch of Soul Society. In BURN THE WITCH, humans live perilous lives threatened by the existence of dragons, whose nature is not unlike the Hollows of the flagship series. Humans who interact with dragons for too long accumulate a substance known as “Dragotoxin” in their bodies, and if it exceeds a certain point, it transforms humans into something between humans and dragons – a Dragonclad. This is similar to the origins of the Fullbringers’ Hollow reiatsu exposition, perhaps with different lingo due to the difference in location.

Quincy

Bleach Thousand Year Blood War Quincy

The Quincies are a mixture of German and Japanese, and the reasons behind this are many; however, by the time the Wandenreich come to declare war on Soul Society, the Quincies are undeniably German. Various techniques employed by Uryu throughout the series have had German names; such as his reishi sword, known as Seele Schneider-“soul cutter” (notice how similar to Soul Slayer it is). Quincy’s original ultimate move was a dangerous technique known as the Quincy: Letzt Stil – “Last Dance”. This allowed a Quincy to far exceed his limits in battle at the cost of being completely unable to handle reishi for the rest of his life. Uryu’s grandfather, Soken Ishida, was against various forms of research that would lead to the abandonment of ancient Quincy techniques like the aforementioned. Letzt Style, revealing a great divide between the Quincies. One of the main separators for the Quincy’s was lineage: the difference between a Quincy of “pure” blood and one of mixed heritage.

The word Quincy is a romanization of 「滅却師」, pronounced “kuinshi” – meaning “monk of destruction”. This name is appropriate because it carries a religious implication which is evident in the way the Quincies are designed – their soldiers dressed in white; their Quincy crosses recall rosaries; as well as their undying reverence for their “Father” reinforces the inherent piety that accompanies the Quincies as a faction in BLEACH. King Quincy’s name, Yhwach, is a reinterpretation of the tetragrammaton – the letters YHWH, which in some Judeo-Christian circles is the shortened form of the true name of God. Yhwach’s broken abilities and his ability to assign and take away lend further weight to his coding as an all-powerful entity.

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