This week’s featured character comes from the far east, and by “far” we mean “really damn far”, like in an alternate dimension and stuff: former soul reaper captain, former king of hueco mundo, and former big bad of Tite Kubo’s Bleach franchise, Sousuke Aizen.
Bleach, in both manga and anime form, has fallen up and down on popularity lists during certain periods of its ten year (and counting) lifespan. The periods that were most appreciated belong to the soul society arc, where Aizen was introduced – first as a benevolent side character, then as a traitor and the main antagonist of the series.
Aizen was originally introduced as the captain of the Soul Society Protection Squad’s 5th division, presented as a well-mannered father figure to another side character – his story wasn’t even part of the main protagonist’s, and it seemed like he was going to be mere collateral damage while some evil mastermind pulls the strings behind the scenes. He was even shown dead, his corpse pinned by a sword on one of soul society’s towers, with all the evidences pointing towards another division’s captain, a former subordinate of Aizen’s, Gin Ichimaru.
By now, almost everybody who cares already knows the story: Aizen was revealed to be a traitor, who’s been working for hundreds of years behind the scenes and manipulating events–getting rid of potential obstacles (including the one person who could have proven to be his match intellectually and almost-power-wise, Urahara Kisuke) and building his own army. Majority of the important events in the series, including the main protagonist’s birth and powers was a byproduct of Aizen’s long term plans.
One of the main criticisms people lob at Aizen is that his plans are almost too perfect. They allege that things falling into place in the same way is only feasible if the writer of the story actually went out of his way to set things lined up just to get a story going – and while this is a valid assessment, it’s mostly because a lot of stories work that way. The difference in Bleach is that Aizen’s efficiency is at least rooted in consistency. People who’ve read Sun Tzu’s art of war will be quick to note that Aizen was a textbook example of a war general. You can almost pick any of Aizen’s schemes and compare it to chapters in Art of War (divide and conquer, show weakness when strong/show strength when weak, etc.)
Aizen had powers that are specifically suited for subterfuge and manipulation: the ability to completely subjugate all 5 senses. He doesn’t fool you with images, he actually controls what your brain receives. You can close your eyes and it won’t matter. Heck, he can make sugar look and taste like water, in case he needs to get rid of a diabetic without getting too messy. The beauty of it is that his powers are mere distractions, because even if you get past the illusions and the trickery, he’s still one of the strongest characters in the series, only outmatched at the time by General Yamamoto in terms of strength, and by Kisuke Urahara in terms of intelligence.
Which brings us to Aizen’s intellectual faculties. He’s a genius almost on par with Urahara Kisuke, and he applies said intelligence to more practical things; he studied his enemies, fed them lies, singled out the ones that are threats and devised contingency plans in order to take them out of the battlefield during a fight. The ones that aren’t threats – including the main protagonist Ichigo, he just steamrolls. He’s basically Batman with the powers of a God and hundreds of years of prep time.
The truth is that it’s the other way around in the series. For all the flack Aizen is getting for being overpowered and dependent on plot to succeed, it was actually the protagonists who only succeeded because the plot called for it. Heck, Aizen had everyone on the ropes but suddenly Ichigo trained for a couple of hours in a place where 2 hours is 2 years, and grew significantly stronger than Aizen. As proof that he was only beaten because of plot-kai, Ichigo lost all of his powers and grew younger again after Aizen’s defeat.