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Shadowsforge has woven a masterfull deviation from canon Bleach: What if Sosuke Aizen— and, by extension, Gin Ichimaru and Kaname Tosen —are not, and never were, the villains. Not a unique AU, but it is rare that any be portrayed as well as this.
In fact, it is rare that fanfiction is as good as this, at all.
Instead of those previously mentioned three, a trio of powerful Soul Reapers whom nobody had suspected are the ones rising in rebellion. Several other changes are also present, such as canonically dead characters appearing alive and well, or living ones dead, and other characters— such as the Espada —holding different ranks from canon.
Downfall provides examples of:
- A Father to His Men: According to Momo, Aizen is this.
- Affably Evil: Unohana seems to be a genuinely kind woman, and Ukitake and Kyoraku haven't changed much, personality-wise, from when they were in the Soul Society. They regret that they had to start a war. They're also advocating genocide, and are ruthless when something is in their way.
- Almighty Janitor: "Yeah. The only reason [Nelliel] wasn’t the Segunda Espada was because Starrk hadn’t wanted the top position. Sometimes she forgot that."
- Alternate Universe: The premise in general. Comes with toppings:
- Amusing Injuries: Inverted. Hisana's sickness brings great anxiety and fear to Byakuya... but at its resolution people are chuckling about it.
- This makes the later chapters all that more brutal in contrast.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Momo to Toshiro, kind of. The actual moment is aborted by Aizen, of all people. Renji's and Rukia's fairs a bit better, but was still not resolved. Then It Got Worse, and war happened.
- Anyone Can Die: Well, if Rukia can, you've got to wonder.
- And we can now add Komamura and Tetsuzaemon Iba.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Played with. Due to different leadership--Unohana, Ukitake, and Kyoraku--the Espada are ranked according to their roles, not due to Reiatsu levels. Probably because the motives behind the traitors is different this time around.
- Badass: Quite a few characters have already touched on this, but of special note, Unohana. Unohana slaughters an entire platoon of Soul Reapers in Chapter 17- all with her bare hands'.
- Beware the Nice Ones: So much so, in so many ways.
- Nelliel, Primera Espada, rather dislikes fighting and seems deeply interested in evolving past her base Hollow instincts. She easily overwhelms Ichigo and knocks him out cold.
- Starrk is just as laid back as he was in canon, which is how he got his rank as the Dècimo Espada. When Yammy tried to flash fry Lillynette, Starrk plows him through a street and fires up a dozen Ceros.
- Unohana, Ukitake, and Kyoraku qualify. Evil or not.
- Unohana's shikai command is interpreted by the author as "Bleed".
- Gin due to a different set of circumstances, qualifies more along the lines of Sociopathic Hero, heavy on the hero, lighter on the sociopathy. He admits it.
- Miyako Shiba. Subverted because she's not really herself, but rather Aaroniero wearing her face.
- Beta Couple: Byakuya and Alive!Hisana; Gin and Rangiku. Kyoraku/Nanao.
- Heavily implied Kenpachi/Unohana.
- Black and Gray Morality: This is the general outlook most have of Unohana, Ukitake, and Kyoraku's motives. The Reader gets a somewhat different perspective.
- Boob Bite: "Gin, you bit my boob!"
- Cannon Fodder: Rudobon's Exequias. They make no sound--not even when they're hurt or killed--and will keep coming at you until they're dealt a fatal injury.
- Cannot Spit It Out: For starters: Toshiro, Momo, Renji, Kaien, Rukia, Nanao, and Shunsui. Honestly. You could even say the same for Nel and Nnoitra.
- The Cavalry:
- Chapter 17: Unohana and many big names from the Espada cut an escape route for the outnumbered and surrounded forces in the Hueco Mundo expeditionary force.
- Chapter 20: Momo and a platoon from Squad Five arrive to reinforce Rangiku and the exhausted Squad Six detachment denying the Arrancar retreat to the Garganta.
- Celibate Hero: While it's not stated outright that he's absolutely celibate, Aizen had an perfectly reasonable opportunity to "comfort" a very distraught Momo. He did not.
- The Chains of Commanding: Aizen.
- Character Development: Several cases.
- Kaname Tosen isn't nearly so bland as he was in canon.
- Tosen still seems to hold a great capacity for anger, as shown when he went to town on Cirucci.
- Nnoitra's misogyny and inferiority complex are much reduced, maybe because he's actually listening to Nelliel this time around. He also knows the value of dodging now, which saves him from Orihime's attack.
- Wonderweiss isn't retarded. It makes him all the more creepy.
- Kenpachi apparently does have a serious side to him.
- Kaname Tosen isn't nearly so bland as he was in canon.
- Curb Stomp Battle: Several, but one is notable for being a blatant Offscreen Moment of Awesome.
"Not a bit. [Baraggan] was pretty much the king of Hueco Mundo before [Unohana] showed up."
"He tried to kill her."
"She wasted him."
- Another one in chapter 20, which is again an Offscreen Moment of Awesome.
- Deadpan Snarker: Tosen, when talking with Gin. Gin, in his head. Yenni, whenever.
- Deconstruction Fic: Oh yeah.
- Death From Above: Nanao's shikai works a bit like this.
- Doomed New Clothes: Rangiku gets caught out at ground zero during the second battle of the Rukongaki while wearing a nice new yukata. She takes a moment to bemoan its impending fate.
- Drop the Hammer: Yachiru's shikai is interpreted as an oversized maul with a spike on one end.
- Dying Declaration of Love: Extraordinarily tragic. It takes dying for Rukia to say it. It takes a dying Rukia for Renji to say anything. And while it's not dying, it takes a psychopathic version of his wife for Kaien to admit it.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: She's bleeding out, has horrible burns, terrible internal injuries, and has undergone tremendous emotional and psychological stress. So what does Rukia do? She cleaves open Aaroniero.
"I'll never... let you touch them!"
- Also, Komamura gets an epic one fighting... his own Bankai. Once something seizes control of Kokujo Tengen Myoo and slaughters most of the Squad Seven troops escorting him, including his lieutenant Tetsuzaemon, he starts punching out its teeth--and, due to its sympathetic weakness, his own--and gives it a concussion, knocking it down. Again, the same happens to him. Once it becomes clear that the bankai will not be useful any longer the unknown controller attempts to have it stab itself in the heart. It takes both Tosen and Komamura working in tandem to prevent this, until Cirucci breaks their barrier and their concentration. And Sajin is slain.
- Friends with Benefits: What the relationship with Kisuke and Yoruichi seems to be. Confirmed in the latest chapters.
Kisuke: "Love the pajamas, by the way."
Yoruichi (who sleeps naked): "It's not as if you haven't seen this before. Or gotten up close and personal with it."
- Gambit Pileup: Good God. We have the main event, which is basically Yamamoto and Unohana trying to kill the other's side off. Amidst that, we have Aizen who all but outright states that he has plans of his own, and Wonderweiss, who's been giving off bad juju. Then, we find out Urahara also has plans involving Ichigo, and they don't seem so kind, either.
- Happily Married: Byakuya and Alive!Hisana.
- Hearing Voices: Every Arrancar, even Nelliel, hears whispers telling them things like "devour/kill/destroy".
- Hold the Line: What Momo, Rangiku, and their forces have to do.
- Hollywood Tactics: Averted right and left. Formations and unit deployments are important, and there's a distinct feeling of overall strategy when both parties are planning their tactical approaches.
- Horror Hunger: All hollows suffer from this. One of the big difference in this timeline seems to be that the Espada were largely chosen for their control of the hunger- and Unohana has outright banned consumption of wholes. Some of her troops, however, sneak snacks when they don't think they'll be found out.
- It Got Worse: Things snowball out of control after Nanao kills the off-duty Soul Reaper.
- Chapter 18.
- Chapter 20.
- Chapter 18.
- I Am Not Left-Handed: Apparently, Kenpachi is better at flash-step and kido than people thought.
- Also, subverted by Kenpachi. He knows taking on Unohana is serious business, so he tosses away his eyepatch without preamble.
- It's All My Fault : Aizen, again.
- Loveable Sex Maniac : Kyoraku is less so (due to the timeline divergence). Also, Gin.
- Love Triangle: New ones, several revamped from different points of view Aizen, Momo, and Toshiro. And even a new love rectangle . Namely: Ichigo, Alive!Kaien, and Renji, with Rukia.
- Lighter and Softer coupled with Darker and Edgier, it varies. In some ways it is more lighthearted--the Espada are noteably less militant due to Unohana's influence. However, that makes any violence stand out all the more stark against the backdrop. You feel genuine sympathy for the slain Arrancar spies and root for the 'bad guys' during the chase when Yenni is captured. Furthermore, it seems at first glance that Unohana has taken a page out of Yamamoto's problem-solving guide. Her solution to the Shinigami-Hollow conflict? Genocide, OF HER OWN PEOPLE! .
- Up until Rukia's death the biggest changes are characters being alive, or the 'villain' being more pleasant than in cannon. Thus, the sucker punch.
- Mission Control: Nanao, with her shikai, a series of mirrors that can be moved at will to show her the battlefield.
- And now Momo, too.
- Moment Killer: Comedically enough, Aizen. Earns him the Yamato Nadeshiko version of a Death Glare from Momo.
- Mon: It appears that not only can Unohana's shikai take the form of a flying manta creature with therapeutic stomach juices, but also a fifteen-foot cylopean monstrosity with massive claws. Beware the Nice Ones.
- Morality Chain: Rangiku for Gin, and he openly acknowledges it.
- Not Himself: Yachiru grows concerned that instead of becoming excited for the coming war, Kenpachi becomes moody and withdrawn. Apparently, he was in love with Unohana and was really upset that she betrayed Soul Society.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Yachiru gives a very fitting one.
Mila-Rose: You're [only] a Soul Reaper. How are you able to do this?
Yachiru: How? I had a poor upbringing.
- And now Tosen has one as well.
- Out of Character: Averted, hard. All characters act realistically within canon constraints. Even with significantly altered circumstances, Aizen is Machiavellian, Unohana is technically a pacifist and Team Mom while she plots, Gin's a bit of a snake, Tosen's the straight man, Ukitake's an ideal commander, Kyoraku still moons after Nanao. The difference is new aspects added to these existing templates.
- Only One Name: Averted with Kanisawa, the character seen briefly in canon. The author seems to have interpreted the name as a surname, and has given her the given name Moriko.
- Not So Stoic: Byakuya's reaction to Rukia's death.
- Tousen's reaction to Komamura's death
- Red Herring: The Author keeps us guessing. Unohana's motives are suspect, as her actions and motives don't match.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Renji after Rukia's death. Also, Byakuya when he learned Renji isn't just doing it for giggles.
- Refuge in Audacity: As mentioned, Unohana takes on Kenpachi Zaraki as a complicated diversion. Then, when Kenpachi has her on the ropes, she fires off a kido spell. At herself.
- Scope Snipe: Momo almost manages this through Nanao's shikai windows- as any kind of Kido can pass through. This leads to a tense and very fast-paced Sniper Duel while they attempt to hit each other with Kido.
- Shapeshifting Squick: Kaien is fooled by Aaroniero imitating Miyako and kisses "her". He's not happy when he finds out the truth.
- Silk Hiding Steel: Unohana, not much changed in temperament or personality from canon, takes on Kenpachi Zaraki. As a tactical diversion.
- Spared by the Adaptation / Death by Adaptation: At this point there's no telling who'll live to see the war's end...
- Stealth Hi Bye: Wonderweiss is very good at this. He can even sneak up on Nnoitra, who is the best Arrancar at sensing reiatsu.
- Stoic Spectacles: Judging from various character's descriptions of Aizen's appearance, he looks like his post-defection counterpart from canon. Except he kept the specs.
- Straight Man and Wise Guy / Those Two Guys : Interestingly done with Gin and Tosen.
- Surveillance as the Plot Demands, Magical Security Cam, and Sinister Surveillance, by various characters attached to the Hueco Mundo Intelligence unit.
- Nanao's shikai is specifically designed to accomplish this. See Mission Control entry.
- Technical Pacifist: Nel greatly dislikes fighting. She can throw down when push comes to shove.
- The Nicknamer: Yachiru is a known quantity, but the new character Yenni Laiggs brings some interesting ones to the table.
- Took a Level In Badass: Holy Christ, Momo.
- Torture Always Works: Aversion justified by Aizen, when speaking to Yenni.
"Exactly. Torture is, for the most part, counterproductive. Oh, for amateurs it could work. For someone as skilled as you—and don’t deny that you’re a well trained espionage agent; I read up on you—you should be able to resist giving away useful information. Eventually, though, your mind is going to be so overloaded from the pain that you’ll start blurt anything that you think we want to hear. You don’t know anyone named Sydney? With enough torment you’ll insist that you do. You might even start to believe it."
- Tranquil Fury: Kaname Tosen, after Komamura gets killed.
- Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: Admit it. We all want to see Kenpachi versus Unohana.
- Both fight at their fullest, with masterful swordwork and kidou flying at every opportunity. At one point both are dissarmed and resort to unarmed combat. Comes out to a draw. An awesome draw.
- Unskilled but Strong: Several experienced characters' take on Ichigo. They note that his power overshadows theirs at its highest points... but that power fluctuates wildly. At its low points it's barely more energy than a regular Whole.
- UST: More and more, Aizen is acting a bit... unusually when it comes to Momo. It might not be sexual per se, but he clearly cares for her more than he lets on. Gin Ichimaru even makes note of this.
- Villainous BSOD: Nanao after she killed an off-duty Soul Reaper... After disabling and hiding several wholes--children, including said Soul Reaper's nephew. In other words, she not only knew the enemy's face, but some measure of the fallout her actions would leave...
- Villains Act, Heroes React: Played with. Just who happens to be the villain is up for serious debate. However, due to the nature of the threat from Unohana, Ukitake, and Kyoraku, there isn't a whole lot Soul Society can do without exposing themselves to greater danger.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: A question wrestled with by Aizen in regard to the Hollows. Quite possibly Momo and Toshiro as well, now that Aizen brought it up.
- War Fic
- War Is Hell: It is indeed.
- What the Hell, Hero?: But who is the hero, one wonders.
- Yenni calls out Aizen on how the Soul Society treats Wholes:
Yenni:"'Beasts?' Where do you Soul Reapers get off? Every single damned one of you is so freaking arrogant."
Aizen:"You prey on defenseless souls and Hollows weaker than yourselves."
Yenni:"And so what? If you can fight back, you can. If you can't, too bad. Better than your Seireitei. If people don't have your bullcrap noble blood or a Soul Reaper's spiritual pressure, they get tossed out into the Rukon slums to rot. Yeah, we prey on souls. What do you do? You herd them away from your exclusive little club and pretend they don't exist. How, exactly, are you people any better than us?"
- She's got a point. That's the whole point ... We think...
- Zerg Rush: Exequias employ this tactic occasionally as skirmishers. Otherwise- as mentioned in the Hollywood Tactics entry, unrealistic tactics are usually avoided.