Spoilers up to the current chapters of Bleach.
Guest editorial by Lothos
Based on the number of Rukia x Renji fan-sites/supporters on forums, plus his standing in Bleach character popularity polls (consistently in the top 5 until recently), I had to stop and wonder why people like him so much. The more I thought about his character the more I found myself baffled. As far as I can surmise, he just serves as fodder to fill air time/page space to placate the fan-girls who think he’s hot. So he’s Rukia’s buddy from back when they were in Rokungai. Great. That’s apparently so inconsequential that it’s only touched on a couple times in the series. When she’s going to be executed he seems to be pretty much okay with it until Ichigo and friends storm the castle. The more I look back at Renji, the more and more pointless he seems to be and the only reason I can think of why people like him is because he has tattoos and a spiffy haircut. Lets take a look at what exactly he’s ever done throughout the series.
He has never won a fight that mattered, not even his very first fight with Ichigo! Byakuya has to step in to save his bum because Ichigo powers up and almost kills him. [Ch. 55] And that was an essentially untrained Ichigo. His Bankai is weak, it’s just a bigger version of his sword. And not even a bigger cooler version like Komamura has, where a giant samurai is wielding his now gigantic sword and he controls it like the kid in Giant Robo. Nope, it’s just a bigger version of his whip blade thing. He also sucks at Kidou and the only time in memory where he actually puts it to good use is when fighting one of the Espada. During his fight with Szayel Aporro Granz, Espada #8, after basically trying everything against him with no effect he manages to use his Shikai to bind himself to Szayel and sets off a pillar of fire around them. This essential does nothing to Szayel other than make him cough from the smoke, and set him up for Ishida to attack. [Ch. 275] He had to blow himself up in the process to do nothing to the guy but char his clothes. Also, his Shikai has a horrible flaw in that it has a set number of times he can whip it around and then it has to go back to being a (for the most part) normal sword, so against any worthwhile fighter it’s pretty useless. [Ch. 96]
He is the constant “set the stage” character for whoever he happens to be running around with. Be it Ichigo, Ishida, or whoever else. He is so useless that all he can do is try to distract the enemy so someone worthwhile can actually do something to them because his wet noodle of a Zanpakuto was ineffective. He yells at Ichigo and everyone else all the time about how they’re so dumb or weak, [Ch.54, Ch.95, Ch.141, Ch.292, etc.] when in reality he’s never done anything useful except carry Rukia away AFTER Ichigo busted in to save the day and did some bad-ass shit like take out three vice captains bare-handed before they could even draw their swords. [Ch.152] I’m not a big fan of Ichigo either, but at least he gets stuff done and doesn’t fail at every endeavor.
I also blame Renji for the fact that Chad is constantly getting his butt handed to him. After all, Renji was Chad’s sparring partner. [Ch. 224] Which is unfortunate because Chad actually shows some promise and developed some pretty awesome powers. However, even though Chad tends to be on the losing end of fights (mostly because he seems to get matched up against someone way more powerful than those his friends fight) he does at least win some of the time on his own, so thus he’s better than Renji.
His captain, Byakuya, is also fan-girl fodder, but at least he is a bad-ass mofo who tends to beat the snot out of anyone who gets in his way and look good while doing it. What could Renji do against him? Pretty much nothing as we saw when he squared off against Byakuya during the Soul Society story arc. When Renji finally comes around and decides that Rukia shouldn’t be executed, he is confronted by Byakuya who intends to let the execution go through. Byakuya chides Renji saying he’s just an animal looking up at the moon, but just like that moon his fangs will never touch him. [Ch. 142] After a lot of failed attempts he managed to scrape Byakuya’s hand or something [Ch. 144] and that’s with Byakuya essentially going easy on him while Renji was going all out do or die style. Granted, Byakuya’s a captain and one of the more powerful ones at that, but still, Renji’s one of the few non-captains to have achieved Bankai and all he could manage was a scratch? Weak.
I guess that one thing Renji’s good at is taking a beating, but he’s not even among the best at that. Ichigo and Kenpachi take a hell of a lot more punishment than him and they keep on ticking (most of the time anyway). What I’d LOVE to see in the upcoming chapters is someone from soul society die at the hands of one of the Espada. It’d be great if it was a vice captain, and I think Renji would be a prime candidate. That could be the one thing he’d actually be useful for, breaking the hearts of fan girls everywhere while adding a bit of grittiness to the story. It would also show that Soul Society isn’t invincible. He’s a major enough character that it would have a lasting impact on readers and he is connected to enough characters in the story to push some development in them. C’mon Kubo, make me proud! Extra points if you have Gin/Tousen/Aizen do it.