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Release command: Reverse Swirl
Shiba Kaien served as vice captain of the Thirteenth Division under Ukitake Jyuushiro. When he was alive he often took over Ukitake’s duties because of the captain’s illness. He wears the standard shinigami robes and has a tattoo of the Shiba family’s symbol on his arm. Kaien looks almost identical to Ichigo. The only differences are Kaien’s slightly longer black hair and the bottom eyelashes that seem to run in the Shiba family.
Kaien was the oldest of the Shiba siblings, and grew up in Rukongai, though the Shiba house was once one of the great noble houses. His sister Kuukaku and their younger brother Ganju don’t like shinigami very much, and they are still baffled by their older brother’s desire to become one. However, Kaien was very talented as a shinigami. He completed the six year curriculum of the Shinigami Academy after only two years, and went on to become vice captain of the Thirteenth.
He was the first person in Seireitei to treat Rukia like an ordinary person since her adoption into the Kuchiki family. Until he came along, she was treated with careful respect to her face and talked about and bashed behind her back. She was grateful for that, and eventually fell in love with him. She didn’t pursue him because Kaien was already married to the third seat of the Thirteenth. However, Kaien did appear to take a special interest in Rukia, probably because of her detached and slightly depressed manner. Rukia tended to jump when she saw him, much to his irritation. She also followed him like a puppy following its master.
When Kaien’s wife died at the hands of a hollow, Kaien swore revenge. Ukitake and Rukia accompanied him in his search. They found the hollow in its lair, and Kaien asked for permission to fight it alone. Ukitake granted permission, and Rukia watched in horror as the hollow’s abilities became apparent. Kaien’s zanpakutou was broken as soon as he touched the hollow.
Kaien continued to fight it alone. It obviously pained him to not help his vice captain, but when Rukia asked why they could help Kaien, he told her that it would kill his pride. Rukia yells at her captain, saying that pride isn’t important compared to life. He answers her calmly:
“Rukia, remember this. There are two types of fights. Whenever we are in battle, we must be one of the two. The fight for life or…the fight for pride! Right now…He is fighting for his pride! His wife’s pride…his men’s pride…Most importantly…his own personal pride. Dismiss this as his stubbornness…and let him fight alone like this…”
Those words haunt Rukia later in Ichigo’s fight against Grand Fisher.
Kaien held his own against the hollow for several minutes before the hollow revealed its true ability. It merged itself with Kaien, and when Ukitake stepped in, the hollow laughed maliciously and told him that he and Kaien were now the same being, because they were both spirits. It wasn’t the same as possession.
Rukia, who had been Hollow-Kaien’s first target, was told to run while Ukitake held it off, returned because she was afraid to face that cowardice. Ukitake was struck by his illness at that moment, and the Hollow-Kaien attacked her again. Ukitake yelled at her to kill it because it wasn’t Kaien anymore. She stabbed him through the heart. Kaien’s consciousness surfaced before he died and he thanked Ukitake for letting him fight alone. He thanked Rukia, and then apologized to her.
She took Kaien’s body back to the Shiba house to give to Kuukaku and Ganju. From that stemmed Ganju’s absolute hatred of all shinigami. Ukitake went to the Shiba house to explain to Kuukaku what had happened, and she accepted it and decided to forgive Rukia if she apologized. It took Rukia many years to work up the courage to do so.
Kuukaku and Ganju still make many of their own decisions based on what their brother would have done. That’s why Kuukaku agreed to help the Ichigo and Yoruichi. It’s also why Ganju eventually came around to helping them.
Ichigo is very close to Kaien in both looks and personality, which is probably why Rukia trusted him completely in chapter 001. At the moment, there is speculation on whether or not Ichigo is Kaien’s reincarnation based on them being very similar persons. If that is the case, there is further speculation on whether or not the hollow that merged with Kaien’s soul is still a part of that soul, and and if that is the reason for Ichigo’s strength as a Vaizard – the standing theory is that the shattered shaft merely released a hidden part of Ichigo’s soul that is being personified by Shirosaki.
Kaien was a good man and a good shinigami. He is sorely missed by the people who cared about him, but they find strength in remembering him and trying to do what he would do in times of trouble.