Shinigami (lit. "death god") is the personification of death in Japanese culture, similar to the Grim Reaper of western culture. Dubbed "Soul Reaper" in English version, the term shinigami in Bleach refers to a paranormal race of psychopomps with supernatural powers who reside in Soul Society, which acts a sort of heaven. Shinigami are generally the protagonists in the series, and are responsible for safely guiding pluses to Soul Society as well the purification of hollows.
Most shinigami, aside from their antiquated clothing, appear as regular humans, although there are some who have distinct features that would distinguish them in the world of the living. Their sizes go from as little as a five-year-old child to a giant twice the size of the average adult human. Variations in appearances aren't limited to just size, however, as Sajin Komamura is an anthropomorphic canine.
All shinigami reside in a section of Soul Society called Seireitei (lit. "Court of Pure Souls"). This area of Soul Society is off limits to non-shinigami who live outside it, unless by special permission which seldom occurs. Seireitei is surrounded by tall, thick walls with only one, large doorway which can only be opened by the guard stationed there. Additionally, above the walls is a barrier set up to prevent an aerial invasion. The standard of living in Seireitei is typically much better than most other places in Soul Society, which has several impoverished areas. Shinigami, although they all live exclusively in this one area of Soul Society, come from many different backgrounds and upbringings. Whereas only a handful of them are of noble descent, the majority of them, including high ranking ones, came from a poor and/or violent background living in an area of Soul Society called Rukongai (lit. "Town of Wandering Spirits").
 Gotei 13
Main article: Gotei 13
All shinigami from Soul Society belong to the military organization known as the Gotei 13 (goteijūsantai;"13 Division Imperial Guard," or "13 Court Guard Squads" in the English version). Shinigami are divided amongst the thirteen divisions and ranked according to their knowledge, skill, and overall strength. Those who have exemplified themselves to be exceptional in any of these categories are given the opportunity to receive a promotion to officer positions.
The primary mission for shinigami is maintaining the balance between the spirit realm and realm of the living, which includes earth, Soul Society, and Hueco Mundo. A number of responsibilities fall under this duty in order to maintain that equilibrium. These including:
- Safely guiding pluses to Soul Society: Pluses are the spirits of the deceased that by some emotional attachment to the earth did not pass on to Soul Society. It is the job of shinigami to safely escort these souls to Soul Society, more specifically Rukongai, where they can reside in peace. The method used to facilitate this process is called Soul Burial (konsō).
- Dispatching hollows: Guiding pluses to Soul Society also serves as a preventive measure, keeping them from transforming into hollows. Hollows are the malevolent souls of deceased humans. They are distinguished by a monstrous appearance, a hole in their chest, and masks, which conceals their true face. Hollows reside in a separate dimension called Hueco Mundo, which is a dreary, desert covered world with no vegetation or light. These monstrosities devour other souls, preferable those with abnormally high spiritual power (i.e. shinigami), and often infiltrate the world of the living in order to do so. In rare cases, hollows have managed to invade Soul Society and wreak havoc there. Though the job of shinigami is to "kill" hollows, slaying them actually purifies their souls, allowing them to ascend to Soul Society. On the other hand, executing a hollow may send it to hell if it expressed no remorse for the sins it committed as a living person.
- Suppressing or eliminating other paranormal threats: Any other entity that is a hazard to Soul Society, the living world, or to the equilibrium of all three realms (which includes Hueco Mundo) are to be apprehended or erased altogether. The Quincy, a race of humans who developed extraordinary spiritual powers to combat hollows, were exterminated by the shinigami under this statute because they killed hollows without purifying them, thus posing a danger to the balance between dimensions.
Movement between Soul Society and the human world is very limited and closely monitored. Nevertheless, some shinigami are stationed on earth for extended periods of time in order to perform their responsibilities. With the exception of the events that occurred in the arrancar saga, a shinigami is never deployed to Hueco Mundo.
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