‘Bleach’ has been one of the most popular anime until it’s decline. There are two endings to ‘Bleach’. One is the anime ending and the other is what we see in the manga. I will try to discuss anime ending while trying to explain how we got there. The characters of the series were quite vibrant and relatable. The plot was really nice too until it started to drag. We will analyze why it became so popular and why it’s popularity declined. I just want to clarify that if you haven’t watched the anime then please do so since there are obviously a lot of spoilers ahead.
Let’s talk about some of the main characters for a moment. The characters of ‘Bleach’ as I have mentioned before were quite relatable. Their personality and motivations made us feel for them.
Ichigo Kurosaki is the protagonist of the series. He is a teenager who has special abilities which allow him to see ghosts. We get to know of this ability in the very first episode where he brings flowers to the ghost of a young girl. This gives us an insight into his personality. He cares for people no matter if they are alive or not. He tries to keep the ghost girl happy. Ichigo lost his mother when he was quite young. His mother as was later revealed was killed by a Hollow. Ichigo can put his life and well-being on the line to protect those close to him. When he becomes a soul reaper he extends this attitude of his towards everyone while trying to protect them from hollows. Other than his special abilities, Ichigo is basically a teen which makes him relatable to the younger generation.
Rukia Kuchiki is the instrumental character in ‘Bleach’. She, like ‘Death Note’s’ Ryuk, started it all. After being hurt by a hollow she sees Ichigo around who is able to see her. She asks if Ichigo wants to save his family by becoming a soul reaper. Ichigo agrees and we get a great series. Rukia is the lieutenant of the 13th division of Gotei 13. She is currently the captain of that division. Rukia is a close friend of Ichigo’s.
Uryū Ishida is one of the main characters of ‘Bleach’. He is present throughout the anime until its end. He is a close friend of Ichigo though earlier he used to treat himself as Ichigo’s rival trying to prove that he is better than him. Ishida is a Quincy, which is a clan of humans who have the ability to detect hollows and manipulate the spirit energy or reishi to make weapons. Ishida has the ability to create a bow. Quincy’s dislike shinigami’s which is why Ishida hated Ichigo. Though his grandfather never disliked shinigami after the latter did not come to save him from hollows Ishida’s hatred for them grew. But later his thoughts about him and the shinigami change. Ishida is quite talented. He remains calm in extreme situations and has the ability to strategize before going all out.
Inoue Orihime is a close friend of Ichigo’s and is another important character in the series. Orihime had lost her brother when she was young. She daily prayed to her brother for several years and felt lonely. But then she made friends and the frequency of her prayers declined. This enraged her brother who was still around in Earth tied to her sister. He then becomes hollow and attacks her sister. Inoue is saved by Ichigo at the right time. At first, Inoue is shown to be your average beautiful girl who is kinda imaginative (in a weird way) but later she develops special spiritual powers of her own. This enables her to fight alongside Ichigo.
Yasutora Sado, also known as Chad is the classmate of Ichigo. His parents took him to Mexico when he was young but he was soon orphaned. Chad was then taken care of by a man whom he called his grandfather. When Chad was young he was very violent. He had brute strength and often got into fights beating other kids. One day the parent’s of the kids came to punish Chad but his grandfather took the beatings without retaliating. This incident changed Chad a lot and he vowed never to fight again unless he had to protect someone. CHad like Orihime later found out about their powers. Chad has huge strength in his hands which he can use to launch powerful attacks.
The Plot and Ending
The plot of Ichigo has been divided into four main arcs. The 1st one is the agent of shinigami arc, next is the soul society arc, 3rd is the Bounts arc, 4th is the Arrancar arc, 5th is the lost substitute arc and 6th is the 1000 years bloody war arc. The last arc did not appear in the anime but exists in the manga. Also, I have not included any filler arcs since they are not related to the main plot.
The Agent of Shinigami Arc:
This is the very first part of ‘Bleach’. Here the characters in the series are introduced. It is the start of the series and it is the arc where Ichigo receives his soul reaper powers from Rukia. This was the most important arc from the point of view of the creators as this was the one responsible for garnering more fans. I liked this arc a lot since it got me hooked to ‘Bleach’ and made invest my time to the series. Ichigo is shown to a normal teenager except for the fact that he can see ghosts. Ichigo tries to help the ghosts fulfill their desires or tries to chat with them to make them feel good. One day a Hollow attacks the Karakura Town. Rukia, a soul reaper gets hurt and does not have enough strength to save Ichigo’s family. She asks Ichigo to borrow her power and save his family. This is how Ichigo becomes a soul reaper.
Rukia decides to stay in the human world until she recuperates but she soon gets involved with them and doesn’t report to her superiors which leads her to trouble. Her superiors get to know that she is living with a human and has given him her powers. Her adoptive brother Byakuya and his lieutenant Renji are sent to bring Rukia back so that she can be punished. The duo comes and mortally injures Ichigo, who tries to stop them and takes Rukia back to soul society. The story then moves to the next arc.
This arc does a good job in explaining to the viewers what they should expect of the series. It also makes us feel for the characters. I like how they introduce the main philosophy or theme behind the story. We are told about Hollows who are basically human souls who are stuck to Earth because their wishes are not fulfilled. They become monster-like creatures with a hole in their heart when desperation and other negative emotions stemming from loneliness takes over. Then we meet people like Ichigo or Orihime who even after losing a person and becoming lonely try to protect people who are close to them. This is in stark contrast to hollows. The anime kinda shows us how loneliness and depression can affect people negatively if the emotions are not handled correctly. This is a staple theme that the series set from the very early on.
The Soul Society Arc:
This arc is divided into two parts. First one is the sneaky entry and the next one is the rescue part. After Rukia taken back to Soul society by Byakuya and Renji, Urahara helps heal Ichigo. Ichigo is desperate to go save Rukia who will probably be executed for crimes to stay with a human and giving him her powers. But Byakuya has stripped Ichigo of his powers. Urahara decides to recover Ichigo’s power by bringing out the power within Ichigo’s soul. This is a dangerous procedure since failure would mean Ichigo becoming a hollow. Ichigo succeeds and along with his group of friends who have trained hard to perfect their powers sneak into soul society.
Once there they are denied entry to the Seiretei which is where the Shinigami stays. Outside the walls of the Seiretei lies Rukongai, the place where most souls live. Ichigo and his friends discover that life in soul society is much similar to their own in Earth. Here to souls are discriminated against and there is class wise segregation. After meeting an explosion expert Ichigo’s group is able to enter the soul society via an explosion. Soon, the shinigami are after them. After becoming wounded Yoruichi, a former shinigami helps train Ichigo to achieve his Bankai.
After achieving Bankai Ichigo is able to save Rukia but Captain Aizen turns who out to be a traitor captures Ruki. He wants to gain a powerful artifact that was inside Rukia. This artifact will enable him to create powerful hollows named Arrancars and also achieve immeasurable power allowing him to rule over the world and soul society. He takes the artifact out of Rukia and along with Tosen and Gin leaves the soul society. Ichigo is later given the substitute soul reaper batch and he becomes an official soul reaper. The story then continues in the Arrancar arc.
Soul Society arc was by far the best arc in the entire series. It captivates the audience who can relate to the story. Ichigo and his friends enter a world which is really strange to them. There are rules they cannot understand. They think that Rukia is wrongly imprisoned. They meet strange elders whose motivations and determinations confuse Ichigo. Basically, it showcases teens meeting adults. Anyway, this changes the mood of the viewers and the readers as it is a great new addition to the story.
The Arrancar Arc:
In this arc, are we are introduced to Arrancars who are humanoid hollows. They are very powerful and are on par with the Gotei 13 captains. Arrancars are ruled over by Aizen who betrayed the soul society and went to Hueco Mundo where the Hollows and Arrancars live. Aizen has now become a constant threat to the soul society. He is slowly becoming more powerful and can attack the Earth realm or the soul society at any moment.
To defeat Aizen and his team Ichigo needs more power. He is approached by Shinji Hirako to join the Visored who are a group of Shinigami who have gained the powers of the hollow. Since Ichigo is similar to them they can train him to control his hollow powers. Ichigo initially disagrees but joins them later. He becomes stronger and goes to Hueco Mundo to rescue Orihime whom Aizen has kidnapped. It is a strange world for him and his friends. There they fight with Arrancars and defeat them. Later Ichigo fights with Aizen. he also finds out that his father was a substitute soul reaper. During the fight with Aizen, Ichigo uses the full power of his Zanpakuto and after defeating him he loses his power. Then we move to the lost substitute arc.
Though this arc is entertaining to watch it feels repetitive. In the soul society arc, we see Ichigo and his friends go to a strange new place called soul society and fight with strange powerful shinigami to rescue their friend Rukia. Here too we see the same thing. Ichigo goes to a new world with his friends to save Orihime and is made to fight strange powerful beings. He also loses his powers like the first arc. This is the place where the series starts to fall apart. If ‘Bleach’ was a short series then there wouldn’t have been many problems but if you have got a long series you have to constantly do new things to keep the fans interested. Here’s where the series lost its steam. Don’t get me wrong this arc is interesting but it moves from the philosophy or theme that the series was based upon. It becomes kinda like ‘Dragonball’ with Ichigo constantly becoming more powerful and reaching a new transformed form. Again I wanna mention that I did enjoy the arc but just not as much as the previous arcs as it felt repetitive.
The Lost Substitute Arc:
I am not going to talk much about this arc. The arc introduces us to Fullbringers who are humans with special abilities due to Hollow powers. Kugo Ginjo is the leader of a group of Fullbringers. He approaches Ichigo and offers to train him and recover his powers so that he can become a substitute soul reaper again. He wants to help Ichigo so that his group can then give him his powers and lead a normal life afterward. But later we see that Ginjo has lied. He just wanted to steal Ichigo’s soul reaper powers so that he can become strong. Meanwhile, Rukia, Urahara, and Ichigo’s dad had devised a way to bring back Ichigo’s power. During the fight between Ginjo and Ichigo, the latter lose their power. Rukia then Stabs Ichigo with a spirit sword which brings back Ichigo’s power and he kills Ginjo. This is where the anime ends. There’s one more arc in the manga.
Though the arc had its moment with Ichigo’s new look being revealed and all it was largely criticized. One of the main reasons was it shifted focus away from Chad. Chad was a Fullbringer and he was part of Ginjo’s group. He was supposed to be a staple in this arc but nope he was pushed to the sidelines. I am sure Kubo had other things in mind which he did not have time to put on paper due to pressure from publishers. The entire series feels a bit rushed and the character motivations are not good enough. Many plot points were not touched upon. Orihime’s power was not explained. Also, we never got any idea about the kids from the Urahara shop. The theme which I talked about in the first arc was not there anymore. This lost fan’s interest completely. I haven’t read the manga but I have read that there wasn’t any explanation for the above-mentioned plot points.
I still think ‘Bleach’ is a really good anime. I still recommend it to people. It is still one of the best action anime that I have watched. But holding onto an anime for long is a tough task. you have to please the fans continuously while keeping your publishers happy. You also have to try and keep your vision for the story. It is a tough task. But to keep the audience interested you have to continuously introduce new concepts and characters but still try to keep the original theme and layout. ‘Bleach’ does manage to do it for some time but it becomes repetitive later. The first two arcs were awesome but the latter ones felt repetitive and lacked the main philosophy that it was based on. The character motivations were the same. It was easy to predict what specific moments will make Ichigo or any of his companions to react. Towards the end of the second main arc and the beginning of the third arc ‘Bleach’ was an anime which deals with power level type of things which was never the focal point of the series. Many characters were left unattended and their backstories were never told.
I just want to mention at the end that whatever criticism that I have provided comes from analyzing the anime and understanding what makes an anime work. I in no way mean to insult the creators. Though not perfect ‘Bleach’ is still fun and well worth your time.