[A review/ rant about Bleach.]
Once upon a time, Bleach was my favourite anime/ manga. I was hooked from episode one, and it just got better and better. Bleach was pretty much perfection – at least until the end of the Soul Society Arc.
What I loved about Bleach at the beginning was that it seemed to be going somewhere good. It had an interesting take on the concepts of Deathgods, spirits and the afterlife, and although I don’t have any particular love for these subjects, the novelty of it was fascinating. There was plenty of action and the battle sequences were awesome. Bleach also had an air of mystery and tension, and there was some depth to the characters – they seemed powerful but also vulnerable in some ways. There were backstories, hints of a deeper connection between some of these characters and somehow… somehow it seemed that they were destined to meet and destined for a grand purpose that would tie all the ends together.
In fact, within the first fifteen episodes of Bleach, I was convinced that it would be the greatest show I ever watched. The next fifty to sixty episodes only served to underscore my initial sentiment and it was only after a hundred episodes or so that I realised I was getting bored – and I’m not even talking about the Bount Arc filler.
So why did I get bored? I think the root cause was bad writing. The author seemed to have drowned himself in the massive world and the myriad characters he had constructed, and lost sight of the larger plot. I thought Bleach promised a story but what it delivered was a merely a mess of battles. The worst thing about this was that many of these were not even the main character’s battles. It was almost as if Kurosaki Ichigo had become a sidekick in his own story.
Towards the end of the manga, the battles of the various Captains, Arrancar, and eventually Quincy stretched out over many chapters and weeks would pass before we see our main character in action. This was not a problem in the Soul Society Arc, where the story still focussed mainly on Ichigo and his fellow Rukia-Rescue team. After this arc though, everything was all over the place and I don’t think I cared enough about every single character’s power-ups, history and unnecessarily long fights.
I’m not saying that Ichigo has zero character development. He does mature through his experiences and gain some perspective, especially with regard to his role in a fight. But altogether he doesn’t change much or become more interesting as a character. In fact, the longer the story dragged on, the less interesting he became. It’s a pity because he was such a proactive character – someone who wanted things done his way and whose aggression did not belie his kindness and determination. At the end though, he seemed reduced to just his powers and battles. It was shallow.
The other characters have a far worse fate. Ichigo did not fight entirely alone at the start; he had his friends who followed him into Soul Society, risking everything and fighting by his side. There was endless potential for their growth, but of course this does not happen. For the most part, after the Soul Society Arc, they are effectively powerless compared to the many ‘monsters’ out there (Ichigo included), and so, Ichigo fights alone relying mainly on his own strength, and learns close to nothing about strategy or team effort.
All things considered, his friends, who initially seemed so important, are relegated to the sidelines and do very little to influence the story. Perhaps if there were fewer characters, Kubo may have been able to put them to better use.
As annoying as the character development was, it wasn’t the worse thing about Bleach. It is the dubious storyline and many unresolved sub-plots that have that honour. The plot seemed great at first because there were many things happening (the conspiracy behind Rukia’s punishment, the twist-in-the-tale when we discover who the real villain behind the Soul Society Arc was, Ichigo’s conflict with his inner Hollow etc etc etc). Soon though, the story started repeating its framework, and many of its developments led nowhere.
For instance, Inoue Orihime (one of Ichigo’s “team members”) was supposed to be in possession of a great and terrible power with which she wanted to erase the existence of the all-powerful Hōgyoku. I remember being so excited at the prospect of her finally doing something useful. It seemed like a natural course for the story to take, especially after the build up to how she felt about Ichigo and how she wanted to be more… well, more! Unfortunately, that did not happen; she ended up getting saved, and her great and terrible power did close to nothing in this story. Bleach has no scarcity of such plot-holes and lost plot lines.
I’m not a writer but I know it’s not easy to construct a long-winded story, weave in some mystery, character development and somehow resolve all the subplots. The problem with Bleach is that it got none of the things right. It definitely started right, and the Soul Society Arc was excellent. Then it all went downhill from there.
I did try my best to watch Bleach to the end, although I skipped/ slept through many of the non-Ichigo battles and fillers. I read the manga to the end though, just because I was already invested in it. I loved Bleach once upon a time, and there were moments in the story that I thoroughly enjoyed. The stunt Ichigo pulls in episode 54 is still one of the greatest anime moments I have ever seen, and his battle with Ulquiorra is one my favourite anime bashings.
Anyone who hasn’t watched Bleach should watch it, at least up to the end of the Soul Society Arc. Up until that point, Bleach has the makings of a great shōnen anime/ manga.