Hello readers and skimmers. This article is here because of a recent twitter exchange between myself and ThatGuyWiththeGlasses’ Y ruler of Time. Yes, this is a review of his article, and I address points raised. I don’t usually talk about anime, so this is pretty much a one-time thing. Enjoy. Or don’t. It’s your life.
Original post here.
Point 1: “Things are much different now. Naruto maintained a fervent fanbase up to its conclusion and beyond, while One Piece is more popular than ever and could easily go on for another decade. Bleach, on the other hand, is a full-blown has-been, a shell of its former self that subsists on the memory of its glory days. It is well past its expiration date, yet it continues to grind on, sluggishly approaching its conclusion on a seemingly parabolic trajectory. The manga’s volume sales have dwindled, the anime was cancelled several years ago, and many former fans have just flat-out given up on it.”
Counter 1: My thoughts on Naruto and One Piece’s quality, or lack thereof aside, these are facts. Bleach’s popularity has dwindled over the years, and the anime has been canceled. To say, however, that the story is past its expiration date is where the objectivity ends and the subjectivity takes over. Objectively speaking, there were many plot threads left hanging at around the point you would consider Bleach “expired,” meaning there was still quite a lot to be done with it, both thematically and structurally (that is, plot-wise and character-wise). Subjectively speaking, I and many other fans don’t think the series has “expired” and still enjoy it.
Objectively speaking, Bleach has consistently (while it was airing) outdone both Naruto (and Naruto Shippuden) and One Piece in ratings on Cartoon Network’s toonami block. All information on ratings can be found here, which is a site that has been chronicling ratings since Toonami’s return. This points to Bleach still holding a large fanbase over here in the West. Losing popularity in Japan is hardly damning for a series and is hardly a way to judge its substance, and if we consider that to be the end all be all, that means the likes of Big O would therefore be considered garbage since it failed in Japan. Anyone that knows Big O also knows it really isn’t. Further, if popularity was the sole determinant in a series’ quality, then that means Twilight is better than every anime and manga out there, and as nerds on the internet, I don’t think any of us want to say that.
Point 2: I could just answer that by saying “the series got bad” because, well, it did. Bleach is awful right now in so many different ways. Long-running plot threads end anticlimactically, and new characters are introduced to replace established favorites before they can even be fleshed out. Characters that are fleshed out only get this treatment through last-minute flashbacks, right before they’re about to die and never be seen again. The former main cast only ever shows up to provide comic relief. Combat sequences always follow the same repetitive beats. Individual chapters are seldom eventful. If anything does happen, it’s predictable, and when it’s not predictable, it’s ridiculous. But the other major reason that people have dropped the series in droves is because the story actually came to a point where it should have ended…and didn’t.
Counter 2: Again, subjectivity. Saying it’s bad is your opinion, much like it is my opinion that One Piece and Naruto are bad, and saying so does not make it a fact. That aside, let’s get to the actual substance.
I put forth that Bleach’s “main cast” getting replaced has been part of the series since the very first arc. In the earliest chapters of Bleach, the main cast was Ichigo’s high school friends, and of that group of characters, only Chad, Uryu (a then-newcomer to the series) and Orihime got to go to Soul Society while Keigo, Mizuiro, Tatsuki and Chizuru were left behind. In the Arrancar arc, more characters were introduced and allies made in the Soul Society Arc were largely left behind as Uryu, Renji, Ichigo, Rukia and Chad stormed into Hueco Mundo. A revolving cast has always been a feature of Bleach, much like in Dragonball. The only real constant is the protagonist. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself.
Repetitive battles: in broad strokes, you could say Bleach fights are “I have this secret move.” “Your secret move didn’t kill me, so now I will use MY secret move!” and that goes on until one party falls. But in broad strokes that could be applied to every show out there with fight scenes. This is a Your Mileage May Vary complaint and I see no way to argue against it beyond “I don’t think they’re repetitive”.Chapters being uneventful: Kubo has gone on record as saying he doesn’t include backgrounds because he feels they take attention away from the characters in certain scenes. That’s okay. It’s a well-established style of drawing comics, and you can find it on Tvtropes under the titles “Writing for the Trade” and “Decompressed Comic.” It cannot be stressed enough that weekly series are weekly only once in their existence, and then from there they will be read in Volume format for the rest of time. Kubo writes for the volume and does so in a decompressed style that distinguishes Bleach from essentially every other manga running in Weekly Shonen Jump at the moment. Even so, most Bleach chapters end on a big reveal or stunning splash page, so hardly “uneventful”.
Series should’ve ended at Aizen: I’ve seen people argue the series should’ve ended at Soul Society’s end. Truth be told, there was far too much left hanging at the end of the Aizen fight for the series to conclude there. Even truer still is the fact that, and Aizen said it himself, there was no reason for Ichigo to hate him. Ichigo and Aizen were not rivals or hated enemies. Ichigo was cleaning up Soul Society and Kisuke’s enemy. There was no tension there for him that was truly personal, and that would’ve been a lackluster final enemy for the series.
Point 3: “These fights were so protracted that when it came time for the anime to run filler episodes, there was no appropriate place to fit them in naturally. Instead, the characters would simply break the fourth wall mid-battle to acknowledge that the main plot was taking a break while an unrelated story ran in its place.”
Counter 3: What the anime does or doesn’t do is largely irrelevant, I feel. They did the same thing with random episodes in the Soul Society arc, a time you claim is fantastic. Anime has to put out 23 minutes of animation every single week, and to avoid a case like DBZ or One Piece’s animes where they pad fights to the Nth degree, they opted to just have self-contained filler arcs interwoven. Remember, Bleach is officially (by Kubo) only divided into 6 segments: “Agent of the Shinigami Arc,” “Soul Society Arc,” “Arrancar Arc,” “The Lost Agent Arc” and “The Thousand-Year Blood War Arc,” and they all directly lead into each other, meaning there’s no room for Filler.
Point 4: “You’d think the natural conclusion to this would be Orihime growing as a character and using her powers to help save the day, but instead she stood hopelessly on the sidelines, waiting for Ichigo to save her to the very end. After this, she never brought anyone else back from the dead, and even her flawless healing abilities were never fully utilized once the fighting had ended. Ultimately, all of the focus on Orihime’s powers went absolutely nowhere.”
Counter 4: Well, this is your first truly wrong statement. Orihime, at no point, hoped for anyone to save her. She went there hoping nobody would risk their lives to save her, and even while being saved still wished they’d leave her there so they wouldn’t keep getting hurt. Further, her power to revive people from the dead has a limitation, as she was unable to “reject” Ulquiorra’s reiatsu/spirit energy that had made the large hole in Ichigo’s chest because Ulquiorra was so powerful and she panicked because that had never happened before. Ulquiorra is just Espada no. 4 (and eclipsed in power by Harribel, Yammy, Starrk, Barragan, Tousen, Gin, and Aizen himself: that is, all the bad guys left).
The Orihime character was at no point a fighter, and going in expecting her to become one is, well, your own expectation. Kubo went a different route with her development, and you can’t fault him for not going along with what you wanted to happen. I’m not particularly fond of the character, but to say she was ruined is going a tad far.
Point 5: “On top of that, after being built up for years as tremendous threats, the three highest-ranking members of Aizen’s army were defeated in a remarkably anticlimactic way. Aizen even dispatched one himself just to pull off the cliché evil overlord stunt of showing how ruthless he was.”
Counter 5: None. This is true.
Point 6: “As he grew more powerful through the use of the Hougyoku, he stopped bothering to devise clever schemes and instead relied purely on his own immense strength to get the job done. In other words, Aizen lost all the qualities that captivated fans when he first revealed himself as the villain. Over the course of several years, Bleach had stopped focusing on its most popular heroes and ruined its most popular villain.”
Counter 6: This is a misconception that’s been in the Bleach fandom and hatedom for years. Aizen was introduced with an ability so outrageous that you’d not be able to think of a counter to it in his Kyoka Suigetsu’s “Kanzen Saimin”. Aizen’s plan only worked because of his zanpakuto, and then in the Turn Back the Pendulum mini-arc, we saw that was true a 100 years prior as well. Aizen’s plans only worked because of that absurd ability and not because his intellect was particularly massive. Even without Kyoka Suigetsu, back in the Soul Society arc he casually beat the Captain (Komamura) whose whole gimmick was brute strength with his own brute strength. Aizen’s gimmick was never his intellect, but was more about his vast power.
The story then gave us a reason for him not to use Kyoka Suigetsu after he revealed he had the hogyoku. Namely, his whole “evolution” gimmick. He explained to Gin he kept him around so he could observe how Gin would try to kill him, and then he thanked Gin for making him afraid because that was the key to his evolution. Aizen allowed Ichigo to train for 3 months in the Dangai so that Ichigo would similarly be able to threaten him, thus forcing the hogyoku to make him evolve again. Do recall that after beating everyone in Soul Society and creating the King’s Key, he would then be faced with Squad 0 (and presumably the Soul King). Aizen needed to constantly put himself in danger so that he could be powerful enough to beat them, and his plan worked beautifully until Kisuki outfoxed him and sealed him.
Aizen wasn’t ruined, he was acting perfectly in-character in what we knew about him until that point.
Point 7: “Somehow even Chad, who was actually part of Ginjou’s organization, became practically forgotten and a complete non-factor in the climax. On top of that, Ginjou’s heel turn “twist” seemed obvious from the beginning, making it a less effective retread of the Aizen reveal from years before.”
Counter 7: Chad being forgotten at the end was legitimately awful. It made the buildup with him being a Fullbringer etc irrelevant and pointless. Agreed on that front.
Ginjou was introduced as a bad guy and flip flopped between being good and bad multiple times in the Arc. It was not a retread of the Aizen twist in that regard, since Kubo had to convince readers that this person introduced as a bad guy was in fact good, and then he did a bait and switch at the end. Remember, Ichigo didn’t originally trust the character, then as Ginjou proved himself more trustworthy, Ichigo began to view him that way. The training session where he slashed Ichigo’s eyes and threaten to kill Chad and Orihime was where everyone, Ichigo included, thought Ginjou revealed his bad guy ways, until we learned it was just a gambit to help Ichigo. From there, it was obvious Ginjou was a good guy, much like the Vizards before him. Then the twist happened where Tsukishima made Ginjou remember that he is in fact a bad guy, and should you do a google search of that time period, you’ll see (anecdotal evidence incoming:) most people were caught offguard by that twist as well.
Aizen: Good Guy —> Bad Guy
Ginjou: Shady (introduction) —> Good Guy (wants to help Ichigo) —> Bad Guy (slashes his eyes and says he’ll kill his friends) —> Good Guy (it was a gambit) —> Bad Guy (Book of the End)
Point 8: “Putting aside the gamble he made in hoping that he would act as predicted once his mind had been altered, he ignored the painfully obvious option of altering Ichigo’s mind instead. The only explanation Ginjou offered for not using Tsukishima’s powers in the simplest way was: “The game won’t be any fun if it’s fixed so we can’t lose.” His rationale for not choosing the best plan available was that he didn’t want to definitely succeed”
Counter 8: It wasn’t a gamble. It was shown in the arc that Book of the End can alter your memories, but it won’t change your personality (memories are linked to personality, but this is spooky ghost magic). This is later shown with Byakuya and was shown with Orihime and Chad being unable to bring themselves to fight Ichigo. Ginjou knew his own personality, and we saw that from the perspective of the X-Cution members, Ginjou was a pretty okay guy and was the person that gave them a place. He knew how he would act when the plan was erased from his mind.
Next, we did get an explanation for why he didn’t just brainwash Ichigo. During their fight, Ginjou laments not being able to convince Ichigo to join him, and is outraged that Ichigo had heard what he had to say, but was still saying he [Ginjou] was wrong in his [Ginjou’s] actions. As he’s about to die, Ginjou thinks to himself that if Ichigo was in his position and was the first sub-shinigami, he wouldn’t have done what Ginjou ended up doing. This is why he doesn’t “just” brainwash Ichigo: he needed to prove to himself that Soul Society was at fault for his situation and not himself. The characters then remark that Ichigo saved Ginjou in stopping him.
The only thing Kubo did wrong here is not fully reveal Ginjou’s backstory here, as it would’ve made this more easily grokked.
Point 9: “This was an especially big problem because the plot was clearly meant to demonstrate a strengthening of bonds between Ichigo and Soul Society, so that readers would feel more sympathy when Soul Society was invaded in the final major story arc.”
Counter 9: They did not intervene until the end so they could see what Ichigo’s decision was and so as to make Ichigo a more attractive target for Ginjou (he wouldn’t go seeking him out if he was still hanging around with his Shinigami friends in gigais). Hitsuguya says this himself when Rukia asks. They came there to stop Ichigo and Ginjou if Ichigo chose to ally himself with him. It shows a strengthening of bonds because Ichigo fully trusts them despite what Ginjou is saying to him, and despite how they kept him in the dark. He says it himself that Ukitake is a really smart guy and could’ve roped him in without him being able to tell, but Ukitake didn’t and allowed him to choose to be a sub-shinigami.
I agree with you on the Soul Society being unnecessarily douchebag-y.
Point 10: ” The first victim of the war was a character with literally two lines of dialogue prior to this arc, but his death was treated as a game-changing, “anyone can die” moment.”
Counter 10: That’s actually legit. Chojuro is very much what they call a “Posthumous Character“.
I disagree in it being an “anyone can die” moment. It was clearly just something meant for Yamamoto, because after Sasakibe’s death, we see Yamamoto make expressions we’ve never seen from him and we’re told how this man’s death has affected him. The true “anyone can die” moment of the arc is when Yamamoto himself is cut down, and you cannot deny the impact that had on readers.
Point 11: “Even Uryuu Ishida, a Quincy and longtime main cast member who betrayed Ichigo’s group to ally himself with his own people, has failed to garner intrigue. You’d think that would be impossible given his dramatic potential, but Ishida has done absolutely nothing significant for the entire 3.5 span of the arc after changing sides.”
Counter 11: I don’t want to comment too heavily on this because I’ve not seen how this will play out. I can say though that I don’t think it’s meant to be played for drama. Back in the Agent of the Shinigami Arc, Uryu states himself that he believes the Shinigami were right in killing off the Quincy. He states the source of his ire against the shinigami lies solely in the fact that they left his grandfather to die. Anecdotal evidence: Most of the people I’ve interacted believe Uryu is just a double agent and will betray Yhwach for killing his mother. A character in the story, Haschwalth, even confronted Uryu on the prospect of betrayal earlier in the arc. This is nothing like Sasuke going over to Orochimaru, and I reiterate, so far.
Point 12: “Bleach’s former strengths are extinct in its current form: a cluttered mess. In the end, it’s probably better to remember Bleach fondly for its past, rather than constantly struggle with its current reality. If you’re one of the many people who dropped Bleach, rest assured that you made the right decision.”
Counter 12: Subjectivity. Bleach’s strength has always, ALWAYS, been in its characters, and I don’t feel that’s changed. One of the largest anime forums around has a Bleach section, and on a week-by-week basis I see people latch on to new characters and laud old favorites, so this is very true for others as well.
In summation, I feel that a lot of your points are addressed in-story, but you perhaps missed it because you aren’t invested in the story. This is perfectly understandable, much the same way I miss details in One Piece because I don’t care what’s happening. The fault with Bleach, for you, might be that it doesn’t grip you enough.