So, yet another long-running, hugely popular manga has finally come to an end.
Tite Kubo’s Bleach published its final chapter in last week’s Weekly Shonen Jump, bringing to an end an epic saga that has been running for 15 years.
In the course of those years, the story of Kurosaki Ichigo – the orange-haired teenager thrust into the role of a Shinigami (Death God in Japanese, alternatively Soul Reaper) whose job is to defend humans from evil spirits (or “hollows”) and guide departed souls to the afterlife (otherwise known as the “Soul Society”) – evolved from an episodic “monster of the week” manga to a sprawling epic involving different supernatural abilities, otherworldly realms, and impossibly powerful enemies, each of whom Ichigo had to overcome.
The story started out in 2001 with a fateful meeting between Ichigo, who can see ghosts, and Rukia Kuchiki, a Shinigami who is wounded after a fight with a hollow. In desperation, she transfers her reiatsu (spirit energy) to Ichigo, thus pretty much deputising him into the ranks of the Shinigami. As the story progressed, it became more and more apparent as Ichigo grew stronger and stronger that he is more than just a mere human.
The manga was originally conceived when Tite drew an image of a Shinigami in a kimono, which turned out to be the first concept design for Rukia. The name Bleach doesn’t really mean anything, nor is there anything associated with bleach anywhere in the manga. In a 2008 interview with Anime Insider, Tite stated that he had initially wanted to call it “Black”, but that was too common a name, and so was his second choice, “White”. He chose “Bleach” because it was closely associated with “white”, and also because it wasn’t a very common name for a manga.
The biggest draw of Bleach, however, was not just Ichigo. Sure, he was the main protagonist, the one to whom everyone looks to save the day eventually, but it was also the myriad of characters featured in the manga that was the best thing about Bleach; as well as the different influences Tite drew upon for the story designs (everything from Japanese superstition to medieval Christian orders), and also the dynamic fight scenes.
To commemorate the ending of Bleach, we decided to take a look back at the manga and pinpoint four things we loved about it.
Yes, there are plenty of great stories in Bleach, but really, it’s the fighting that goes on in each of these stories that really matters most. Tite famously conceived each battle scene while listening to rock music, and it shows in his art and dynamic fight sequences. He manages to tailor each fight to suit the involved parties’ personalities, and there is a certain elegance in the way the violence unfolds on the page that keeps you going back to read it, even though some of those fights tended to drag on way too long, like the final battles in the series-ending Thousand-Year Blood War story arc.
Soul Reaper power
As much fun as it was to see Ichigo constantly levelling up in order to defeat the next villain, it was even more fun to see all the other characters, especially the Shinigami, showing off their own unique moves and various Zanpakuto (soul-cutter sword, the chosen weapon of a Shinigami), some of which were so far-fetched it required numerous readings to understand what was going on.
And it wasn’t just the fighting aspect – each character was created with a unique personality, backstory, and a compatible fighting style. You had the mad scientist Mayuri Kurotsuchi, whose scientific approach to fighting had some horrifying results; the bloodthirsty Kenpachi Zaraki, whose no-frills, no-powers approach made him a deadly warrior; Toshiro Hitsugaya, the ice master stuck in the body of a kid; and my favourite, Shunsui Kyoraku, a peace-loving slacker who has the power to turn children’s games into reality.
All these personalities and powers made the fights each Shinigami got into insanely entertaining, especially when they levelled up and started using their ……
One of the greatest abilities of a Shinigami is the bankai (final release), sort of like a power-up of their usual abilities, which also involves the shikai (initial release), an upgrade of their Zanpakuto. Think of it as the “Super Combo” in Street Fighter, which the Shinigami would use to overpower their opponent. While Ichigo’s bankai was entertaining to watch – it often featured his sword changing into various forms – it was also great to watch the other Shinigami using theirs, as well as how their opponents would counter it.
Our favourite bankai so far? When Kenpachi Zaraki, who famously shunned all the usual Shinigami level-ups in favour of raw power, decides to use HIS bankai in the Thousand Year Blood War (I actually let out an audible WHOOP! when he said the words “bankai”), and it turns out to be something quite unexpected. And just check out the impressively humongous form of his shikai!
Go, go, Ichigo
From his signature orange hair, a contrast to the usual black garb of a Shinigami, to his perpetual scowl (Tite once said it felt “unnatural” to draw him with a smile), Kurosaki Ichigo was probably one of the more striking leads in a manga ever. Throughout the manga, we saw him growing up from a rebellious teenager whose only power was the ability to see ghosts, to become the saviour of the human world and Soul Society.
We’ve seen him gain more and more power, only to lose it all and then fight to regain it. We’ve seen him go up against powerful enemies from rogue Shinigami Sosuke Aizen to the all-mighty Yhwach, founder of the Quincies, and come up on top each time. We’ve seen him forge friendships even with those who were once his enemies, and push through all the obstacles he has faced with sheer willpower.
After all that, it’s hard not to shed a tear to see him finally hang up Zangetsu (his Zanpakuto) and settle down with Orihime to start a family and getting some much-needed peace.
Goodbye, Ichigo. We’re sad to see you go.