Have you seen the vid 'Shonen Anime's Biggest Problem' by Reality Punch Studios? Bleach is briefly mentioned in it and the guy basically says that Kubo did a great job with the plot and characters during the Soul Society arc, but then later failed with all the other arcs after it. Thoughts?
I haven’t, but that’s pretty accurate. This is long, but fuck it, I want people to see it.
- Karakura I: Great! Minor flaws, e.g., Ichigo leaving Rukia to fight Shrieker while he escorted Karin, rather than having the clearly less-than-combat effective Rukia do so, and learn about Ichigo; not covering a whole month of their time together (including Ichigo’s birthday); ultimately dispensing with Tatsuki’s importance to the plot; could have probably stood to be about twice as long to show more of Ichigo and Rukia’s early relationship and flesh out relations with the nakama more.
- Soul Society: Great! No real flaws until the end, e.g., you just killed off Central 46 and had a great upheaval in the power structure of the to-date main antagonists; this was the perfect time to have some exposition on them (e.g., who the other two Great Noble Houses are, what their role in Central 46/Soul Society is aside from being strong, etc.); good pacing, dramatic, memorable and contained fights, even for supporting characters (e.g., Uryuu vs. Mayuri, Renji vs. Byakuya).
- Karakura II/Arrancar: Not so great! So, Ichigo’s just spent his summer break, what, moping over “the Hollow?” Why does everything in this series revolve around no one (Kisuke, Isshin, Juushirou, Yamamoto, etc.) telling Ichigo what the fuck is going on and just solving the problem? One of the only times I can remember an authority figure just saying “We’re here to do X because Y,” is Toushirou in this arc, so good for him? The fights against the Arrancar are when Bleach started to go bad with F I G H T S N O B O D Y C A R E S A B O U T ™ because they don’t involve the protagonists. Grimmjow was an effectively introduced villain even though he’s really just Kenpachi + Zangetsu (”Shirosaki”). The moments with him, Ichigo, and Rukia were good. The Visored were neat but were ultimately a waste. Most damningly of all, Orihime didn’t learn a goddamn thing from going to an alternate dimension and watching Ichigo almost die over and over to save Rukia.
- Hueco Mundo/Fake Karakura+: Really bad! When FNCA became a real problem. Just all kinds of shit that didn’t matter and wasn’t satisfying. The entire premise of them being there was stupid, as was the entire structure of the war. Aizen’s grand scheme turned out to be a bunch of bullshit. Overall just a terrible inversion of the Soul Society arc featuring a bunch of poorly-realized villains that were way overhyped. (Also, the final demonstration of the worthlessness of the Visored!) Our protagonists had to be rescued for the plot to continue on stupidly. (This can work, e.g. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, but this isn’t the way to do it.) An unsatisfying conclusion that explained nothing about why what happened, had.
- Lost Substitute Shinigami: Garbage. Okay, this arc has some great character-building for Ichigo and Rukia, and Xcution have memorable designs. I like Riruka. Ginjou, Giriko, and Tsukishima are really hateable villains. I like Ikumi. But. But. Fullbring is dumb and makes no sense, or needed to be introduced much earlier. The story of the substitute Shinigami is dumb and doesn’t fit well with what we know. The contrivances necessary to make Bleach work like a horror manga are ridiculous and just make the adults around Ichigo (e.g., Isshin, Ryuuken, Kisuke, Yoruichi, Shinji, et al.) look like fucking negligent assholes at the same time as Ikumi is telling Ichigo to trust adults. Also, the way the time skip was handled was that it wasn’t. It literally never gets addressed outside of about a dozen panels. It speaks to my heart but it wasn’t well-executed (hah!) at all.
- Thousand-Year Blood War: Total shitshow where everything is on fire. The Sternritter were awful and utterly lacking in interest. (They’re all amoral psychopathic murderers, whoo!) FNCA go on forever, nobody does anything of importance, Ichigo and Rukia barely appear for large sections of it, and nothing sensible or satisfying happens except for an explanation of Ichigo’s powers that, while making a kind of sense, still doesn’t really explain anything. Don’t get me started on the ending, that requires War and Peace to fully deconstruct with how it doesn’t fit any of what came before.
If Kubo was just going to stop the manga, he should’ve stopped it after Soul Society arc. He couldn’t, because Aizen was still on the run, but if Aizen had been taken out there, it would’ve been okay. Open-ended, maybe an epilogue panel or page of Rukia putting on civilian clothes to see Ichigo again. Cool.
If he was going to stop after the Aizen saga, he should’ve done that. Again, an open ending. You could maybe have an epilogue of Ichigo thinking he sees Rukia out of the corner of his eyes over time. Whatever.
But no, this guy had a plan. Bleach is kinda like The X-Files, in that there’s a bunch of episodes, and then an overarching plot arc, except instead of being episodic, it’s archic; a bunch of small arcs under a larger one. The larger arc is that Soul Society, and existence itself, is fucked up. The smaller arcs are about what passes for “mundane” or “the usual” within this fucked up existence.
That alone probably answers your question, but I’m me, so I’m going to continue on to talk about what I want to talk about.
WHAT THE FUCK WAS BLEACH ACTUALLY ABOUT?
Let me explain my theory of what Bleach was supposed to be about, before Kubo got bogged down in thinking he was Tolkien II Turbo DBZ edition and got his series cancelled with his fuckery.
There’s this interesting video about how, in The Matrix, Neo isn’t “the One,” but rather, Smith is.
The Architect tells Neo that he’s the sixth “Anomaly” which resets the Matrix. Their arrival is expected and anticipated. Smith, unwittingly “created” by Neo, is what causes this particular iteration of the Matrix to end very differently than the previous five.
Okay, what the fuck does this have to do with Bleach?
Check it out: Ichigo (and Rukia) is (are) the One. That is to say: they’re Smith. The planned outcomes, the “Anomalies,” were Aizen and Yhwach.
They would go about their plans, get up to the Royal Realm, and then be summarily murdered by Zero Division and turned into the new Soul King, as a Soul King only lasts a certain amount of time and needs periodic replacement. (Check how old and busted the current one is.) This is why Zero Division gave zero fucks about whatever happened down below: it not only didn’t matter to their outcomes, it was necessary. (Kind of like Soul Society requires suffering to work properly.)
There’s evidence of this in Sajin and his grandfather. Their existence is never explained, but Clifford the Big Red Dog says “The world’s ‘bearer’ will simply change. We won’t change. No matter who holds the world. All we can do is lay low.” This is strikingly similar to The Merovingian and his motley crew of exiled programs from previous iterations of the Matrix: they are remnants of a bygone age, after successive resets.
What resets Soul Society (or possibly reality) is swapping Soul Kings.
Now what fucks everything up and makes this time different is the existence of Ichigo and Rukia. Ichigo is directly created by the fuckery of Aizen and Yhwach, much like Agent Smith was turned into Smith. The existence of Yhwach’s descendants, plus Aizen’s machinations, produces an unplanned-for feature. Something new. He’s easy to explain.
But Ichigo isn’t alone. He would’ve never gotten anywhere without Rukia. And Rukia is harder to explain.
Now Aizen says “The ‘true’ power of the Hougyoku is to read the minds of those around it and make manifest of what it finds there. […] You don’t understand? I’m saying that all of the ‘miracles’ that have occurred surrounding Kurosaki Ichigo, Kuchiki Rukia, and Urahara Kisuke thus far were manifested by the Hougyoku’s will.“ He goes on to say "And then I, armed with a hypothesis about the Hougyoku’s abilities, sent Kuchiki Rukia in the direction of Kurosaki Ichigo. Of course, there are limits to its abilities. The Hougyoku manifests what’s in the minds of those around it. But this will not happen unless the subject inherently possesses the power to fulfill their desire. By that token, this could also be called the ‘power that guides people toward their desires.’ … But living creatures are strange, they are made in such a way that they can actualize only what their minuscule minds wish for.”
First, notice how utterly fucking pissed Isshin is. Nothing else makes him remotely this upset. Nothing to do with Grand Fisher or Yhwach makes him even fractionally this agitated.
Now, stop and think for a moment. Does what Aizen said actually make sense? The Hougyoku does what those around it want, but it can only do so through what they are capable of. He also says that the Hougyoku has begun to understand his will… only just prior to explaining all this. Why does Aizen think he was previously outside of the Hougyoku’s influence?
Kisuke’s incomplete Hougyoku was hanging out in Rukia for a long time; presumably, out of anyone, it understood her will best. Aizen sent Rukia to Ichigo? No. Rukia wanted to go to Ichigo, and Aizen was the means to facilitate that, which coincidentally accorded with his desires too. Aizen is confusing cause and effect here through his own hubris.
How did Rukia know of Ichigo? Well, you could say she was looking for someone like Kaien. But there are inevitably many people like Kaien in the world and it could’ve guided her to any one of them. It took her to the only person who could do something about the world, which Rukia saw as fundamentally unjust. But how would the Hougyoku know about Ichigo? From reading Aizen’s mind? Maybe, but can it understand things like genealogy and ghost genetic engineering? It’s much simpler to say that it saw their connection.
I’m not going to relitigate all the material in Bleach which asserts that Ichigo and Rukia are connected and fated to meet one another, like the Sand and the Rotator chapters. But it’s out there, and the Hougyoku knew, so it put them together and warped everything around it to make that happen; to execute Rukia’s will, not Aizen’s.
My feeling is that Rukia and Ichigo form a single unit for the purposes of reality-disruption. They are the Pair, rather than Smith’s the One. Surprise, this is why Kisuke leaves it to them when he thinks he’s gonna die. He’s like the Oracle. Or something, this analogy is getting a bit loose.
Also, Ichigo’s whole thing is power, and Rukia’s whole thing is control. You might say they’re like a power source and a regulator. Water and a water wheel. Sand and a rotator.
So, much like Smith, they were going to change the outcome of their iteration in a way that couldn’t have been foreseen.
Then Kubo got his series cancelled because he spent too long drawing Doctor Juggalo fighting a giant hand, and Sword Hobo fighting Imagination Boy and Thor, so none of that happened.
tl;dr Kubo’s inability to stop himself from fucking with unimportant characters and unimportant plots, i.e., getting bogged down in the minutiae, is exactly what killed Bleach, along with trying to be too clever by half with things like Hueco Mundo as inverted Soul Society. Dude lost the plot and couldn’t see his own damn forest for the trees.