There is something to be said about how anime can hold our attention for years on end. Bleach managed to hold my attention for over 7 years. Only Star Trek managed to come close. I watched Bleach on Adult Swim and looked forward to each Saturday night. It was my night to relax and forget about being an adult.
Don’t get me wrong, Bleach has some problems. Fillers and the fact that Kubo fails to kill any of the large cast hurt the series. But, Bleach gets enough right that I kept coming back to watch. Like most anime, it had pacing problems. Cutting into a fight with comedy or backstory is a terrible habit Bleach inherited from the rest of shonen. Bleach had painful moments, but it moments of badassery that made the slog through filler and comedy worth it.
One of my favorite aspects of Bleach is the relationship between Ichigo and Rukia. The understated aspects of their relationship is actually well done. Rukia understood Ichigo as no other character does. She always has his back and Kubo suggests they share more than friendship bonds. Orihime has an overt romantic interest in Ichigo, but Ichigo treats her similar to his sisters. Rukia and Ichigo’s relationship is a matter of fact for the characters. Even Orihime admits this is many scenes. The final episode of this run cements the exclusive bonds Rukia and Ichigo share.
Some Spoilers Ahead
Despite enjoying the past 7 years of Bleach, I wish the story ended back during the Rukia capture arc. The arc was complete outside of the confrontation of Aizen. While the later arcs have some excellent moments, they lack the feel of the first arc. Perhaps having Ichigo and gang pursue Aizen immediately would have worked better. I will admit that I was disappointed in the Aizen conflict. Some or even most of the Soul Society captains should have died. This would have increased the tension of the conflict. As it stands, there is little tension or risk. We all know Kubo would not kill any of the Soul Society. This hesitation hurts Ichigo’s conflict. If Aizen killed the Head Captain by overpowering him, Ichigo would look that much more powerful when he bests Aizen. It also introduces interesting internal problems with the Soul Society. How could it exist with at least half its captains dead?
Despite this lack of tension building, I enjoyed Bleach. It ending on Adult Swim/Toonami is an end of an era akin to when the station lost rights to Inuyasha. I look forward to DragonBall Kai taking Bleach’s slot. However, there is a wistfulness, bittersweet, whenever a long watched anime series ends. Granted. Bleach will return when the final arc is finished. But, there is still a feeling of finality. Everything must end.
Fictional characters have as much of an impact on us as real people. We cry with them and savor their victories. Some people grow up with them. Goku is a friend and role model for many people. While I entered anime too late (in my 20s) to have anime characters be role models, I appreciate the impact they can have. For many teens, Ichigo is the new Goku. His struggles has shaped their teen years. Consider how long 7 years or so can be. A 13 year old will watch Bleach through the entirety of his teen years. She will literally grow up with Ichigo and Rukia. The character’s struggles and triumphs will sometimes mirror the teen’s. This is why people look fondly on Goku. This is why people will also look fondly on Ichigo and Rukia. These characters are a part of growing up. Both DBZ and Bleach provide moral lessons that the viewer will internalize over the years of watching. There are worse role models than Goku and Ichigo.
Anime characters are easier to identify with than American superheroes. Goku, Rukia, and Ichigo fail. They have to work up to their powers. Superman is too powerful to identify with. Anime is good about providing role models that grow into their roles just as we have to go into adulthood.
Despite its problems, I will remember Bleach fondly and look forward to the finale when the manga is finished. Ichigo, Rukia, and friends have left an impact on the hearts and minds of teens all over the world. The moral lessons of friendship, loyalty, and compassion are timeliness.