I wasn’t sold on Bleach when it was first announced, but fortunately, I had a subscription to Shonen Jump back in the day, and read the first few chapters, and was hooked. I really liked the characters and the world that Kubo had created for them. I was a huge Bleach fan, buying the books as they came out, watching the anime, and even collecting the toys from Toynami, several sets of gashapon, and the trading cards. I loved the first arc in Soul Society.
But as the second, “Arrancars” arc started, I found I wasn’t loving it as much. I stopped buying the volumes after 21, but did continue to read the occasional volume on and off as they became available up until volume 57. I continued to watch the anime as well, but with the filler arcs adding to a story that didn’t seem to go anywhere, I stopped watching that too.
What happened? How could a series that I absolutely loved and followed with a passion just sputter out? I loved the characters, not just Ichigo, Orihime and Chad, though they made a great trio, but also their friends at school, Keigo and Tatsuki. Ichigo’s dad was a laugh riot. Uruhara and the crew at his story was great too. How can you not love a talking cat mentor? Even among the Soul Reapers that the leads were fighting against were fun and engaging. The “Soul Society” arc had everything I loved about shonen manga; a great cast of characters, well paced story and lots of great action.
Where the series started to lose me was right at the beginning of the “Arrancars” arc. Ichigo had changed. The fun and energy were gone. Orihime just became a vehicle for Ichigo, and lost all her agency. And then the story turned into a grind. Train, fight, lose, train more. The “Arrancars” arc was nothing but battle after battle. It was a pale reflection of “Soul Society” arc, with a couple of interesting characters, but on the whole, the fights were boring and dragged out.
I never finished the “Arrancars” arc. I read most of the “Fullbringer” arc, but only because it was so short. I read the first few volumes of the “Quincy War,” but I was done by then. Nothing was changing over the arcs. There was no more character development. Ichigo had turned into a whinny emo kid, and the series itself just kept going in circles, chasing its tail.
If Kubo had tried to find a way to better develop the characters and move their stories forward, instead of recycling the same story over and over, Bleach could have been a better series. Oda has been able to do with One Piece, and even Kishimoto was able to revitalize Naruto at the end.
While its final arc was announced ages ago, it seems there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel, with the final chapters coming out sometime in September. It’s sad that a series that started out with so much potential ends with readers feeling relief it’s finally over rather than celebrating.