Bleach – The Past, The Present, and The Future

Bleach is one of a select few anime that have been able to withstand the test of time. The show first aired on October 5, 2004, over a decade ago. Since then, the anime has transitioned through several phases and story arcs leading all the way up to the final chapter, before the 1,000 Year Blood War. Through it all, Bleach has been a pivotal piece of history in anime, and has been one of the longest running shows to date. The manga series’ creator, Tite Kubo, is known for his visually striking artwork which stands out from other anime series. One reason I had always found Bleach intriguing was the mature look of Kubos’ characters which made the story more relatable with the real world. Let’s dive into what makes this anime so special.

To fully understand what Bleach means for anime, we must first look at some of the most important factors that give the series its strong progression and continuously unparalleled story arcs. This requires that we visit the past, the present, and Bleach’s future.

Let’s start at the beginning.

  • Ichigo gets his powers.

    Ichigo Kurosaki is a 15-year-old teen going through the motions of daily life as a regular teenager, until one day a string of intertwined mishaps lead Rukia Kuchiki to his bedroom one night. Rukia is a Shinigami (or Soul Reaper) who helps spirits pass on after death, and battles Hollows which are souls that develop supernatural powers by staying in the Human world too long and not passing on. Shinigami use Zanpakutō to defeat Hollows which are swords that have powers which mirror the Shinigami wielders’ power and spirit. Rukia and Ichigo face a powerful Hollow, and due to Ichigos’ true definition and moral fiber, he challenges the Hollow that is threatening his family, and Rukia becomes severely injured after intervening. Rukia states Ichigo must absorb half of her power so that he can become a “Substitute Reaper” to finish the job. Ichigo ends up absorbing almost all of her powers and becomes a powerful Shinigami and defeats the Hollow with ease.

  • Ichigo steps forward.

    Rukia must then stay in the human world, as she cannot return home until she regains her Shinigami powers, thus sparking the first story arc of Bleach, where Ichigo assists Rukia with defeating Hollows and fulfilling her Shinigami duties in the meantime.

  • Rukia is kidnapped.

    Towards the end of this story arc, Rukia is taken back to Soul Society, where Shinigami reside to face punishment for not returning from the human world. She is tried and sentenced to death.

  • Ichigo to the rescue.

    Ichigo and his friends who have also started to realize some powers of their own, leave the human world after training and head to the Soul Society to rescue Rukia together, and so ends the first major arc of the story.

  • Ichigo and friends enter the Soul Society.

    Ichigo and his friends fight their way to the Seiteirei to find and rescue their friend. This occurrence is imperative to pave the way for one of the major themes of the anime, Friendship. Throughout the show, there is a sense of companionship, bravery, and determination which is evident through the way Ichigo and his friends care so much about each other.

  • Ichigo powers up.

    During this story arc, Ichigo learns how to use his Bankai, which is the most powerful form of his Zanpakutō, a pivotal moment in the series and one that shows development in Ichigos’ character.

  • Aizen is revealed.

    After Rukia’s rescue the plot unfolds that Aizen, a former captain of the 5th Division of Gotei 13, had manipulated the events to frame Rukia for his own personal involvements. Aizen escapes to Hueco Mundo at the end of this storyline, which is home for Hollows to travel back and forth, while Ichigo returns home with his friends.

Throughout all chapters of the show, there are several chapters that are purely filler content to move the story along before returning to the main plot. The filler episodes make for a great way to break apart the ongoing conflict in the main plot and show more depth and an interest in side stories. This sparks the series of Bount story arcs that transpire next.

  • Ichigo vs. Bounts.

    Ichigo and his friends have not been home for long before they hear of Bounts, which are humans with the ability to consume human, Quincy, and Shinigami spirits. Ichigo faces off with the Bounts and the story follows a transition from Karakura town to Soul Society when the Bounts create a gateway to enter.

  • Bounts in Soul Society.

    While in Soul Society, Bounts are able to increase their power and the fight continues as they attempt to conquer Soul Society, but are eventually defeated by Ichigo and his friends, thus ending the two prominent filler arcs.

During the next major story arc, the Arrancar are introduced in Karakura Town in the human world and throwing the show into one of the longest story plots of the series to date. This arc is exciting because we meet some new unique characters. We are introduced to a new plot in the main story following the manga where Ichigo experiences an inner struggle trying to defeat his own Hollow inside of him.

  • Orihime is taken to Hueco Mundo.

    Much like the first story arc, we see some repetition as Ichigo and friends travel to Hueco Mundo, to retrieve his friend Orihime who was taken during the last story arc. We see a new round of battles pick up as they fight to rescue their friend.

  • The eventual downfall of Aizen.

    Ichigo finally defeats Aizen but at the cost of losing his Shinigami powers. Up to this point, we have only had one main antagonist throughout the story, which is Aizen. Many people, myself among them, felt a sense of closure towards the end of the story arc when Aizen is eventually defeated by Ichigo. The fight had been a long time coming, and was the quintessential battle summarizing what felt like a climactic finale for the anime. Some may argue that this seemed as if it would be the end of Bleach here. Many were happy with the way this battle turned out, but no one was to know there was more of the story to tell.

I have felt that the additional arcs following Aizens’ defeat have only added to the presence of the anime and give more feedback to certain questions that may have went unanswered at the end. So after this long awaited finale, we are brought into another surprising story arc, one set a year and a half after Ichigo defeated Aizen and lost his Shinigami powers. Ichigo is processing the realities of living without his powers as a regular teenager, as he was once before. While coming to terms with the reality in front of him, Ichigo is confronted by Kugo Ginjo who hands Ichigo a card with the name “Xcution”. Ginjo speaks of a way Ichigo can regain his powers. Ichigo goes through training with Kugo to develop Fullbring powers, which are spiritually aware humans with their own supernatural set of powers. Ichigo is able to manifest these powers, only to have his new them taken by Ginjo. After Ginjo has thwarted Ichigos’ powers, Ichigo then is given a gift from all of his friends from the Soul Society.  They each give him a small portion of their Soul Reaper Powers and he is become a Soul Reaper once again.

Fast-forward to the present.

We are now amidst what is supposedly the end to Bleach- the last story arc- the 1,000-Year Blood War. There is an all-out war that ensues between the Soul Society, and a group of Quincy called the Wandenreich. As this war advances, we see an array of characters make a comeback as well as some new and interesting face-offs. The story stays true to its title by giving a blood spilled sequence of battles where in the end, we end see some major character leads get killed off in epic fashion. This arc has shaped up to be one of the longest storylines, and I for one, am interested in finding out what else the series might have in store in the future if it continues.

So what is Bleach’s’ future?

From what is heard online, this could possibly be the last arc of Bleach, and its final days. Bleach has a variety of factors that kept it on the front page of Shonen Jump for so many years. If we see this anime truly come to a close, it will be an end fitting for the anime and Kubos’ legacy. []

As a whole, Bleach has made a lasting impact on the overall landscape of the anime industry, paving way for newer artists to create more vivid and unique characters coupled with cinematically crafted fight sequences. Whether you have been a long time follower or are just now starting to watch, you can appreciate the influence Bleach has had on modern anime.

I would love to hear some of your opinions on Bleach’s’ legacy. Please comment below and share this page if you enjoyed the read.