Well, this is slightly awkward. When I wrote my impressions of Bleach up to its small-scale and, let’s be frank, completely unnecessary time-skip, I had no inkling that the anime version would last only another single season before being replaced by – rather embarrassingly – a spinoff of Naruto, so thought this second set of impressions would have rather more weight. I’ve even put off watching the last episodes because it felt too soon to write this. But now I’ve seen Episode 366 – the last one, for now – and once again the third of the current Big Three is dwindling away.
The manga continues, for sure – by all accounts full of the deaths of major characters but very little that appeals to the core fanbase. I don’t know, because I’ve never really liked Bleach enough to read the manga, especially finding the first 40-odd episodes of the anime tough going. More will quite possibly be adapted, perhaps in movies, but let’s be honest – Bleach’s day is done and if HunterxHunter retakes its place as the third of the Big Three, I will be nothing but pleased.
The last arc sums up what Bleach has become for me – some interesting ideas that don’t feel developed, so many strong and well-loved characters that you know the villains of the week won’t be able to do much against them, and when it boils down to it, Ichigo being able to solve everything by (figuratively) punching a little bit harder than his opponent. Preferably after a speech about trust, friendship and loyalty. The premise – Ichigo is displaced as a mysterious ability alters the memory of his loved ones and makes them feel he is betraying a long-term friend rather than fighting an enemy – is interesting, but by the end Kubo just takes all the easiest ways out he can. Which has rather been the problem with Bleach all along – including its filler arcs, which started so promising (for what they are) and fizzled out into tedium.
There was clearly no plan for the series to come to such an abrupt end, and as such the episode wraps up essentially like any other, with no closure and an impression that if you want to see more, you’d better go to the manga. Maybe one day I will – but then, I said that about Claymore and only read a handful of chapters. And I thought Claymore had a lot more promise in its scant few episodes than Bleach ever managed.
Bleach had one arc that apart from random power boosts did just about everything right, introduced what tends to make Shounen Jump series really shine – a varied, badass and likeable group of adversaries (see the Akatsuki in Naruto and the Ryodan in HunterXHunter) – and then later managed to make them firm friends of the protagonist. It also had the slow-burning mysteries of Ichigo’s father and Urahara. But it really suffered from a dull protagonist, nothing every really feeling truly at stake once Rukia was saved, and a time skip that seemed to do absolutely nothing but make Ichigo’s sisters a little taller. I stuck with it for all 366 episodes, and will watch any further feature films, but at the end of it all, the fact is that Bleach left me cold and if I never find out how the story truly ends, it won’t be overly upsetting.