When I first began reading Bleach, I was 14 and a freshman in high school. The concept was basic enough. A boy of 15 with orange hair could see ghosts. My interest was piqued by an adult swim promo and then, sometime after that, a friend told me I should start reading the manga. I did and it was good. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but the story was coherent enough, characters likable enough, concept cool enough, and most importantly fights were filled with special moves and lots of high pressure blood. At 14 I thought Bleach was pretty good. I’m 21 now and I can safely say that Bleach is pretty terrible and it’s not simply because I got older. Bleach is terrible because all of the things that I listed as good devolved horribly.
For those less familiar with the story. It’s about a boy named Ichigo Kurosaki who is able to see and communicate with ghosts. His life is changed forever when he meets Rukia Kuchiki, a shinigami (death god). Ichigo shows her he is no mere human and when his home is attacked by a hostile ghost called a hollow; he shows the will typical of shounen heroes and Rukia grants him her power allowing him to successfully defeat the hollow and protect his family. From there new characters are introduced and the series was like a sort of monster of the week thing.
After a while it became more serious and violent with ever rising stakes as Ichigo and crew began collecting new powers as more powerful foes arose. Soul society was introduced, a conspiracy unearthed, and loads of new characters and villains added. There isn’t enough room in this column to go through Bleach’s evolution or rather de-evolution fully so let me just focus on the main issue: character development.
Tite Kubo’s made it no secret that he writes in new characters when he gets stuck trying to move his story along. Nothing wrong with a large ensemble cast, but where Bleach goes wrong is in its utter failure to draw a clear line between its major and minor characters while continuing to add more characters without sufficiently handling existing ones.
Take Orihime Inoue, who should be a major character based on her proximity to the main character. Early on we learned about her past and motivation. She developed powers capable of creating near impenetrable shields and literally reversing time to heal injuries. She had the makings of a well rounded character, but she’s become stagnant in her development since then, toeing the line between useless and useful with Kubo unable to decide if she will ever actually participate in an arc.
Meanwhile, Kubo continues adding new characters who are developed to a point and then left in the same position as Orihime. Those characters are minor and I mean very minor. I am talking about bad guys who are around for a few chapters or a single fight, given a flashback to their origins only to be ceremoniously killed one or two chapters later – sometimes mere panels later. The problem is not them being killed but that Kubo tries to jam them in at all. It only serves to pad out chapters unnecessarily, wasting pages and panels that could have been used for other more important characters. Even characters not killed are never fully fleshed out. Rukia could’ve been a real major player with how she started but is never really given the opportunity. Ichigo is really the only person that Kubo ever attempts to develop and, even then, he manages to botch that up by making him some weird hybrid of shinigami, human, hollow, and most recently Quincy (look it up).
There are so many characters that I completely forgot at one point what the main villain’s goal was because the arc had spanned a good three years and had introduced no less than 16 characters, which meant no less than 16 minor storylines. It doesn’t help that Kubo often strings along a series of different fights without sufficient dialogue to move the story forward, merely adding length with no depth. It’s all like a very badly put together quilt, the center patch is the best but still sloppy while the peripheral patches are all half done with threads hanging loose at the ends.