Monday, August 22, 2016

Bleach Ending Thoughts

Last week, Japan's weekly magazine Shounen Jump saw another major era come to a close as the Bleach manga printed its final chapter. It's been a mainstay of the magazine for fifteen years and was even a part of what is the now-legendary Big Three of manga: One Piece, Naruto, Bleach. It's tough to say if we'll ever see something like that again from a single magazine, and while one part of that trio ended last year, Naruto, Bleach has been on a steady decline in popularity that culminated in a very rushed ending and a finale that has led to some pretty drastic...happenings. Did it warrant all of that hate? 
Well, no. In many ways this finale emulates the only way that Bleach could've wrapped up: the characters all moved on, doing their thing, and all grown-up while they're at it. Sure there wasn't very much in terms of character development, but we did see where everyone had gone to ten years after the big war. For most of the shinigami we saw that in Chapter 685, so now we got to catch up on some of the characters.

And for an ending to the series? It's fine. I didn't expect much else. I know a lot of the Bleach fan-base is divided on who they wanted, romantically, to end up together but that was never really something I thought about with Bleach. The fact that Orihime is simply subservient to Ichigo is annoying and goes against all of her character development (what little there was) but I didn't expect her to not be with him. I also like Rukia and Renji together, since that was hinted at throughout the series. Getting to see the humans all grown up was fun and the kids that we saw were adorable, Renji and Rukia's kid in particularly pretty spunky. A good combination. 

There are some flaws with the ending. Aizen being where he is, for me, is the big one that's within the chapter itself, but I'll get into that a little more. The ending itself, like the final page, also seems like a desperate attempt by Kubo to leave things open for follow-up that we'll, probably, never get to see. Maybe explained? But never see. 

I think what most people are actually mad about isn't the ending itself, but the way that the ending came about. Bleach was heavily abused, apparently, by editorial. It was effectively cancelled and very prematurely at that. The final battle with Yhwach is evident of that, as there are almost as many chapters dedicated to the final fight as there are between all of the other Soul Reaper Captain fights. Maruyi vs. the Soul King Left Hand was cool for a little bit, but dragged on just a touch. 

There are many a seeds that were planted that never saw the light of day within the chapters themselves. Ichigo and Uryu's fathers serve little purpose, the Fullbringers were probably supposed to have a much larger role, and I imagine that Aizen and Ichigo were slated to either have a final showdown or a final moment following the battle with Yhwach. Plus Zaraki never mastered his Bankai, so that was a bummer. 

However, the major problem is that in doing the time skip between Chapter 684 and 685 we missed out on a ton of information that leaves us now, and maybe forever, with questions. The fight didn't even finish, technically, before we jumped ahead ten years. Ichigo slices into Yhwach and BAM we're in Soul Society ten years later celebrating Rukia's rise. There was no resolution to the fight, no celebration afterward, no discussion of what was to be done. Just Ichigo killing the bad guy and then that's it. It's reminiscent of the final battle of Power Rangers: Super Megaforce. Fight ends and series ends. That's it. 

Some of the questions that have been left unanswered include, but are certainly not limited to: 
- Why was Aizen imprisoned again after helping to defeat Yhwach?
- Did Zaraki ever master his Bankai?
- How did Yhwach's reiatsu only now manifest and be discovered ten years later? 
- What happened following the final battle? 
- Where are Uruhara, Yuroichi, Isshin, and Uryu's father? 
- What happened to all the Arrancar that were a part of the fighting? 
- What's going to happen to the "Squad Zero?"
- Has Ichigo's kid always been a shinigami or is he just now transforming into one? 
- Is there a new Soul King? 
- Who is looking after Hueco Mundo? 

There are some other qualms I have with a few of the creative decisions that would have really made things interesting. Because it seems that, after ten years, the biggest changes were: Rukia's a Captain, Chad is a boxer, and everyone has kids. 

Why isn't Renji a Captain? There is little doubt in my mind that he can't stand up against the other Captains, and he was a part of the final battle against Yhwach. Not an integral part, but you could argue that without him Aizen wouldn't have been able to use his abilities on Yhwach. 

Speaking of people that could be replacement Captains, Ikkaku would've been a great replacement Captain. I don't think Ichigo would ever be a Captain, and I'm curious what his relationship is with the Soul Society nowadays since he, you know, saved them and all that. 

Perhaps my biggest wonder is what's going on with the Soul King, since there was so much mystery set up around him with little to be done with it. Aizen was after the Soul King and was stopped, and then Yhwach absorbs him and...yeah. Then he dies and that's that. 

You know what would've been cool? Aizen becomes the Soul King. Would that have been so bad? We don't know what his purpose was in trying to find the Soul King. It's entirely possible that he knew that there could've been a Quincy invasion on its way and wanted to go to the Soul King to prepare him for Yhwach's arrival. True his motives are a little sketchy in drawing out the Arrancar from Hueco Mundo, but as we saw with Nell, they are all not entirely evil. Even Grimmjow had a bit of a turn toward the end there. 

Aizen becoming the Soul King would have been a major plot twist and would have definitely gotten readers excited one last time for the series. As exciting as it is to see Naruto as the Hokage, everyone saw that coming. The main villain technically winning in the end? But then the question remains: could Ichigo still defeat Aizen? Ichigo is, as Aizen said, the only person in the worlds that is not affected by his abilities. 

Sadly, though, things remained flat. It seemed that the war really had little to no repercussions. Yhwach came, killed just a few people that have now been replaced, failed in his mission, and then died without so much as a whimper. We'll never know what the fallout of the fight was and nobody was the worse for wear. Aizen is back in his chair, Ichigo still has his powers, and everyone is happy. 

And this is where everyone's hindsight super-powers come in, because the obvious remark is going to be: "It should have ended after the Aizen fight!" I won't disagree. Much like how Dragon Ball (Z) should have ended following the Cell Games, Bleach could have ended with the big bad finally defeated and Ichigo finally giving up his powers in a really sad moment. But nope, instead we continued with a really mediocre arc that had absolutely nothing helpful to give but new character designs, and then an arc that had promised, but wrapped up at the speed of light. 

It almost feels like there is actually missing chapters that Kubo had planned. Like he had these final two chapters generally drawn and written out as notes somewhere, and when SJ pulled the plug, he just threw these in, gave some rushed moments like the Aizen stuff, and called it a day because that's all he could do. It explains why we don't see anything of Urahara or Ichigo's father, two very integral characters to the narrative throughout. One taught him Bankai and the other trained him to defeat Aizen using the Final Getsuga Tenshou. A mentor and a father, you'd think they're important. 

Honestly, I'm just kind of disappointed with how it all ended but not necessarily with the ending itself. Imagine if we cut from Naruto and Sasuke clashing that final time to Chapter 700 with Sasuke out in the woods and Naruto as Hokage. In just one or two chapters there is so much information glossed over, like how Sasuke is in a personal exile and how he and Sakura might have a shot at romance. It's the same here, I'm willing to bet, despite the rushed nature, that Kubo could have fixed some of the problems and given us some semblance of explanation in just a couple of chapters. Instead, we skipped to the end. 

Bleach as a whole was never the most amazing story of all time. It was fun, damn fun at that. Whether you just liked things up until the Soul Society Arc, or stuck around through the impending doom of the Arrancar Arc, or read through it all, there were bound to be parts of Bleach that got your blood flowing. Many iconic moments in anime and manga history have come from this series, and that's something that can never be taken away. I'm sad that it's over, but I'll always have the fond moments of Ichigo's first Bankai or that Final Getsuga Tenshou with me. Aizen was a clever villain, and there was an incredibly colorful and diverse cast surrounding our characters. It's a shame how things ended, but that's just the way it is. 

Thank you, Tite Kubo. May your work live on in the hearts of all it's readers. 

*cue Cowboy Bebop credits music*

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