It has been well over 2 years since I last read this manga. I remember eagerly awaiting each chapter and marathoning the anime when I was a senior in college. I loved it. The characters, music, plot, designs, everything about this manga appealed to me and I just could not get enough of it. Of course, I am not a very patient person, so I marathoned the anime, streak read the manga, and then got tired of waiting for the next chapter to be released. It would slip out of my mind for a while, pop up, and then I would repeat the same process all over again.
And yet it still lives. Go to any anime convention in the US, and probably anywhere, and you will find a group of Bleach cosplayers who either planned it, or all came separately and found each other. The designs are simple, yet detailed enough that a good cosplayer can truly recreate that character. In a lot of ways, that reminds me of Kuroko no Basuke. Both Kubo and Fujimaki design their characters the same way; which denotes that Fujimaki was influenced by Kubo in some way. Though that is just conjecture and has no hard evidence behind it.
The further into this JUMP manga marathon I get, the more I enjoy it. When you read a book or series that you liked when you were younger it usually makes you a little horrified at the person you used to be. Surprisingly, I've really enjoyed rereading this manga. It never made me feel nostalgic or shake my head at my past self and start questioning why I liked it. I was able to easily reenter that world and laugh at areas I had forgotten or hadn't read yet.
After reading all of Bakuman last week, Bleach was SUCH a breeze to read. That is, of course, because Bakuman, not being a battle manga, was very reliant on dialogue to convey the conflicts and to raise the tension to the reader. Whereas Bleach, being a true JUMP battle manga, is heavily reliant on the actual art and images to continue and relay the story as it unfolds. And because of this, I read all 505 available chapters in only 3 days. When I think about how I've read a manga that has lasted for over 11 years in 3 days, my brain spins just a little. Compared to reading Bakuman, that ran for 3 years and took me almost a week to read, it makes the manga sound like it's almost disposable when it's not. There are techniques that Kubo uses in this manga that, put together, create a very vivid and captivating manga.
One of the first things I thought about as I was reading the manga was, first how quickly I was going through it and second how heavily cinematic it is. What I mean by 'cinematic' is the incorporation of broadcasting techniques in the layout and the panels, or koma. It really is quite amazing how Kubo used just an image of a foot to build tension during the Soul Society arc. There is almost a cinematic quality to Kubo's approach to telling his story. Close-ups and fade-to-black pages are found frequently in the manga and it helps develop and thicken tension as well as continues the flow of the coma on each page. Adding these techniques along with sound effects during the battle sequences layered on top of the plot amplifies the tension. There is a flow that
One of the main reasons why I feel that Bleach has become to popular within Japan and out of it was Soul Society. Japan has a very old, complex, bloody, and unique history and culture that is a source of pride of the Japanese and and a source of envy to Westerners who find it fascinating. Head to any popular department store, go to the stationary section and find the stickers. There are dozens of stickers that showcase popular historical figures and folklore aimed at kids and adults alike. I bought a set of each once to pass out to my students and they could name them all and the more bilingual ones would explain what they were and where they are from. The layers of rich and detailed folklore that the Japanese have to play with and take inspiration from can rival the more readily available Greek, Roman, Egyptian, or Norse myths that are seen in YA and fantasy literature selling in bookstores. The Japanese entertainment industry has no shortage of historical dramas and material that they can use in creating a new drama for the airwaves. Period dramas are very popular and there is always a new Japanese one or a Korean period drama that has been dubbed into Japanese. Kubo was smart to purposely try and create a world where shinigami live in a society and culture that evoke the shinsengumi, the most beloved military group in Japanese history.
These mixing of traditional and modern elements have been seen in other very popular Jump and shōnen manga. Kenshin, Kekkaishi, Norarihyon no Mago, and Hikaru no Go are just the beginning. By incorporating that historical element and design to the manga, Kubo was already on the right track in getting peoples attention. Add in the array of characters and personalities, and Kubo had a winning manga on his hands already. The fact that Bleach has lasted for so long is some what interesting. I read that Kubo had only intended the manga to last for 5 years roughly and to see it last twice as long reeks of editor and publisher milking the franchise for all they can.
Should the manga have ended after Aizen was defeated? On bases of storyline alone, it honestly could have. Just add in an episode that gives an explanation of the Kurosaki family and how and why Isshin left Soul Society in the first place and the story would have been solid and gone out on a high note. Taking into account that Kubo had always intended for there to be a Quincy arc, the real problem then becomes that the Espada arc lasted too long. Besides leveling up the most popular characters, I felt it really didn't add much to the story. The Inoue plot would have been just as meaningful and compelling if there had been only 6 Espada instead of 10. When compared to the fact that what was happening with Aizen and the Soul Society forces was much more important to the story than all of the Espada.
Since Shueishia decided to keep the story going after the defeat of Aizen, the Fullbring arc was really needed to tie the story together. How would a character who has been opening declaring his need, or compulsion, to protect those around him deal with having that power taken away? This type of question needed to be addressed before the Quincy arc could be introduced and the story to actually have a complete ending. The Fullbring arc was actually very compelling and interesting to reread again and is probably the darkest arc in the manga. It also answered and deepened questions about the "arrogance" of Soul Society and how they interacted with other paranormal groups in the series. It also brought up Ichigo's biggest flaw painfully and clearly into focus; which I appreciated as a reader. I felt through the whole Soul Society and Aizen arcs, Ichigo's only flaw was that he was too weak in battle. This arc really brought into focus his true flaw and that is that he takes way to much on himself.
The last this I really liked about this manga is that Kubo matched his paranormal groups with different language families. I have read that Kubo matched Spanish and German with the Arrancars and Quincy because I felt the languages reflected the personalties and feeling for each group. Kubo has been open about how he made those connections on purpose, but I really appreciated that there were other languages that English in the story. If you live in Japan for any given amount of time, it becomes apparent that the Japanese can forget that foreigners don't all speak English. I've met numerous foreigners living in Japan, who are not originally from an English speaking country, complain about how all Japanese will automatically assume that they speak English. It can be frustrating, so I was particularly happy and pleased to see that English was not the primary foreign language featured in the story.
Since this manga is on it's last arc, I imagine that the end will be out sometime beginning of next year and we will have one big hole that will have to be filled at Shueisha. I honestly can't imagine what would replace it.