…all right, it’s finally come time for me to admit it. I simply cannot, in good conscience, profess any kind of certainty in Kubo’s intention to present the IchiRuki bond as the only true possible pairing in the Bleach manga for the two characters involved.
…mind you, it’s very clear
for anyone reading that Ichigo and Rukia do
have a special, irreplaceable bond.
But it’s also very clear that there are many other factors involved in the equation, and we simply cannot
ignore those and highlight our favourite pairing’s scenes at the expense of everyone else’s.
Let me explain.
As we all know, before they met, Ichigo was a sad, sad boy longing for the power to make a difference. Before they met, Rukia was a lonely, lonely girl convinced that she’d already made all the difference in the world, and for the worse
. They were not seeking a new beginning. They were not expecting the future to hold any particular light in store for them. They were unhappy, and sort of hopeless, resigned to their current life and trying desperately
to avoid thinking of their own situation, because – hey. No use in whining to oneself about things one is unable to change.
Rukia had very recently lost the two most important people in her life, and was quite wary of placing her trust in someone else again. She held a comfortable position in the Gotei 13 without really thinking she’d earned it, and she felt trapped by the very constraints she’d previously seeked in her attempt to find a place where she could truly belong.
Ichigo was convinced of the fact he was responsible for his own mother’s death, and was unable to even think
of talking about it, much less with his father. He felt powerless and impotent in the face of the constant spirit (people) disappearances he kept seeing over and over and over again, and felt trapped by the very ‘normality’ that his father had tried so hard to make him settle into.
Rukia was not lacking in willpower or talent. Ichigo was not lacking in potential or boldness.
They were simply lacking in self-reliance and direction
…and this is how they met
It’s really hard to imagine a more powerful
and significant beginning for our couple.
Their interaction spells familiarity and chemistry right from the start – and not only for us, but for them
too. Look at Rukia’s smile when she’s presenting herself!
Compare it to the frown she was shown wearing at the beginning of the chapter, or to her sad look in the Sand and Rotator sidestory. Look at Ichigo’s smile, at his excitement even in the face of such great danger! His family is at risk, and he can actually do something to help them
Rukia’s sacrifice is not particularly surprising for us in hindsight – she’s a generous soul, always ready to do her best to help other people. But giving her powers to someone else – a human! Knowing very well that it is a crime in her world, and would likely be judged very harshly by Soul Society if it were discovered! That is not
a fearful Rukia, terrified at the thought of possibly making the situation worse with her actions. That is a bold
Rukia, trusting in her own judgement and willing to take what she believes are the necessary steps to remedy her own situation, and damn the consequences
Ichigo’s desire to save his family is also not surprising. But his readiness to trust what amounts to a complete stranger, to allow her to thrust her sword
into his chest and … yeah. That is not
a resigned Ichigo right there. That is an active
Ichigo, willing and eager
to take matters into his own hands and kick the collective asses of anyone who dares to threaten his loved ones again, and damn the consequences
are the characters we’ve eventually come to know and love
The story goes on, and guess who
suddenly turns up to show us what complete
and total understanding of someone else looks like?
The childhood friend.
It makes sense, if you think abut it.
Tatsuki’s known Ichigo all of her life. She was very close to him once, and is mostly aware of what happened with his mother. She could easily tell he was sad, despite his smiling face. It makes sense that it’d be her to finally help him to face his feelings and defeat the symbol of what he’s always thought of as his biggest defeat. It makes sense that she’d be the one to cuddle his spent form after the fight, sealing his victory with a ‘thank you’.
Seriously, it’s not like we could expect Kubo to have Rukia
do all of this!
She has indeed bonded a lot with Ichigo in just a few weeks, and their personalities do seem to match like whipped cream on hot chocolate, but… well, if Kubo had her resolving the main torment of Ichigo’s childhood just a few weeks
after their first meeting, without even having the benefit of a shared past with him or a direct knowledge of the event itself (seriously, Ichigo would be required to bare his soul
to her – preposterous!
)…. it would simply be too cheesy
And so, here is another contestant for Ichigo’s affection.
But Ichigo is not the only one who attracts a lot of admirers!
Let us proceed to one of the most tragic chapters in the manga – the part in which Rukia tries to escape, only to later let herself be arrested and led to almost certain death in order to protect…
Why Ishida, you might ask? It certainly seems quite shocking. He’s never seemed to pay much attention to her before this moment, after all.
And yet, he faces almost certain death in the attempt to save her. And not only that! If that was all he’d done, it would be very generous of him, even heroic, but also nothing to truly squee
about. Ichigo had also tried to save her just a few minutes previously, no? And gotten the shit beat out of him for his trouble. No, Ishida doesn’t simply try to save her, he tries to save her and then goes on to have an angst fest
of pages and pages and pages
and chapters upon chapters upon chapters
We get treated to such an heavy-handed
flood of flashbacks that we almost drown
in them. Uninterrupted repetitions of his sadness and despair.
Just his despair. No one else’s.
I mean, look at his face
, at his obvious pain
at the sight of her departing figure, at the infinite panels
dedicated to his reaction! He was so bold
when he started the fight, almost flippant with his smirking face and excited shouting… so sure he’d be the winner. So sure he’d kick the bad guys’ asses and take Rukia home.
So sure he’d never fail to save his loved ones again.
But there he is now, defeated.
His pain is so deep
we actually get a fade to black
as the only suitable end to the chapter.
Given this obvious display of devotion, we would expect him to be the main presence in Rukia’s tormented mind during her days in prison.
But instead, the question of who the man in Rukia’s heart truly is
…it is mindblowing.
Why does Renji mention him all of a sudden? What does he know – or suspect
, that we don’t? And look at Rukia’s expression! Even Renji, canonically in love with her, cannot help commenting upon the light that inundates her face as soon as he lets it slip that Chad's coming for her.
Why this display of hope and affection in her otherwise despairing and guilt-plagued mind? What sort of discussions and bonding has she shared with him off-panel, what could be the prompter of such focus and trust on her part?
And this goes for yet another
person that we soon learn occupies her lonely nights while she is forced to wait for her own execution!
No words are necessary, really.
This is such an incredibly touching scene.
Rukia and Ganjuu have known each other for so little time
, and yet he’s left such a profound impression on her that she can’t help mentioning him again and again to poor Hanatarou, who is helpless to save her but would like so much
to be of some use.
And of some use he is!
His words take the form of many little arrows that rush to Ganjuu’s heart and manage to prick all of his feelings, all of his insecurities, all of his desires. Every single word
that Rukia uttered in the black despair of her remorse gets reported, almost as if destiny
had a hand in it, to the very person she feels so powerfully about. Every single word
that Rukia uttered starts ringing in Ganjuu’s head and prompts him to run faster, fight harder, reach higher
. In order to find her. In order to look her in the face and tell her that her actions did indeed have consequences… those of freeing him from his pain, of giving him a goal and of turning him into the person he wants to be
But the goal is still far, far away for him!
When Rukia gets transferred to her final destination to reflect upon her crime, who
does she see, shining against the sun like a heroic white knight, once she turns her head upwards?
It really looks as if Kubo likes to purposefully fuck with our heads, doesn’t it?
I mean, Hitsugaya? Where
did this come from?
Why make him appear out of nowhere like this – a beacon of hope flying down from the sky, a vision of light for Rukia’s tired and resigned eyes? Before his arrival she was shocked, terrified
. She’d just been granted a glimmer of hope, only to have that hope torn away
from her and her saviours struggling to defend her at the risk of their lives. Once again, she was forced to watch people dying to defend her. People dying because of her. And once again, she was powerless to prevent it.
But at the peak of her despair, she looks up and there
. There he is. And he is just as shocked
as she is – he wasn’t expecting to see her there, wasn’t expecting to have a chance to save her, to talk to her for the first time in what probably seemed to him like an eternity, wasn’t expecting to have her see him so wounded and tired. He was supposed to look strong and heroic once he finally appeared before her, not stumble over his own words
and walk away from her, unable to summon up the courage to face her directly.
What he’d meant to be a heroic rescue had turned, in his eyes, in a boyish attempt to be chivalrous and romantic, immediately dispelled by his usual chemistry with Rukia taking over the entire scene, spectators included.
Such an epic
chapter, despite the failure at taking Rukia away from the bridge.
…but Hitsugaya’s not the only one doing his best to steal Ichigo’s spotlight during the rescue!
Such an epic declaration, such devotion
, such love
How could anyone
doubt his feelings after seeing this scene?
romance. An author doesn’t simply make a character swear to save a girl on his soul, risk his life and everything he holds dear for her, challenge insurmountable odds and face death itself with a cocky grin on his face just in order to see her smile again… because he thinks she’s a good friend
Seriously, it just doesn’t work that way. Especially
since it is the only declaration of the sort we have seen in the course of the entire manga!
Though admittedly, it still pales in comparison to the final, epic, fantastic
rescue scene we were treated to in what is perhaps the climax
of the Soul Society arc.
Once again, an unexpected character has appeared in place of Ichigo!
Really, despite my love for IchiRuki… when you have so many people stealing the spotlight away from the main character – to the point that it’s someone other than him that eventually appropriates the part of the hero and does the actual rescuing! – I think it’s time to admit that the author is not
trying to underline the main character’s single-minded rescue attempt, but instead showcasing the entire group’s actions and sacrifices.
And what a sacrifice this is! Or could prove to be, if Ikkaku wasn’t his usual awesome self. Because that’s an enourmous firebird possessing the force of a thousand fucking zanpakutou
right there, and would you
have the audacity to stop it like this – with such a carefree attitude, with such simple, easy confidence, too engrossed in your damsel in distress’s eyes to spare your enemy even a single glance?
…yeah, I thought so.
But what about Ichigo
, you might ask. Why
isn’t he the one being granted the privilege of starring in this role before his damsel in distress’ eyes? What is
it that occupies his mind, that prevents him from showing us the same kind of awesomeness?
Orihime, in a sudden outburst of insight, shares with us her thoughts on the matter.
…let’s admit it, this is the real crux of the matter, isn’t it?
In a story such as this, if we want to analyse the chances of a couple’s canonization it’s impossible
to gloss over the mutual, positive effects they provoke in each other.
Any good author will take care to underline these effects before daring to suggest a possible romantic turn in two characters’ relationship… and what do we have here, according to author-mouthpiece Orihime? Someone who changed Ichigo’s entire world
…that’s not a light, unassuming statement. That’s a punch-in-the-face-level
proclamation, claiming that Ichigo and Urahara possess a bond so deep
and entrenched that not a single aspect
of their life has remained static ever since they met. Can you even begin
to imagine what someone’s entire world
consists of…? Their beliefs, their feelings, their relationships, their powers, their habits, their philosophical convinctions, their favourite foods…! Their
It is a heavy
It is also a very obvious, very unsubtle way to make sure that all the ten-year-olds who read this manga get it into their heads
that Ichigo’s current thought process basically consists of nothing but Geta Boushi Geta Boushi Geta Boushi fight Geta Boushi Geta Boushi Geta Boushi fight Geta Boushi Geta Boushi Geta Boushi fight Geta Boushi Geta Boushi Geta Boushi.
It is also a hard blow for poor Rukia’s chances of conquering his heart – though it seems she’s not all that eager to do so at the moment, given her innumerable possible partners in this story.
…all the same, Ichigo’s just so terribly
ambiguous in his feelings!
Just look at what his last words in Soul Society are, before returning to the human world.
Seems like in this arc Kubo’s been piling up sappy, beautifully touching statements by the hundreds, eh?
And what’s worse, they’re all addressed to different people
I mean, come on. Why
focusing so particularly on Rangiku in this scene? Why making her the center of the picture, why underline so much Ichigo’s hesitation during his departure, why making him spill his mind in such a profound, heartfelt, all-encompassing statement? He’s talking about the rain
, people. The very thing that’s been tormenting him for years, that Zangetsu has been rebelling against in the depths of his soul ever since he was born.
And it has stopped
For anyone needing a further explanation of this apparently terribly abstruse metaphorical declaration, Ichigo. Is
…well, for the moment, at least.
Because of course
, burdened by all kinds of problems – not the least of which his inability to keep his pet horse under control – he gradually fades into a Fail!version of himself… the more time he spends away from the one person
who can truly understand and help
Who am I talking about?
But of course…
…and really, I have to give it to Kubo, who else
could we expect it to be.
Yoruichi has, after all, always
been the one to help Ichigo in his moments of danger and discouragement, hasn’t she? She’s been the reason he managed to form a functioning spirit cannonball, she’s been his inspiration to achieve bankai… it only makes sense that she’d be the one to help him confront his hollow and restore his spirit, thus allowing him to renew his promises.
And look at his expression
at her sudden appearance!
You can clearly see how he didn’t dare hope, didn’t even dare think
about the possibility of seeing her again. He’s flabbergasted, he can’t tear his eyes away from her lone figure on the window, to the point that everyone
and everything else
in the classroom simply ceases to exist
And that’s not the only time this has happened with those two, either.
You would think this would be enough for us to establish Ichigo’s possible feelings for Yoruichi as canon, but honestly, that boy is so difficult
Which is probably why, just a little while later, there he is
– evidently struggling against horrible pangs of pain and despair, given his eyes and posture… and for whom
…okay, so some people have claimed that in this scene Ichigo was distracted
, angsting over his failures, looking at air particles, just about anything but
despairing over the wounded girl in front of him, to which I say seriously
, people. Just. Look. At
that the scene is all about his feelings for Orihime.
Even as an IchiRuki fan, I can’t really deny it. Especially considering Rukia’s expression – pained, acknowledging, resigned. Resigned to what? Well, it’s not that difficult to imagine. As assured as someone might be of possessing a niche in their loved one’s heart, at the sight of such a spectacle I think anyone
would be forced to question just what kind
of niche that is.
Which takes me to my next point, namely that, despite his obvious affection for Rukia, Ichigo simply refuses
to single her out whenever the occasion presents itself.
Aaaah, the infamous ‘Ichigo turns his back to the mission’ chapter.
Explicit comparisons in a manga are never
done without a reason, especially by authors such as Kubo, who always pay a lot of attention to subtlety and symbolism.
And in this particular case, the parallelism couldn’t be more explicit. We have two scenes characterized essentially by the same elements, presented to the readers one after the other in similar circumstances and yet, the reactions we get from Ichigo are completely different
With Rukia, he was worried and terrified – quite obviously, since she’s a very
important person to him and he’d just sensed her life force diminishing to the point of almost certain death. He falters, struggles with himself, but in the end… grits his teeth and goes on
. He has a mission to accomplish. But with Chad
… with Chad, it’s not even a question of weighting different options – the one he must carry out at any cost
versus the one he would like so much
to have the time for – and choosing, regretfully, the first. For him, it is not even a decision at all
. Not one moment
of hesitation, not one hint
of doubt or indecision crosses his face, permeates his actions.
It’s clearly a very black and white situation for Ichigo: Chad hurt – go to Chad. As if the synapses in his brain automatically connected problem and solution without bothering to add, say, a reflection
It really is useless to try to explain this one away.
Because you can try to find as many explanations as you want, but the fact still stands
– Kubo decided to purposefully highlight the strength of Ichigo’s feelings in one situation rather than in another, and what’s more, he decided to use Rukia
, who we know means the world to Ichigo, as his terms of comparison – thus underlining ever further
how impressive Ichigo’s single-minded behaviour in this scene truly is.
…Ichigo has not, however, forgotten his one true mission
On the contrary, nothing could be more present in his mind than saving Orihime! He thinks about her costantly, angsts about her absence, flashbacks continually
to all she’s done for him and reflects out loud about how meaningless his life has become now that she’s gone.
With such foundations, it’s not surprising at all that once thet finally meet, their reunion turns out to be phenomenal
in its flood of passion
…seriously, just look at his face
The slow-motion zoom-in of his mouth
, the inexpressible feelings you can see lurking just under the surface of his smile, the simple, honest words rushing out of his mouth after his first moments of hesitation… you can almost touch
the rush of emotions permeating the pages. They’re that
And such a romantic situation, too!
They’re all alone, not a single soul in sight, their locked gazes staring directly at each other for pages and pages
– the kind of reunion a girl dreams about
at night and a boy acts out when he cosplays, really. A powerful image of longing and devotion that grips
your heart with long, sharp hooks and refuses to let go
After such an epic
scene, it’s no wonder that later on Ichigo is so vocal and passionate
in his proclamations of intent and his attempts to defend his lady’s honour.
The reason he’s come so far, the reason he’s fought dangerous opponent after dangerous opponent, the reason he’s willing to risk his own life and the lives of his friends
… all for her. Just to see Orihime smile again and take her home with him.
to deny the romantic implications of such a trasparent cliché.
Up until now, many characters have questioned Ichigo’s reasons for coming to Hueco Mundo, and he’s always answered them pretty half-heartedly, leaving almost the impression that he’d have gladly liked to skip that question… but oh
, how everything becomes clear
in this one scene. Obviously
, Kubo’s been teasing us all along with little hints here and there about Ichigo’s true intentions, only to let them slip out in a rush of emotion right in the middle of the main fight for his lady’s honour.
Which admittedly makes the scene pretty impressive
, especially since all the other rescuers were shown to have quite different reasons for invading Hueco Mundo… Rukia simply wanted to watch over Ichigo, and Renji to watch over Rukia. Ishida just wanted to fight and prove the strength
of his newfound powers, and Chad – well, Chad, of course, goes wherever Ichigo
goes. With Ichigo’s consent
…which really goes to prove what a mighty opponent he is for the final prize of Ichigo’s affections!
So, with all these things considered, can
we truly state with any degree of certainty that Rukia and Ichigo – if Kubo does
decide to establish a couple at the end of the manga – are the two characters who’re most probably going to be together?
…I am forced to answer with a no
Ichigo and Rukia have an extremely
complicated relationship that’s been highlighted over and over
again by Kubo – I have only chosen some examples of their encounters and interactions in this essay, in order not to prolong it unnecessarily – but in works of fiction such as manga we always have to remember to look at the general context
of the story, at all the points of view at our disposal before
forming an opinion about the likeness of an event.
And in Bleach’s case, the general context – providing us with so many instances of Ichigo or Rukia professing feelings for other people, or having ambiguous interactions with other potential partners – simply does not
allow us to reach a definite conclusion about who really lives
in the depth of our two heroes’ hearts
Even after the latest addition to their many awesome scenes together – their reunion before Ichigo’s fight with Ulquiorra…
…which assured us once again that Rukia is always a constant in Ichigo’s mind, and viceversa – we are simply unable to discern
Kubo’s real intent in the story.
Does he want to portray Ichigo as gradually falling in love with Rukia? Or does he want Ichigo’s first love to be his first best friend, Tatsuki? Should we take his final words to Rangiku as a foreshadowing of the couple to come? Or will Yoruichi take matters into her own hands and seize the man? Should Orihime, for whom Ichigo’s shown so much passion, be granted the prize of Ichigo’s heart? Or will Kubo decide to go yaoi and have Ichigo shack up with Chad? Perhaps he will decide to satisfy his rabid fans’ demand and end Bleach with a Urahara/Ichigo marriage!
As for Rukia, well… is Kubo trying to paint her feelings as ambiguously romantic in regards to Ichigo? Or is he planning to resolve the Ishida/Orihime situation by having him shack up with Rukia? Is Chad the person truly residing in Rukia’s heart, or is Renji the fortunate man that’s going to die by asking Byakuya for her hand in marriage? Will Ganjuu ever get to brag about his raw appeal’s latest conquest with Ichigo, or will Hitsugaya decide to completely take over every single poll in Japan by becoming one with the second most popular character in Bleach? And let’s not forget Ikkaku in this list, a powerful opponent that could seriously give Ichigo a run for his money!
In conclusion, despite my eternal love for IchiRuki, I must concede that the manga’s romantic development is clearly not set in stone, and in order to find out Kubo’s true intentions we’ll just have to hope and wait for further confirmation like everyone else.
I mean, if all these scenes were given to a single couple in the manga
, that would of course be a different case.
But as it is…? Naaah
...done! And now, back to my studies! Bad mezzo, always procrastinating.
P.S. Happy birthday
, Ichigo! deb:
Oh, and there are also commentaries and referenced bibliography to this sort of scholarly meta uncommon in shipping fandoms.