Here goes. (I'm sorry that what follows is only a very abbreviated version of my essay--maybe I can recall some of my more original thoughts about the topic if you engage me in the comments).
Orihime's Actions on the Dome; Where Fans Place Blame or Assign Impunity (Thoughts About an Ongoing Discussion)
Fans don't behave themselves when it comes to discussing a certain Bleach character named Inoue Orihime. Feelings run deep. The love and hate for this character is intense and sometimes the F-word (feminism) gets thrown around.
A fan named Ichi-nii, may good fortune fall upon his brave soul, asked a hot button question in the Orihime Fanclub at Bleach Asylum the other day (The thread starts at post 756 on this page: bleachasylum.com/showthread.php). There have been few discussions at BA about Orihime that haven't ended up with posts being deleted, a banning or two, and I believe all threads about her in the manga-proper forum have ended up being closed.
Maybe the planets were aligned just so, but the discussion ended up being relatively wank-free (although several participants, myself included, sometimes treaded past the club rule that Bleach guys aren't supposed to be discussed in relation to Orihime--the original purpose of the rule was to avoid shipping wank but the rule effectively stifles character discussion and sometimes posters can noodle around it) I got to post to my heart's content about my favorite female Bleach character and clarify some of my thoughts about her development and it was thanks to Ichi-nii's question. That bold question was:
Why did Orihime scream for Kurosaki Ichigo's assistance on the Top of the Dome?
Bleach readers who aren't avid Orihime watchers may think the answer to this question is obvious--the girl panicked, understandably lost her battle-fatigued, fragile mind for a moment, and screamed out in desperation to a corpse. After all, the scene is a familiar trope--a damsel cries out in distress and the hero rises to the occasion. In this case, a dead Ichigo literally resurrected into a powerful and raring new form to combat whatever was threatening the fair maiden. The page below from chapter 350 shows us this very scenario.There are readers in the fandom who see this page as the definitive one for the Lust arc; in other words, it tells you all you need to know.
Then there are those readers who will tell you that "things are not always what they seem at first" in Kubo Tite's story. I'm one of this group--I believe that fans who get stuck on the above page don't consider the story before or after, let alone nuances in the panels or the overriding theme of Human versus Hollow (as in Ulquiorra becoming more human and a Good Guy, TM, while Ichigo becames a Hollow and the Bad Guy, TM during the same battle). Our group will argue that in keeping with Kubo's love of paradoxes and parallelisms (e.g. a kindly bespectacled Shinigami captain becomes cruel!smug !ultimate! villian or a goofy dad becomes badass!Shinigami fighter--there are many such revelations in Bleach), the hero who rises to protect Orihime is not really a good guy. The first hint we have of his badness is when testing his weapon, Ichigo's new form sends the person he intends to protect flying violently across the landscape and crashing against the ground. Orihime is saved from subsequent faceplants and injury by Ishida.
She seems so vulnerable here. She's the sixteen-year-old in a land of ghosts and monsters and she's watched her friends suffer greatly for her sake. What possibly could this character have done in these chapters to provoke some Bleach fans to hate her and cause some of her own fans to say "hey, the girl's disappointed me" or "this is Orihime's lowest moment in the manga?"
The fuss about whether Orihime's actions on the dome are blameworthy, praiseworthy, sympathetic, selfish or whatever may confuse fans who don't keep up with fandom or follow her character very closely. Some of you may wonder why a lot of Orihime's fans are dissing their own favorite girl.
We're taking our expectations for Orihime from Orihime's expectations of herself. In the chapter "Don't Look Back," Orihime set a clear goal for herself.
Then, right after the Ichigo that had responded to Orihime's call for help impaled Ishida clean through with Zangetsu, Orihime thought, "It's all my fault" and blamed herself for not fulfilling the above vow and depending, again, on Ichigo.
Why else would Kubo, who rarely gives his characters internal monologue unless its very significant, delineate Orihime's actions (or as many would argue, her significant inaction) on the dome with these telling self-reflections? The first, preceding the Lust chapters, gives us her vow to fight and not depend on Ichigo and the second, following the battle, tells us about her disappointment and self-blame.
Although interpretations of the Lust chapters fall all over the place as all interpretations of Bleach can, there are two distinguishable camps that tend to divide along shipping orientations. Fans who ship Orihime with Ishida and Ulquiorra see Orihime as flawed and blameworthy (although not entirely unsympathetic or unbelievable) and those who ship her with Ichigo see her as faultless. It's hard, therefore, for discussion about Orihime's character development to take place without fans somehow championing for their fave guy for Hime in the subtext of their arguments. Maybe one reason why the recent discussion at the fanclub went relatively smoothly is that Ichi-Nii is an IchiOri shipper and he qualified his original question (Why did Orihime call out to Ichigo on the Dome?) with the following (sometimes all it takes is for one shipper not to tow the party line, and a tense topic can proceed as more of a discussion among individuals rather than the usual battle between two contingencies):
I just find the scream for help by Orihime, and please dont take this offensively, but reallly selfish of her almost because of the disregard for Ichigo's condition.
That scene is without a doubt in my Mind, Orihime at her worst state, even she asks herself why she screamed for his help and couldnt answer.
Am I missing something, and just being alittle tough on her in this situation? Or is it something that we just going to have to wait and see in regards to her development?
Thank You for your responses
As often happens before discussions can get good and lively, someone tries to definitively end all discussion with the platitude "it's all a matter of opinion." I want to show that there are not only matters of opinion at stake here when discussing events on the dome; some actual facts are being contested by fans, and as always, when facts are being debated, someone is right and someone is wrong.
One of the first answers to Ichi-Nii's question was this one:
It is a matter of opinion because I feel that what she did wasn't wrong. It wasn't selfish, it was an act of pure desperation. She tried to heal him and it didn't work. Her friend was getting beaten by Ulquiorra, who wouldn't scream for help when everything she has done has proven to be futile, and she is bascially rendered powerless to help?
I answered in the thread: Whether or not Orihime is "selfish" is indeed a matter of opinion--that's a judging word. But whether or not she was powerless to help isn't a matter of opinion--it's a matter of fact that she wasn't powerless.
Here is a girl who has untapped powers that are G-dlike and she didn't even use a power she'd used before--namely, her offensive weapon, Tsubaki. She didn't call on her own powers to help the situation.
That was fact one: Orihime was not powerless when she called for Ichigo's help.
Fact two in contention: She didn't use Tsubaki because he hadn't worked before.
There's no manga evidence to suggest that Orihime made this conscious decision. In fact, there's plenty manga evidence that Orihime had been reminded of her vow to fight and of her hesitancy to follow through with that vow in Hueco Mundo. True, Tsubaki had failed on his last run out. But Orihime had not hesitated to use her shield on the dome and her shield was already failing in protecting Ishida. It had worked before in an earlier part of Ichigo's bout with Ulquiorra, but it had disintegrated as quickly as her resolve when Ulquiorra challenged her. Ulquorra challenged Orihime not with his sword but with his mind. He wanted to know as why she hadn't intervened in the fight before (chapter 342).
I call attention here to Ulquiorra's calling attention to Orihime's hesitation to act, intervene, fight alongside her nakama. Sometimes villians are full of bull; sometimes they are necessary antagonizers to move the plot; other times, they act like narrative reminders of what the author wants to emphasize--in this case, Ulquiorra's question should make you recall Orihime's vow to fight alongside Kurosaki-kun the next time she saw him.
But to continue with the fact in contention--Orihime did not use Tsubaki because she knew he wouldn't work--Orihime was using her shield on the dome even though that shield wasn't working too well. She kept throwing that shield up to protect Ishida from Ulquiorra's oncoming whip action on the dome. She was also continuing to use her healing powers on Ichigo when to all visible appearances, Ichigo wasn't getting any healthier. Had Orihime simply forgotten that Tsubaki was in her arsenal? I don't know. When people argue that Orihime is, by nature, not a fighter, I like to counter that if her fairies are manifestations of her character, then she is one sixth a tiny lean mean scowling personage who can slice an opponent clean in half if fired with the proper intent.
Who's to say that the reason Tsubaki failed all other times he was fired wasn't because he was a weak weapon but because he wasn't used properly? Hacchi told Orihime that her powers depended on her will; it only seems to follow that if she fired him with the proper intent, he might do a nice job of taking down any formidable opponent.
And what if Tsubaki was inherently a weak weapon? The other nakama were growing stronger in Hueco Mundo, either as a result of the reiatsu-rich atmosphere or as a result of fighting all those shounen fights and gaining resolve and experience. Ichigo had learned to control his Hollow form. Orihime, too, as Ichigo observed during the Kenpachi/Nnoitra fight, had experienced a power boost herself--her shield was stronger. It stands to reason that if her shield mysteriously became stronger in HM, then maybe Tsubaki did too. Maybe the Tsubaki nestled in Orihime's barrette on the dome was an inherently stronger one than the one she had fired on earth.
No, the argument that Orihime didn't fire Tsubaki because she made a conscious decision that the little feller wasn't going to do any good doesn't hold water. It's not a well-supported fact at all. It's just a fan excuse for Tsubaki's glaring absence.
Orihime had plenty of reasons to think Tsubaki might work.
And even if she thought he wouldn't work, why didn't she fire him?
My answer? It makes for a good story. I said early in that Orihime fanclub thread that it might help if people stopped thinking of Orihime's character as being maligned whenever someone pointed out that she'd made a mistake on the dome. Those of us who believe that Orihime failed to do all she could on the dome, failed in her vow to fight alongside her nakama and failed again in her wanting to not depend on Ichigo aren't crying FAIL! FAIL! FAIL! because we like to taunt you with the word. Some of us actually think of Orihime's failures as a gift from the author. It's only important characters in a story who get to royally mess up and then overcome the error of their ways. While most of Orihime's fans will admit that Orihime suffers from low self-esteem and paralyzing self-doubt, they will draw the line when it comes to saying she actually did anything wrong. I'm saying here and now that ORIHIME DONE WRONG.
But in terms of her potential character development, this is a blessing. It's a surefire guarantee of future panel time. Orihime the girl who done wrong is more likely to get attention in the manga than Orihime the damsel who cried merely out for help. Damsels can fall by the wayside and serve no further purpose to the plot beyond inspiring the hero the next time he needs a power-up. Conflicted protagonists and wrong-doers get great scenes, internal monologues and brilliant redemptive moments of self-realization.
I wrote: This is standard shounen formula. Heroes lose to their opponents before winning; weapons are misfired before they're used effectively; you fail before you win. Orihime is an important character in this arc and as such she's being treated with super duper FAILURE in order to give her character uber development. Before you know it, she will, as all young heroes and coming of age protagonists do, get her wits together and fulfill her vow.
Orihime asked herself the question up on the dome. "In the end, why did I want him to save/help me?" Writers don't ask these sorts of questions in a story without eventually giving us the answers. I believe that we'll soon find out why Orihime called out to Ichigo on the dome without firing her one offensive weapon. It's my opnion and disagree with it if you will but I believe that on some subconscious level Orihime truly wanted what she asked for. Save me. She wanted to be saved by a prince. She didn't believe in herself or in her own powers which are said to trespass on the realm of G-d, and she called out on a fallen nakama, a dead man, to save her.
It was a mistake, in every way I see it. I have compassion and understanding for it, but I can't see it as anything but a mistake--one that she will recover from and emerge all the stronger from, of course, as in all feel-good, coming of age stories where the young protagonist finally understands his or her self and her powers and limits.
My friend BHaddrell suggested in the Orihime fanclub that a proper course of action for all these young fighters with deficits in the way they use their weapons or don't work with their nakama would be to have a nice little meeting at Urahara's to discuss how to better themselves. BHaddrell's suggestion is the perfect solution, of course; too bad perfect solutions don't make for interesting stories. Story drama relies on characters making mistakes and lots of them.
Whether or not Orihime made a mistake on the dome is a matter of interpretation. I'll give you that. I can not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that she made a mistake; I can only argue why I believe she did. The one who did the obviously very bad things was Ichigo, not Orihime--he's the one who killed Ulquiorra and stabbed Ishida in the gut. Orihime inaction on the dome wouldn't go to trial; her mistake was personal, intimate, maybe a matter of not doing her best rather than doing anything wrong. Ichigo's actions, I'm fairly certain, would get a guilty as hell conviction from most judges and juries in the real and fictional worlds.
Nonetheless, Orihime was the trigger for who Ichigo became.
One Orihime-is-faultless diehard wrote:
I guess I'm never going to see how she was wrong in this. She's not psychic, she had no clue that Bull!Ichi would come to be when she screamed for his help, I don't blame her for it and I wish she never blamed herself.
My counter was this one: People don't have to anticipate the exact consequences of mistakes in order to make them. That's why the law distinguishes from negligent homicide and murder for example. Some mistakes require forethought and some mistakes are just mess-ups, misunderstandings, carelessness or unpreparedness. The fact that Orihime didn't know what the results of her mistake would be makes her more sympathetic but the fact that Ichigo rose as a monster as a result of her mistake makes Kubo's story a little didactic here. He's telling us that when you don't rely on yourself and rely too much on others, those upon who you rely can break.
Sometimes I wonder about fans who believe that Orihime did no wrong on the dome. How will they deal with it when Orihime does indeed fire Tsubaki successfully? No doubt they will cheer Orihime but will they do it with as much relish as those of us who felt Orihime's self-blame as
some sort of dark, hard self-knowlege and a special sort of suffering that could only be alleviated by a redemptive act?
The contingency of the Bleach fandom that places blame on Orihime for not doing all she could on the dome also tends to view the Ichigo who rose up in answer to Orihime's cries as a very bad thing. It's outside the scope of this entry to speculate how Ichigo is going to atone for all the bad stuff he did while he was in the form that answered Orihime's call, but I do wonder to what extent Orihime will play a part in Ichigo's redemption. It may be that she doesn't play a part at all. If she doesn't, then we can honestly assume that insofar as the moralistic symmetry of this story goes, she wasn't to blame for the very bad things Ichigo did.
Fans who ship Ichigo and Orihime seem to have an investment in seeing this new form of Ichigo's as Orihime's savior and good guy. I'm not sure I understand this stance. First, I have trouble with their overlooking the very bad things Orihime's savior did on the dome. Second, while Ichigo is no doubt responsible for his own mistakes (not just killing Ulquiorra and stabbing Ishida but maybe allowing his Hollow to overtake his body and consciousness), Ichigo's mistakes are irrevocably tied up with Orihime's mistakes. If I shipped Ichigo and Orihime, rather than deny that my pair had any problems to begin with, I would hope that the manga might somehow find my pair solving their own problems together one day. A good story, ne? Maybe one with lots of angst and tears and subsequent togetherness?
I have my own reasons for believing that such togetherness is not meant to be, but this isn't a shipping essay. My own prediction is that Orihime will take care of her guilt by finally using Tsubaki in the right context, maybe protecting a nakama (maybe a nakama she'd failed to protect before--Ishida?) At this point I'm uncertain as to how Ichigo can assuage his guilt and redeem himself but I suspect it's going to be in the good old-fashioned shounen way and will involve fighting and swording and stuff exploding and buildings falling down. Orihime will eventually reclaim Tsubaki, that little killer fairy, as part of her true self one day, but the thought of Ichigo eventually gaining control of and reclaiming his new form--that THING that emerged on the dome--as part of his true self is a very disquieting idea.
You'll notice that so far in this entry I haven't called the Ichigo that rose to answer Orihime's cries by my pet name for him, IchiThing. That moniker is controversial in fandom. Some Ichigo fans say it demeans Ichigo. Somewhere on Bleach Asylum, a fan was heard to apologize even for referring to this new form of Ichigo's as a "monster" because the designation was "disrespectful" to Orihime's savior. Color me a whiter shade of pale over all this insistence that Ichigo's new power-up was a Good Guy, TM. If it has horns, looks scary, kills its opponents for no good reason once the battle has already been won, and stabs a nice guy like Ishida, I'm not going to worry about disrespecting it. And that's overlooking the fact that it's a work of fiction and not even a fictional being who only remotely resembles a human being. If it acts like a monster and quacks like a monster, then I'm going to call it a monster.
I hereby declare that henceforth in this community and in all walks of fandom I will resume with my calling of Ichigo's ultimate Hollow form as IchiThing. I have canon support for my nickname; Ichigo himself referred to that form as a "thing" :
This entry is too long already but I want to include one last point of mine from that Orihime thread. It occurred to me while people were singing the same old song about how young Orihime is and how therefore blameless she is for her inaction and errors on the battlefield that her nakama are young too, they faced their own personal demons in Hueco Mundo, and not all of them were trained Shinigami. Take Ishida.
Psychological stress? The nakama? All of them experienced psychological stress in HM. And not all of them are seasoned, trained Shinigami warriors either. You can make the excuse that Rukia had years of experience to cushion her trauma of seeing her mentor's face behind the Espada who was trying to kill her (still, wow, what a trauma), but let's take Ishida--the youngest of the nakama (by months only, but in the canon timeline, he's the only one who has yet to have his 16th birthday). He experienced pain, torture, sexual humiliation (things that Szayel did to him were on a par with what Nnoitra did to Orihime on the battlefield) and then the murderer of his grandfather who had desecrated THOUSANDS of Quincy bodies showed up to rescue him and further humiliate him.... and yet on the dome, he fought against all odds, with one hand and one Seele Schneider, presumably to the Death, just to buy Orihime time to heal Kurosaki. He never wavered. He faced the horned powerful creature that Ichigo had become and tried to reason with IT only to get stabbed....
*shakes head and clutches heart* Excuse the Ishida fangirl moment but I do think it's relevant that Ishida had such a miserable time in HM, felt miserable and then was able to prove himself on the dome. Like BHaddrell said, I don't think Ishida feels like a hero, but at one point with Orihime, I think she connected to his feeling the stress of not having done everything he could on the battlefield. I remind everyone of the following panel, not for shipping reasons, but to stress that here is where the author tells us that Orihime may be identifying with Ishida's feelings of inadequacy here. This may foreshadow her overcoming them the way he did when he faced Ulquiorra and then IchiBeast/Thing/Whatever. Orihime wants to be of "use on the battlefield."
Trust me, she WILL be.
It's been more than seven months since we've seen Ishida and Orihime on the dome in real time, but it's only been maybe 20-30 minutes in manga time. Enough time to talk about what's happened, restore and recuperate as Orihime heals him? I hope so. All I know is that I cherish a dear, dear wish for Tsubaki to be the one to take down Yammy. Imagine the justice--Yammy was the one who shot Tsubaki to pieces the last time he was fired, and it would be funny for a little dude like him to take down the mega-beast that Yammy is growing into (Yammy is going to be able to reach over the dome and pick off Ishida soon!)
The problem of how Ichigo and others will deal with IchiThing and its sins may be subject of another arc. I can't even start to predict there, but like all fans, I have my little hopes about how the story will go.
The one thing I wish for even more than Tsubaki's appearance and that I forgot to include in my wish list for 2010 is for fans to just stop freaking bashing on one another over Orihime. So there, one realistic very likely to be realized wish (Tsubaki) and one impossible dream (peace among fans). I make both with equal fervor, and if everyone behaves in the comments to this entry, maybe I can kid myself that I can have my cake and eat it too.
The End (gah, I had so much more written earlier today but that was the best I could do in recovering my lost essay)