And the bell rings. At this corner --wearing a heavy mask (that's got to be heavy) and a very tight jacket is Kurosaki, Ichigo. At the left, a flying panther. And on the sidelines:
Are we going to get more pages and pages of people watching the battle? I know there's eye candy on them there hills, but let's get on with the battle.
Kubo's story has been dragging. Convince me it hasn't been. Tell me every panel represents plot development in its own chapter or in another moment 25 chapters away. (Could be. Remember Ishida joking about Renji's little fire before the five split up? A long while later, RENJI USE BIG FIRE. Kubo's funny like that. I wonder if he's a playing a game, not only with audience but himself). Tell me Kubo knows what he's doing because a lot of what he's doing now seems irrelevant or nonsensical and the story has been moving so slowly.
Everyone has been so bored they've written pages and pages about a stationary figure. See Why is Orihime Just Standing There at Bleach Asylum. That one and two other threads were closed because they were on the brink of turning into the usual heated "Orihime's merits against Rukia's merits" shout-fest, but I was so happy because there was so much talk about my 2nd favorite character. Most of the posts was thoughtful and interesting for me to read.
Is Kubo buying himself time while he re-writes some future scene his editors have demanded? Do the editors think we won't notice if the chapters are padded and that we'll buy more JUMPs regardless? When Orihime was comforting Nell for pages and repeating Kurosaki-kun will win, oh yes, let's have faith in Kurosaki-kun---did all that go on too long or was Kubo trying to tell us something about Orihime's character? In any event, the little tete a tete delayed the fight, and fans were moaning. I'm an Orihime fan and I found it quite boring. The art as always is exquisite and I'm falling in love with Orhime face, but.... blah.
I refuse to believe that Kubo-sensei is a lazy writer. His plots are strange--they give spotlights to particular characters, drop a few stitches and only 100 chapters later do we see what situation he's woven. Of course, at that point there have been more clues dropped and the revealed situation leads to the exciting and unknown. At that point we go "ahhhh!" in admiration. Things come together.
Why it feels like padding to me now. Exhibit A.:The Rukia/Arroniro fight was an wesome, exciting fight wih emotional twists and turns: Exhibit B: The Ishida/Renji/Szayel fight just went back and forth like a ping pong ball. Looky, Ishida has new techniques.Yes, Kubo, we get it--Ishida and Renji are bonding. Whoopee.The shounen friendship motif. At the very least we'll get some good yaoi fics out of this. Now if Kubo can keep our interest during the R/A fight, why can't he do it for the Ichigo/Grimmjow battle? Does he think he's building suspense?
Then things get lively when we cut to Las Noches. SLAP! The tension between Orihime and Ulquiorra is tiiiight. I can see the twinge of the romance there, even though Ulquiorra is a cold Arrancar who blasted Orihime's guards into pieces in the dangai. I'm not being sarcastic. I think they're curious about one another. I think Ulqui may be the one to betray Aizen. I clasp my hands in fangurl glee and call Ulquiorra the "Ishida" of this arc, someone who will be forever changed by Hime's goodness.
And then, when Grimmjow knocks down the door, fangirls and fanbois alike go "weeee!" When Hime revives (or resurrects, we're not sure yet) Loli and Menoli, we go: Okay....where's Kubo going with this? The unknown variable is always Orihime. Kubo is deliberately keeping the extent of her powers a secret--Orhime doesn't seem to know what she can do and neither do we. Orihime's state of mind seems obvious--she's not a happy camper in Las Noches. The last time we heard some inner dialogue was when she vowed to destroy the hougyoku, so we know she's not brainwashed but ... she heals Arrancar. She shows them sympathy. Aizen, you bastard, what are you doing to her. D: What's your evil plan, you horrible and very hot bad, bad man.
The Ichigo/Grimmjow fight we all saw coming months ago. The two were destined to meet. And obviously, Ichigo has to win this time. Shounen standard. He'll probably win by going all evil, Shirosaki and completely Hollowfied. Things look pretty ... predictable for our hero. He closes the gestalt too by fulfilling his promise to Orihime that he would protect her. A super cero flies her way and he blocks it. YEY ICHIGO! All the required characters of the archetypical scene (at so it looks on the surface, ha ha!) are there: raging foe, hero fighting, the girl in princess sleeves watching. Wait--
Watching? Why shouldn't she watch, people say. It's what Kurosaki tells her to do.
Now, I can stand the infantilizing of Orihime to a point--at first it was cute because she was truly smart, hilarious, and added dellicious weirdnesses to scenes ("Mecha Orhime still cracks me up). I was the great champion of the big-boobed girl. Her mistakes were funny-sweet, she was kind to everybody,, and as we saw in the SS arc with Ishida, she was totally capable of working alongside a partner. Now she's in the enemy's den wearing princess sleeves and needing to be rescued, and my feminist marches and NOW meetings come back to haunt me. Hime, I say, you promised, you vowed to yourself that the next time you saw Kurosaki-kun , you wouldn't need his protection and that you would fight alongside him? Please, Hime, don't just stand there! If you can't heal, fight. If you can't fight, heal. Or better, do both--I know you can do it.
I've been waiting for Orihime to show her stuff for too long now. I've reached the conclusion, after Syn's DotW and what have seemed like a few hundred posts at BleachAsylum, that Orihime is only going to become weaker and more dependent and confused and depressed. The Old Hime is gone--just like Grimmjow says himself. This arc will get darker before we see Orihime find her inner strength---and she will find herself, just like the shounen hero does. Kubo's set it up this way. He's no shallow author. He knows his audience, he knows women, and he not a misogynist. He's not showing us the fairytale scene because he thinks it looks nice. The princess watching the fight isn't all vulnerable and happy to be defended by the hero. She doesn't like herself. She's depressed as hell. She's scared of what the hero might become. She's just standing there. And her vow to herself is hanging in the air.
Why are we picking on Orihime? The academic gender feminists ring in my ears. The ones who call their infants not girls but "baby women" (I lie not). Hey you there, they say, you're being hypocritical when you criticize the girl and let the hero's flaws go unexamined. They tell me that Orihime's got constructs of her own that are just as valid as Ichigo's. She's gentle, she heals, she's not a fighter. Girls trying to be like guys is so 1980s. Leave the poor girl alone, the voices say--Ichigo's going through a character change too; his flaws, his vulnerablility laid out for all to see, his enjoyment of fighting starting to outweigh his fighting to protect. Why pick on Orihime? She's only fifteen years old--she can't be expected to live up to all her demands of her. She's not superwoman. She's just fifteen (16 actually). She's not capable of mature decisions.
Wait. The girl who ran a household by herself. So well that she had to leave notes for thousand year old Shinigami on what to do with the laundry. The girl who daydreamed of herself as a pro racer with a fro. The girl who stood up to Ulquiorra three times (at the battle where she busted up her arm, in the dangai when she told him not to mess with her guards, and in Las Noches where she backhanded him). Superwoman? The girl can slice a Hollow in half with a fairy from her barrette. She has this power; it's part of her. The fairies themselves said so. "We're you." And there's a part of Orihime that's not passive. It's Tsubaki.
Alright. I'll accept that as ugly as it is, the stunned and miserable look on Hime's face is all part of her character development. Her conflict may be between wanting to prove herself and thinking that she can't. She's a- changing. She's just not the cheerleader. She's the focus of this arc--when her time comes, it's either going to be spectacular or small, touching, and true to herself.
The other young leads have coming of age issues as well (just as a side note, Hime is actually the oldest of the four teens). Unlike Orihime, Ichigo ( and his fans) are clear about who at his true opponent is--not Grimmjow. Ichigo is fighting himself. Poor Chad--he might want to stay "home," in Hueco Mundo. He may have an identity crisis. later. Now Ishida--in the previous arc we learned that he doesn't know what he wants to protect, blah blah, and I expected a huge conflict between him and his father. Nope. Ishida goes forth with no hesitation--steals weapons, defies his father, hangs out with a bunch of Shinigami. His integrity has been true in this chapter, hasn't it? What's the conflict? He's set on his goal and he hasn't lost a fight yet. I'm interested to find out what it will be when it comes---because with "when you know what you want to protect" echoing over the loudspeakers, Ishida's most difficult moment is yet to come.
Rukia's challenge--her guilt over Kaien's death. Has that been resolved? We saw Rukia defeat her fears and kill an Arrancar. We saw her set on her goal--crawling over her own blood and thinking of her friends, one by one. Faithful to the end. "Inoue, I'm coming!" even as she (presumably) dies. That was good stuff--even if it was horrifying to watch (and I'll admit I cried my eyeballs out over some chapters). But we saw Rukia's true nature win over her fear, guilt, hesitancy.
I want the same for all the others. Especially Orihime. Kubo's created someone who is a real girl for me. The archetype in the sky and the giggly girl, Vega and the devastated victim. The girl who can't work up the nerve to ask Ichigo on a date and the woman who can't help her feelings. She's a cliche and she's not. She's a child but she's had to take care of herself since age 12. She wants to be part of gang of nakama, but she stays in the shadows, watching, afraid to participate. She slaps an Arrancar. She heals her enemies.
Oh Hime, I adore you. These are going to be tough chapters for me because I want you to be alright. But there are scary times ahead... and Ichigo won't save you, my dear. You have to save yourself.