The last few weeks have seen a flurry of complaints about Ichigo's characterisation including such staments that 'he's not himself,' 'he's just an empty shell' and others along similar lines. After the most recent chapter I finally had to step up and say something in Kubo-sensei's defence. Specifically everyone who is making these complaints is dead wrong.
Now that I have your attention and ire, first let me say that there is a kernel of truth to these complaints. Ichigo has been acting differently to his normal brash, gung-ho self. But that does not mean Ichigo is not being himself. In fact his current behaviour has precedent (though I can't find a convenient link at the moment). But cast your mind back if you will to Ichigo's final fight with Grimmjow and specifically to when Nel finally guilted Orihime into cheering for Ichigo and boosting his morale. Ichigo's entire demeanour changes and he takes a clear upper hand along with the line 'Sorry, I can't let myself be hurt any more.' His current demeanour puts me very much in mind of that moment with the main differences being less regret and sustaining it for considerably longer.
So we know Ichigo has this sort of behaviour in him but there's a bit more to it than that. It in fact can be argued that it is not just an occasional thing either but a fundamental part of Ichigo's nature. What we're most used to seeing is the hot-headed young man with a tendency to jump in feet first without looking. But we've seen other sides to Ichigo when we've had occasion to venture to his inner world. The first of the other aspects of his personality we've met is the one who acts most like Ichigo's current state. Zangestsu-ossan. Calm, collected and measured and while it;s possible to annoy him he's never been seen to lose his composure. Even Zangetsu-boya who was about as annoyed as we've ever seen him still doesn't emote all that strongly.
But wait... there's more! Someone actually picked this up as well. Ichigo likes to annoy his opponents. 'I saw every step Kuchiki Byakuya.' 'If miracles only happen once, then what do you call this?' 'Am I becoming more like a Hollow or are you becoming more like a human?' These are just a few choice quotes of Ichigo's taunting his opponent and that's not even getting into what Shirosaki does when he's let off the chain. However Aizen is remarkably immune to such banter, at least on the receiving end (he's been rather good a dishing it out). So obviously Ichigo's normal attempt at mind games aren't going to work so he's been forced to change tactics. And it's working so while Shirosaki probably isn't all that enamoured of the method he certainly can't argue with the results.
Now mentioning Zangetsu-ossan and Shirosaki is not just to show that there are facets of Ichigo's personality, though that is important. However just as significantly we must remember that Ichigo has spend a significant amount of time in his Inner World coming to grips with these two aspects of his self that he's spent a lot of time ignoring (especially Shirosaki). Quite frankly if Ichigo hadn't shown some effects from that it would be even more surprising. And considering that form wise Ichigo's is employing his more shinigami-like powers at the moment its understandable that there would be more of Zangetsu in his behaviour than anything else. (Random speculation: If that burnt arm proves to be a problem he'll shift to a more Hollow-like form and bust out some high speed regeneration. Also if he does three will also be a shift in behaviour to something more like Shirosaki as well).
So in conclusion what we seeing at the moment may not be Ichigo as we normally know him but it is indeed Ichigo. In fact I would go further and say that it is Ichigo truly in harmony with himself in a way that he's never been before. So all I can say to this new state is VIVA ICHIGO!