Reasons I Believe IshiHime Might Happen
The boy saves the girl and holds his hand over her protectively while danger threatens. Pretty dern romantic, wouldn't you say? Except that these two are nowhere near knowing that they share a romantic destiny, and that's how all love stories begin.
Ishida and Orihime have no significant interaction until the Soul Society arc. Then many times during that arc Kubo-san deliberately zeroes in on the fact that Orihime is crushing on Ishigo and that it’s not Ichigo but Ishida who is there for her.
First, Orihime reaches for Ichigo in the attempt to link the human chain in the sky. Their hands just miss. Orihime crashlands with Ishida instead. Is her destiny with someone other than the person she’s reaching for throughout the manga?
Later, Orihime, unconscious, thinks that it’s Ichigo who is kneeling over her but in fact it’s Ishida who is taking care of her wounds. This motif is repeated throughout the manga—Orihime being completely oblivious to how much Ishida is doing for her while she crushes on Ichigo. I love Ishida’s sarcastic expression here when he says “Sorry. I’m not Kurosaki.”
When Orihime realizes that Ishida feels bad about her having protected him, she makes some ditzy attempt to console him, and thus begins their odd, funny, and poignant alliance in Soul Society.
The acts of derring-do Ishida performs to save Orihime’s life in Soul Society are memorable enough for me not to post pictures of them. He sweeps her into his arms to save her from Jirobou and he sends her away, kicking and screaming, when he prepares to fight Mayuri. My favorite Ishida gesture of protection is this one, where after bombs explode, he holds up his hands and body over Orihime, even after her shield has gone up. He stays positioned over her until Mayuri directly threatens her and then he summons his bow and distracts Mayuri.
But the SS arc for Ishida and Orihime is not all about Ishida protecting Orihime. Ishida and Orihime prove that they work together as team. Here’s where Bleach fans fell in love with this couple. Their “chemistry” was comparable to Ichigo and Rukia’s--only with no kicking and yelling. Their mutual intelligence and cautious ways served them well. It’s no doubt that their personalities (Ishida the intellectual introvert who needs drawing out and Orihime the intuitive extrovert who draws everyone out) are well-matched in combat and would be in other situations. And they both like to sew!
People have suggested that because Orihime loves Ichigo more and more as the manga progresses and the melodrama swells that Ishida would be a poor second best if Orihime were to choose him over Ichigo. “Ishida can find another girl,” they say. Bleach, however, is a closed universe in which only a few teenagers have superpowers, and obviously these kids have a very small dating pool. The natural pairs—along with some plot jittering, clues, and distractions to worry the shippers—all along have been Ichigo and Rukia (a topic of other essays) and Ishida and Orihime. Look at it: Ichigo and Rukia, Shinigami and Shinigami. Ishida and Orihime, human and human.
If the manga ends with no definitive conclusion as to which characters are pairing up with whom, I suspect that there will be hints. Rukia and Ichigo have a unquestionable bond that would probably interfere with his pairing romantically with anyone else (a topic for another essay). The teenagers of Bleach will still be teenagers by the end of the manga so no pairings are necessary by Western standards, but the Japanese marry earlier.
I expect that because sex (with blushing boys, naked Yoruichis, wise-cracking Isshin) has already been dealt with in Bleach as part of the natural growing up process that the responsibility of a committed relationship may be as well.
Kubo has given the “One-sided sympathy” title to a chapter that looks at Orihime’s wanting to be close to Ichigo. Why not the title “Sympathy.” Kubo again and again emphasizes Ichigo and Orihime’s separateness. Unless Kubo wants to bring this separateness to a surprising reunion (many IchiOri shippers will tell you that Ichigo has a subtle “secret crush” on Orihime), Orihime and Ichigo’s interaction is close to nil in the manga.
Orihime, the 15 year old girl, is painted as the longing, unrequited loving archetype of shoujo, meanwhile Orihime, the goddess of legend, lives in name only as the one separated from her lover. Some have suggested that Kubo-san would be breaking tradition by having the two lead characters, Ichigo and Rukia, not be romantically linked and making Orihime the girl who “finally gets her man.” I say that Kubo, with his emphasis on strong, surprisingly capable women in his manga (Yoruichi, Rukia, Matsumoto, to name but a few) is going to allow Orihime to have a growth and self-realization like the kind that happens in shoujo. Orihime needs to grow up. She’s the ditzy girl in the clouds who has an uncanny talent for hitting the mark sometimes but in some ways she is totally clueless. She misunderstands class assignments (“myself in the future” mecha Orihime) and she has no idea that Ishida cares for her (another fact emphasized by Kubo when Orihime flashes on the idea that Ishida has a crush on Rukia and the side panel reads “Far Off”). It would be both groundbreaking for shounen and yet echoing shoujo to have Orihime become self-reliant. She says several times in the manga that she has to stop relying on Kurosaki-kun and become strong for herself. I believe she will.
I also believe that Ishida will be part of the deciding factor in that strength. How, I’m not sure. I believe that Orihime’s grieving heart (she’s been shown angsting over Ichigo’s relationship with Rukia at least twice) will take notice of Ishida’s similar attitude towards her? Perhaps this time there will be “two-sided sympathy?”
In the meantime, there are these two panels in the manga that show Ishida and Orihime, each on a journey.
There are no such “airplane” related illustrations for any other characters. I like the fact that both characters have their eyes closed. That means that a realization awaits both.