Not the Same Old Song
Kubo-sensei loves his parallels. So many parallel panels so far. Ichigo knows his dad has otherworldly powers now but it seems that the father-son dynamic is still the same goofy loving one we were introduced to ten years ago.
Isshin in chapter two:
Isshin still pounces on son in the mornings and Ichigo serves his dad the same grumpy one-upmanship that's part of their game.
The audience just sees Isshin with different eyes now--the way Ichigo does. And when Isshin shows concern for Ichigo's bad dreams, we know where the guy's coming from--Isshin lost his powers once too. Maybe he's gone through the same angst and denial Ichigo's going through. Kubo spares us a heart to heart father-son talk (and we're left with the implication that these manly men aren't up for that just now, even 17 months post-wartime) but Sensei did promise his fans an Isshin backstory---were there ever haunting voices for Isshin like those in Ichigo's dreams, chiding him to "wake up" to reality? If so, who were they? And were Ichigo's voices, as my friend syn thinks, also calling to Ichigo's powers and asking those powers to "wake up?"
I don't see how anyone in fandom can say that Ichigo's happy being just a normal human boy without shinigami powers, but just like there were people who saw Ichigo's ultimate!hollow form (aka IchiThing) transformation on that dome in Hueco Mundo as some sort of heroic ubermensche who would eventually represent Ichigo's separation from humans, shinigami and arrancar as the ultimate hybrid identity, there were plenty fans who anticipated Ichigo's peaceful acceptance of normal powerless human life.
To them I say blergh, you're not reading Bleach--you even missed this week's chapter title "A Day Without Melodies." If nothing else, that title should tell you that Ichigo, the boy who once kept a guitar in his bedroom (it's not there in Bleach Redux) and was so often pictured wearing headphones in splash pages, is going through the motions of his life without a song in his step.
Some people argued that Ichigo had regressed, was clinically depressed and losing his morals by whoring out his physical strength to the highest bidding sports clubs. Other fans, notably the ones who'd wrongly predicted that Ichigo would be relieved to live life as a normal human, noted that Ichigo seemed okay, wasn't cutting or in need of Prozac, and was by his own admission to Keigo not lonely.
Irony. When are people going to understand that Kubo Tite makes use of this little literary device almost as often as his characters stab one another?
Kurosaki Ichigo, telling Rukia in early Bleach that he's really a selfish bastard who doesn't want to protect anyone beyond his own family:
Kurosaki Ichigo, in Kubo's special chapter 00, telling all of us that he's always wanted the power to protect the helpless. POWER--it's what he's always wanted.
That power came with Rukia. At the end of the last arc, it also literally left at the same time Rukia did, so yeah, invariably there's a connection there. Some will see it as a romantic connection between two people (I do, for one, and I love how Bakuman, the Jump manga about aspiring manga-ka referenced Bleach's chapter 243 stare-down between Ichigo and Rukia: Tagaki explains how he's going to work romance into his Jump tale: "True love doesn't start with words. First all you do is look at the person you like. I'll just have the hero and heroine stare at look at one another without words". XD ) Others who don't really want to look for romance can just see that Ichigo wants his powers back. He has no career plans, as he told Keigo, and he's shuffling around from sports team to sports team and getting fired from his job. Does this mean he needs Rukia in his life in order not to be an angst-bucket? She was the one who "stopped the rain" and the last time Bleach started a new arc, she's the one who came back and jump-started an aimless Ichigo back into his true self.
Back then, there were identity issues at stake too. Rukia pointed out to Ichigo that he'd lost his will to be a shinigami.
She's the one who forced Ichigo to take a look at himself and chided him to get his act together.
She also did this by expressing faith in him and cheering him on with her "man in my heart" speech--the apparent clincher to getting Ichigo to act. He slays the Hollow after Rukia concludes with these words.
So, I ask again--does Ichigo need Rukia?
Co-dependency is a controversial subject. Especially among shippers. Ask those who are calling "foul!" now because it's long been claimed that Orihime is too dependent on Ichigo (by her own admission--see the lust chapters where she asks "why do I always depend on him?") and that's bad for the IchiOri ship but here we have Ichigo being kind of a mess when Rukia's out of the picture, and is this sexism?
Meh, so much blah blah--the "who's a real feminist" crap misses the real point of trying to figure out who the characters are in this story and the fun of predicting how they're going to act and react in future situations. The "what's sexist" stuff is a debate for shippers who play in the Jerry Springfield arenas of fandom. Besides, I've only got so much time before the family gets back from synagogue and I have to fix lunch (I'm writing this in one sitting--this is hardly a polished essay) so I'm not getting into that mess beyond saying that it's my personal belief that Orihime's self-reliance issues will be taken care of in the Bleach plot with Orihime doing something awesome in battle, namely--fulfilling her longtime wish (which is just like Ichigo's) of protecting someone (I fully expect her to launch Tsubaki when she consummates this dream!)
Ichigo's fulfilment, though, lies with a power that is identified with Rukia. Kubo even went out of his poetic way to identify Ichigo's loss of power with Rukia when he named the attack that ultimately disabled Ichigo of his Shinigami powers after only one use mugetsu, a night without a moon. Rukia was identified as the moon and Ichigo as the sun in Kubo's poetry and art before, so yeah, one would expect that the darkness will only be over when a literal person returns in Ichigo's life.
I answered the need and co-dependency question in a comment at Bleach Asylum so maybe I'll save myself some typing and just copy-paste:
Ichigo Needing Rukia and Is Ichigo Depressed?
As a psychiatrist of my own (may his soul rest in peace) said to me many years ago, "Co-dependency can be fun--or it can ruin lives. People need one another--that's a fact of life, but there's such a thing as taking it too far."
Essentially, I think we're arguing over the negative connotations of "need" and "depressed" when analyzing Ichigo. I'd say that Ichigo needs Rukia, but like Peca observed he's making attempts in his life to cope--granted, they're not the most noble attempts (whoring oneself out to the highest school club bidder isn't the Ichigo I remember but he's not stabbing puppies). Point is, people do what they can and aren't perfect (hmmmm, I seem to remember trying to make this point over and over in the Orihime FC).
As for Ichigo being clinically depressed, in my view he is. HE IS. But there's nothing wrong with that--people tend to see depression as a indictment of one's character or a moral flaw rather than a normal reaction to environmental stimuli. People get colds because of germs or not eating right and people (not the ones born with chemical imbalances or suffering from severe mental illness) can react to situations with depression.
It doesn't mean Ichigo needs medication or needs to be hospitalized--he's just depressed. The fact that his mood fits the clinical description to a t (of situational depression according to the diagnostic manuals I reckon) doesn't mean anyone who calls him that is putting him down.
Kubo himself has admitted to his own depression in public. Most recently in America's Shounen Jump interview of a couple years back when he said he had been depressed and that his editor had been bringing him mandarin oranges in an attempt to get him to eat better and cheer up (this was in context with people sending him chocolates --my packages to him didn't stop--I've been sending him chocolates for years now).
Depression/"messed up"/missing Rukia and his former Shinigami identity/not having a real direction in life/feeling like there's no melody to the words he's living--it's all the same thing. I don't see how anyone can say that Ichigo is well, happy and has "moved on." He's making attempts to cope with sadness and loss (Keigo MS translation: "Are you lonely?" Ju-Ni translation: "Are you missing her?") and he's not cutting, drinking booze or ready for intraveneous Prozac administered in a looney bin yet but HE'S NOT RIGHT.
Kubo didn't have to hit us in the head with an anvil to make that point either. The loss and sadness and loneliness Ichigo feels is obviously there--and he's denying it (Ichigo in response to Keigo's query about feeling lonely: "Like hell I am") is just further evidence that Ichigo is messed up. You don't fix problems until you admit what they are. (example: Orihime asked herself "why" during the Lust chapters and I expect we'll get an answer to her self-doubt and questions eventually--it was her moment of reckoning, when she realized she was failing herself and others because of some denial or misperception on her part)
Further evidence that Ichigo's denial needs to be unblocked--the voices telling him to "wake up!" I see this as metaphorical for Ichigo needing to admit he wants to be a Shinigami--this idea is not at all in contrast to Syn's saying the awakening has to do with Ichigo's powers. Isshin's interest in Ichigo "finally" being able to mention SS is further evidence that Ichigo's denial needs to go.
And missing Rukia is tied into his powers---she came and went with them.
To be honest, Ichigo wasn't the one I talked about the most these past few days--two characters I love more than him had their big "ain't I looking fine" reveals in this last chapter. Ichigo doesn't really look all that much different (sideburns--meh) but Ishida is .... *contains squeals*
certainly growing up into his dad's son. Some people think he's channeling Szayel, but I think Ishida's reintroduction is supposed to echo his "Quincy Archer Hates You" look.
The Ishida we see in Bleach Redux, the one who snaps because someone mistakes him for Ichigo, is oddly reminiscent of the Ishida who held a super rivalry with the Shinigami. Really--where did that sympathetic eyed boy who kept a vigil by Ichigo's bedside for a month go?
This Ishida who takes on a whole group of thugs reminds me of the Ishida who snapped the Hollow bait--vainglorious and reckless. Or is he? Ishida seems to have acquired some hand to hand combat skills in the past 17 months--does he have it in him to take on these thugs all by himself or will Chad and Ichigo (and my dream of dreams, Tatsuki and Orihime toooo) join in and we'll have a great nakama rumble?!!
It was a post by nacchan in the IshiHime FC at BA that got me looking at the parallels between Orihime of chapters two and three and her Bleach re-introduction. One striking set of panel parallels comes with the first time Orihime is shown singing what we now know is her life's theme song and the next time we see her humming the tune:
She's a little girl here. She's skipping (or hopscotching--not sure) and she looks from a high place and notices Ichigo.
A blush and her famous call!
Now let's look at Bleach Redux. Same girl singing a tune.
But the girl has grown up. We see Orihime strutting down the hallway as her admirers part a path.
Orihime has always had admirers and she's always been oblivious to them, so honestly that much hasn't really changed--but is this spring in her step a sign of new confidence? Again, she spies Ichigo from a high place. And this time she calls to both him and Tatsuki.
No blush? Could this be relevant?
Orihime was blushing in Ichigo's presence in the last arc--after he defeated Grimmjow and asked her if she was okay and even in the most recent chapters when she spied him after the battle and burst into tears. She was even blushing at his bedside during his recovery when she noted that she was the only one who was being "loud." The Orihime Kubo showed us in early Bleach was ALL about the Kurosaki Ichigo and there was an extended convo between her and Tatsuki about the crush in chapter four--I hope we get some insight very soon as to the current status of Orihime's feelings for Ichigo.
Remember this girl?
I have to admit--an Orihime who doesn't have eyes only for Ichigo would be a big weird change but some of my friends are convinced that 17 months is long enough to get over a guy, especially after some of the life-affecting experiences Orihime went through in battle. She may have come to see herself, Ichigo, and their relationship in a new light. In any event, she does seem more casual with Ichigo now and maybe on the road to finally becoming good friends with him.
The other debate in fandom is where the hell are her hairpins? I'm nervous because one week when I was in a really bad mood I wrote a story about Orihime putting away her powers ( Goodbye and Be Well). I want my Orihime character development, but sometimes I'm not so sure how much more angst I want my girl to go through. I'm enjoying the funny Hime of current chapters and dread things going dark again--but (I can't believe I'm saying this) I'm going to trust Kubo's pacing this time. All will be revealed in due time. He did say this arc was going to be a short one. In Kubo-terms that may even mean two years but I'm settling back to enjoy the story.
Oh, and before I go make lunch, I was looking through old chapters for panel references and found this favorite. Ichigo's fortune. So funny how it all came to pass. I especially love how his ban kai coat colors turned out to be his lucky ones. <3