This only part one.
This is part essay/part editorial/part fangurl carrying on.
Read at your own risk.
Preamble: Yes, I am paranoooooooooid.
For all the geeky kinship and intellectual masturbation over power levels that make fandom fun, it can be a creepy place. Most fan-folk aren’t creepy, but there’s always that one anonymous message than can chill your blood. For every twenty squeeing, squabbling, hormonal fangurls who see themselves as sisters in perversion, there’s that one lunatic who just may cook your pet rabbit in a pot if you write her favorite uke as seme. For every dozen jovial and wisecracking fanbois, there’s that one who will spam your inbox with WHOREWHOREWHORE for twenty pages because your drew a fanart of his favorite shounen hero in a dress.
Then there’s always the semi-literate person who answers your post: “Stop doing that. That’s annoying.”
As debbiechan, I don’t editorialize about politics and religion and don’t (intentionally) insult people (well, unless you spit on my honor during that time of the month). I’m, therefore, always surprised when someone takes huge offense to anything I’ve written. Once, after posting about the concept of deities and the spiritual realm in my favorite manga, I was taken to task for using the dash in G-d when referring to the highest Supreme Being. (Typing the dash is a habit--a Jew is supposed to reverently consider the concept of G-d whenever the word comes up, but I do it as unconsciously as capitalizing the first word of every sentence). “That’s annoying,” this person, who found most posts annoying, said. I responded that he was responsible for his own annoyance and that it wasn’t the fandom’s job to cater to his feelings as if he were, let’s say, a G-D.
Fans will hit you harder, though, for disagreeing with their manga worldview than for how you spell G-d. One time I was asked to repent on Yom Kippur for remarks in my personal journal that may have hurt yaoi fans (Along with making some jokes about Chad’s height, I may have written something about my belief that Kubo Tite appears to fanservice everything but BL and yaoi). And the dummy I was, I went to synagogue on that important day and swore to be more sensitive to peoples’ perceptions of cartoon sexuality and to try to curb my bad jokes.
Got hated on anyway.
In any event, this preamble is to give fair warning to those who may bust an artery over what are my opinions and may not be those of the general Bleach fandom at large or of any particular enthusiastic faction. The following post contains opinions that may anger IchiOri fans or irritate manga fans who tend to be embarrassed by undue attention given to spikey haired, big-eyed people made of ink-marks on a page--especially if it’s ship oriented attention.
This essay may also contain spoilers for current Bleach manga chapters. Part One references, without revealing conclusions, the movies Chinese Box, The Great BlackOut Coming, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the manga Honey & Clover, Fruits Basket, and Video Girl Ai, and the anime Princess Tutu.
Think you may start spiraling into a fanfreak episode? Don’t read. Think you might have fun and can agree with or challenge what I write without threatening my moral integrity or the lives of my pets? Keep reading.
Authorial Intent in the Shounen Manga Form or
Why Recent Manga Chapters Don’t Mean Lurve for Ichi and Ori.
“Why did Kubo give Orihime these intense feelings if he’s not going to do something with them?”
I hear the question all the time. It’s asked by Bleach fans who anticipate a canon IchiOri pairing and who can’t imagine Orihime, worthy and deserving girl that she is, not getting the boy of her dreams.
Fangurl of authorial intent that I am, I’ve always believed that Kubo Tite is indeed going to do something with Orihime’s feelings. What exactly he’s going to do is debatable, and my argument is that Orihime’s feelings demand resolution within herself; her feelings do not require being reciprocated to be resolved. I’ll even argue that a love match between Ichigo and Orihime is a literary unlikelihood, and I will base this argument on Kubo’s text en toto, the limitations of the shoujo and shounen forms, current literary and sociological trends in Japan, and on how characters created by a talented manga-ka tend to behave in a manner consistent with both authorial intent and reader response.
Like many fans, I was shaken to the core with girly teary sympathy for Orihime’s confession in 237. It was an unprecedented shoujo moment in a fighting manga. Some of my friends went out and mourned the death of our ship (IshiHime) with junk food and margaritas. My IchiRuki friends stood their ground: “What does this chapter tell us that we haven’t known since chapter one of Bleach? Yes, Orihime has the hots for Ichigo but have Ichigo’s feelings changed? No! He was unconscious! Orihime was basically talking about herself to herself.”
237, some claimed, in no way predicted that Ichigo would return Orihime’s feelings. Others said the opposite; what else was the chapter supposed to predict?
Fans trying to guess at plot outcomes in manga usually don’t look to Real Life for clues; if one could sensibly do that, then the debate would be over before it could be begun. Orihime, given the odds of what happens to RL girls in love for the first time, would be doomed to pain and the hard lesson of unrequited love. As much as fans may think of beloved manga characters as real people, any argument for what happens next in Bleach needs to emphasize authorial intent.
In a nutshell, authorial intent means the manga-ka has a plan. Some readers may see a cauliflower in one tiny doodle while others see a mushroom cloud but that doesn’t mean both viewpoints are equally valid; the manga-ka, unlike an abstract painter, intended one or the other or neither.
Now, lest ye mistake me for someone who purports to read authors’ minds or someone who believes she’s the living Cliffs’ Notes and ultimate authority to your favorite manga, I write fanfic. Fanficcers steal authorial intent from the author all the time; we play with other peoples’ toys. We throw assorted plushies off the monkey bars into alternative universes. We make the toys pirates or samurai. We make G.I. Joe kiss Barbie’s Ken.
I will never question anyone’s right to interpret fictional people however he or she wants. Look, I’m open-minded. I had fun in the 80’s with post-structuralism. Long past last bar-call, I harangued writers and poets about “the death of the author” and the “approbation of the text.” I celebrated the idea that anyone could make broccoli grow out of watermelon seeds when it came to literary text, but I never lost some deep common-sense grasp of authorial intent as a useful exegetical tool. Post-modern relativists, as I saw it, were washing ashore on their own little islands of personal reference. I was an argumentative little Jewish girl; I liked discourse and a hierarchy of ideas. As a writer myself, I held myself to standards, not to “anything goes.” The Pursuit of Truth still had a meaning in my thinking life.
So what does this little autobiography mean in terms of how I view manga interpretations? Let the fanficcers have their crack pairings is what I say. Let the shippers make their calls as to what happens next in canon. I’m a great fan of “everyone eats a Reese’s peanut butter cup differently” platitude. To each his own. If you wanna ship GanjuAizen or see sympathy in a face where I read jealousy--by all means. You’re entitled to believe that Hanatarou is the true villain of Bleach; just don't expect me to nod and smile at your theories. I may adamantly agree with you, casually disagree or I may write an essay like this one. I am not insulting your taste, cultural upbringing, or sexial orientation when I reject the hypothesis that IchiOri is a meant-to-be-pairing and that recent chapters (namely 237 and 277-287) support an IchiOri love match is ... um... wrong.
I'm a relative newbie to manga. I've only been interested in them for the last six years. The first thing I learned about this serialized form of story-telling is that I'm expected to guess what happens next. It's what the manga-ka wants me to do. It's what the publisher hopes I'll do so I'll buy more volumes of the story.
"What happens next is a natural game, whether you're playing it with a soap opera or a football game. Six years ago I would never have dared presume, even with a modicum of of knowledge about Western cartoons and literature teacher's penchant for playing "Where's Waldo?" with symbols and metaphors, WHAT was going to happen next in a manga. I didn't know a shounen from a josei. I knew next to nothing about Japanese culture; I didn't know what the heck a sweatdrop was supposed to signify or why characters turned chibi every now and then.
Today ( late summer, 2007) I don't know 1/10th as much as some of you fans out there, but like everyone else I have an opinion. All opinions, though, aren't equally convincing, sound, and valid. I'd trust someone who's been reading shoujo and shounen for the past ten years and watching cultural trends in Japan to predict a shipping outcome better than a Western newbie who's caught a few Bleach anime episodes and gets the low-down about the characters from Wikipedia.
I'm another fan, a smart one but no expert by any means, so why do you have to listen to me?
You don't. I've been paying obsessive attention, though, and I've done some research here and there. I believe now, as strongly as I believe the grass is green and the sky is blue, that some plot developments are as inevitable in Bleach as rain during monsoon season in Japan.
Enter my lair of logic and bias.
Surface Impressions about the Princess and the Hero
Behold the romantic scene. The girl wears what the garment industry calls "princess sleeves," slightly poofed at the top and reminiscent of medieval courts. She is standing on a high place--it could be the top of the tower or the top of the staircase seen in so many fai tale illustrations. The hero's dress is less Gothic era than Victorian era but no matter, his tattered long black coat is romantic and he is looking from below towards the princess in white.
If you're a Westerner, whether your idea of princesses and heroes comes from video games, Disney, or the Brothers Grimm, you expect a happy ending. There may be a quest, a riddle, or some symbols that represent a girl losing her virginity, but the worthy make usually gets the worthy female.
I have no doubt that Kubo Tite knew the allusion he was making to Western folklore when he drew Orihime and Ichigo in these scenes. Other fairy tale pictures in Bleach are inescapable. When Ichigo meets Rukia on the bridge in the SS arc, he lands before her feet in a knightly pose as if before a princess. Is Ishida, with shield-like bow and glinting Excalibur-like Seele Schneider, the true hero for Orihime? (His princely white tunic is at least era-compatible with Orihime's dress!) Or is the story of a princess, in Japanese lore, one that carries a different weight than the Western fairy tale? Likewise, is the story of Orihime (whose name means princess) in Bleach more of a Japanese tale or a Western fairy tale?
Someone looks like a knight in the picture above and someone else looks like one too in the picture below.
Will brave young lads free the damsel from her distress or Orihime, like Rukia in the current Hueco Mundo arc, have to resolve her own issues and free herself from her own suffering path?
I believe that while most Japanese readers catch the princess-hero reference, their expectations of romance differ greatly from those of Western audiences and that a Japanese storyteller writes to those expectations.
When I was reading reviews online for the anime Princess Tutu before purchasing the DVDs for my daughter, I was surprised to find outraged parents decrying the ending. What sort of message, they wanted to know, did it send that a young girl could love and love, be good and help people and then not be rewarded with her true prince's affection? I watched the anime and was profoundly moved by its floating poetic look at fairy tales, projections of oneself into fantasy, and by how it presented wavering identity as an illusion--the duck, in the fairy tale is a swan but is also always a duck. Being good doesn't guarantee one's wishes coming true.
I decided that I liked this Japanese attitude towards fairy tales better than the Western one that sanitized dark stories into Disney fare, and I bought the anime with no qualms. My daughter and I both treasure the series.
The Fragile Stair and Unrequited Love
"What is the purpose of climbing that fragile, uncertain stair?
The staircase itself may vanish. Can your love be more than mere illusion?"
~ Video Girl Ai ( a manga published in Shounen Jump, 1990-1993, in which unrequited love is a major theme)
Manga are multicultural stews; like contemporary Japan itself, manga celebrate foreign influences, Western Youth culture, ancient Chinese mythology, horror movies, the porn industry, morality tales--these ingredients float to the surface like so many carrots and radishes. The stock broth is uniquely Japanese, though.
Why this metaphor? (Other than the fact that it's lunchtime and I'm hungry?) My point is that while we may recognize our own cultural reference points in any text, to understand authorial intent and to make any fair guess as to what happens next in a manga plot, we have to understand 1) the original culture that invented the form 2) the manga form itself (in this case we will be discussing "fighting manga" or a type of shounen for an audience of young boys and 3) the current business facts of the manga industry that tells us that an increasing number of females, ages 10 to 40, are reading what for years was specifically targeted to boys.
From Japan comes Bleach, a shounen manga whose readership is half male, half female. Chapter 237 shouldn't have surprised us.
Readers were gobsmacked.
Readers looking at one and two of the three above contingencies for a nice, thorough manga reading were shocked that such a girly moment--a love confession with tears and an attempted kiss--happened in a boy's story. I know I was shocked. Then, remembering the author, his penchant for well-developed female characters (in this case well-developed doesn't necessarily refer to body shape), his grasp of popular youth culture, and either his or his editors' understanding of Bleach's audience. I recognized chapter 237 as part of a story that had been set in motion two-hundred-and-thirty-six chapters before.
Not the IchiOri romance but the Orihime story.
Like all shounen, Bleach is a morality tale for young Japanese boys that teaches the ancient values of friendship, determination to overcome odds, etcetera. Like most shounen, it's a coming-of-age tale in which teenage boys face the challenges of manhood (oh, threats to one's honor and the universe as we know it, the sexy bodies of teenagegirls, and occasionally the rivalry of another boy in war and love). Unlike most shounen, the girls in Bleach aren't static. their trials are taken seriously. Bleach is a coming of age story for Rukia and Orihime as much as it is for the young male leads.
Orihime has been girlishly in love with Ichigo since the beginning of Bleach. Pre-Soul Society arc, her affections are naive (she imagines Ichigo as a prince and by responding with glee at the idea that Rukia might like Ichigo too--"the girls win!"--she shows that she doesn't understand the concept of competition for a male's attention. During the Soul Society adventure, we witness a seriousness to Orihime's feelings, and through Ishida, we see Orihime's special investment in Ichigo's safety. Her concern for Ichigo even appears to override the mission's objective (not once does Orihime mention saving Rukia). Despite her generosity of spirit, her healing ability, and her unfailing good intentions, Orihime is self-doubting; she seems to seek Ichigo's attention yet she doesn't know how to win it. After SS, we're given Orihime's revelation to Matsumoto about feeling left out of Ichigo's life. Orihime confesses jealousy of Rukia. Hours later in manga time, we catch Orihime watching Ichigo's anguished look at an unconscious, injured Rukia, and we see Orihime respond with pain.
Then Orihime is captured by the Arrancar, believes she is leaving the world forever, and makes her heartfelt confession of love to a sleeping Ichigo.
I never heard such pissiness as what came from some of my girlfriends who were longtime followers of the manga. "She's nuts! Why is she so obsessed over Ichigo?" "Why didn't she say goodbye to her longtime friend Tatsuki--someone she's actually close to?" and "Don't tell me that after five years, Kubo is going to go with IchiOri? For two hundred chapters, the boy hasn't been interested in her one iota! It doesn't follow." Orihime hatred, already a national pastime in Japan (if we were to go by the activity on 2ch) became a favorite sport among my American friends, although a one or two became enraptured with what they saw as high romance in this moment and started to ship IchiOri.
Always an Orihime fan (she's my favorite female character in Bleach--yes, even over the unique and likable Rukia who is such a favorite with female readers), I felt sympathy for Orihime in this chapter. Her actions seemed authentic to me--what teenage girl who is crushing on a boy doesn't ignore her best friend for him at crucial times? What teenage girl, especially if she's never loved before, can imagine loving someone else? (Orihime imagines that she could be a teacher or an astronaut in different lives but she can't imagine loving anyone but Ichigo). The chapter drips with shoujo (the corollary of shounen, a type of manga aimed at girls). Orihime's feelings are presented with poignancy and depth--so much intensity, in fact, that for the story to never refer to 237's emotions again in the plot would be to neglect one of the story's most dramatic conflicts.
The conflict? Orihime loves a boy who, for 237 chapters of the manga thus far, has shown little, if any interest in her. From the chapter called "One-sided sympathy" onwards, readers have witnessed a genuine friendship and bond happening between Ichigo and Rukia while Orihime appears to have nothing approaching that level of intimacy and attachment with her love-object. Even the most impassioned IchiOri fans would've told you that. Unless you were of the "Ichigo secretly loves Orihime in his subconscious" camp before 237, the evidence for any sort of reciprocation of Orihime's feelings from Ichigo was non-existent. Even evidence for a friendship was slight. The most an IchiOri fan could've argued was that Orihime's were set up for an eventual love match: "Why did Kubo give Orihime these feelings if he's not going to do something with them?"
Westerners, used to fairy tales, anticipated the Cinderella story.
The two faces of unrequited love: One looks at peace with her sacrifice and separation. One is unconscious.
Before reading chapter 237 of Bleach, I'd only read one shoujo manga, Fruits Basket. Momiji's unrequited and unselfish love for Tohru was stirring, but it was plain that Momiji never stood a chance. The Yuki and Kyo rivalry for Tohru was mildly interesting to me (as much as a rivlary without swords or ninja action could be) but I hadn't thought about a shoujo "format" yet.
What was the deal with manga and unrequited love?
Before I read a dozen shoujo recommendations for friends, I googled a list of literary and cultural terms I thought might orient me in regards to Japanese attitudes about love. You would not believe how many times the phrase "a story about desire, obsession and unrequited love" came up. The unrequited love theme was everywhere--from ancient court poetry to modern film. And the theme reoccurred in a way that to this Westerner's subjective viewpoint seemed obsessive as the love the theme described.
"Unrequited love? Like in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?" A friend asked me. "Where they never get together? That's so sad. Where's the sex?"
The absence of sex may just be the point. Unrequited love, unlike the messiness of marriage and its infinite compromises and complications, is like the blossom that is never picked from the tree. It can be idealized and romanticized. Blossoms and petals fall in a whirlwind of pretties for the Japanese imagination.
The obsessive longing for a connection with the beloved is timeless--every romance, Western or Eastern touches upon that feeling. But the fear that the beloved may not want that connection is a human emotion that the Japanese haven't omitted in their love stories. The following court poem speaks of outright rejection in a beautiful way:
Yumi di dane That it grows harder
au koto kataku even to meet you in my dreams
nariyuku wa might it because
ware ya i o nene I can not sleep or because
hito ya wasururu you have put me from your mind
~Anonymous, Japan circa 905
The concern of the speaker in this poem reminded me of Kubo's Orihime, first in chapter 237, the scene of the aborted kiss, and then later, during the Grimmjow fight when Orihime was preoccupied with whether or not Ichigo's wanting to fight with Grimmjow put her from his mind.
Many readers of Bleach, especially those who don't like Orihime or prefer her with a "stronger woman" (like Rukia) don't see Orihihime's love as poignant, ideal, or romantic at all. They see her obsession as a sickness. I expected that from Western audiences but in Japan as well there's been a negative reaction to Orihime's feelings for Ichigo. Was the idealization of unrequited love breaking down in modern Japan? The little I knew from contemporary love and Eastern culture (despite the fact that my father is partly of Chinese heritage) for years came from the movies. When I first read Bleach, Eastern ideas (beyond those that the martial arts are used only to protect, never give up, blah blah) didn't frame the story for me. I expected everyone to keep trying and subsequently, to grow stronger. In chapter 228, Orihime vowed to become stronger and to fight with Kurosaki-kun the next time she saw him. After reading eleven chapters (276-287) in which Orihime is reunited with Ichigo and there's no fulfillment of her vow (in fact, there's FEAR of Ichigo, doubt in his fighting ability, tears, tears and many helpless shouts of "Kurosaki-kun"), I remembered a movie I'd seen in the late 90's, Chinese Box and how it compared unrequited love to the leukemia that was ravaging the main character's body.
Was it that unrequited love could be seen as something as less than ideal by the Eastern mind?
Could it be that Kubo Tite was showing us a teenage girl in the throes of first love and not romanticizing her?
A little digging turned up some literary trends in shoujo manga and changing gender roles in Japan (note: it's 2010 at this re-writing and the link for this article about the changing gender roles in Japan has died)
"In girls' manga, the characters are dealing with friends, trouble in high school, and unrequited love," says an American Asian studies professor. "But there's a tension between what publishing houses want to tell girls and what will sell."
The tension is in audiences too--between what girls want to hear and what the media and their parents have been telling them. Traditional culture tells girls "be good and you will be rewarded." Parents say, "look out for the pitfalls of love," and grandparents say "arranged marriages were the best." Contemporary media, with one eye on selling merchandise and another on more realistically portraying girls' experiences, have begun to deal with less idealistic notions of love. Romance manga address the issue of whether or not it's okay to have sex in high school and fighting manga speak to self-images of Japanese girls that are in stark contrast to the meek Asian stereotype.
What does changing girl culture have to do with Bleach? A lot. Rukia, the decidedly feminine but proactive, tough and assertive character, is more popular (by far) with Japanese fans than Orihime, and IchiRuki is a wildly popular pairing. IchiOri, in fact, trailed forty-nine other pairings in Bleach in a Japanese poll (note: the poll was conducted in 2007 and there are no screencaps of it but this LJ post attempts to track it) (One vote per ISP counted and over 8000 people voted). IchiOri even trailed the odd pairing of Orihime/Wonderweiss.
IchiRuki was the number one pairing. Japanese readers want Ichigo with a strong woman. And by strong, they may mean an assertive, fighter-type woman or they may just want Ichigo with the woman who actually comes forward to interact with him more in the series, who challenges his thinking and engages him in arguments.
That the author intended the distinct difference between the two young female leads in Bleach is certain. But did Kubo want the one voluptuous. passive gentle girl and the one svelte, confident, loud-mouthed girl to appeal to an audience of boys who would favor either type?
Or did he or his editors want these characters to appeal to girls? Whichever the case, Rukia wins the hearts of both male and female readers, and from what most readers will notice, Rukia--besides having earned the devotion and deep friendship of the male lead--also has her own harem of admirers from other Bleach characters.
Orihime, despite being funny, beautiful, and kind, doesn't lack for male attention, but male closeness? Her father and brother are dead. The boy of her dreams, while counting her as a nakama, shares no emotional intimacies with her. Orihime seems like a true hard luck case when it comes to love.
But is hard luck and unrequited love that make her suffer? Or is it self-doubt and weakness. Ichigo overcomes his self-doubt in the SS arc even as Orihime's self-doubts are brewing. By the time Ichigo is battling Grimmjow in the HM arc, he's standing strong again. Orihime has broken a promise to herself.
I expect that this pain of this broken promise would cause Orihime to doubt herself further if she stopped to dwell on it.
Orihime vows to get stronger and not let Ichigo protect her. Is it intentional that this vow occurs in Rukia's presence?
Ichigo swears to protect Orihime. This vow occurs in Rukia's presence as well (Rukia, unlike with Orihime in the previous panels, is forcing Ichigo to do this. For a character who has a reputation for hard-headedness and independence, Rukia sure likes to take care of peoples' feelings).
What happens to the vows when they meet again? Ichigo is all gung-ho to protect Orihime but Orihime needs to be reminded to protect herself and Nel with the shield she's instinctively used before (to save Ishida-kun, by the way--first, when they crash-landed in the Seireitei and also when Mayuri tried to bomb the pair to Kingdom Come).
Here Ichigo lives up to his vow and fearlessly protects Orihime. He faces her in the grand gesture of protection we've seen over and over in Bleach. This picture could easily be seen to have romantic underpinnings the way Ishida's three rescues of Orihime did or the way Ichigo's rescue of Rukia did. But... the response from Orihime is disturbing. It is at this very moment that Orihime begins to fear Ichigo's mask and doubt who he is.
Although Nel tells Orihime that Ichigo needs his encouragement, Orihime can't do much more than tell Ichigo that she doesn't care whether he wins or not.
Love? The conflict in this chapter (283) has a lovely resolution. Ichigo, who has been disheartened by Orihime's rejection (Hirako foretold that once Ichigo turned Visored he would lose his friends), hears her call words of encouragement and his fighting will is renewed. I cheered this moment of resolution as a wonderful moment between two of my favorite characters. But love? Given the context of how slight Ichigo's relationship has been with Orihime and how bonded Ichigo has been with Rukia over the past 200 chapters, this mini-story of Oh no I'm scared of him! and That's terrible! She's scared of me! and He needs your support! and Uh, okay, don't get hurt! and Yey! She's not afraid of me! hardly constitutes a romance. What it does show me is that Ichigo and Orihime have only begun to understand one another as friends.
Orihime's "fragile stair" may need the support of a true friend more than the ideal of a lover.
Ichigo certainly needs all his friends to reassure him that he's not a monster.
Ichigo's fulfilled vow and Orihime's broken one are red flags to me in regards to their relationship. Ichigo has done what he always saw as the ultimate in defining a relationship (his very name means to protect); he protected Orihime and he's happy. Orihime swore that she wouldn't need to be protected; her anxiety throughout these chapters indicates that her issues, insofar as Ichigo is involved, are unresolved. She has trouble believing that it's Ichigo behind that mask and she needs a new character, a child Arrancar, to tell her that Ichigo needs her encouragement; even then, Orihime's shouts to Ichigo are lame, lacking in confidence and drowned in tears.
I'll discuss 276-287 in detail later, but the points I wanted to make here are that 1) Ichigo feels fine and dandy once he no longer feels rejected by Orihime and once he is able to fulfill his promise to protect her. 2) Orihime doubted not only herself but Ichigo during this battle. 3) Are Orihime's feelings for Ichigo stifling her potential and her ability to connect to her friends, to encourage them, to see them for who they truly are?
There's a set-up here if I ever saw one. Orihime has a lesson to learn. I'm certain we'll see her learn one in upcoming chapters. I doubt that she'll be rewarded for helplessness, self-doubt, needing to be protected, and doubting her friend Ichigo.
Knowing that Honey & Clover, a coming of age tale about students at an art college was one of Kubo's favorites, I watched the anime and read the manga to see what was at the core of the story. I watched an Orihime look-alike, a beautiful woman with long orange hair and a figure to die for, slowly destroy herself over a main character who, though he eventually became her friend, was not the love interest who would challenge her character to grow.
Just how do the Japanese believe that one overcomes the burden of unrequited love? There may be some answers in the film The Great Black Out. Everyone and his uncle is suffering from a case, but issues are resolved in time for Christmas. In this contemporary love story involving a huge cast of characters, unrequited love is not seen as a pure and noble state of affairs. The broken-heartedness suffered is debilitating to the characters. One-sided love for one person forever isn't healthy; the way one gets over that disease is by entering into a realistic, mutual love relationship.
I'm betting that whenever Orihime resolves her issues and comes to terms with whatever is causing her emotional pain, Ishida and not Ichigo will be the one waiting for her.
Next: Exploration of Tanabata symbology in Bleach, more musings about authorial intent, and play by play analysis of chapters 276-87
PART TWO ABOUT THE TANABATA IS HERE
PART THREE ABOUT CONTEXT IN PANEL INTERPRETATION IS HERE