*Of the “Big Three” Naruto, One Piece and Bleach in the past year, the first two have steadily ranked in the top five of WSJ rating polls while Bleach has been all over the place. The “Bleach My Soul” chapter that concluded the Arrancar arc placed Bleach at its highest recent ranking (2nd) and the last ranked chapter was for 438 (the one with Orihime’s “Beauty Attack” that felled Shi Shi) and Bleach ranked at its lowest ever (13th). Zangetsu01 posts the WSJ chapter rankings (determined by reader feedback cards) weekly at BA: the latest post is here.
My Favorite Arc So Far (bear w/me--kinda complicated but not really)
What I look for in an arc in order to say I like it (check all that apply)
What I think about the current Fullbringer arc:
Orihime's Beauty Attack Chapter--where she turned around and knocked Shi Shi over w/her good looks--
With the Beauty Attack chapter, do you think Kubo was trying to tell off the Twitter troll who wanted to kill off Orihime?
How badly do you miss Rukia in this arc?
THIS ARC IS REALLY GOOD. Fans are complaining about it because fans ALWAYS complain, and this time they have a subjective reason to bitch (no Rukia) besides objective ones (bad pacing that was there for past four years, the emphasis on art such as close-ups of doorknobs or Ichigo taking a whole page to ride an elevator over moving the plot). Some people like me, though, like the symbolic paneling (hello allusive big shadow of Ichigo in “Brocken Spotlight” that refers to an optical illusion of light and skewed perspective in keeping with Ichigo’s point of view in the chapter). The plot too has more suspense than HM which was basically a line-up of who fights who next.
I've actually reread the beginning of Bleach to see what some of the complaints were about and while I've seen smaller paneling that moves the story, I've seen this story NOW moving faster and with more sophisticated art. It's not as funny or endearing and naturally relies on reader loyalty so it doesn't work to gain your love so no, it's not OLD BLEACH. But it's a training arc and those never move fast and people don't love them as a rule. I like the mind games/mysteries Kubo plays (What are Isshin and Urahara up to? What past do Bookman and Ramen Guy share? What the hell has been done to Orihime?) and I like the emphasis on the nakama and yeah, Ichigo is more interesting to me as an angsty boy than as "let's go get em" hero although the angst can wear thin.
I’m not that worried about the fail!Ichigo people are complaining about. I sincerely believe that this arc is the culmination of Ichigo’s coming of age crisis. Ichigo’s protection boner like all dichotomies in Bleach (Kubo is obsessed with black and white, hollow and human, good and evil) has shown its good and bad sides in the two previous arcs. Because of his need to protect, Ichigo became 1) in SS, a shining hero and 2) in HM, a mindless monster who stabbed a nakama and killed an opponent who had already surrendered.
Last week we saw Ichigo willing to die because he wanted to fight—again prioritizing the fight over the need to honestly protect. Ichigo needs to man up and discover a balancing act between urges defined as hollow-like by Kubo in Bleach and those defined as too oppressive and shinigami-ish (think Byakuya and Ichigo defeating those rigid principles in SS). He needs to realize that not hesitating is good but that being rash without reflection is bad. He needs to stop running away from his feelings and grow up. I think it’s this arc’s job.
Yep—Ichigo was introduced as a fuck up in this arc. We’ve already been told Ichigo’s grades dropped, he was whoring himself out to sports clubs, and now he’s lost and mistrusting his own dad and former mentor and going all ballistic in the rush to regain his powers—it’s all a coming-of-age drama. He has no where to go but up.
As for the Fullbringers? New characters are necessary to introduce new story elements. It’s Kubo’s one great flaw that he gets carried away with introducing new characters. New story elements could be introduced just as well with four Espada instead of ten... the Arrancar arc suffered from being a predictable line of who fights who next rather than being a plot with emotional dramatic elements at stake. I like the Fullbringers. They seem less like fighting opponents than characters already onstage with emotional histories. Tsukishima is not only a bish but he’s smart and has motives to wonder about—does he or doesn’t he want to give up his powers and why?
I think the up and down WSJ ratings reflect knee jerk responses to chapters and not thoughtful analyses of the arc as a whole. That's for Kubo and his editors--they take these responses and have to sit down and think about them. What works, what doesn't work in the fine details. But the story? I'm good. What else is Kubo supposed to do? Bring the Shinigami to Karakura town and have Rukia fight Ginjou?--it would be ridiculous fanservice to play to peoples' wants right now, and he has to follow the story he's planned. I'm sure that after the training is done, really good things are gonna happen.
As for people saying that Kubo is writing what he damn well pleases now and not listening to “haters”, first of all—can you please not call people who want to discuss a text or a character critically “haters?” It sounds so puerile. I suppose that’s to be expected when a lot of anime and manga fans are in high school but I hear grown-up fans talking this way about other fans and using the word “hater” like an epithet and it REALLY rubs me the wrong way.
Kubo has listened to reader imput in the past and even though he says he doesn't now, it's naive to believe that editors, who DO listen to reader responses, don't have any influence on the direction of the manga. Kubo stated at last winter's Jump Festa that the audience love of the Espada was responsible for prolonging the Arrancar arc. (It's almost as if he's blaming the audience for his bad pacing). The Ashido arc was cut out by editors and put in the anime instead. This is the way it goes with serial stories—changes WILL be made and reader responses DO make a difference.
I’m not worried that Bleach is going to be cancelled. For everyone who’s genuinely worried about that—please chill. Sure, Bleach hasn’t had a WSJ cover or a two page color spread in a while but it’s still a money maker. The last movie didn’t make as big money as hoped maybe but it still made major yen. The last volume didn’t sell as much as previous volumes but it’s still selling in numbers of what most mangaka can only dream of selling. As for WSJ ratings—I can’t tell what to make of them. I’m still sore that Psyren, my favorite shounen (a smart story and the sexiest female lead since Ruka) got cancelled and I have no idea why Magico is being promoted so highly now—but as always with Bleach, I plan on being patient. Years in this fandom have taught me one thing—patience pays off.