Bleach is a shounen manga. It follows certain standards of the form. Ichigo is the most typical shounen hero ever--down to his bright hair and his cluelessness. He is forthright, brave, and always wanting to do the right thing. That's the archetype. How Kubo-san makes him particular is that he makes him a boy who sees ghosts yet doesn't believe in astrology. A kindly grouch. A boy who who, in appearance, looks a little older (and therefore a little sexier?) than your average shounen hero, but he's the proper age of 15 (turning 16 in the manga timespan so far). He's Ichigo and no one else but he is also an idealized boy, an archetype that is often mistaken for a cliche.
When's the last time you heard anyone complain about Ichigo being a cliche?
I can not think of one time. But when's the last time you heard someone complaining about Orihime being a cliche? Man. Probably the last time I checked Bleach forums (early this morning).
Sure, she's beautiful, heartbreakingly good, a little silly and clumsy. Kubo has also added to her perfection by making her smart and making her sustain bazookas that are large even by Bleach standards. That's the archetype. If that's all she is, she's indeed a cliche. A cliche is merely an archetype that hasn't been made fresh or believable.
Now, why is it that so many people praise Kubo-san for particularizing his characters.?"They seem like real kids," readers say. Why do people assume that Kubo skimped on giving Orihime particulars and believable traits? I don't think that Kubo-san has failed to give any character, no matter how brief the character's appearance, some depth and shading. Orihime is shown to us as a child who got pissed off at her brother for buying her babyish hairpins. Tsk, tsk, that was the last time she saw him alive, and no she didn't bounce back. She needed the support of Tatsuki.
She misunderstands assignments and eats weird food. She has a crush on the main character (another cliche) but when was the last time you read such a touching expression of this crush as in 237? Orihime has been presented as someone who gets shy in the presence of her crush, who gets obsessed with the object of her crush to the point that she neglects other friends, and someone who admits her jealousy--frankly (although not without shame) of Rukia to Matsumoto?
Those curled toes in that Matsumoto bath scene were what got to me. Kubo-san is such a great artist, and so much of his story is told in a line here, an expression there, the absence of background, the presence of big black pupils or the detailing of fingers in a panel that doesn't require such detail. Orihime's toes spoke to me. A vulnerable, exposed girl. Trying to restrain her feelings, trying to express them.
Shounen are about boys growing up, about their myth-quests. Bleach is a story with kick ass women, strong women, women who aren't merely background noise for the fights or fair maidens in the tower (say all you want about Rukia in that tower but she had one angsty back story going--she wasn't just the screaming meemie going "oh save me"). Orihime has been shown to us as the mildest one of all these women--the most stereotypically FEMALE of the bunch, but I have a suspicion that Kubo isn't going to leave her that way.
After all, the boys are growing up (the core boys of the story being Ichigo, Ishida, and Chad). Orihime went with them to Soul Society and she's got to grow up too. At I write this, she is planning to use her powers to combat Aizen. She's still so child-like (you saw this in the way she sat knees apart on the floor in the goodbye 237 chapter, in the way she clenches her skirt when nervous in Las Noches), but the very clothes she wearing in this arc tell you that she's going to be a woman (or near one) soon.
Becoming a woman doesn't mean "getting your man" or fulfilling your childhood dreams. I know Kubo knows that. I don't know what Orihime's resolution will be by the end of Bleach, but it's not going to have anything to do with riding away with Ichigo into the sunset. Whatever it is, it will be a bittersweet ending, as optimistic as Orihime herself can be, and--because Kubo doesn't show her any other way--beautiful.