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Bleach: Essential Wuxia Review

We've been wanting to do Bleach for months, but had to pause it when we got busy with our Immortal Swordsmen launch. But now, we're so glad we did, because there's big news to share! Anime fans everywhere heard last month that Tite Kubo’s Bleach, one of Shonen Jump's most popular series, will be getting another anime season after a 10 year break. Resuming at the beginning of the manga’s final arc, Shonen Jump announced last month that in celebration of the series’ 20th anniversary, the series would resume in October 2022.
So without further ado, today we’re going to look at Bleach through the lens of Essential Wuxia, something we’ve been excited to do for a while now! I gave Bleach a 14/15, a silver! Here's why...

Is Ichigo Kurosaki a Wuxia Hero? I gave this section an 8 out of 8. Ichigo starts out as a jaded high schooler with a soft spot for ghosts, but Rukia’s attitude towards her work quickly rubs off on him. He soon finds himself reaching out to help people (both living and dead) that he never would have bothered with before, and frequently finds himself in harm’s way because of it. He decides to follow her example, and endeavors to save all souls, even at the risk of his own life. In a similar way, he starts off a bit stingy and selfish, but as his character grows, he rediscovers a version of himself from when he was younger, that gives selflessly of everything he has.
As the series progresses, and his enemies are no longer just souls who’ve lost their way, we see Ichigo’s sense of justice extends not only to those innocents around him, but also to his enemies. His background in martial arts has given him an unshakeable sense of fair play and a healthy dose of respect for his opponents. He turns a fair number of enemies into comrades with this attitude, many of whom come from backgrounds quite different from his own. Ichigo is extremely loyal to his friends (even if they're former enemies), but, as is especially clear in the story of the upcoming anime, he isn’t afraid to stand up and stop them when he thinks they’re in the wrong.

Is the series Essential Wuxia? While training and regular power-ups are a stock feature of the Shonen genre, Kubo Tite chooses to focus Ichigo’s training sessions on his inner world, the world inside his soul. We meet different aspects of Ichigo’s personality there, and different facets of his power; Ichigo variously accepts and overcomes them in turn. This emotional journey definitely devolves into fisticuffs fairly often, but the meditation we see Ichigo, and other characters, undergo in order to learn more about themselves (and get stronger) is actually very reminiscent of wuxia and xianxia training.
In Bleach, almost every character has a unique weapon or power that's all their own. In the case of Ichigo and the other Soul Reapers, each of them has a sword that takes the shape of their soul power. Kubo Tite uses this to great effect, giving each individual in his impressive character roster a wide range of powers, and taking readers for a ride as he delves into their normal, released, and final release ("bankai") states. The soul reapers also have schools of sorcery ("kido"), and can learn some very qinggong-like movement skills ("shunpo") to give each character a greater range of abilities and specializations beyond simple sword techniques.

Kubo Tite successfully intertwines several different worlds, each hidden from the other but directly impacting it in some way. He often describes the worlds like a dish of water that's very precariously balanced, illustrating each world as a different color in the bowl that swirls together with the rest but doesn't quite mix. His fascination with language meant that each of these were thematically created around Japanese words, English words, Spanish words, German words, and so on. The human worlds is, of course, oblivious to all of these parallel worlds, while still being aware of some forms of the afterlife through culture and legends.

Essential Wuxia Score: 14/15!

Missed Points: for all of the unique characters that Kubo Tite created in these other worlds, and all their diverse powers, there's still a very normal, human society at the heard of it, full of normal, average people with no powers. Ichigo and his friends want to protect these people at all costs, but it also means that not everyone can be a hero when they can't even see their opponents. The average person has no soul power, or Fullbringer power, or Quincy power, so they are not able to train or get stronger the way our protagonists do (though you do have to respect Don Kanonji for trying).

by S. Sifton
Immortal Staff

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