No surprise that I’m back to Bleach given it was one of the anime that got me into anime as an adult. Previously I’ve looked at whether Orihime contributes anything to Bleach and it occurred to me at the time that I really needed to look at Rukia’s character (okay, I need to look at a lot of characters in Bleach and eventually I need to review it as well but that will be a long time before I get to it). Today I finally intend to get around to arguing the case that Rukia Kuchiki should have died at the end of season 3 of Bleach (clearly spoilers incoming for those who haven’t watched it).
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Now unlike my post that took a swipe at Orihime, I really like Rukia’s character. She’s the literal life changer of Ichigo by being the catalyst for him getting caught up in pretty much everything that happens from the first episode forward. She’s got a strong presence and even when stripped of her powers strives to fight and fight hard. Anyone who has watched the first season of Bleach knows that Rukia Kuchiki is one tough cookie, who is also terrible at art.
And while I probably swooned a little bit when Ichigo first swept in to save Rukia after many, many, many, many episodes of him fighting his way through Soul Society to rescue her, part of me had to wonder how much better the series would be if he had faced a complete defeat and failed to save her in that instance. So much of the tension in the show vanishes after the end of season 3, so much of the drive, and ultimately Rukia’s character becomes one that increasingly serves little purpose other than the occasional pep-talk (or smack down).
However, I’ve narrowed it down to 3 main reasons why Rukia Kuchiki should have died at this point in the story (and none of them have anything to do with shipping wars and whether Ichigo would be better off with Rukia or Orihime).
01. Rukia’s character becomes reasonably redundant after the initial arc has run its course.
She’s an impressive character to be sure. When Ichigo’s family were in danger she showed up to fight the Hollow and then when she failed and was injured, she gave Ichigo the power he needed to protect his family. It was an incredibly self-less act (though she didn’t actually intend to hand over all her power so it’s a little less selfless than it might at first appear).
After serving first as the catalyst for change, Rukia adopts a mentor role in the story. She teaches Ichigo what he needs to know and provides him access to a range of tools that sometimes even help him out as he tries to defeat Hollows and protect those around him.
Then we get to the end of season 1 and the tone shifts dramatically as Rukia is finally tracked down by other Shinigami from Soul Society who believe she’s broken the law in staying in the human world as long as she has and in giving her power to a human. They beat Ichigo down and take Rukia back to Soul Society providing the clear goal for the next two seasons. Defeat everyone in Soul Society and rescue the girl. It’s a pretty big down-grade for a mentor character in the first place going from adviser to damsel in distress in about ten minutes of air-time, but it again sets out a necessary goal for our hero. Still, I wonder how Yoda would have reacted to that kind of plot twist? She’s the prize, the trophy or the life sized Kinder Surprise awaiting rescue at the end of an arduous hero’s journey.
Eventually however she is rescued but Ichigo no long needs her as a mentor. Many other characters have swept in to fill that void (most of them older and significantly wiser than Rukia). She’s not one of his friends, they aren’t love interests (unless you happen to be on that side of the shipping wars), they no longer have a mentor-mentee relationship, so the question becomes what role does she serve?
I think the show itself flails as it attempts to answer that question. For awhile after the rescue, Rukia disappears to ‘regain’ her powers or whatever and she does appear off and on afterwards, notably showing up in the Hueco Mundo arc when Ichigo wants to save Orihime. And anyone who watched to that point knows Rukia is fantastic when we finally get to see her fight with her power actually in-tact.
But, was she needed? Honestly, this arc was stretched enough so seeing Rukia get a cool fight might have been fantastic for Rukia fans, but all it did was slow the story. It tried to bring some closure to the whole Rukia killing her friend who was possessed by a hollow way back when too, but that story was never much of a major tipping point and the conclusion is more or less pointless. Rukia does get a friendship with Orihime, but this also isn’t much of a bonus for a series as hopelessly padded as Bleach becomes.
This story needed to take a tip from Game of Thrones. Kill your characters, occasionally. If they aren’t needed, or even if they are, occasionally take them out. In this instance, Rukia had served any purpose she was ever going to for the grander narrative and any thing attributed to her after season 3 could easily have gone to the thousands of other underused characters. So as a redundant and no longer purposeful character, killing her off seems like the smart move to me.
And I know the counter argument. Just because she doesn’t serve a purpose anymore doesn’t mean she needs to die. But…
02. Think how much more motivated Ichigo would have been to track down Aizen and make him pay. Really, after the Soul Society arc Bleach loses focus. Aizen flees and Ichigo resumes his normal life with the slight perk (problem) of being a substitute shinigami. There’s no sense of urgency to do anything about the guy who literally had all of Soul Society dancing to his tune.
However, if Rukia dies, Ichigo loses it. He’s driven to be the best, to save those around him, he gave it everything he had and pushed himself beyond his limit and he still failed to watch Aizen float up into the sky and escape. Ichigo becomes obsessed with bringing Aizen down and guess how much faster we can now get to the invasion of Hueco Mundo and the ultimate face-off between these two. Added bonus, Byakuya Kuchiki (Rukia’s brother after he adopted her), is also ticked and Soul Society get off their collective butts and do something far sooner than they actually did. Added, added bonus, Renji also gets a massive power up after witnessing the death of his childhood friend.
Giving Ichigo a solid motivation would give this story so much more purpose and direction. Because basically after rescuing Rukia, the show flounders. And it does this for a long time until Orihime is targeted and abducted and Ichigo decides he must save yet another damsel in distress, setting up an almost mockery of his first desperate race into Soul Society as he now charges into Hueco Mundo. I get that not everything in long running series is going to be amazing, but that was a rehash of a motive if ever we saw one and it effectively knee-capped any kind of character progress Ichigo may have made.
Kill Rukia, get a more affective motive for our protagonist and kick the story into high gear faster. Not seeing a down side to this plan. But let’s get to the third reason and it is probably the most crucial.
03. Nobody of note ever seems to die in Bleach. The occasional villain gets a send off but most characters recover from even the most insane wounds. Ichigo himself is pretty much killed at least four times before he ever finds Rukia in Soul Society and yet plot armour is such a fierce thing. Don’t get me wrong, this adds to the fun of the show. Zany and over the top fight sequences and attacks, blood splatter and drama at every corner, but you don’t actually have to get too worried.
But, Rukia is a different story. This was a chance to give this story a truly dramatic turning point and give the show some actual narrative credibility in amongst all the shouting, sword flailing antics. It was an opportunity utterly squandered by the need to keep her alive so that she could engage in some half-hearted verbal sparring with Ichigo and linger on fairly pointlessly in a story that had outgrown its beginnings.
And let’s relate this back to her main role early on. She was Ichigo’s mentor. Mentor’s die. Sorry Yoda, Konobi, Gandalf (okay, he came back to life), Ur (Fairy Tail), Mami (Madoka), and Kamina (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann) but mentor characters die. They pass what is needed onto the next one and then they bow out of the story.
Rukia was the character who could be killed off because of the role she’d played. It would hurt the audience greatly but it would be one of the most memorable moments of the series and her character would be remembered as the amazing young warrior who gave Ichigo the start he needed on the road to whatever it was he became by the end (seriously, is there anything Ichigo isn’t by the end?).
You could argue almost every problem people have with Bleach after the third season stems from Rukia still being alive. Ichigo isn’t motivated to chase down Aizen until far later in the series. There’s no sense of tension or drama and no matter how bleak the situation you know these characters will survive. Absolutely. Without fail, survive.
So let’s imagine a reboot. Let’s take the incredible concept of Bleach, trim all the fat, and really think about the role the characters were set to play and have the series play out as it really should. See that fantastic moment when Ichigo realises his failure and Rukia’s final moments play out? See Ichigo actually have an immediate clear goal to progress with after this arc?
Certainly, this is all a matter of my opinion but these are the three reasons why I think Rukia Kuchiki should have died at the end of season 3. If you’d like to share your thoughts on the matter, be sure to leave me a comment below.
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