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).
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. And ultimately she is used toward the end of the story, but I think most Bleach fans would agree that the overall plot is so ridiculously stretched that we probably could have done without a few of those twists and turns.
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 (or at least we could have avoided most of them if the writer had just been willing to kill off a key player). 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. Obviously there’s some great reasons not to knock off one of the arguably better realised characters in the story, but from a strictly narrative point of view it kind of makes sense for her to bite it.
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17 thoughts on “3 Reasons Why Rukia Kuchiki Should Have Died At The End of Season 3”
You do have a point if rukia died the plot would benefit but I think we needed more characters for Ichigo to play off on rukia is important but it would have been better if Rukia was not so under powered
Agreed. Rukia’s death would have fixed a lot of things in the narrative but she was one of the best characters in the show, so her death would definitely have not been to the benefit of the characterisation.
Having written an article about Bleach pretty recently myself, I appreciate the love the show is getting. Rukia is one of my favorite female leads in pretty much all of Shonen, and I appreciate your thoughts on her.
I don’t know how i’d have felt if Rukia died. Honestly, she’s probably my favorite character in the series, apart from maybe Grimmjow. If a character were to be killed off, i’d much prefer it be Chad or Orihime, someone that, through the 300+ episodes of the show, manages to add very little to the show itself. Honestly, you could probably remove both of them from the story altogether and it wouldn’t change much, apart from Ichigo losing a potential love interest.
Maybe Rukia could have been severely injured instead, slowly hollowfying due to her soul being stolen or something, and Ichigo has to get revenge on Aizen to save his friend? I dunno.
I guess the main reason i’m against removing her from the story entirely is, as those who have read the manga will know, Rukia is a vital piece of the story at the end. Not to mention, the true power of her Zanpakuto, including her Bankai, is one of the most spectacular weapons in the whole series.
That said, there’s definitely a lot that could have been done with the general narrative structure, especially during seasons 4, 5, 6, etc. to make Rukia a much more well-rounded character than she ended up being.
I agree, if we are just looking at a character that we wouldn’t mind killing off, I’d choose Orihime over Rukia in an instant (hence why I previously wrote a post asking what she even contributes to the series).
I like your idea of severe injury and giving Ichigo a more immediate need to follow Aizen. It would work as well as a catalyst.
I agree with you.
Bleach lost focus completely after soul society arc and was stretched using fillers,easy to forget story arcs with nothing to offer in terms of character development or story telling.
Yes, we could have simplified this post. Rukia’s death = renewed plot focus and character development.
It makes perfect sense even if I really like Rukia’s character.
It id a very good idea.
I agree completely with your reasoning on why Rukia should have died then. Bleach is a show that was at its best when it was a personal story about friendship and having the one person who opened his eyes to the world being taken away. When you remove that element with no backlash it makes the rest of the series feel more matter of fact than emotionally charged. I mean they had to steal Orihime (which I forget why) in order to force him to do something. This would have fixed a big issue with this section of Bleach. A lot of shows are afraid to kill off beloved characters for fear of backlash if they do, I mean if you look at the Walking Dead a lot of people have said they would stop watching if one person dies when they should have died many times before now. Giving your character an end to their journey doesn’t always mean having them have a good moment at the end of its entire run but sometimes realizing the importance of a death that must happen along the journey. It is a major struggle to decide which character to kill off and which to leave alive, but here is where the choice should have been made to do so.
I never did like Orihimie getting kidnapped and Ichigo having to go save her. As I mentioned in the post, it felt like such a rehash of a motive and really, Ichigo shouldn’t have needed further prodding to chase down Aizen. If they’d been willing to let Rukia die, Kuchiki, Renji, Ichigo, all of them would have already been motivated and ready to go.
I’ve never watched Bleach but I agree that Shonen anime in particular need to be a bit more ballsy when it comes to killing off characters, none of this deus ex machina, tears brining people back to life BS!
In Bleach’s case it is either a magic flower hairclip bringing people back from the brink of death, long periods off screen for ‘healing’ that somehow manages it, or sheer willpower overcoming copious blood loss. Either way, there is seldom a reason to worry about the characters really dying.
I agree! I love Rukia, but I think she should’ve died, because it would be a great character development for Ichigo if she died.
Rukia is definitely a great character and I love her dearly, but I think most fans agree that Bleach has some major plot and pacing issues (we love it but we’re not blind to its faults – most of us at least). I’m kind of feeling Rukia dying at that point would have helped a lot of those along, particularly Ichigo growing up a bit faster.