When people ask me what my favorite aspect of Shounen anime is, I know the answer they expect. Maybe I like the action, like your average adrenaline junkie who loved when Son Goku delivered the beat down on Frieza in Dragon Ball. Or maybe I like the world-building, like how One Piece has created this entire mythos around itself, nearly two decades in the making. The truth? I just like shipping enemies to lovers, and rivals in Shounen are perfect for that. However, things begin t change when it comes to Ichigo and Orihime.
So, when I started Bleach, I had a very clear idea about who the main coupling was going to be. Like, how could Ichigo Kurasaki not end up with Rukia Kuchiki, right? They’ve grown with each other over the years, and we’ve seen their interactions. They went from frigid and antagonistic towards each other and developed a real bond. It was perfect, it was everything. And then Ichigo ends up marrying Orihime Inoue and has a kid with her too. So. Color me surprised, I guess.
Okay, I am not an Orihime hater. Like, I get the role she plays in Ichigo’s journey, and she’s cute and everything. In hindsight, Orihime would’ve been the perfect girl for Ichigo, if Rukia hadn’t existed in the story at all. And I know ‘best girl’ arguments are always so redundant, but I truly believed that Rukia just matched Ichigo’s energy, beat for beat. Like, there’s something so profound about how their stories intertwined and unfolded. And, hey, I believe in a more balanced dynamic between couples anyways.
But I also see why Orihime was the one Ichigo ended up with, by the end of the story. But she always seemed like she was getting sent to the back during the plot, so she never did get the amount of character development and exposition that Rukia did. However, they are different for a reason and their place in Ichigo’s life also happens to be two very distinct spaces. So, in today’s Lore Analysis, let’s discuss Ichigo’s love life and the relationships he had with the two most important women in his life that weren’t family.
Rukia Kuchiki: All The Potential That Hides Within
When Rukia came into Ichigo’s life, she was a whirlwind that changed everything. She was already an illegal outlaw in Soul Society, and to use Ichigo as her host was her boldest move yet. And yet, in a way, this push was exactly what Ichigo needed to see how much more he could be.
Rukia is not nice to Ichigo. She isn’t flowery or cute, and they treat each other like equals. Honestly, their friendship can get a little violent, but it is because of how much they fight, that Ichigo has been able to grow past being a kid into being a hero. Rukia helped unlock the potential inside of him. She pushed him, hard, and often time they didn’t see eye to eye. But because of her, he was made aware of an entirely new world.
Ichigo was given a chance to become more, with Rukia guiding the way. And that was something he desperately needed. This is not to say that Rukia is mean-spirited or cruel, by any means. It’s just that she’s always been all about dispensing tough love when the need arises!
Orihime Inoue: The Humanity That Tethers Him
Orihime isn’t useless, I want to get this out of the way. A lot of people think that, because she isn’t a Shinigami, she has no active role in the plot. This always rubbed me the wrong way because it’s clear to see how much of a pivotal character she is.
She is the grounding force of the story, the link between the human world and the world beyond the veil, filled with Hollows, Quincies, and what-not. In a supernatural forward premise, she is the humanity that brings everything back down to Earth. Her reactions to this fantastical but gruesome alternate plane, are pretty genuine. A reaction most people would have. And yet, she remains strong in the face of her fear. Even when she doesn’t completely understand what’s going on.
Her lack of agency is pretty on brand for someone who has no powers being thrust into a world she could easily be eaten alive in. But she still tries, despite all the hardships she goes through. And it’s that nature that keeps Ichigo close to his humanity. Orihime’s loyalty is what helps him come back from the brink every time.