Ichigo Kurosaki is the leading man of Bleach manga/anime which was once hailed as the Japanese manga/anime’s holy trinity(Other two being Naruto and One piece). Bleach at its prime (which in my opinion is the Arrancar Arc) was a juggernaut in terms of sales. I am not gonna get into numbers but I believe it even beats Naruto and One piece who were not even close. After all that Bleach ended its manga in a fashion that’s actually heart-breaking. A lot of you-tubers and online forums has listed a number of reasons about bleach’s downfall. But the thing that bothered me the most with bleach was the protagonist.
I will be honest, I am not a big fan of Ichigo and I will list out my reasons why. It has nothing to do with his confusing and ever growing powers or the sloppy writing of the plot, but it has to do everything with his actual personality. I am not saying Ichigo is boring or horrible. In my personal opinion he is a secondary character at best.
Motivation or his driving force:
I know a lot of people complained about Ichigo’s motivation about saving people as lame. Truth is its not exactly lame but it’s not intriguing. Wanting to protect the people you care is the most basic impulse. But to make that the sole driving force of a character is just lazy writing. It makes him 2-dimensional and predictable.
This is the big separation between Ichigo and other leads. His driving force is so generic. Let’s have a look at his peers.
Naruto wants to be a hokage because he wants to be noticed and loved. He was always ignored and even hated by his fellow classmates and villagers because of the demon fox in him. And instead of hating the world that hates him, he chooses to become strong so that they would love and respect him. It’s inspiring and optimistic. And most importantly as the series progress you can see the naive, goofy Naruto has a vulnerable side to him and his tenacity and his die hard attitude even in the face of extreme adversaries will force you to love him.
If you take luffy from One piece, Just like naruto, from episode 1 we can see he has a clear goal, to become the pirate king. And as the series progress you can see how simple minded and silly luffy is but how serious he is about his dream.
What I am trying to say is Naruto and luffy has dreams. That’s relatable and it humanizes them. We all want to do things that are often called impossible or dismissed as a fool’s fantasy. But as we see them fight towards that goal, we tell ourselves we can also fulfil our dream just like our heroes. Also you can argue that Ichigo’s driving force comes from his guilt about his mom’s death but there are tons of other leads out there who has a similar motivation and some more.
If you are still unsure about what I am saying replace the word Ichigo with any stereotypical shounen hero and it would sound exactly the same.
Lack of character growth:
Now this is something of my personal opinion. People can say otherwise. The biggest problem for me with Ichigo’s character was the lack of character development, of any sort. From the beginning to the end, his motivations, his personality …pretty much everything about him feels the same.
If you take naruto as an example… you can see how far naruto has come along from being an attention seeking class clown to a goofy yet respected warrior who never goes back on his word.
If you read Berserk, you can see the changes guts goes throughout the story which makes him quite possibly one of the best written characters ever (but’s a discussion for another time).
Because of this, Ichigo feels more like a lackadaisical hero. Someone who only does what needs to be done at the last moment. Everything he ever did is only to save someone. Don’t get me wrong, its noble but once again its very 2D. Like is there anything he ever does apart from that, that’s anything a bit more relatable, on a personal level.
I mean sure in the beginning he is guilty that he is responsible for his mother’s death but it doesn’t really carry out any emotional depth.
Nakama which means “friend” or a comrade in English is a hugely recurring theme in bleach. Even if he doesn’t go around shouting about it like natsu in “fairy tail” that’s all he ever did for the most part of the manga. I mean granted at the end it was mildly about revenge for his mother’s death but even then it’s about saving his friends. And don’t get me started on Orihime’s annoying “Kurosaki-kun” chant throughout the arrancar arc.
Bleach has an interesting spectrum of comrades for him who are either extremely boring or extremely fun. And that’s the key point they are either fun or boring. The number of characters with interesting backstories and motivations can be counted on fingers.
I think that’s why after Aizen’s arc, bleach took a massive hit in terms of popularity and readers. Aizen kept the readers coming back for more because what bleach lacked in a compelling hero got balanced out with a compelling and charismatic villain.
So to summarize it all, I personal believe Ichigo was a poorly written hero who had no huge character development and lacks a motivational drive that makes him relatable. While I do agree that Bleach manga itself had a lot of issues, some are credited to the editors who rushed the ending, some to creator Kubo’s health issues, I would say Bleach’s biggest problem was a bland hero who never really stirred interest in any way. What do you think?