It is the end of an era. The hugely popular manga Bleach, created by Tite Kubo, and published in Shonen Jump magazine, has come to an end after fifteen years. Despite a rather rushed ending, Bleach has maintained an exciting story and had a memorable cast of characters. Bleach’s anime adaptation ended in 2012, but it may return since the manga is now complete, and there is a promise of a live action movie in 2018. To celebrate the end of Bleach, here are fifteen of the manga’s greatest moments.
Note: These are the opinions of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the whole of A Place To Hang Your Cape’s staff. There are also major spoilers for the whole series so read at your own risk.
15. The Substitute Soul Reaper
Our list has to start somewhere and it makes sense to begin with the first meeting between our two protagonists. Ichigo Kurosaki, a 15-year old boy who can see ghosts, has his life changed when a girl dressed in black appears, named Rukia Kuchiki, actually a Soul Reaper, a Japanese death god (“Shinigami”) who sends ghosts to the afterlife called Soul Society, and slays evil spirits called Hollow. When one of these Hollow attacks Ichigo’s house to eat his sisters, Ichigo makes a pact with Rukia to temporarily take on her powers and defeat the Hollow, only to absorb all of it and become a full-fledged Soul Reaper. This meeting is important since it is the crux of the whole manga and kicks off the story, introducing Ichigo and Rukia to both us and each other, and cementing the trust they share.
14. Orihime and Her Brother
One of the main protagonists is Orihime Inoue, a bubbly girl who later becomes one of Ichigo’s main allies. She lives alone in an apartment she once shared with her late brother Sora. By chance, Sora’s ghost has been watching over her, only to be transformed into a Hollow. He attacks Orihime, intending on controlling her after she stopped praying for his spirit, but Ichigo and Rukia come to her aid. In a moving scene, Orihime embraces her monstrous brother, breaking his Hollow mask and makes peace with him. Ichigo then helps send Sora’s spirit to Soul Society.
13. Hisagi Reaps Life
One of the most popular characters in Bleach was Shuhei Hisagi, Lieutenant of the 9th Division of the Gotei 13, the military force that guard Soul Society. Hisagi became popular even before his character was explored due to his unusual design. He is also reluctant to use the powers of his sword, fearing its power. But in the lengthy battle to defeat the manga’s major villains, Sosuke Aizen and the Arrancar (Hollows given Soul Reaper powers), Hisagi has to release his sword’s power. It is revealed to be a cool-looking pair of sickles connected by a chain, which Hisagi describes as being designed to reap life itself. Hisagi then uses it to slay his opponent in one swift move.
12. Ayon Goes On A Rampage
The Hollow are the corrupt spirits of humans eaten by other Hollow, often having a monstrous appearance and a skull/mask-like face. This allows for a lot of creativity in their designs. Most are downright nightmarish, but the worst is Ayon, a giant Hollow summoned by three of the Arrancar. A enormous, chimeric Hollow, Ayon proves to be like the Juggernaut, an almost unstoppable beast of death and destruction. He makes quick work of the Gotei 13’s lieutenants, and then proceeds to take on the elderly badass Commander Genryusai Yamamoto, only for the old man to whip out his pyrokinetic sword and shish-kebabs Ayon with an inferno. And despite being sliced in two, both body parts leap up to kill Yamamoto, and get reduced to ashes.
11. The Vandenreich Invade Soul Society
The final arc of Bleach was dubbed the Thousand Year Blood arc, depicting the long awaited war between the Soul Reapers and the Quincy, an empire of superpowered Nazi-esque humans exterminated by Soul Society a thousand years ago. In the opening chapters of the final arc, the revived Quincy, known as the Vandenreich, declare war on Soul Society with the promise to destroy them in three days. Well, they pretty much pull it off. Arriving via explosive pillars of fire, the Vandenreich’s elite hit squad, the Sternritter, wipe the floor with the Soul Reapers. Several characters are killed off or beaten down, the powers of their swords are stolen, and by the end of the preliminary invasion, all of Soul Society has been demolished. Introducing villains who can just waste our heroes is a great step.
10. Soi Fon vs. Barragan
Captain Soi Fon (or Sui Feng) of the 2nd Division is the fastest of the Soul Reapers, but even she can’t outrun death. In the epic fight against the Arrancar, the no-nonsense Soi Fon and her idiotic lieutenant Marechiyo Omaeda face off against Barragan Luisenbarn, a grouchy old Arrancar who transforms into the Grim Reaper when he activates his axe’s powers. Barragan is revealed to be the God King of Hueco Mundo, the world of the Hollow, and can age anything or rot them away, as he does to Soi Fon’s left arm. It is a terrifying ability. Soi Fon then responds by activating the ultimate finish move of her sword, known as a “bankai”, which takes the form of a missile launcher and blows Barragan to kingdom come. Or so she thinks. Yeah, bonehead survives that. Thankfully, Soi Fon is aided by magic expert Hachigen Ushoda, who manages to reflect Barragan’s own ability on the God King, destroying him from the inside out.
9. Byakuya Activates His Bankai
A Soul Reaper’s sword has two forms – a “shikai” which is the basic empowered form, and the “bankai”, which unlocks the true potential of the sword. Think of it as a Smash Attack but it lasts longer. A pivotal moment in the manga’s second arc involves Rukia’s best friend Renji Abarai fighting her aloof big brother Byakuya Kuchiki. Renji activates his newly gained bankai and appears to get the upper hand, til Byakuya traps him with magic and drops his sword into the ground, activating his own bankai, summoning a thousand swords of death which, as you might guess, puts an end to the fight. There is always a sense of tension whenever a character unleashes their bankai, but Byakuya’s is probably the most exciting.
8. Rukia’s Execution
The second arc of Bleach involves Rukia being taken back to Soul Society to be executed for giving Ichigo her powers. Ichigo and his friends invade Soul Society to rescue her. Rukia is taken to be executed by a giant sword called the Sokyoku which takes the form of a giant, soul-burning phoenix. Yeah, no kill like overkill. However, Rukia makes peace with her death in a rather moving moment, content with her life despite the bad parts. Too bad Ichigo has other plans, crashing her execution and destroys the Sokyoku. Renji then arrives and Ichigo tosses Rukia to him like they are in a rugby match. Rukia’s character arc before and during her execution is an important part to her character, and she remains one of the most popular characters in the manga.
7. Rukia vs. Aaroniero Arruruerie
Speaking of Rukia, another of her greatest moments is her battle against the Arrancar named Aaroniero Arruruerie. Try saying that five times. Aaroniero is a gluttonous Hollow with a brain in a jar for a head, who has absorbed countless of his kind; but also the body of Rukia’s late mentor Kaien Shiba, who she mercy killed long ago when he was eaten/possessed by a parasitic Hollow. Rukia carried the burden for a long time which contributed to her willingness to die. Aaroniero at first pretends to be Kaien, wearing his body like a suit, but Rukia eventually sees through the disguise and fights to give her mentor peace. Aaroniero impales Rukia on Kaien’s own sword, but Rukia turns the tables, piercing him through his brain-in-a-jar-for-a-head with her icy sword “Sodeo no Shirayuki”. Take that, ugly!
6. The Final Getsuga Tensho
The very long third arc in the manga is split into three arcs, the last involving Ichigo getting ready to take on the superpowered Aizen. Aided by his father Isshin Kurosaki, Ichigo learns of a move that would allow him to defeat Aizen but at the sacrifice of his Soul Reaper powers. Ichigo later confronts Aizen and activates the Final Getsuga Tensho, making him resemble Vincent Valentine and manages to defeat Aizen, who is then sealed away by his own nemesis Kisuke Urahara. A lot of fans believe that Bleach should have ended the story here, Ichigo having sacrificed his powers to stop a great evil. Almost like a metaphor for his whole character. However, the story went on, though perhaps the quality became more debatable.
5. Aizen Trolls Everyone
Look up the word “troll” in the dictionary, the definition should just say “Sosuke Aizen”. One of the greatest anime villains, Aizen is the biggest manipulating scumbug in Bleach, always having a contingency plan or a way to outwit the heroes. Introduced as a seemingly humble Captain of the Gotei 13, Aizen turned out to be playing a long game, intending on breaking down the boundaries between Hollow and Soul Reapers using the Hogyoku plot device and then assassinating the god-like Soul King. The Gotei 13 confront Aizen in Ichigo’s hometown, and after much fighting against his minions, the Captains take the fight to Aizen. However, being Aizen, he uses the illusion powers of his sword to swap places with his former lieutenant Momo Hinamori, who is run through by Toshiro Hitsugaya, who happens to be her best friend! Everyone freaks out and blindly attack Aizen, and in a matter of two minutes he defeats all of them. Don’t try to think you can outwit Aizen, for he defeated characters before even fighting them.
4. Uryu’s Letzt Stil
It’s not easy being a Quincy, particularly when you are the last Quincy on Earth. Uryu Ishida is one of Bleach’s main protagonists, starting off as a rival to Ichigo, hoping to prove his superiority as a Quincy to him. When that backfires, Uryu becomes Ichigo’s friend, aiding him in rescuing Rukia before her execution. Uryu and Orihime encounter Mayuri Kurotsuchi, a mad scientist and members of Gotei 13. It turns Mayuri orchestrated the death of Uryu’s grandfather and dissected his corpse. Uryu engages Mayuri in battle, who activates his poisonous bankai, which appears as a giant baby-headed caterpillar (just roll with it). Uryu forms a giant energy arrow called the Letzt Stil, the most powerful of the Quincy’s attacks, knowing it will also cost him his powers. He one-shots Mayuri in a fantastic scene in, leaving the mad scientist to pick his wounds. If he wanted to prove his worth as a Quincy, he achieved it.
3. The Death of Coyote Starrk
The top ten strongest members of the Arrancar are the Espada. Despite being a collection of psychopaths, assholes, and monsters, Kubo somehow finds a way to make the readers sympathetic for them when they kick the bucket. But the one Espada who isn’t any of the above is Coyote Starrk and his minion Lilinette Gingerbuck. Once capable of killing other Hollow just by being near them, Starrk got so lonely that he split his soul in two and created Lilinette. He comes off as very lazy, but views the other Espada as his friends and mourns whenever one dies. Unfortunately, both Starrk and Lilinette are amongst the casualties, cut down by Starrk’s good counterpart Shunsui Kyoraku. I put this scene this high up to praise how well-written Starrk’s character was, and because it made me cry.
2. Rukia and the Juice Box
A bit of a weird choice to have so far up, but this cute little moment in the manga’s early chapters had to be put in. It is as it sounds. Rukia has just lost her powers and disguises herself as a high school student to keep an eye on Ichigo. And because she has spent her lifetime living in feudal Japan-esque Soul Society, she is completely clueless about the most basic of modern things (despite using a modern day mobile phone to detect Hollow). She encounters her ultimate nemesis in the form of a juice carton, not understanding how to use the straw and eventually gets Ichigo to show her how to do it. It’s small funny moment, and one of my favourite scenes in Bleach.
1. Hollow Ichigo vs. Ulquiorra Cifer
And the most exciting, white-knuckle moment in Bleach has to be Hollow Ichigo vs. Ulquiorra Cifer. Long story short, Ichigo gained Hollow powers early in the story, and also has an inner Hollow that threatens to take over his body. He battles a member of the Espada, the emotionless, nihilistic Ulquiorra Cifer. Ulquiorra murders Ichigo before Orihime’s eyes, but when she cries, Ichigo springs back to life, but as a terrifying Hollow who has no conscience and hellbent on destroying Ulquiorra. He nearly tears his enemy apart and even stabs Uryu with his sword when he intervenes. However, Ichigo snaps out of it and abruptly returns to normal. And just when Ichigo and Ulquiorra are about to go for round two, Ulquiorra’s body disintegrates and he passes away in a tearjerking moment. Well, that’s Bleach in a nutshell: loads of fighting, awesome moments, and plenty to cry about.
Have you read/watched Bleach? What are your favourite moments from the series? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.