Unsinkable Ship: Why ‘Bleach’ Should Have Made Ichigo/Rukia Canon [Love & Sex Week]
For Love & Sex Week at ComicsAlliance, we’re exploring some of the great comics couples we wish were canon, in a series we’re calling Unsinkable Ships.
Friends, how many times have you seen this story play out? Boy meets girl who ushers him into a hidden world beyond our own where he gets special powers. Girl mentors boy in use of said powers. Girl and boy, despite a solid bond formed in battle, argue constantly. But then, after enduring innumerable trials and hardships only to come out the other side stronger, girl and boy realize they can't live without each other and finally admit their feelings. Cue Big Dramatic Kiss and Sappy Montage of Happiness, right?
Well, in the case of Tite Kubo's Bleach, which concluded last August after 15 years, the answer turned out to be a firm "no." And that still kinda bugs me.
General spoilers for Bleach follow.
Let's back up: Bleach starts with teenager Ichigo Kurosaki, who can see ghosts, encountering Rukia Kuchiki phasing through his walls one night. Explaining that she's a Soul Reaper and a member of Soul Society --- basically think the Green Lantern Corps if they killed evil ghosts and guided good ones to the afterlife --- Rukia reveals that she's tracking a Hollow --- a ghost who's lost its heart and thus become evil.
When the Hollow Rukia's been tracking attacks his house and kidnaps his younger sister Yuzu, Rukia is injured and attempts to transfer some of her Soul Reaper power to Ichigo. However, Ichigo's latent powers are so strong that he winds up absorbing all of Rukia's power and successfully slicing the Hollow apart. With Rukia powerless and unable to return to Soul Society, she appoints Ichigo as his town's protector in her stead. Thus, one of the great should-have-been romances of modern manga begins.
Throughout their early urban fantasy adventures, Ichigo and Rukia form an adorable double act, butting heads over everything, only to both step up and do what needs to be done in the heat of battle.
Eventually, Rukia is forced back to the Soul Society and sentenced to oblivion for the crime of transferring her powers to a human. Aghast, Ichigo rounds up his friends. After a good old-fashioned shonen training montage to beef up their powers and skills, they launch an invasion into the cloistered world of Soul Society to rescue Rukia. Not even the prospect of fighting the fearsome Byakuya --- a Soul Society captain, and Rukia's adopted older brother --- is a deterrent. Over hundreds of manga chapters (not to mention multiple anime seasons and four movies), Ichigo and Rukia prove to have a deep bond like no other.
At one point after losing a huge fight, Ichigo becomes incredibly depressed so Rukia gives him a huge motivational speech about how "if you're afraid of losing, just get stronger... if you don't want to listen to others, then hold your chin up and yell those words to yourself."
"That's the kind of man you've been in my heart, Ichigo!" If that's not a subtle declaration of love, then what is?
Unfortunately, Kubo opted to pair Ichigo off with his other love interest at the end of the series; Orihime Inoue, who had been pining over him since the series began. Rukia, meanwhile, married and had a kid with her childhood friend (and enemy-turned-ally) Renji Abarai.
The final chapter showing all four as adults and the first meeting of their kids is cute... but dang it, it's just unfair to have 15 years of love and devotion tossed out the window in favor of a pairing with a character who really had nothing to her beyond her devotion to Ichigo.
In the headstrong, stubborn, rabbit-loving Rukia Kuchiki, Ichigo found a mentor, a fierce friend, and his soulmate. Judging by the vast vast amounts of "Ichiruki" art old and new popping up on DeviantArt and Tumblr, I'm not alone in thinking this. Where the official story let us down, we'll always have fanfiction and fanart!