Having just rewatched Bleach, it occurs to me that the story is quite short if watched in the right way. If you skip the introduction and ending of each episode, which is always recap or filler, an episode of Bleach is quite short. Maybe 18 minutes long? There's also a lot of recap within episodes, so you have to have your hand fastened to the mouse and ready to skip said segments by sliding the bar briskly through the offending segment. Also, if there's any scene within non-filler that refers back to a filler scene, just skip that too and go back to watching the real series, which is whenever the filler people go away again. If you cut out all these sections, and all the episodes which are pure filler, you get a lean, mean, fighting machine.
With that in mind, almost every Bleach episode has stuff you have to skip, but the pure filler episodes can be avoided entirely, so it would be useful to know what episodes of Bleach you even have to own in the first place. Here's the list of 'true Bleach' you have to watch:
In all, Bleach is exactly 200 episodes long. 200 eps at the rough estimate of 18 minutes a piece = 3600 minutes or precisely 60 hours long.
It's kind of sad, isn't it? The series took eight years to produce but only 60 hours to watch. But this just goes to show that people who say long anime series are unwatchable because no one has the spare time to watch the whole thing don't know what they're talking about. The average American watches 34 hours of television a week. So Bleach can be watched in two weeks by anyone who finds it enjoyable, without being any more of a tv junkie than anyone else. Bleach isn't excessively long. In fact, it's too short.
The biggest problem with Bleach is the anime stopped before the manga did. This means there are dozens of unresolved mysteries that leave the viewer completely unsatisfied. A story can only end after everyone's positions in life have been permanently finalized and you can surmise how the rest of their life will go without any worries or doubts from here. It also fills in every gap in information that it hinted at, foreshadowed, referred back to, or simply insinuated via an unfinished pattern/cycle. For instance, if you mention the 'four great generals' and our hero fights three of them in epic conflicts, and then the series ends, that is a failure as an author because everyone is left wondering "What happened to the fourth general? Did they fight? Who won? If they didn't fight, why not???"
There are many such gaps in information that, presumably, the manga will eventually fill up, but the anime never did. The very biggest gap, in my mind, is Ichigo's past.
What is Ichigo's lineage, really? We can assume that his mother was a normal human woman, but after that everything becomes obscure. Aizen was about to tell Ichigo who his father was, when Ichigo's presumed/alleged father interrupted him with a stroke of his sword, saying Aizen 'talks too much.' If Ichigo's alleged father were his true father, why was he afraid of what Aizen would say and why did he take so much effort to stop him?
Ichigo assumed Aizen meant to say that he was half 'shinigami,' because his alleged Dad is a shinigami, but there is no proof of that. That's just Ichigo thinking on his own. All evidence points to the idea that Ichigo in fact had a hollow for a father.
Take for instance Ichigo's strange transformation into a hollow when fighting Ulquiorra. Ulquiorra said that was a 'real Cero, not a cheap imitation.' In that case Ichigo is different from a Vizored, or else Ulquiorra wouldn't have been surprised. He also said that he had never imagined a human could transform into a hollow, even though he had seen Ichigo put on his hollow mask many times before. And then there was the high speed regeneration Ichigo did while a hollow that no Vizored could match, which is specifically a hollow only ability. Ichigo quite simply isn't a Shinigami with hollow like powers or abilities. He's more a hollow with shinigami powers or abilities. Which is his most fundamental layer? I'd say it's when he does things that everyone says are pure hollow, not when he acts like a Shinigami, all of which can be done in other, non-shinigami ways. ((For instance Quincy's can fight like a Shinigami without ever being a Shinigami.))
Then take the fact that Ichigo could use Fullbring. It was explained to us that Fullbringers are people whose mothers were attacked by hollows, so hollow spirit particles somehow infiltrated into the developing fetus and became a part of the new growing organism. Both Sado's parents and Inoue's parents seem to have reached some tragic end early in those kids' lives, so it kind of fits that they were both fullbringers. But in Ichigo's case it makes no sense. Was his mother really attacked by a hollow before Ichigo was born? If so, why didn't he develop his fullbringer powers naturally, since birth, like all other fullbringers did, including Sado and Inoue? It's more like Ichigo's fullbringer powers are a rough copy, artificially born, and not like everyone else's. Is this because he is actually half hollow and therefore has all the hollow particles he needs to fight like a fullbringer, but isn't an actual fullbringer like the others and therefore never took their form of pre-natal development?
Furthermore, there's the case of Ichigo's hair. Ichigo's hair color is orange, which cannot happen naturally in Japan. All of his classmates have brown or black hair like normal Japanese, so why is his hair orange? Is it because of his alleged Shinigami father? That's impossible, his alleged Shinigami father has black hair. His mother was a normal Japanese woman, so that can't be it either. The only explanation is that his orange hair comes from his hollow heritage. To further support this evidence, Inoue also has orange hair and is a fullbringer, thus some hollow particles lodged into her as a developing fetus, clearly including the orange hair feature. Riruka, another fullbringer, had purple hair, again no doubt because of her hollow particles from birth. Everyone with a weird hair color in Bleach is related to hollows, it would be strange if Ichigo had orange hair for 'no reason' when the author was so careful to give a reason for strange hair colors in every other character.
Furthermore, it wasn't thought that Ichigo could recover from Urahara's turning him into a hollow, and that he would go mad and need to be killed, very early in the series. If what we were seeing was an ordinary hollow transformation, it shouldn't have been possible for Ichigo to just 'go back to normal' and be a shinigami instead. Something unnatural occurred there, something outside of Urahara's expectations. In that case, couldn't it be that Ichigo was always a hollow and had always been able to maintain his rationality, and therefore Urahara turning him into one for a moment was no big deal? It may be that life as a half-hollow for 15 years makes it quite easy to subdue temporarily becoming a full hollow due to wacky Urahara tricks. But it wouldn't make sense for a half human, half shinigami to be able to 'revert' from full hollow to half hollow again.
All I have is surmise, but the evidence does not point the way the series would like me to think. I do not think Ichigo's dad is his real dad, and I'd really like to find out who his real dad was, why this adopted dad is pretending to be his real dad, how his real dad met his mom, why they were separated again, and so on. The story of Ichigo's genesis has not yet been told, but without it, I will never be able to understand his life as it his proceeded since then.
Furthermore, what did Ulquiorra mean when he said Inoue had already been permanently changed and could not be rescued anymore, that she couldn't be their comrade from here on, when Ichigo came to rescue her? Was it just a bluff? That doesn't seem like Ulquiorra, who preferred to always speak rationally and factually. Does that mean that Aizen used the Hougyouko to turn Inoue into a hollow? If so, why has the story never come back to that point and mentioned it again? Where is her heart hole and mask? None of it makes any sense. This one sentence has left me confused for the entire rest of the series.
Other questions also need answering. Will Ichigo and Inoue ever get together in a romantic relationship? Or is Ichigo permanently blind to the fact that she loves him and wants to be with him? I do not believe Rukia has any particular feelings for Ichigo, and even if she did, the relationship would be impossible because they are different species and live in different worlds. But Inoue and Ichigo are peas in a pod. They're both hollow-humans of one sort or another, they both have orange hair, they both go to school together, and they both have presumably similar lifespans. Why doesn't Ichigo notice that the prettiest girl in school, as displayed by everyone else who sees Inoue, is desperately in love with him? Is he just that stupid? Or is he such a cruel boy that he would turn such a girl down even knowing that? It doesn't make any sense to me. Before the story ends, this question has to be resolved.
How strong, exactly, is 11th Squad's lieutenant? Kenpachi's pink-haired little girl vice-captain is given the same respect and same intimidating aura as other lieutenants. We assume she had to pass the same tests as everyone else. And in rare moments, she has shown superhuman speed, agility, and strength as well as spiritual pressure. All this without ever revealing her sword or taking part in a fight. Enough is enough. Every other lieutenant has been featured in a fight (except Nanao, who also needs to be given a chance to shine, but at least attempted to fight before giving up due to Genryusai's pure spiritual pressure). Pink-haired-girl needs to be given the same chance as everyone else and thus complete the cycle.
A lot of characters who presumably have bankais, have not actually used their bankais in any fight. This includes Urahara Kisuke, despite being in a pitched fight with god-form Aizen and losing, 13th squad captain Ukitake, despite being in a pitched fight with various arrancar and losing, and many others. Bankai make their wielders 5-10 times as strong, so why didn't they use them when they had the chance before losing these pivotal battles? Every character who hasn't used their bankai is one more plot gap, where we need them to use it already so that we can see them in their full strength fighting, at least once, for real in their lives.
Hopefully the manga will fill in these gaps before it ends, but as things stand, the anime never will. I certainly hope the anime will begin anew once the manga comes to an end, and take us the rest of the journey in full color and motion, but there's no evidence for that, so we have to assume Bleach randomly ends with all these holes left gaping.
Bleach is really three different stories, all with very different feels.
The first Bleach storyline is the idea of a teenager suddenly becoming a superhero and having to slay various villainous, bestial monsters that plague his town and attack his friends and family. This is a very straightforward series with very little of interest that can be written about. The enemies are of subhuman intelligence, just voracious eaters who live solely by instinct. All conflicts with said hollows just become straight clashes of strength, since dialogue with them is meaningless. Also, there's no one Ichigo can talk to about this strange new world because he's the only one who can even see these monsters. This first version of the story existed only so long as was necessary to introduce Bleach's supporting cast -- Ishida, Inoue, Sado and Rukia.
As it turns out, Ishida and Sado were never interesting characters even once, so there was no point introducing them in the first place. They never won a single fight or accomplished anything. I don't recall them making any important decisions or influencing Ichigo in any important way either. Rukia and Inoue were good characters though, because they served as focuses for Ichigo's caring and reasons for him to go around fighting everyone and everything. Both Rukia and Inoue served as vital centers of the plotline for extended lengths of the series. Ishida and Sado? They were always around, but no one knows why, since they never did anything either way.
This first version of Bleach sucked. Aside from the beautiful opening, one of the best anime openings ever, it was just a wretched story. It included characters nobody liked or cared about, introduced a giant cast of nobodies like Ichigo's classmates and a dumb stuffed animal, and had monsters so simplistic as to be a caricature of a real fighting series. The author clearly realized his mistake and wrapped up this version of Bleach quickly, stuffing it into a back compartment never to be seen again.
With more warriors from Soul Society suddenly appearing and kidnapping Rukia, bleach version 2.0 came out. From here on Ichigo's enemies would be not only sentient, but even understandable foes who had a bit of 'justice' on their side too. They would be able to converse with him and let him see things their way as well as fight with him on even ground. No more easy slaughters of weak monsters anymore, from here on you had to fight trained warriors who were the best under heaven who had honed themselves through centuries of battle.
This version of Bleach was extremely exciting. There were suddenly not just two or three characters, but dozens, all of them with their own motivations, relationships, thoughts and feelings, all doing their own thing, as they thought was best. Not only was it an exciting pressure cooker of billiard balls bouncing off each other, but every single one of these new characters, all 13 captains and lieutenants, had their own fighting style, weapons, and artistic character design. Even complete side characters like Shuhei looked awesome with his 69 tatoo and scars down one side of his face. You can tell the series creator had put in an amazing amount of effort and attention to detail, giving everyone a thorough back story and independent look no matter how little screen time they got. Every single captain and lieutenant screamed of confidence and competence as they went about their day, giving you a real intimidating sense of what Ichigo was going up against.
In Bleach 2.0, Ichigo couldn't just blast his way through everything. In fact, he lost against Kenpachi and Byakuya, who only spared him because they ended up liking him before the end of the fight. Many captains were busy fighting each other or fighting for Ichigo, or else he would have been overwhelmed in an instant. We also found out that Ishida and Sado were no match for captains, which was the last time they were relevant to the story, because with 13 captains plus Ichigo, that makes them the 15th strongest character in a fight at best -- so weak as to make no possible difference on the battlefield.
Bleach 2.0 went all throughout the Soul Society battles to save Rukia until the end of the battle with Aizen and his espada to save Inoue. It was just one long fight that showcased all the powers of all the captains by the end, giving each a chance to give their back story and way of life. The high points of the save Inoue arc were his fights with Grimmjaw and Ulquiorra (especially his fights with Ulquiorra), with the rest of the series becoming slow and bland in comparison. However, when Ichigo defeated the last boss Aizen, who cryptically said his revolt against 'that thing' was just, and that Kisuke should have joined him instead of fought him, Bleach 2.0 came to a halt without ever addressing the mystery Aizen had hinted at.
In Bleach 3.0, Ichigo is back enjoying school life with his friends and family, and everyone is relevant again, because instead of fighting monsters or death gods, he's just a regular teenager fighting worry and doubt. You can really see that the author wanted to try something new and finally saw a chance to ground Ichigo back into the life he had originally envisioned. A high schooler, with two little sisters, a love interest, a part time job, and all the rest. Bleach 3.0 is my favorite part of Bleach. The art of Bleach has always been good, but for 3.0, the fullbringer section, it seems to be at its very best. The story also has more soul to it. Instead of Ichigo fighting everything with his sword, many situations have no physical solution and put psychic pressure on Ichigo instead. He is powerless, so he can't just swing his sword at someone. His family has been taken hostage, so he can't just swing his sword violently in their midst. It's at times like these that you finally get to see Ichigo from an emotional, mental point of view. He even breaks down and cries at one point, something you've never seen him do before. Bleach 3.0 ends when he finally regains his powers and quickly blows everyone away with a swing of his sword. But it was certainly nice while it lasted. The remaining Bleach story, in the manga at least, feels just like the Arrancar arc in Bleach 2.0 and doesn't look to have any emotional storylines, just a bunch of fights.
The three Bleach stories combined give it the ranking of #54 best anime of all time. 200 episodes for just #54 is pretty bad, all things considered, but it's still one of the finest series ever. Yes, the series takes its time and yes, it many times gets sidetracked talking about people or things that don't matter. Nevertheless, when it is good it is really good, and it's always beautiful and exciting to look at.
If you cut out all the filler and skip all the within-episode filler, and watch it all in a short period of time so you can keep track of all the relevant facts and details, this 8 year long, 200 episode series can make for a very fun 2 week long viewing experience. You will end up caring about a lot of people and always being happy when they appear on the screen again, hoping to see them strut their stuff while they're around before they vanish into the background again. Bleach is never complicated or mentally demanding stuff. It's just pretty and fun. But when it comes to thrilling fights, it's right up there with Dragonball. Ichigo vs. Ulquiorra isn't that different from Gohan vs. Cell, in the end. They're both just fantastic.
((So why do I like Dragonball so much more than Bleach? Dragonball's humor is actually good, unlike Bleach. Dragonball has genuinely moving scenes, like any scene with Pan in Dragonball GT, or Goku's death at the end of GT, or Vegeta's frustration when he realizes he can't beat Frieza, or Goku's arrival on Namek just in time to save his son from the Ginyu force, or. . . Look, Dragonball is just a masterpiece. There's no way Bleach could compete. In the end, nobody can.))