Bleach is a bit of an anomaly. Although many long running shonen manga like Soul Eater and Blue Exorcist don’t always get picked up for a second season of its anime, not many of them get cancelled over 300 episodes in! Inuyasha got 167 episodes (although it felt A LOT longer), and even that was given a concluding arc. But Bleach is a little different. Considering the anime ended soon after the Fake Karakura Town arc, which felt like a natural conclusion to the series, the manga continued and the reader numbers began to quickly drop off. It’s almost like both the readers and the anime producers caught onto Kubo’s three arc format and were already disillusioned by the prospect of watching, let alone animating, yet another 732 episodes. So the Bleach anime stopped airing in 2012. Yet Naruto kept going and I’m going to try and answer the reason for why I think that is.
Back in 2014 I wrote a short post titled ‘Finally, the End of the Naruto‘ where I expressed my relief when reading an announcement that Naruto’s long running shonen manga was finally coming to an end. A few months later, the manga series, Naruto: Gaiden was announced, dragging out the equivalent of a Harry Potter epilogue for more chapters than most short running manga get. Save to say I learned my lesson about announcing any shonen series ending in the future. That being said, the Bleach anime had ended, the Shonen Jump magazine have thrown the mangaka, Tite Kubo, under the bus, and months later the only announcement I’ve heard is a couple of books in development. So the manga has ended, hopefully, meaning now I can do a retrospect on it.
Now I can admit that the Soul Society arc of Bleach was pretty decent. It had some good fight scenes and introduced cool supporting characters that allowed the training montage to pass without too much filler, generally the worst part of any shonen battle arc. It also had a twist that introduced the main villain, thus revealing the beginning, middle, end structure to be only the beginning arc of a longer beginning, middle, end series (Or as l like to call it: the 3 x 3 format). This inevitably became more and more repetitive and predictable as time went on with main character dying and being resurrected so many times that death lost all meaning. By the end of the Fake Karakura Town arc, most believed that it would end when the main villain was defeated, only to be proven wrong yet again with another several manga arcs. By this point even the anime producers caught onto this bullshit and the anime was canned.
As I mentioned above, the manga continued on with several more arcs, adding another 200 chapters that were completely unnecessary for the plot and ended on much less of a satisfying conclusion than the anime. Even after the final arc was announced, it seemed like it was never going to end. When it did end, the few that made it through to the ending wanting more had a couple of books to look forward to and maybe a OVA or film. But for those that never got on the bandwagon to begin with I am left with the same difficult feeling when thinking of the ending of Yu Yu Hakusho. With a terrible ending, can I really recommend Bleach as an anime or manga? It really depends on if you enjoy the journey, and the only way you can decide on that is if you give the Soul Society arc a shot, and that’s it. After that, so long as you have the knowledge that everything that comes after is more of the same on a larger scale but less originality, then sure, go nuts.
There’s an early interview between Tite Kubo and Akira Toriyama on how to structure a long running shonen manga. I assume this is why the powers and huge battles aren’t the only thing the Dragonball Z and Bleach have in common. The 3 x 3 story structure in Bleach and Dragonball Z are very similar. The only difference is that Akira Toriyama lived and breathed this format, where Tite Kubo broke through the natural conclusion and just kept going, which I can only imagine was either to stay relevant in the industry or out of simple greed. In the end, I believe this is why Naruto ended out more successful than Bleach, with an anime that ended where the manga did. Naruto didn’t confine itself to this long running format and focused more heavily on its characters and themes, allowing itself to delve further into the conflicts and the backstories behind them, rather than introduce new villains after the main bad guy has just been defeated.