In every story, I love the human element; the loyalty, laughter and sacrifice of best friends who face the world together and come out fighting. Who become like family. Who will do anything to protect one another. Who may be complete pains in the ass, but are loved anyway. One of the things I’m enjoying most about Tite Kubo’s Bleach (my current favourite obsession) is the sheer variety of friendship ties between the characters, which range from being almost completely antagonistic, to amazingly heart-warming, to the ultimate and worst betrayal. So, according to my humble opinion, I present the crème-de-crème of Bleach friendships, or at least the ones I like best. :’)
#1 Yoruichi and Kisuke
Any discussion on friendship, naturally, has to begin with these two. Yoruichi and Kisuke provide the centre-point for pretty much everything that happens; once Court Guard Captains within the Soul Society, they were responsible for the management of the Punishment Force, and the creation of the Department of Research and Development, respectively. When Kisuke was accused, through circumstantial evidence, of a crime he did not commit and banished from the Soul Society, Yoruichi followed and helped him. Together they set up a base in The World of the Living, where they watched and waited for the coming war, all the time honing their skills and providing veiled help to the Soul Society. They now act as the main bridge between the Soul Reapers and Humans.
Yoruichi and Kisuke’s friendship is completely easy and natural, underpinned by an incredible amount of mutual trust. They tell each other straight what they think and are not afraid of active confrontation, though this is rarely with true animosity. On the contrary, Yoruichi was able to see many good qualities in Kisuke (kindness, loyalty, leadership) that even her closest subordinates failed to detect, and stridently put him forward for Captain. Kisuke, in return, will listen to Yoruichi when he refuses to listen to anyone else, and she is the only person whose wants or needs he will put above his own. Yoruichi almost definitely wears the trousers in their friendship, and I kind of love that. She can be a bossy, brash, fully-liberated and independent women, and Kisuke just accepts her wholeheartedly for that. By comparison, Kisuke can act the total fool, shirk his responsibilities and completely neglect the consequences of his actions, but she still trusts and relies on him, because the reality is that he would never let her down. Yoruichi and Kisuke have a lot of affection for each other, which I always think has the potential to tip the scale past friendship into relationship ……
#2 Ichigo and Chad
Because there has to be a purely-human friendship in here somewhere and these two get my vote every time, especially in the early seasons. As a result of always being involved in fights and brawls, Ichigo and Chad earned a reputation as hardened delinquents themselves, though their motivations for fighting were far more noble. They fought to protect, with a well-tuned sense of when the other was in danger and a full dose of vigilante justice. After one of these such incidents in which Ichigo witnessed Chad refusing both to strike a blow or defend himself, Ichigo asked why, with all his incredible strength, did he not fight back? Chad explained the words of his grandfather – that because of his immense strength he must also learn to be kind, and the vow he subsequently made never to fight unless it was to protect someone else. A vow symbolized by the coin he wore around his neck, and which Ichigo risked himself to protect. Ichigo respected Chad for his vow and promised to help him keep it. In return, Chad promised that, if there was ever anything Ichigo thought was worth fighting for, he would stand beside him. This promise lead both of them to the Soul Society.
Ichigo and Chad have an incredibly noble, even philosophical friendship that reminds me of the best kind of Captain/Lieutenant bond. They have immense loyalty, which is expressed in actions rather than words, and through valuing what is important to other (Chad barely knew Rukia, but he was still willing to try and save her, because Ichigo was). Their friendship is one that needs little upkeep, it exists in a permeant, unaltered state that is always ready to be drawn on. Chad is a constant, reliable force in Ichigo’s life, and Ichigo is a guiding moral compass in Chad’s, with each enabling the other to perform at their best but also be the best kind of person as well, something that is important to both of them. The Pacifist and the Hero make a good team.
#3 Rukia and Renji
This one actually needs so much more screen time than it gets! Rukia and Renji originally grew up as street urchins in the 78th division of Rukongai, Inuzuri, where they banded together with other children to form a substitute family. Both exhibited strong spiritual pressure and, ten years after they met, with all of their other friends dead, they sought to secure a better life for themselves by becoming Soul Reapers. Because of the discrepancy in their entry exam scores, however, they were sorted into different classes, and while Renji flourished among his peers, despite initially struggling to prove his worth, Rukia became increasingly withdrawn. Not long after this, she was adopted into the noble Kuchiki clan and made a Soul Reaper by proxy; Renji expressed happiness at her fortune, but worried about whether it represented something she was actively choosing or being forced into. Rukia told him she was happy, and he heard the lie. They did not see each other after this for forty years. The next time Renji did see Rukia was as a fugitive, brought back to the Soul Society for execution. He fought tooth and nail to prevent this fate, even going so far as to learn Banki, challenge his own Captain, and defy all governing laws of the Soul Society. He wanted Rukia, above all, to know she could rely on him (and Ichigo too). He could have been killed a hundred times.
Renji and Rukia have a true brother/sister friendship: they bicker, they banter, but they’re always ready to come to the other’s defence, and they work almost synergistically in combat through knowing each other so well. Both have extremely dynamic personalities, veering between incredible confidence, even verging on arrogance, to profound self-doubt; poignantly, in the latter instance, they only really express this doubt to each other, showing a long-spanning trust and respect. When Renji is laughed at during their early academy days for his enthusiasm, Rukia boldly tells him not even to dare being ashamed, that his enthusiasm, his passion, is one of the best parts of him, and the thing that will ultimately make him a brilliant Soul Reaper. When Rukia confesses to Renji the nature of Byakuya’s cold conduct towards her, Renji challenges her adoptive-brother’s logic, and shows him the loyalty, faith and affection he should be demonstrating. Because they grew up together, Rukia and Renji will always be family, and, as Byakuya’s relationship with them both improves, I think Renji would be the only person – apart from himself – who he would trust to keep Rukia safe.
#4 Toshiro and Rangiku
These two have to be at least one of the most unlikely friendships in Bleach, and yet their dynamic totally works. Toshiro is a child prodigy and capable Captain of Squad 10, despite not having reached the full potential of his powers yet. Rangiku is his Lieutenant, and demonstrates both deep respect towards him and an awareness of his young age. (I love how in the battle for Karakura Town they are the only team to immediately stand back-to-back and provide that support for each other). As a small child, Toshiro could hear the calling of his Zanpakuto spirit, though misinterpreted it as a recurring dream. He faced open fear and disdain from the people in his village despite never causing any harm, and when Rangiku (passing through the neighbourhood) witnessed this treatment she defended him, though she also inadvertently knocked him to the floor and then ungraciously told him to ‘stop lying there crying about it and stand up like a man.’ Later on, she was drawn back to him again by the discharge of his incredible and uncontrolled Reiatsu. She told him he that he should become a Soul Reaper, and that with power like his, he had to learn how to control it or face the consequences of killing his Grandmother, who was already suffering from its effects. Toshiro took Rangiku’s advice, entered the Academy, and then some time later gained promotion to Captain, with her as his faithful, sometimes infuriating, but always best-intentioned second.
Like I said, Toshiro and Rangiku have an odd friendship, but yet it absolutely works. They provide the perfect contrast of personalities, which brings about an ameliorating effect on both sides: Rangiku’s free-spirited attitude, for example, challenges Toshiro’s morbid seriousness, and sometimes even encourages him to have a little fun; Toshiro’s work ethic, by comparison, defeats Rangiku’s natural and unfortunate laziness, and changes her operational mode from boobs-on-legs, to an effective Captain-class fighter. They bring out the best in each other, while having an intimate knowledge of the other’s weaknesses, which they compensate between themselves alone. Toshiro and Rangiku are also one of the most openly affectionate Captain/Lieutenant partnerships, though, admittedly, this is mostly on Rangiku’s side, Toshiro just frowns and bears it. To this effect, and without putting too much emphasis on it (and thus making it weird), I do think there is a maternal element in their friendship – Rangiku sees him equally as her Captain and as a young boy, without losing any respect for his ability; how she treats him is always based on an equilibrium between these two states. In her own way, I think she does nurture him, and, in his own way, Toshiro responds to this. He certainly lets her get away with A LOT more than he would let anyone else.
#5 Ikkaku and Yumichika
Okay, these two literally make my day! Ikkaku and Yumichika’s friendship long pre-dates their time as Soul Reapers, and is so familiar and well worn that they have developed an almost pseudo-marriage dynamic. Ikkaku lives for violence and Yumichika for aesthetics, but both enjoy the thrill of active combat. In their early history, they moved between different towns looking for opponents for Ikkaku to fight. They had an encounter with Kenpachi Zaraki, who defeated Ikkaku but refused to kill him for the shame of losing, instead, telling him to get stronger and come after him again. When Kenpachi won the Captaincy of Squad 11 by force, Ikkaku and Yumichika joined up to serve under him, demonstrating the same gut-love for fighting. Despite being happy in their Squad, however, both Ikkaku and Yumichika have powerful Shikai and Bankai attacks that would see them quickly reassigned if they were ever witnessed by anyone else. To this effect, both hide their abilities, even from each other, so that Ikkaku can continue to serve under Kenpachi, instead of being promoted to Captain himself, and Yumichika can continue to stay with Ikkaku. The pair have a strict understanding: that when Ikkaku fights, Yumichika must not interfere (help); Yumichika humbly accepts this condition, up until the point Ikkaku is in active danger, and then he cannot stand by. In the battle for Karakura Town, he was willing to take on an enemy even Ikkaku couldn’t defeat, in order to save Ikkaku’s life or avenge it.
Ikkaku and Yumichika have one of those old, comfortable friendships that nothing can ever really phase. They know each other completely, including how far either of them can take a joke, and they frequently have fun at the other’s expense, though always with a lot of affection. They have a completely homosocial relationship, preferring to spend time with each other than anyone else, and maybe even a smidge of co-dependency, stemming simply from the length of time they have operated together. [There are also a few romantic elements to their relationship, but I don’t know. I think they could equally remain great friends or become something more and nothing would really change for them. That dynamic is simply how they work]. To this effect, I like to see Ikkaku’s refusal to let Yumichika interfere in his fights as a protective impulse, a kind of veiled gratitude for sticking by him so long. Their friendship is completely non-judgemental, and I think that’s something they both need, because, in their own ways, they are each kind of volatile. More than any other friendship, theirs answers to an integral need to be understood, and I think they would do incredibly badly separated from each other.
#6 Jushiro and Shunsui
These two get kudos for the sheer length of time they have been friends alone. Jushiro and Shunsui were among the first graduates of Captain Yamamoto’s Academy, and the first to become Captains themselves within the 13 Court Guard Squads. They have held this position for at least 110 years, and both wield the only twin Zanpakuto currently in existence (if their friendship needed any more symbolism). They became friends in the Academy where they were peerless in their skills, and still work closely together as Captains for the protection and peace of the Soul Society. With their extensive knowledge and experience, they frequently handle the tactical/intellectual side of any threat, though they are also powerful and effective fighters. They have a strong moral compass, and both honour their sense of what is right, even when this goes against Head Captain Yamamoto’s orders (the Rukia incident). They protect their Squads, first and foremost, and can always count on the other to take their corner. They have the seamless, synergistic unit completely mastered.
Jushiro and Shunsui are the perfect example of an opposites-attract-friendship. Jushiro is conscientious, modest and a little bashful, Shunsui is ostentatious, womanizing and frequently indolent, yet their personalities compliment each other, and even rub off a little to the betterment of them both. Jushiro is always more confident and outspoken when Shunsui is around, and Shunsui takes what Jushiro says seriously, when he gives few other people that honour (he refers to his own Head Captain as ‘old man’). Knowing the limitations of Jushiro’s ‘weak constitution,’ I think Shunsui is also a little physically protective of him as well, though he’d be too cool to admit it, of course. Equally I think Jushiro looks up to him and admires him for his confidence and charm; I can honestly imagine him, in their younger days, being the wing-man of Shunsui’s numerous crazy schemes. Their friendship is built on absolute trust, faith and understanding, they know exactly how the other operates, and have a natural gravity which pulls them together. I think, in a way, they keep each other young as well, by still retaining that same fun and humour which originally drew them together at the Academy.
#7 Kenpachi and Yachiru
This one I absolutely had to include, and I make no apologies at all. Kenpachi was born into the worst and most lawless district of Rukongai, Zaraki, with no memory of ever being named. Surrounded by thieves and murderers, he became violent and aggressive himself, taking his surname from the district itself as a signature of his origins. While still a young boy, Kenpachi happened upon the dead body of a Soul Reaper and took his weapon, imprinting his soul onto it to make it his own Zanpakuto. Thereafter, he became deadly proficient at swordsmanship and killed many opponents, revelling in the sheer thrill of fighting and how it made him feel alive. In the 79th District, Kusajishi, Kenpachi was approached by a young child who demonstrated morbid fascination at the colour of the blood surrounding her. She showed no fear of Kenpachi (despite having witnessed him kill several others) and even reached out to touch his sword. When Kenpachi warned her the sword was dangerous, she continued anyway, and joyfully laughed when the gore from it smeared onto her hand. Intrigued, Kenpachi asked her name, and when she didn’t answer assumed she was like him: born without one. He named her Yachiru after the only person he had ever respected (and maybe suggesting he respected her too?). On the same day, he took the name ‘Kenpachi’ for himself too, the title bestowed on the strongest Soul Reaper of every generation, who has slain the most opponents and fought the most battles. He adopted Yachiru, saving her from certain death in the Rukongai, and she has been his companion ever since.
Kenpachi and Yachiru have a pseudo-father/daughter relationship; they form the thing they have never had – a sense of family or belonging. Despite his bellicose nature, Kenpachi is actually quite nurturing to Yachiru, and sensitive to her needs (even if these largely consist of food and entertainment), by comparison, Yachiru has a pronounced hero worship for him: no-one can beat Kenny! Not even Ichigo, the first time he battled with him and actually did defeat him. With an unnamed sword and no shikai/bankai, his bond with Yachiru is Kenpachi’s synergistic unit, though she is definitely the brains and boss of the partnership. She is, in all ways, a chip off the old block, demonstrating Kenpachi’s arrogance and disregard for any but his own rules, with enough personal power to back it all up; the moments when Kenpachi IS in mortal danger, furthermore, show beautifully and poignantly just how much she cares about him, and how much she needs him too. Equally, his first priority in every fight is to ensure she’s deposited somewhere safe, where she can enjoy the show but not be harmed by it. By naming her, Kenpachi took active responsibility for her, and for ensuring her life was a good and happy one; I think he succeeded in that duty, at least to the dysfunctional extent Squad 11 operates.
#8 Shinji and Hiyori
Last but certainly not least! Shinji and Hiyori were Captain of the 5th Squad and Lieutenant of the 12th, respectively, over a hundred years ago. When Hiyori’s previous Captain got promoted and Kisuke took over, she had a hard time adjusting, particularly because her first Captain had been like a mother to her. Shinji actively discussed this change with her, and told her to give Kisuke a chance at least, which she did. In an attempt to show his faith in her, Kisuke sent Hiyori to investigate a site where a band of Soul Reapers were rumoured to have disappeared. As the situation became more precarious, Shinji and a group of other Captain/Lieutenants were sent as reinforcements. What they found would impact the rest of their lives and change its trajectory forever. Betrayed by his own Lieutenant, Sosuke Aizen, Shinji, Hiyori, and the other Captain/Lieutenants became Hollowfied, shattering their identities as Soul Reaper. They fought against this process but were quickly overwhelmed; staunchly refusing to submit, however, Shinji faced his Lieutenant, who he had always suspected of some kind of treachery, and demanded his motive. Aizen replied coolly that the betrayal Shinji could see was meaningless, what was so much worse was the betrayal he couldn’t. The Hollowfied Captains/Lieutenants were put to death by the Soul Society, however, Kisuke, already banished himself, intervened and tested a possible way to reverse the process. It didn’t work. Later on, the newly-created Vizard’s learned how to harness and control their Hollow powers, with Shinji and Hiyori as their unofficial leaders, while they waited for Aizen’s ultimate coming war.
Shinji and Hiyori have such an antagonistic relationship that it took me a while to actually recognise it as friendship! Like Rukia and Renji they have the brother/sister dynamic, but more in the sense of only-I-can-pick-on-you, woe betide anyone else who tries. An insult is their version of affection, and Hiyori, in particular, seems to make it her daily duty to physically maim Shinji in some way – not that he really resists, in all honesty he could block her attacks if he really wanted to. Both have a lot of pent-up energy that they can only really discharge with each other, because they know exactly how far they can push (and nothing is really sacred between them anyway). Their constant bickering is a fun way to spice up life, and maybe even take some of the bitterness out of the betrayal they have experienced; underneath that though there is genuine love and affection, seen more in their actions than words. Shinji is actually massively protective of Hiyori, despite the fact she is able to take care of herself. In the initial confrontation with Aizen, he scoops her up and holds her for the entire fight, despite handicapping himself by doing so; in the battle for Karakura Town, my heart literally breaks seeing him hold her again after she’s been injured, its so gentle and so tender (platonically, of course). Shinji, I think, understands Hiyori better than anyone else, and she doesn’t always like this, hence why she puts so much emphasis on pushing him away. One day though, she might just be comfortable letting him in.
This was actually so much fun to write! I apologise, however, if some of the information isn’t entirely accurate :S I haven’t finished the series yet, and I have only seen each episode once so Bleach Wiki has been my best friend for detail. What do you think? Do you agree? Or is there maybe a friendship you really like that I didn’t include? I tried not to double up one people, even though I know certain characters have many friendships.