♫ keep dreaming. keep breathing. (amorphic) wrote in ship_manifesto,
♫ keep dreaming. keep breathing.

across the universe [bleach] (ichigo/orihime)

title. across the universe
author. amorphic
series. Bleach (manga)
character/pairing. Ichigo/Orihime
disclaimer. Bleach belongs to Kubo Tite
spoilers. This manifesto covers the entire manga series to date (up to chapter 445)
notes. There is already a ship manifesto for this pairing but I decided it was time for an update since it was written all the way back in 2006. =)

Bleach is a shounen manga series created by Kubo Tite, beginning its run in Weekly Shonen Jump back in August 2001 and is still ongoing. It is one of the most popular manga series and can mostly be attributed to the richness in the plot and the diversity in the characters. Seeing as I’ll be covering the plot in more detail in this manifesto, the basic gist of what you need to know about the series is that there are four main dimensions: the real world, Soul Society, Hueco Mundo and Hell.

Most of the plot takes place between the real world and Soul Society, where the souls go to rest after they have passed away. The balance of souls between the real world and Soul Society is mediated and controlled by shinigami who can perform a soul burial, sending spirits residing in the real world back to Soul Society. Their other main role is to protect good spirits in the real world, or Pluses, from evil spirits, or Hollows, and purify their souls to send them to Soul Society. Hollows that have not been purified must eat other spirits to survive so they often travel to the real world. At other times, they reside in Hueco Mundo, which becomes an important dimension later in the story.

The beauty of the story of Bleach is how the characters interweave so beautifully with each other, despite all coming from different walks of life, and Kubo Tite illustrates how intrinsically some characters are linked through flashbacks. Two such characters include Kurosaki Ichigo and Inoue Orihime and there is also an underlying hint of romance between the two. But before we get into that, let’s get to know our players.

i'm not superman, so i can’t say anything big like i'll protect everyone on earth. i'm not a modest guy who will say it’s enough if i can protect as many people as my two hands can handle either. i want to protect a mountain-load of people.

Kurosaki Ichigo is the main protagonist of the series who is noted for his bright orange hair, brown eyes and permanent scowl on his face. Starting off the series as a fairly normal high school boy, albeit with a very high spiritual presence, he eventually develops into a shinigami who later falls into the category of the Vaizard, a group of shinigami who have Hollow powers. Part of a mildly dysfunctional family, with two younger twin sisters who love and respect him deeply and a father who appears goofy but has secrets of his own, he also hides his own tragedy of the death of his beloved mother Masaki behind his furrowed eyebrows. Bullied and attacked for his hair colour, Ichigo learnt to fight back through learning karate with his friend Arisawa Tatsuki, as well as through private training from his father who attacks Ichigo every day to keep him on his toes. Outwardly short-tempered and impulsive, his ‘cool’ and ‘detached’ public image is merely a front for his kind and compassionate personality, well known to all those close to him.

if i were the rain, could i connect with someone’s heart just as it can unite the eternally separated earth and sky?

One of the friends who can easily see past his façade is Inoue Orihime, one of the main female characters of the series who is well known for her bright auburn hair, cheery disposition and ample bosom. Unlike Ichigo, Orihime lives alone after her older brother Sora died in a car accident, however this tragedy has impacted on her in much the same vein as the loss of his mother had on Ichigo. Due to the unusual colour of her hair, Orihime was constantly bullied until she met Arisawa Tatsuki in middle school, later becoming her best friend. As Tatsuki also has the special role in the series as Ichigo’s childhood friend, Ichigo and Orihime are linked very closely together through their relationships with her. Having spent most of her life being protected by her brother and Tatsuki, she gains powers to protect her loved ones throughout the course of the story and her acquisition of these powers link back to Ichigo.

the (love) story so far.
We are first introduced to Orihime in chapter two of the manga, with her mouth hanging open adorably as she spaces out. Within her first few panels, we also establish her crush on Ichigo. And why does she like him? Not because he’s hot or smart (which he is) but because he’s funny, he makes her burst out into spontaneous laughter at just the thought of him. In their first interaction together, Ichigo remarks that she ‘look[s] happy as always’ which is noteworthy because it indicates that she is always happy around him, as well showing us that, at least on some level, Ichigo notices her.

Orihime later sneaks up him in the park when he is training with Rukia and, quite unlike him, he doesn’t get annoyed at her for doing so. Instead, he notices that she’s been injured and freaks out, his concern making her blush before she dashes off. He offers to walk her home but, in her surprise, she turns him down, and she berates herself for the missed opportunity. After she leaves, Rukia asks for the nature of their relationship from Ichigo whose first inclination is to say they’re not close, before correcting himself and telling Rukia the tragic story of her past: that her older brother had died at his father’s clinic. The fact that he remembers her from three years ago, when it is well known he has trouble remembering people’s names and faces, is quite significant. In fact, not only that, but Ichigo is able to recognise her brother when he is attacked by him as a Hollow, despite only seeing a corner of his face.

During the story so far, Ichigo has been rather reluctant to do his shinigami duties, Rukia usually having to force him. However, when Rukia says that Sora will next attack Orihime, he rushes off to save her; the first time we are shown him doing so is for her sake. Meanwhile, an oblivious Orihime is detailing to Tatsuki the events of the afternoon and, after being scolded by Tatsuki for not letting Ichigo walk her home, begins to daydream about what a date with Ichigo would be like, although we get another glimpse of her zaniness when a romantic date in the park turns into a crazy race. The fantasy ends abruptly when Sora attacks them and he is about to deal her a fatal blow when Ichigo arrives to save the day, declaring resolutely that ‘if you want to kill Inoue, you’d better kill me first!’ Some strong fighting words from a boy who, as mentioned, had been rather unwilling to be saving anyone outside of his family.

Ichigo has difficulty fighting the Hollow as he knows he is ultimately fighting her brother and Orihime tries to escape from the grasp of the Hollow to save him. Sora reveals his identity to Orihime, revealing his anger that Tatsuki and Ichigo in particular tried to tear the two of them apart, that they were all she would talk to him about. In his fury, he tells Orihime that he will kill her and, seeing her in mortal danger, Ichigo is finally able to properly injure Sora. Ichigo tells him that the role of the big brother is to protect his younger siblings, never to threaten to kill them, and Sora argues that he is more like her father than her brother and refuses to give her away, especially to Ichigo, but Ichigo argues back that she is her own person, and she is no one’s to give away.

Flying into another rage, Sora regains the advantage over Ichigo until Orihime puts her body on the line to protect him and talk some sense into her brother: that she wanted to tell him that she was doing fine so he needn’t worry about her, that he could rest in peace. In particular, she tells him about Tatsuki, her best friend, and Ichigo, her crush. She collapses from her injuries and, while Rukia is healing her, Ichigo reveals that he knows her a lot better than he has so far indicated: he knows the story behind her hairpins, the ones she wears every day because they were a gift from Sora. Eventually, Sora regains his senses and vanquishes himself and, in so doing, does, in a sense, give Orihime to Ichigo. That Orihime told him such a personal story about herself hints that her crush may be a little more serious than we were first led to believe. Not only that, we are shown that she is able to sense Ichigo better than anyone so far. She is able to recognise his scent and, despite not remembering anything about his shinigami form, is able to recognise Kon’s soul in Ichigo’s body, even though she does not know the concept of having another soul in his body.

Following this, we are given Ichigo’s back-story, that he was responsible for Masaki’s death when he was nine years old. Despite not having an active role in the story arc, we are still shown that Orihime is linked to this story when she is the only person who doesn’t know his past who recognises that Ichigo is tense. Tatsuki even praises her for her insight, saying it took her years to realise this, something that Orihime realised in one interaction with him. While he is fighting his demons, both inside and out, Tatsuki tells Orihime what had happened, the two storylines interweaving together, ultimately culminating in Orihime feeling like she can understand him a little bit better while walking home in the rain and, for the first time, we are really seeing her feelings for him in a serious light.

It’s not long before we get back to Orihime acting like her usual goofy self by mimicking Don Kan’onji and, as before, he doesn’t get mad at her for doing so, even though he gets annoyed at everybody else. When she realises that she might have offended him, she apologises and he waves off her concern. When she learns why he turned up at the show despite hating it, she tells him how kind she thinks he is. During the show, a Hollow emerges and Orihime is the only one of his friends able to clearly see his shinigami form fighting.

After this, Orihime gains her powers while trying to protect Tatsuki from a Hollow, hidden in her hairpins and brought to existence by Ichigo. Following the fight, she faints and awakes next to Chad after they are both collected by Urahara, but not before dreaming a possibly embarrassing dream about Ichigo. While both she and Chad are later watching him fight, we are once again told that Orihime can see him clearly while Chad cannot, and also that Orihime can remember everything about Ichigo’s fight with her brother.

We then finally get to the major plot arc when Rukia gets taken back to Soul Society to be executed. Ichigo develops his strength further but still has some doubts about whether he should go and bring her back. He doubts until Orihime talks some sense into him, complete with voicing his concerns precisely and impersonating him before encouraging him enthusiastically. He thanks her and she strengthens her own resolve to follow him, for the main reason that she wants to protect him. That doesn’t stop Ichigo from being concerned about her, but she convinces him of her determination to go and he questions her no further.

When they arrive in Soul Society, they try to fight their way into Seireitei, where the shinigami live, but inadvertently get the gatekeeper injured while he is trying help them. Despite knowing next to nothing about her powers, Ichigo entrusts the task of healing him to Orihime. While healing Jidanbou, Orihime pictures Ichigo in a prince costume before being interrupted by Ichigo himself, handing her a cup of tea and telling her to rest. She does so and the residents of Rukongai come to the conclusion that she is taken when they see her with Ichigo.

With the conventional way of getting into Seireitei exhausted, they try to get in via Shiba Kuukaku’s cannonball. Ichigo struggles to learn how to form a cannonball and Orihime turns down dinner to stay with him, however he implores her to go and eat. Despite being hungry, she tries to save some food for him but their dinner is interrupted when Ichigo’s spiritual power goes haywire, and Orihime is the first to recognise it as his. He manages to make a cannonball but is distracted when Orihime congratulates him, causing it to crack and explode.

Now that they can all make a cannonball, they make their way via the air into Seireitei but once they break through the force field, their cannonball collapses and the six of them scatter. In what will be their last interaction for many chapters, Ichigo and Orihime reach for each other and Kubo Tite focuses on their outstretched hands before they are thrown apart. Despite not being together, Orihime is still constantly dreaming and thinking about him.

The next time she is near him, he is fighting Kuchiki Byakuya on Soukyouku Hill, his biggest battle to date, and Ishida suggests they move away from the battle but Orihime resolutely declines, hugging herself to stop her from trying to go to his aid. Eventually, his battle concludes and she tries to catch him as he falls but instead gives him a headache with she accidentally headbutts him instead. He singles her out when he asks whether they are uninjured and Orihime emotionally tells him how sorry she is that she couldn’t help more and how relieved she is that he survived. Once again, he thanks her for her concern. After all the battles are done, Ichigo and Orihime team up for the first time and work as equals to look for Rukia.

They return to the real world where Ichigo is confronted by Hirako Shinji, who tells him that Ichigo more like him than the shinigami. Ichigo turns down his offer to join him but Shinji doesn’t give up, showing up at school the next day and acts a little too familiarly with Orihime for everybody’s liking. Ichigo has a rather violent reaction and Orihime, Chad and Ishida realise there is more to his reaction than meets the eye. Shinji wonders why Ichigo reacted the way he did, after all, there’s no way a hot girl like Orihime would be in love with a guy like Ichigo, right? In any case, Shinji names Orihime first as one of the people that Ichigo will hurt if he lets his Hollow take control.

Sure enough, Ichigo’s Hollow eventually rears its ugly head. When some of Aizen’s Arrancar come to the real world looking for Ichigo, Tatsuki and Chad are the first of his friends affected and Orihime tries to defend them. She first thinks to stall until Ichigo gets there, but scolds herself, realising that she can fight as well. Tsubaki is destroyed though and, once again, Ichigo arrives just in time to save the day. She apologises for being too weak, allowing the others to get injured, but Ichigo tells her it is not her fault and warns her to get away from him before getting into his bankai form. While fighting, his Hollow begins to come out and Orihime runs to his aid, only to be severely injured, incensing Ichigo.

Ichigo blames himself for her injuries but has trouble apologising and making amends with her, even though she does not want him to. They are both absorbed by their guilt and sadness until Rukia comes back to pull Ichigo out of his funk. She tells him, ‘If you are afraid of not being able to protect your friends, swear to get stronger until you can protect them.’ And the first and only person he swears to is Orihime when Rukia intrinsically understands that his feelings of guilt are tied mostly to being unable to protect her. Unfortunately, this stirs feelings of jealousy from Orihime and she admits all her feelings of shame to Rangiku, as well as her love for Ichigo, the first outright declaration of her love for him. Far from urging Orihime to get over Ichigo, Rangiku instead encourages her to realise that both she and Rukia are important to him.

But once again, Ichigo’s Hollow comes out to play and Rukia is severely injured. While she is healing her, Orihime notices Ichigo’s focused concern for Rukia and she can only look away dejectedly. Ichigo finally realises that he must gain control of his Hollow and undergoes training with his fellow Vaizard. Kubo Tite still manages to stress how linked Orihime is to Ichigo during this though as she is the only one able to sense him, not even Rukia is able to find him. She seeks him out to let him know what Aizen is up to. Without looking at her, he knows something is bothering her and tells her not to worry, that he will become stronger and defeat Aizen. His determination strengthens her own to get stronger, however Urahara pulls her off the frontline as Tsubaki, her only offensive power, has been destroyed. Rukia, undeterred, tries to cheer her up and Orihime agrees to train with her so that she will no longer need to rely on Ichigo to save her.

Unfortunately fate intervenes again and Orihime is abducted by the Arrancar, but not before she is given the opportunity to say goodbye to one person. Kubo Tite then gives us a beautiful love confession from Orihime to Ichigo where she promises to love him for five lifetimes. She disappears into the night after healing his injured wrist and Ichigo, upon waking, is able to recognise her spiritual power, even though it’s been shown that his senses in this regard are less than stellar. The shinigami believe that she has been taken by the Arracar and, most likely, killed which angers Ichigo enormously. He jumps immediately to her defense but instead gives them reason to believe she has betrayed them. With Soul Society refusing to save her, Ichigo asks for information so he can rescue her himself but his request is turned down and Ichigo is left behind, alone and crestfallen.

He returns to school for one more day with a tense smile and bags under his eyes before heading off to Hueco Mundo with Ishida and Chad and, once there, they meet up with Rukia and Renji for the sole purpose of rescuing her. They all engage in their respective fights until Rukia is gravely injured and Ulquiorra tells Ichigo she is dead. Ichigo says he has no reason to fight Ulquiorra and walks away to save Rukia until Ulquiorra gives him a reason to fight: he was the one who brought Orihime to Hueco Mundo in the first place. Unfortunately, Ichigo is no real match for Ulquiorra and Orihime feels his spiritual power disappearing before Grimmjow brings Orihime to him so she can heal his injuries.

When she realises that the only reason he does so is so he can fight him, Orihime refuses to heal him any further which causes Grimmjow to wrap a hand around her throat. Despite still being badly beaten up, Ichigo stops Grimmjow and agrees to fight him, promising Orihime that he will definitely win. Orihime tries to console Nell that if he says it aloud, he will definitely make it come true, even though her body is shaking restlessly. Realising that Ichigo is not taking their fight seriously, Grimmjow hints that they might have harmed her before physically threatening her. In his attempt to protect her, he Hollowfies and Orihime is initially scared of his form. Despite having her shield up, Ichigo puts his body on the line to protect her before Nell tells Orihime that Ichigo is fighting for her sake so she shouldn’t be scared of him, she should be cheering him on. Realising that Nell is right, she tells him not to get hurt anymore and Ichigo gets an energy boost from her encouragement, eventually beating Grimmjow.

With his Hollow mask gone, she realises that he is still the same boy she fell in love with. He throws her over his shoulder caveman-style to get her back down to the ground and she blushes profusely, complaining that she is heavy. Ichigo, ever the dense teenager, says that she is not as heavy as he thought she would be (thought about throwing her over your shoulder before, Ichigo?). Nnoitra soon arrives and Ichigo loses his focus in the fight when Orihime is attacked. He is quickly overwhelmed and she is forced to watch as Ichigo is about to be killed until Zaraki Kenpachi arrives to save him. She first heals Nell at Ichigo’s behest and then heals him, surprising him with her power before being taken away by Stark to be guarded by Ulquiorra. Kenpachi earlier told Ichigo that his job was to protect Karakura town, but Ichigo corrects him: his job is to protect his friends, and he rushes off the save Orihime.

He engages Ulquiorra in a fight after asking him to get away from Orihime and Ulquiorra, noting that he has gotten stronger, wonder whether it is because Orihime is there watching him. But she doesn’t just watch, she also throws up her shield in order to defend him, but not without Ulquiorra questioning her. She is obviously upset and Ichigo defends her before thanking her. Lolly, Menoly and Yammy arrive and threaten Orihime’s safety, distracting Ichigo from his fight with Ulquiorra until he suggests that they take their fight elsewhere, leaving Orihime in Ishida's care. Ishida tries to console her, telling her Ichigo will win the fight but when things seem to be spiralling badly, Ishida takes her to where Ulquiorra and Ichigo are fighting. Ishida, one of the best at sensing spiritual power, is unable to sense Ichigo but Orihime does so immediately, running over to them just in time to see Ulquiorra blow a hole in Ichigo’s chest.

Determined to save him, she throws her shield to break his fall before attempting to reject his injuries, but his injuries are too grave and she is left wondering what to do before calling to him for help. Despite his state, Ichigo is able to hear her pleas for help, ‘She’s calling me. She’s calling me. I can hear her. Get up. Get up. I have to… I… I will protect you!’ and his desire to protect her, and only her, manifests into the purest and most powerful form of his Hollow to date, so powerful that he easily overwhelms Ulquiorra. Ishida tries talking some sense into the Hollow but, seeing him as a possible threat to Orihime’s safety, he stabs Ishida before he turns to Orihime and speaks only to her, ‘Save you. Save you. I will save you.’ She is overcome by her guilt for calling him into this form when Ulquiorra counterattacks, breaking Ichigo out of his Hollow form and, once again, Orihime tries to catch him as he falls, even though he is still in his Hollow form. Once he regains consciousness, one of his first concerns is to make sure she is uninjured. It is the last we see of the two of them together until all the battles are over and done with. He reunites with all his friends but Orihime is so overcome with relief that she bursts into tears until he faints as the first stage of his shinigami powers disappearing takes hold and, when he awakens, Orihime is the most excited.

The storyline skips forward seventeen months where they are all in their final year of high school and Orihime has become the school idol. Still, she is just as excited as ever to see her two favourite people, Tatsuki and Ichigo, so excited that she slides down a drainpipe to get to them faster. Tatsuki reacts violently to her recklessness and Ichigo, once again, defends her before we see that Orihime is just as crazy as ever, although she seems to interact much more easily with Ichigo now. Ichigo gets kidnapped by his boss and, when she hears about it, rushes off to try and save him before Ishida tells her there is no need to worry.

But worry she does, because she feels like something is wrong with him and, unlike before when she asked others what was going on with him, she contacts him directly. Ichigo invites her up to his room and she blushes at the fact that she is in his room with him alone. Still, she manages to ask him if anything is wrong because her intuition told her something might be. Ichigo lies and says nothing is wrong before telling her that her concern is one of her good qualities. He then offers to return her manga to her, showing that they have been able to connect on levels beyond those they were able to previously. The entire interaction leaves Orihime flushed even until that evening, where her daydream of Ichigo, although very different to what happened in reality, has matured from a prince in frilly clothes to a suave man in a suit, complete with shoujo sparkles. She is so excited about the events of the day, she literally rolls around in her joy before she stops and thinks about what it is that he could be hiding.

Her thoughts are interrupted by a phone call, telling her that Ishida has been attacked and she meets with Ichigo at the hospital, who is clearly agitated, at least until he sees Orihime. He is lost in thought about what has happened when Orihime pulls him from his thoughts before he tells her he will walk her home. Unfortunately, Ishida Ryuuken volunteers to drive her home and, realising that his offer cannot compare, especially when he is powerless, he relents and, quite unlike him, politely asks Ryuuken to do so before running away, Orihime calling at his back that she will see him at school the next day.

Sure enough, Orihime catches him the next day to relay her concerns about Chad and she bravely attempts to ask him to accompany her to see how he is, but he declines, having something on his mind since Ishida got attacked. He goes into training with the Fullbringers in an attempt to get his shinigami powers and realises Chad is part of the Fullbringers as well. Ichigo accompanies Chad home and urges him to call Orihime as she is always delivering bread to his home and Ichigo knows she is concerned about him, however Chad realises that something is happening to her and they hurry to her aid. Chad knows the general direction she is in but Ichigo, even though he is unable to discern her spiritual power, knows exactly where she is. They get there after she has been attacked by Tsukishima and she lies to them both, saying nothing has happened to her. She is determined to protect Ichigo from the truth as she is not aware that he is trying to get his powers back but resolves to tell Chad the truth later.

Realising that both she and Chad are lying to him, Ichigo goes to Ginjou to get the truth but Ginjou only tells him that Tsukishima attacked Ishida and Orihime to get his attention. Knowing this, he throws himself into training and hurries to get his powers back. He is accidentally told by Chad that Tsukishima stabbed Orihime who believes that his performance will suffer if he knows. After confirming this fact, Ichigo attacks Tsukishima, complete with his crazy eyes, but he is still not strong enough to defeat him, so Ginjou steps in to stop the fight.

As the story currently stands, we’re still waiting to see how Ichigo’s power stabilises and whether Tsukishima will reveal exactly what he did to Orihime when he stabbed her. The most important interaction we’re probably waiting for is Ichigo and Orihime’s confrontation as they’ve both been lying to each other and the fallout.

As Bleach is a shounen manga, the amount of canon romance is very scarce, only three confirmed couples exist and all three of them contain at least one dead partner. Orihime, however, has been given the honour of the only love confession in the manga to date and to the boy she has been romantically interested in since the beginning of the manga. Even during the time skip, her feelings for him have not wavered. But the evidence of her feelings lies largely in the subtext of the manga, of the small hints that Kubo Tite drops on occasion that indicate that he may eventually develop the relationship between them into something more.

They are probably the two characters most affected by the loss of their loved ones but Kubo Tite uses them to highlight and form links between Ichigo and Orihime. When Sora becomes a Hollow, the first person he attacks is not Orihime, even though she is also with Tatsuki and he would essentially be killing two birds with one stone, but Ichigo, emphasising how important he is to Orihime. The most important link, however, is the similarities he draws between Orihime and Ichigo's beloved mother Masaki. He draws them in the same pose and, in one of the colour spreads, the colours he uses to illustrate both Orihime and Masaki are identical, from their hair to their shirts. The most significant similarity, however, is that they are the only two characters that Ichigo has sworn to protect and he gives the same tense smile on the anniversary of Masaki’s death as the one he gives after Orihime is abducted.

There is also no denying that their relationship has developed significantly on both sides. The first time Orihime is faced with the potential relationship between Ichigo and Rukia, she is disappointed rather than jealous, and imagines them ganging up on Ichigo, which is in contrast to her later reaction of envy as her feelings deepen and become more serious. Her feelings are even strong enough to overcome the firsthand knowledge of Ichigo’s Hollow form, especially when it reminds her so painfully of Sora, and her character is strong enough to accept both Hollows. On Ichigo’s side, he tries to protect her not only physically but also emotionally; the first instance of this is when Yoruichi yells at her when she saves them in the dangai. In fact, he not only tries to protect her emotionally, he also tries to understand her emotions when he wonders why becomes upset when the enemy is destroyed. Rather humorously, he also tries to protect her from Rangiku when she tries to corrupt her.

This development is enough reason for me to believe that, one day, Ichigo will return Orihime’s feelings. Not only do they understand each other better but they are also able to relate to each other on more levels. The fact that Kubo Tite ties so much of Orihime’s development to her feelings for Ichigo, and her feelings have not wavered since their introduction back in chapter three, in fact, they have strengthened, lead me to believe that Kubo Tite will eventually payback her dedication.

I also believe that some of the Bleach volume poems can also be interpreted as support for this pairing. The most obvious of which is volume three:

If I were the rain
could I connect with someone's heart
as it can unite
eternally separated earth and sky?

This poem perfectly sums up Orihime’s feelings about her relationship with Ichigo, her feelings of inadequacy tie to her seeming inability to connect with him although, as the story progresses, we see her begin to relate to Ichigo in ways no one else is able to. The poem that perfectly sums up Ichigo to me is the poem for volume five:

If I don’t wield the sword, I cannot protect you.
If I keep wielding the sword, I cannot embrace you.

Ichigo has, for lack of a better term, a major hero complex. As mentioned earlier, the only person he has sworn and is still able to protect is Orihime and, on some level at least, he has seen her merely as someone to protect. However, as their relationship as progressed, I believe he sees her beyond that and that, in a lot of ways, he will connect to her in ways that he hasn’t connected to others, especially given their similar backgrounds. The search for this connection between two people is illustrated in the cover for chapter 181, where Orihime is seen running after Ichigo:

Running and running, to find you, to find the words to say to you
and to find the bond that connects us, we keep running and running.

This desire to connect is also seen in the colour spread for chapter 298 where Ichigo is standing in front of ‘me’ and Orihime is standing in front of ‘you’ in the sentence ‘phones are tie me to you’. The subtitle for the cover extends to the connection of people’s hearts, linking back to the volume three poem which, to me, relates to the relationship between Ichigo and Orihime:

The electronic waves connect us
and we connect our hearts.

The poem for volume 34 also seems to be to be from Ichigo to Orihime and links back to the volume five poem, however it shows some development in Ichigo’s ability to relate to Orihime:

If you give me wings, I will soar for you
even if this whole land sinks down to the water.
If you give me a sword, I will fight for you
even if this whole sky shoots through with your light.

The symbol of wings relates directly to Ichigo, as he is wingless in chapter 238: Eagle Without Wings, when he discovers that Orihime has been abducted, but becomes winged once again in chapter 239: WINGED EAGLES when he goes to Hueco Mundo to rescue her. During this arc, Ichigo faces the power of his Hollow directly and, as the source of his despair, sinks his inner world into the ocean, primarily for the sake of rescuing her. The main reasons for Ichigo fighting during this arc consistently relate to Orihime, whether it is to rescue her or to protect her, who has previously been described as the sun which lights up the sky. Of course, this is all just my interpretation, feel free to disagree. =)

the fandom.
Part of the reason I love this fandom so much is the amazing support of fellow Ichigo/Orihime shippers. There are a few LiveJournal communities for this pairing:
0rihime_inoue ➙ community dedicated to Inoue Orihime
blademypride ➙ community dedicated to Kurosaki Ichigo
ichi_hime ➙ community dedicated to the Ichigo/Orihime pairing
ichigoxorihime ➙ community dedicated to the Ichigo/Orihime pairing
bad_shield ➙ Ichigo/Orihime fic prompt community
five lifetimes, one love ➙ wonderful forum dedicated to the Ichigo/Orihime pairing

cakes all around by unedited
Orihime trotted up and grabbed his hand and beamed at him, and Ichigo's lips quirked up in an answering almost-smile, fingers sliding to cradle hers. They were so cute Tatsuki was going to be sick.

that dreary day in late february by flash_indie
It isn’t really a huge revelation, there is no light bulb miraculously appearing above her head (which Orihime thinks is actually rather disappointing), it just dawns on her slowly, as she watches him drink from a purple juicebox.

however it starts by nekokoban
She peered at him, then broke into a sunny smile -- the same way his mother had smiled, he thought, the smile that made everything better. When had Inoue learned to smile like that?

someday by vialana
Inoue bowed low, that tiny tremulous smile still in place; then she left Ichigo alone to wonder why the universe had to turn itself upside-down whenever he had finally adjusted to whatever else it had previously thrown his way.

sweet success by rairakku_hana
Stealing a quick embarrassed glance at the russet haired girl beside him, Ichigo plowed his long fingers through his hair. He was hoping like hell that his energetic friend wasn’t going to make a big scene over him and Inoue talking… on Valentine’s Day… while she was holding a bag of chocolates.

by inches by libekory
But when he patted her on the head, or gave her shoulder a brief squeeze in this helplessly friendly, horribly innocent way, Orihime could feel it right through her clothes, shivering softly over her skin, warming her flesh and her bones. She could feel his lightest touch in her teeth.

weakness by sunburnt_wings
“Yeah. She really liked it. Thought you looked considerably handsome.” That was an understatement; Rukia could distinctly remember how enthralled Orihime was when she first saw Ichigo’s new look.

thursday night by lovely_zombie RATED NC-17
Ichigo chuckles lightly as he takes Orihime's hand and bag and leads her into the house, knotting his finger with hers as he carelessly kicks the door closed. She squeezes his hand as they move into the kitchen and he turns to her, dropping the bag as his eyes bounce hungrily over her body.

peu à peu by alice_candy
It is not because Orihime is tired of waiting, oh no, she is not. She is patient and her heart is as big as the sky. She just thinks it is time for her to do something. Besides, everybody knows about her feelings, everybody but him (which is sort of disappointing because really, he cannot be that dense, can he?).

eternity by the riverbank by ypaladinofchaos
He offers her one of his smiles - not the confident “I won’t lose, I promise” one, not the “I’m in a bad mood but I’m not telling” one, nor even the “I’m pretending that’s stupid but I liked it” one – it’s, for lack of a better term, a “For Orihime” smile.

And I feel totally weird doing it, but I also write a lot of Ichigo/Orihime fanfiction which you can find here if you’re interested. =)

These are my favourite images from FLOL's Ichigo/Orihime gallery. I'm only recommending the work I can credit but feel free to peruse the gallery at your own leisure. Some of the art is NSFW so click with caution!

❥ Iwonn ➙
❥ nekozumi ➙
❥ Edward_Elric_13 ➙
❥ yirumi ➙
❥ Sweet-Hope ➙
❥ Eloni ➙
❥ Lady-Sausage ➙
❥ safirahcomel ➙
Tanabota Days

the title.
I picked across the universe because of Orihime’s links to the Tanabata legend (although technically Hikoboshi and Orihime were separated across the Milky Way, but let’s not get nitpicky) and also for some of John Lennon’s wonderful lyrics that I think fit Ichigo and Orihime:

sounds of laughter, shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
it calls me on and on across the universe

I think that covers just about everything about this pairing I have to say. If you have any additions, arguments or further recommendations, please feel free to comment!

edit. crystaldawn explains the eagle symbol. Thanks! ♥
Tags: #manga/comic, bleach

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