How Shonen Jump's Bleach Got Its Strange Name

Tite Kubo's hit manga series Bleach launched in 2001 in Japan, and it soon became part of Shonen Jump's fabled "big three," along with Masashi Kishimoto's Naruto and Eiichiro Oda's One Piece. Among these three, Bleach has the strangest name, one whose meaning isn't exactly obvious, even today years after the series' ending. But there's a reason for it.

When Bleach's one-shot flopped, manga legend Akira Toriyama sent Tite Kubo a letter of encouragementand inspired him to go forward with publishing Bleach, complete with its odd title. The reason why Kubo insisted on the name Bleach is classic Kubo, if not also a clever take on  idea of Soul Reapers.

As Tite Kubo revealed in interviews, Bleach was inspired by traditional Japanese death gods, or shinigami, that wore black robes and collected souls. Instead of basing the core of Bleach on the hero, Ichigo Kurosaki, Tite Kubo put the aesthetic first -- Ichigo wasn't even the first character created for the manga. It was Rukia, and her appearance is significant.

Rukia was designed before anything else for Bleach and was made to look like a classic shinigami, dressed in simple, yet distinct, black kimono and weilding a katana. Rukia came to embody the aesthetic Tite Kubo wanted, and he named the entire series after it. The first title he came up with was Black, but as he explained in an interview, he felt that it was too simple a title, as was the inversion,"White." So, Kubo changed "White" to Bleach, referring to how he "bleached" the black clothes of the Reapers to give his new shonen manga an unexpected name. .

The concept of "black vs white" inspired not only the title of Bleach and the robes of Soul Reapers, but also the Soul Reapers' enemies. In this series, it's surprisingly the villains who get to be all-white. The Quincy tribe, for example, sets itself apart from the Soul Reapers with militaristic pure-white clothing. The Quincy spite their Soul Reaper rivals in a visual sense, bleaching the Soul Reapers' color scheme white to create something new and distinct. This visual theme was expanded upon with the white uniforms of the Wandenreich, the hidden Quincy empire.

The Arrancars, or unmasked Hollows, were all given white uniforms with black detailing, the clear inverse of Soul Reaper uniforms' black with white detailing. No doubt Sosuke Aizen did this on purpose, and it matches the bone-white masks that all Hollows have. In Bleach, white is the enemy of the Soul Reapers, though the title is more benign about it.

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