Ichigo’s character can sort of be likened to the anime when looking at their development. Essentially, being the main character of the series, Ichigo carried the series by serving as the face of Bleach as well as its spirit. The quality of the anime was mostly anchored on him and on his character, how he changed and grew, how he developed, and how he interacted with others throughout the long run of the anime.
Ichigo started out as a very good character who was defined by his relationship to characters earlier on in the series. In a way, he connected all of the character and brought them together to create the flagship team that Bleach would be following for the majority of the series. His interactions began with Rukia who eventually plays the role of mentor and partner. The dynamic between the two started off as being comedic and strictly professional but slowly developed into a friendship that was built on a solid foundation. The connection between Ichigo and Rukia was well established quite early making Ichigo’s choice to go and rescue Rukia believable and expected.
Parallel to Rukia who started off as an ally, Ichigo also had a unique relationship with Uryuu Ishida who was the first of his enemies to turn ally. Ichigo’s friendship with Ishida was representative of his general rapport with his enemies and his knack for gaining their respect with his sincerity and straight forward mindset. Ishida was the first of many enemies who would turn out to be valuable allies for Ichigo and the rest. In fact, by the end of the Soul Society Arc, Ichigo had gained the respect of the Captains who lead the Gotei 13 who agreed to allow him to keep his Shinigami powers despite his having used them to practically destroy Soul Society and defeat a large number of members of the Gotei 13 during his rescue. His ability to form these kinds of bonds served as one of the most interesting aspects of his character.
Aside from his ability to create solid connections with other characters, Ichigo’s power was actually very interesting at the beginning. His power didn’t start off as being overwhelming. On the contrary, he was easily stopped by Byakuya and Renji during their first encounter. Watching Ichigo struggle to unlock the power of his Zanpakuto were some of the best moments of his character. Rather than rewarding him with power, we were initially given the chance to see him struggle against the odds, facing tough conditions to gain the power that he needed. Aside from being privy to the process of gaining power, we were also provided with a great description of his power that made sense and gave him a supposedly unique advantage, speed.
The problem, as discussed in the review of Bleach, was how his power was completely mishandled as the series went on. Rather than coming up with a convincing new power that would allow him to grow, Ichigo was repeatedly using his trademark Getsuga Tensho until the final moments of the series. Unlike Naruto who created variations for his trademark Rasengan by adding unique elements to the basic technique, Ichigo used Getsuga Tensho almost exclusively making it look bigger when necessary but never truly changing it. Despite the slight differences in his technique such as the black Getsuga Tensho or his Final Getsuga Tensho, the technique always left the same impression and always felt as if he were using the same Getsuga Tensho that we had seen hundreds of times, hundreds of episodes or chapters before. By the end of the series, his powers were so uninspired that Kubo Tite couldn’t even be bothered to explore the possible changes that the his new Zanpakuto (gained from certain events in the series) could potentially bring.
I think the main issue is that Ichigo saw changes in all the wrong places. Having developed him so well, so early in the series made it difficult to figure out where he could go later on in Bleach. During the time of uncertainty, Ichigo was essentially lost to poor character development and a mediocre power creep. The worst part about it is that Bleach as a series and Ichigo as a character were simply put, amazing when they were first introduced. I personally found myself looking forward to Bleach more than both Naruto and One Piece during its earlier days. It’s sad, knowing that something that I had once looked forward to with much anticipation dropped in quality so much to the point that I couldn’t be bothered with waiting for the weekly release.