Bleach is the ultimate delusion. You may take a look at the average rating for this show and think "Hey, this show must not be that bad. I'll give it a watch." I am posting this review to warn you ahead of time: those reviews are not for Bleach in its entirety. Let me explain.
I, like many others, got hooked by Bleach in its first season. In fact, I should state now that if you're only interested in watching the first three seasons you'll probably come away feeling pretty happy. Up to that point, the show is stellar. It's fast-paced, full of interesting characters and has a great story set in a fascinating setting. If this were a review for the first three seasons, I would be offering glowing praise. Unfortunately, Bleach is a lot longer than three seasons. A lot longer. And that's where the torture begins.
It's like buying a new tv that's amazing for a while and then explodes in your living room or making a good friend who takes you out to lunch and jokes with you about everything before leaving you tied up behind a dumpster while they clean out your apartment.
After the first three seasons, the writing nosedives very hard. And it isn't just bad, it's distinctly bad. It's clear that whoever is writing this trash has no idea where it's headed and is hoping and praying that no one will notice by flooding the script with as many characters as possible. Oh but it doesn't stop there.
In writing, there is an idea referred to as "setup and payoff". This is the notion that something in a story can be set up for the reader to be resolved at a later time. For example, in Star Wars: A New Hope it could be Luke learning the ways of the force and by the end of Return of the Jedi, mastering the force. A good setup leaves the audience intrigued yet mystified, wondering how something will resolve. And a good payoff is that moment where the setup is satisfied and all the loose ends are tied up.
Bleach is the textbook example of what NOT to do with setups and payoffs. The thoughtlessness that went into writing Bleach is kind of amazing: it has a very rare distinction of dumping so many setups on the audience that I actually lost track. I had to be reminded by others watching the show of numerous other plotholes I hadn't even considered. Oh and before you ask "Did they payoff all those setups?" I will remind you that this review is scored very low for a reason.
Every rule is broken. Every character is ultimately meaningless. Every relationship develops no one. By the end of the series, it becomes painfully obvious how much time has been wasted, not just by the audience, but by the architects of this train wreck. The only possible satisfaction I can imagine that anyone would derive would be due to the character designs. Maybe it could be a springboard for fanfiction. I can't imagine any fanfiction would be worse than this.
I'm giving the story a 2 because I can't overlook the first three seasons (which were very well done). The animation was highly inconsistent and it was extremely obvious when the studio was spending more or less money on their episodes. The soundtrack was compelling (again, for the first three seasons) and then just became reused and rehashed everywhere they could think of. By the end it was just annoying.
For those who don't know, the manga continued on after the show finished. You might ask: why did the show stop then? As the show progressed, it became obvious how painful it must've been for the studio to keep making this swill every week. The animation suffered hard, the voice actors stopped trying and it was generally clear that no one really cared about Bleach anymore (both those making it AND viewing it). They decided to finally stop pumping it full of whatever it took to keep it alive and let it die. It should've died about 250 episodes before that but better late than never.
It's very sad because Bleach had tremendous potential. To take something so good and run it so hard into the ground is painful. It didn't have to turn into such garbage.
Overall, Bleach was a phenomenal waste of my time and I wrote this review as a warning to others. If this review was too long to read or you just want the gist, it's this: the first 3 seasons are great and worth watching and everything else after is just filler.
NOTE: This is not a review of the manga. I haven't wanted to risk finding out if the source text is as bad as what spawned from it.
I have decided to add an addendum for all the things wrong with Bleach that I could think of, just to emphasize the point of how badly this show lost its way.
1) The relationship between Rukia and Ichigo. In the beginning of the story, it's complex and interesting. You can't really tell if they're just really good friends or if there's a bit more between them. Whatever it is, it's endearing and special. However, after Soul Society, their relationship is completely ignored and they barely have any useful interactions. By the end of the ACTUAL last season (not the filler-like "manga canon" last season with Xcution), the fact that Ichigo would not see Rukia again doesn't matter at all.
2) Bleach introduces three totally useless characters during the protagonist's trip to Hueco Mundo: Nel, Porsche and Dummychaka. They clearly exist for no other reason than to add humor yet they consume an immense amount of screen time. By the end, their purpose is still unclear as they seemingly vanish and no one ever brings them up again.
3) Perhaps the most egregious of Bleach's failures is that of Aizen. Let's go over ALL the problems with Aizen:
3a) Here's a guy who seemingly tricked everyone into believing he's a good guy because of the power of his zanpakuto. Then it turns out a bunch of captains from a hundred years prior figured out how bad he was (including Urahara). But for some reason none of them thought it would be useful information to share with anyone because present-day Soul Society still has no clue that he's bad news. Oh yeah and Urahara seems to think that information is useless to share with Ichigo when he's training him for Soul Society, the place WHERE AIZEN IS.
3b) The one blind guy who can't have been affected by Aizen's hypnosis follows him willingly. Wow, cool, interesting. Why does he do that? Is he really tricking Aizen and waiting for a chance to strike when his guard is down? Nope! He's just blind. And he randomly becomes an angry monster at the end and dies. Probably the grossest misuse of setup and payoff in this entire disaster of a show.
3c) Ichigo, it turns out, is the ONLY person that hasn't seen Aizen's released zanpakuto and thus isn't affected by his hypnosis. Therefore, he's the only one that can save the day. The fourth captain warns him ahead of time: don't look at his zanpakuto! So what does Ichigo do? Look at it. A lot. Does it make any difference? Nope. Does Aizen's fall have anything at all to do with Ichigo seeing through his hypnosis? Nope. It's totally irrelevant.
3d) Aizen has this extremely powerful hypnosis ability. It makes everyone see what he wants them to see. But he decides to show his hand to everyone instead of maintaining that illusion. Why? Who knows. Maybe it's because he doesn't need that ability at all because his spiritual power is through the roof.
3e) Aizen has no backstory. What's that you say? The main antagonist for the ENTIRE SHOW has no backstory? Yes, that's right. There's none. Not one time do we ever get any motivation for Aizen's actions. He's just a bad dude who's smart enough to trick everyone but not smart enough to keep tricking everyone. Considering that pretty much every single meaningless character who shows up gets a backstory, this is a pretty major oversight.
3f) Why was it important for Ichigo to progress? Aizen said he'd been spying on Ichigo for pretty much his whole life. He said that he carefully planned it out so that Ichigo would progress the way he did. Okay cool - so why? We never find out why. No really. Bleach never tells us why. Maybe he's just a voyeur.
4) Orihime's kidnapping in Hueco Mundo was pointless. They said they were interested in her powers then said forget it.
5) Orihime's powers were regarded as extraordinary by the bad guys. Then they said forget it.
6) Orihime is shown the Hogyoku. Why? Who knows. Then she says "Cool, I'm gonna help the good guys with this knowledge." Then doesn't and says forget it.
7) Orihime loves Ichigo. She thinks he's the bees knees. They have touching moments together, one where she says goodbye to him while he sleeps and others where he's making himself stronger for her. But by the end none of this matters at all because Orihime and Ichigo just go on with their lives.
8) In the last season Chad becomes a completely different character. He starts yelling a lot and throwing fits.
9) Ichigo beats these powerful captains in Soul Society (Kenpachi and Byakuya) but then can't fight anything without needing his internal hollow yet those same captains seem to have no problem destroying Espada (which are supposedly much more powerful than captains).
10) The Visored are pointless. They need Ichigo (why?) and then when he leaves from them they don't care. What have they been doing in exile for the last hundred years? Sitting in that warehouse? Clearly not telling anyone about Aizen despite knowing what happened. Did the Visored have any effect on the final battles? Nope.
11) For that matter, Xcution is just the Visored again. They even have a stereotypical angry loud girl. Tsukishima is Aizen. Same quiet and outwardly nice manner. Same manipulation of people's interpretation of events. I guess they're all different because they're drawn different.
12) Also Xcution had no effect on Ichigo getting his powers back. If Ichigo had sat around and picked his nose for a week, Soul Society would've given him his powers back anyway. Xcution had no relevance to anything at all.
13) If you thought Dragonball Z fights were drawn out, you haven't seen anything yet. Bleach masters this in a way that DBZ can't even come close to. I have watched much anime but have never been quite as miserable and bored and desperate for it to end as during the Hueco Mundo incursion.
14) Ichigo's dad and Ishida's dad know each other. How? Why? Who knows.
15) During the Hueco Mundo fight with Ulquiorra above the sky, Ishida states in a narrative that looking back, he should've never taken Orihime up there and regretted it. Why?
16) During the first three seasons (around the time they finally leave Soul Society), no one can fly. Bleach realizes that it's not DBZ and that it doesn't have to have flying characters. After the first three seasons they completely forget this rule, everyone can fly and it's never explained.
17) It is established early on in the show that those who live in Soul Society don't age. Then whoever writes this crap decided that was too hard to keep consistent and allowed aging (like Gin who apparently was a child and then grew up).
18) Speaking of ripping off DBZ, Bleach also busted out the time chamber. They needed some excuse for Ichigo to train for a long period of time so he could triumph over Aizen. Unfortunately, it made absolutely no sense. See, they trained in this place between worlds and could do so because this thing (a "sweeper") had been destroyed so they could. Except for the problem that it had already been established that the sweeper came only once a week so why couldn't anyone go in there and train for 6 days? Given the show's explanation that 1 hour in the real world is equivalent to 2,000 hours in that place, 6 days would've been an immense amount of training for anyone. Oh and why does Isshin know about this? Well, we don't know why, because...
19) Isshin has NO BACKSTORY. The father of the main protagonist turns out to be an ex-shinigami. Urahara sees this and mentions something like "oh, you got your powers back." Back? What happened? Why does Isshin wear a tattered captain's cape? Was he a captain? I don't know. No one does. Because Bleach is actually a prank played on those who were stupid enough to follow along. As someone who watched every episode, I can admit I was duped.
That's all I can think of now. tl;dr - this show sucks a lot.