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Fun With Names: Kurosaki Ichigo (黒崎 一護)

Welcome to Fun With Names, where I slash open anime names in order to explore their relevance in context! Today's Fun With Names features BLEACH protagonist, Kurosaki Ichigo. Being one of the legendary Shounen Jump "Big Three", BLEACH and its characters are quite popular among anime fans new and old and its main character, Kurosaki Ichigo, finds himself in truly special company both within his own universe, as well as within the Shounen genre.

Ichigo's name is an aspect of his character that is brought up in the series countless times and is a major part of his identity. BLEACH is possibly my favourite work of fiction for the reason that almost every last detail feels deliberate and well-calculated on the part of author Tite Kubo. His wit reveals itself time and time again throughout the series and as a BLEACH fan, I almost feel like the most brilliant aspects of the series go unnoticed or unappreciated. I could go on for days, so onward with the name!

Before you continue, please note that there are some moderate spoilers.


For those unfamiliar with BLEACH, the series follows 15-year-old Kurosaki Ichigo, a high school student who has always been able to see and interact with ghosts. Ichigo has a fated encounter with Kuchiki Rukia, a woman dressed in a black kimono and armed with a sword. She claims to be a Shinigami - a "god of death", whose duty is to send human souls to the afterlife in a place called Soul Society, as well as to slay evil spirits known as Hollows. Soon after their meeting, Ichigo's home is attacked by a Hollow and Rukia is gravely injured in the ensuing battle. Caught up in a dire situation, Rukia suggests that she transfer part of her Shinigami powers to Ichigo so he may slay the Hollow. So turns the wheel of fate, introducing Ichigo to a world he didn't even know existed.


From when he was a child, Ichigo was often told that his role was to protect. This becomes the character's central dogma and sole motivation throughout most of the series. This is made very obvious by his own statements, but also by his actions, which often place other people's wellbeing above his own. Ichigo's mother's death when he was 9 years old spurred on an insatiable desire to protect those dearest to him, so when he receives his Shinigami powers, he gains the power to do so. Ichigo's lowest moments came after times when he was incapable of protecting his allies from harm and the loss of his powers after the fight against series antagonist Aizen Sousuke leaves him mentally and emotionally wounded.


All of this information adds up when you consider the fact that "Ichigo" (一護), written with the kanji for "one" and "to protect" corresponds directly with his central dogma - to protect. Ichigo's name is sometimes also translated to "number one protector". His father, Kurosaki Isshin, tells him that his name means "to protect one thing", which remains a central concept in Ichigo's mind and influences his ways going forward. However, that isn't the only discernible meaning. "Ichigo" also sounds like "ichi" and "go", which are the numbers 1 and 5 respectively. This lines up with Ichigo's age at the beginning of the series, as well as his wardrobe which features several clothing items which feature the number 15 in their designs. The door to Ichigo's room also has the number 15 nailed onto it, another nod to his age and name.


Although Ichigo's first name is written differently in Japanese, Kubo plays upon the fact that "Ichigo" could also be Japanese for "strawberry". This particular pun shines through rather discreetly, but one character in the series calls Ichigo "Berry-tan" in reference to this second homonym stemming from his name. The other times this aspect is touched upon is in reality: The first and last chapters, as well as the last volume of the BLEACH manga are titled "Death and Strawberry", an allusion to the fated meeting of Ichigo and Kuchiki Rukia. The manga has several chapters which play with this "strawberry" reference, such as Chapter 459: Death and Strawberry 2, or Volume 8 of the manga which is titled "The Deathberry Returns", aptly named because this is a return of a Kurosaki Ichigo with Shinigami powers.
Another nod to Ichigo's name can be found in his enjoyment of chocolate. Wait, wait, hear me out! Think "chocolate covered strawberries". Ichigo reveals this fact in Chapter 427 in a conversation with Kugo Ginjo.


When broken down, "Kurosaki" is written 「黒崎」, which is the kanji for "black" and for "peninsula", or "promontory", or "cape" (geography). Together that would sound something like "black island" or "black peninsula", but I think "black cape" is very interesting considering Ichigo's form when he activates Tensa Zangetsu, his Bankai. The fluttering back end of his Shinigami shihakusho; their characteristic black clothing, is quite similar to a cape, much like superheroes, which isn't surprising when you consider it being The Number One Protector's fit.


All together, "Kurosaki Ichigo" throws out ideas of protection, strawberries, the numbers 1, 5 and 15, and of course, islands. However, you could use your imagination and consider something like "black cape strawberry" to be the literal translation; or even "the protector with the black cape". These are just some wild ideas one could put together using different approaches to Ichigo's name. Kubo's use of names as an important aspect of the BLEACH universe is something I enjoy highly. Ichigo's sometimes-cute, sometimes-cool shapeshifter of a name also reflects a little bit of Ichigo's unique heritage and genealogy, seeing as he is a little bit of every race in the BLEACH universe.

In short: BLEACH is amazing.


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