An Ode to BLEACH’s Yoruichi Shihōin


Black characters in anime have a spectacular range of variety. From villains to heroes to anti-heroes, they run the gamut. Narrowing it down to one beloved character is difficult and feels like a betrayal to so many incredible characters. Who doesn’t love the coolness of Dutch from Black Lagoon or the fighting prowess of Bob Makihara in Tenjou Tenge. But Bleach‘s Yoruichi Shihōin is all that… and more. She’s as formidable as she is stunningly gorgeous, possessing long purple hair, feline speed, golden-yellow eyes, and reflexes. 

Funny, strong, yet gentle when necessary, Yoruichi can bring enemies down with lightning—or flash step—speed, tame a bitter foe with a soft touch, and was in the best arc in Bleach, “Soul Society: The Rescue Arc.”  

Yoruichi in Incredible Cat Form

The series, based on the original manga by Tite Kubo, began in 2004 with Yoruichi’s introduction in episode 15 of the first season. And we met her as a talking cat, no less. Ichigo (along with those who don’t know the manga) assume she’s just a cat. A special cat, clearly, but a cat nonetheless.

Yoruichi doesn’t appear in human form until the 41st episode. But even before transforming, she exudes strength and power. In cat form, Yoruichi is hilarious yet she still inspires fear. Whether it’s her threatening Ichigo after he mangled her precious tale while unconscious or her headbutting Inoue for her carelessness when they went into Soul Society, she inspires both laughter and mystery. Yoruichi proves size does not matter because she can deliver blows in either form. She’s just that good. 

She’s pivotal in training Chad and Inoue to prepare to enter Soul Society to rescue Rukia from execution. Without her assistance, these two wouldn’t stand a chance. Mind you, she does all this while in cat form. How many others in Bleach can say that about themselves?

Yoruichi vs. Byakuya

Let’s call a spade a spade. Ichigo gets stronger throughout the Soul Society arc, but his confidence sometimes writes checks his backside cannot cash. When he faces Byakuya in Soul Society at Rukia’s repentance cell, Byakuya prepares to unleash his shikai, Senbonzakura—his first level zanpakutō move. Ichigo faces a certain defeat but survives thanks to plot armor and the timely arrival of the terrifyingly strong and swift Yoruichi. After rendering Ichigo unconscious, she squares up against Byakuya in a game of tag to escape. Here’s where viewers get a glimpse of her talent. 

Although Byakuya moves fast to the point where Ichigo has trouble reading his movements, Yoruichi is a flash step above him, literally landing on his arm with the unconscious Ichigo slung over her shoulder. Hence, her label is “Flash Master Yoruichi.” Though the series touts Byakuya as a significant threat Ichigo must face, Yoruichi talks to him like a child trying to compete with the grown-ups. The verbal sparring amidst swift evasions makes it clear Yoruichi is equally fearsome. At that point, Yoruichi established herself as tough and stirred the need for everyone to learn more about her. Let’s also not forget that Yoruichi trains Ichigo to achieve the second level of his sword, “bankai,” without which he would never win against Byakuya. 

Yoruichi’s Powerful Past and Leadership Style 

Yoruichi was the former leader of the Stealth Force and captain of Squad One in Soul Society. She soon adds a young girl, Soifon, to her ranks during her time there. Within a short time, the pair grew close with a kohai/senpai relationship. But when affection and adoration disintegrate, resentment, jealousy, and pain (in the form of rage) can take their place. Such is the case with Soifon. Soifon lives in Yoruichi’s former shadow. So it stands to reason that when the battles to stop Rukia’s execution begin, Yoruichi would square up with her former friend. 

Their battle gives glimpses of Yoruichi’s past, as experienced by Soifon. And Yoruichi is who she’s always been: happy and caring. Despite her lofty titles, she does not care for titles that separate her from her squad. She’s not a leader on the sidelines or from the safety of the rear. In fact, Yoruichi fights alongside those she leads. All Soifon wants is to fight alongside her, yet Yoruichi disappears one day, and Soifon’s love turns to hate. It’s not because Yoruichi left but because she did not include Soifon, which is a testament to her effect on others. 

Yoruichi Vs. Bee Lady—I Ship It

Yoruichi from Bleach sits with a notepad in her hans

Now Soifon commands Squad One of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads, with an entire crew at her back to take down her idol-turned-rival. Yoruichi takes every single one down within moments with her flash steps and lethal combat skills. It’s not just the fact she is from the Shihoin clan, one of the Four Great Noble Clans, that made her the former leader of these groups. 

Though Yoruichi faces Soifon’s zanpakutō in bankai form, she never uses her own. Yoruichi honed her body into a deadly weapon capable of going toe-to-toe with enemies who possess weapons. Imagine that every captain in the thirteen squads must have a zanpakutō and have released it to bankai level—except Zaraki Kenpachi. It’s a prerequisite. But Yoruichi, unleased zapakutō or not, never bothers to use hers. That says it all regarding her physical strength. 

Yoruichi battles against Soifon’s zanpakutō, Suzumebachi, and comes out victorious. When Soifon tries to unleash an ability she claims she made herself that has no name; she discovers Yoruichi made the move at least a hundred years ago. Hence, uniforms for the leader of the Punishment Force have no back to them. The move rips the cloth from the back. When an enraged Soifon tries to continue the match, Yoruichi gently holds her hand, and the anger unravels to hurt. It’s easy to see why. Who wouldn’t be heartbroken if Yoruichi left them behind? I don’t care what anyone says. I ship these two, and though they are not canon, it will never diminish my hope. 

Yoruichi is an incredible Black woman who delights as a black cat, breaks hearts in human form, and devastates in combat using the weapon before weapons: her body. Despite her lightheartedness, Yoruichi is unwavering in her sense of right and wrong. Even if it hurts others, like Soifon or herself, she does not refrain. Yet she’s not cavalier, taking lives frivolously. Her penchant for random nudity is shocking and funny because she is in cat form for lengthy periods. I get it, Yoruichi. Clothes are so confining.

Obsession aside, without Yoruichi’s presence, Ichigo would never have made it past the “Soul Society Rescue Arc,” and that’s, in the words of young Erica Sinclair, “just the facts.” So put some respect on this queen’s name.


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