I don't like writing introductions, so I'll just say that for this current arc Kubo has treated the original 5 Karakura characters very poorly. Below is my rant. Share your thoughts in the comments.
The thing about Ichigo is that in this arc he hasn't really undergone what most protagonists have, that being him having to overcome some kind of real adversity to gain victory over the antagonists. Throughout this entire arc, Ichigo has hardly ever been an underdog. Sure, he's powerful, I get it (though I'd expect him to have some rust after not using Zanjutsu for 2.5 years). But Ichigo has barely struggled with most of his opponents in this arc. He steamrolled Ebern, he steamrolled Shaz, and he steamrolled Candice. Not only does this do a great disservice to the Sternritter, whose power credibility that was built up during their destruction of Soul Society was diminished when faced with the almighty power of the main character, but it does an even bigger disservice to Ichigo, as it gives him very little room for character growth (more on that in the next paragraph).
The only opponents so far that have given Ichigo a challenge in this arc have been Askin and Yhwach. Askin defeating Ichigo was so abrupt and inconsequential that it really did nothing for either of them. When comparing the two's powers, Askin always had the advantage no matter what happened. Then there's Yhwach. As the final villain, it's to be expected that he's supposed to give the main character a hard time. But instead of gradually proving himself superior to Ichigo so that Ichigo can gradually increase his power to match his, Yhwach has taken some interesting turns. The first battle didn't really establish anything as Ichigo's sword was cut by Haschwalth. This was the sole impetus for Ichigo coming into his own as a Shinigami and Quincy, with Yhwach barely having anything to do with it himself. The only part of Ichigo's growth that established his feud with Yhwach was him finding out Yhwach caused Masaki's death, which was ultimately really forgettable. Ichigo and Yhwach would confront each other a second time, only for Yhwach to play around with Ichigo's Quincy powers without any comparison really being drawn toward the two. And now they are confronting for hopefully the final time; two characters that have shown such vast displays of power with little challenege, whose connection is still incredibly tenuous and only really there for the sake of main protagonist vs. main antagonist.
While I wouldn't want Ichigo to be as disadvantaged as he was in the Arrancar arc, which had terrible power progression, having Ichigo be at a clear advantage against everyone he meets and not really making clear discrepancies between him and the main villain has caused him to become even duller than before, which the community here has touched on in recent weeks. There's really nothing making me want to pull for Ichigo. I think a reason for that might be that Kubo seems to want to focus on all the Shinigami, especially popular ones like Byakuya, Kenpachi, and Hitsugaya, ending up in Ichigo becoming extremely marginalized which has really stunted his growth as a main character. I have been growing a bit suspicious that Kubo is catering more toward fans instead of story at this point given his low magazine rankings, so of course let's switch out the less popular Ichigo with the super-popular Captain trio mentioned above, thus ruining all their characters; Ichigo from neglect and the trio from oversaturation! yayyy kill me now
Besides Ichigo, Uryu really should have been the man of the hour in this arc. The main villains are his own people, not to mention the connection between the original Karakura characters and story arcs (Soul Society about Rukia, Arrancar about Orihime, Fullbring about Chad :P). There were so many ways his character could progress after his character was treated ingloriously in the Fullbring arc (although really, who wasn't?).
However, Uryu received a major dumbing down in this arc. He joined the Wandenreich as a double agent, which granted is an overused plot device but given his family's history wasn't a long stretch, in order to take Yhwach down with the simplest move possible that Yhwach probably could have seen it even without The Almighty. As soon as he joins the Wandenreich, he proceeds to be deservedly beaten around for his obvious motives and made sure that the already small sliver of his silly plan was erased. This is the braniac of the trio, yet he does things like thinking that he can hide from The Almighty with a smokescreen? I dunno, Chad just might succeed him as top of the class.
Chad and Orihime
Chad and Orihime's issue is one that has plagued them ever since the entire Soul Society arc: power progression. It's evident that Kubo wants to make them powerful, slightly less than Ichigo of course, as he's acknowledged it in the manga several times that they need to get stronger. However, with each progressive arc Kubo wants to make the villains so strong that Chad and Orihime could not logically defeat one. The Wandenreich were clearly set up to be so strong that they could kill captains, regardless of their ineffectiveness against Ichigo. So Kubo digs himself a hole of not logically being able to have Chad and Orihime defeat one should he have to dumb down the Sternritter. Ironically, the Sternritter did become atrociously dumbed down towards the end, but by the time Kubo had the time to reintroduce ChadHime he needed to move the story forward and eliminate the weaker Sternritter to make way for the final fights. Kubo really couldn't dumb down the Schutzstaffel, so he had to find creative ways to make ChadHime "useful" aka by introducing plot device statues and doing the unthinkable thing of possibly putting Orihime into a competent support role. Overall, I'm not as disappointed with Orihime given her personality, but as a whole I'm frustrated with Kubo's inability to have these characters really develop into something to be respected instead of laughingstocks. Chad may only ever be remembered for his off-and-on relationship with the ground.
RukiaRukia's fared better than the other four, as her overall lack of strength was addressed and her accomplishing what Byakuya couldn't was also pretty significant. However, the problem is that she's really had no interaction with the other Karakura characters and has only hung around her Soul Society peeps. It just feels really sad to have her fragmented from the people that she's developed a bond with over the course of the series.
Well that's all. Agree? Disagree? Have other thoughts on these characters? Share them in the comments!