Bleach is widely regarded as one of the best anime shows of all time. The original series, which ran from 2004 to 2012 and was based on the manga series of the same name by Tite Kubo, attracted fans all around the world. For this reason, Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War (TYBW), the manga’s concluding plot arc, acquired its own anime adaptation, much to the delight of fans.
Fans in the US are eagerly awaiting the release of the English dubbed version while the second season is still airing. A surprising casting announcement on X/Twitter, however, has extended the wait time.
Why, therefore, has this rapid shift provoked such heated debate among the anime fandom?
Bleach: Thousand Year Blood War Controversy
Anairis Quiones made the big announcement that she has been cast as the new voice of Yoruichi on October 7, 2023. The announcement that a woman of color would be playing Yoruichi, a character widely regarded as a symbol of anime’s commitment to diversity, was met with widespread enthusiasm.
However, on October 21, the actress came to the platform to inform that she had been replaced in the role, prompting waves of outrage and despair across numerous social media sites.
Tweeted by Quiones on October 21: “Hey yall! The studio & client decided to go in a different direction, so I am no longer voicing Yoruichi in Bleach TYBW and my recordings will be replaced. It meant a lot to take on such an iconic WOC. I appreciate all the love!! I’ll still be voicing Hiyori.”
As part of an internal animation cast upgrade, Quiones had previously replaced Wendee Lee as the voice of Yoruichi. Studio modifications were also made for additional characters by Viz Media and Studiopolis. The role of Chad, a character of Japanese and Mexican ancestry, was previously voiced by Jamieson Price but was recently taken over by Cuban-American actor Alain Mesa. After an outpouring of anger and disappointment on X/Twitter and other platforms, the studios ultimately decided to rescind their casting of Quiones as Yoruichi.
The Original Yoruichi Actor Addresses the Controversy
Wendee Lee has been a voice actress for over 40 years, and she is most known for her starring roles as Kei in Akira and Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop, both of which were dubbed into English. From 2004 until 2012, she provided the voice of Yoruichi in the English version of Bleach, and she will return to the role for the next season.
Wendee Lee has finally spoken on the Anairis/Yoruichi drama, and all she’s done is launch personal attacks against those in the business who are supporting Anairis following the recast.
A heated discussion regarding diversity in casting and the portrayal of characters of color in media has been sparked by the decision to recast this role. Yoruichi’s recasting has been met with controversy, and Bleach is one of the “Big Three” anime series, along with One Piece and Naruto.
Fans are rallying behind Quiones’s claim to the part and the broader issue of giving people of color in the voice acting industry a chance to shine. Others on the Bleach Subreddit have argued that the continuity of the show depends on each character keeping their own voice.
Lee has taken a lot of heat for her responses to the casting change in Bleach on social media. She defended her right to play Yoruichi again in several (now-deleted) remarks, which was seen as poisonous by many fans.
She then issued an apology to Quiones on X/Twitter for the incident, and she welcomed Quiones to the cast in the character of Hiyori.
The debate over the use of voice actors of race is larger than the response to Lee’s words suggests. Even though Quiones has said she knows Lee apologized to her, it seems she still doesn’t accept it.
“I haven’t responded to Wendee privately as I have no energy or interest in participating in the situation than I already have,” she tweeted on October 23. “I am not ready to talk. Please respect that.”
Viz Media and Studiopolis, the companies responsible for sparking the current internet controversy over diversity and inclusion in anime, have yet to offer official remarks on the matter.