Before a manga like Bleach picked up for serialization, the creator will typically create a “pilot” chapter, which establishes the main characters, setting, and tone of what the series will be. For many series, things don’t change too much and that pilot chapter becomes the first chapter. However, other series end with a completely new first chapter because everything has changed completely, which is exactly what happened with Bleach.
The pilot chapter of Bleach has several differences from the series. Some are relatively unimportant; for example, Rukia was originally a member of Squad 3, not Squad 13, and Ichigo wears black hair for the first few pages. Others, like Rukia being shrunk down to the size of a doll when her powers run out, are funny and ridiculous. However, the biggest change so far is that Orihime dies as soon as she is introduced.
Orihime Inoue’s Original Fate
In the pilot chapter, the Ichigo family runs a morgue, not a medical clinic. Ichigo receives a call asking to serve a 16-year-old girl: his classmate, Orihime. As a Soul Reaper, Ichigo will send Orihime’s soul to the Soul Society by Rukia. Orihime apparently died falling down the steps of a temple, and when they reached the location, her spirit was shaking her own body, trying to get up. Ichigo cuts the chain that binds her to her body, then gives her a “Ticket” to the Spirit World. Her late father appears and claims to take her back to Soul Society, but he destroys the ticket and reveals himself to be a Hollow. When Ichigo defeats her father (by stabbing her!), Orihime is sent by Rukia to the Spirit World.
Fans will immediately recognize some of the elements that made it a relevant story; instead of her father, her brother just became Hollow in the main series, and he voiced the same complaint about her forgetting him. However, in the main series, Orihime’s brother Hollow was unable to actually kill her, as it was still possible to bring her back into her body. Rukia also regained her powers and was revealed to be unable to return to Soul Society, which would likely have a major impact on the series. It’s also interesting to note that Orihime and Ichigo’s romance is very much present here already; in fact, her status as a potential love interest might be what made Kubo reconsider killing her.
From a fan’s point of view at the end Bleach, it’s hard to imagine how different the series would be if it were closer to the pilot chapter. Many of the elements that made the series so popular were present, so it could have been successful regardless.