There were a lot of things in the chapter to be blindingly excited about, and a lot to be saddened by. I'm only planning to take on one of each of those things, and I bet you already know which ones.
I couldn't resist reading the chapter thread at ichi_ruki and boy was that a mistake.
I was, at the time I clicked "read comments," totally high on Ichigo's Look. Then I started reading the "this is leading up to IchiHime" thread, because it's a valid thing to consider, and at first I was getting upset because what if they're right? But as the thread went on, the stoopid increased, and I thought about jumping in to make my own optimistic argument, but then I remembered I (we) created this comm so I could have discussions about things like this without having to engage with people who can't follow logical arguments or structure a sentence.
And then someone made the claim that Orihime, not Rukia, is the female lead of Bleach, and if I had been drinking anything I would have spit it all over my computer laughing, and I felt better because I don't want anyone that stupid on my side, but I'm going to make the argument I was building in my head here anyway.
Let's talk first -- but briefly, on account of DUH -- about this 'Orihime is the female lead' claim. Rukia's introduced in the first chapter (and half the title refers to her); Orihime not till the second, and that at the same time as Ichigo's female childhood friend, Tatsuki. Rukia is an immediate part of the action; Orihime is part of the second mini-arc (counting Ichigo's acquisition of power, Refusal and then Acceptance of the Call -- i.e. training in the park -- as the first), but she doesn't develop powers until the Quincy arc, which is after the hugely important Memories in the Rain arc. In which Rukia plays a huge role and which is, much later, paralleled for an arc of Rukia character development. Rukia is in the foreground of the first chapter cover spread, Orihime is in with all the other main supporting characters in the filmstrip thing in the background. Rukia gets the second manga volume cover, Orihime the third. I could go on -- and practically forever if I brought in the anime -- but you get the point. Rukia is second only to Ichigo in terms of who's at the center of the story.
Now onto the stuff that has actual potential basis in canon, the idea that first nagged at me, and that seemed highly plausible for as long as I tried to ignore it: that Orihime's Ichigo-angst is leading up to her making a confession to Ichigo, after which he will explain he loves Rukia like a sister or whatever.
When I read the damn thread that argued for this story direction and I actually looked at the possibility head-on, I realized: if that were where we're going, KT didn't have to give us that frame at the top of the title page. He didn't have to give us that incredible expression on Ichigo's face. The scowly look of worry on the preceding page is pretty standard Ichigo concern, but with Orihime's established tendency to see more in Ichigo's expression than anyone else can, it would be enough to spur her angst. The frame where we see Orihime looking at Ichigo but very little of his face is telling. We get what she feels without seeing him. And those three frames of Orihime on the title page would be powerful and moving all on their own. But the frame of Ichigo at the top says loud and clear that Orihime is right in her interpretation of Ichigo's feelings for Rukia.
We have NEVER seen such an expression on Ichigo's face. More than one person has compared the vulnerability of this look to his face when he's at his mother's grave, or when he's just lost to Byakuya the first time he fails to save Rukia, but I'd argue there's a significant difference from even those moments: there is NO ANGER in Ichigo's face in 213. Just... none. He's not even scowling. That's extraordinary. Without that perpetual scowl, Ichigo's face seems unguarded, naked. It seems to me an incredibly private look, like he's forgotten there's anyone else there who might see his expression.
That's hard on Orihime -- she's already gotta be tired from healing Hitsugaya, she's still injured herself, but Ichigo can't even spare her a glance. And then she witnesses this secret look that Ichigo is too worried, too sorry, too... NEEDY, and too distracted to hide. I really don't think you can argue that there isn't love in that look -- you can argue that it isn't romantic love, but love it is. Orihime certainly sees it.
And here's why I don't think that's going to prompt her to make a confession: Orihime shows TREMENDOUS strength in her reaction to Ichigo's Look. Looking away and closing her eyes as she does strikes me as incredibly resigned. She accepts what she sees and she goes on healing Rukia. The darkening of the eye-closing frame, as well as the act of closing her eyes, works very well as an ending to a certain emotional arc, even if it is only really the beginning of an end. Accepting that Ichigo doesn't feel the way she does and isn't going to is the first step to really and truly moving on. Wishing him happiness and looking elsewhere for her own. It will be hard, it may take a long time, but Orihime is certainly strong enough to do it. She isn't nearly selfish enough to burden Ichigo with her feelings when she knows he can't return them, and would only feel guilty for hurting her.
I'm not saying a confession is impossible, but other things would need to happen first. This alone isn't going to lead to one.
Not that I'm biased.