When I decided to read the Bleach manga initially, it sprang from Netflix’s sudden decision to remove all of Bleach from their Watch Instant service. It probably wasn’t that sudden and I likely just missed the “Available until Apr. 1st” notification, but regardless, just as I had finished watching the first disc of the series on Instant, it was suddenly gone the next day. However, I recently acquired a subscription to Hulu Plus (mainly because I wanted to start watching the cult hit Community which I’ll do my first review of for the entire first season simply because the manner I initially began watching the series in wasn’t conducive for my traditional disc-based reviews), and Hulu has the entirety of many anime on their site for streaming purposes, and Bleach is one of them. I actually finished the third volume of the Bleach manga on Friday, but I’m waiting til now to review it because I’ve decided to watch the anime while I’m reading the books. So, from this point forward, whenever there are any major additions added to the anime that weren’t in the manga, I’ll mention them at the end of my plot recaps. This particular volume was the first time that happened but more on that later.

After defeating the mod Soul that inhabited his body (mostly thanks to the help of Uruhara Kisuke), Ichigo placed the Mod-Soul into a plush stuffed lion which they’ve named Kon (cause it’s short for the kanji of mod-soul or something like that. It doesn’t translate well). As Ichigo leaves for school one day, he looks at his watch and learns that it’s June 16th, the day before the anniversary of his mother’s murder. As Ichigo goes off on a family outing with his sisters and his obnoxious father to pay respects at his mother’s grave, Rukia (and Kon in her purse) follow along to keep tabs on Ichigo. After confronting Ichigo about the possibility that a Hollow might have killed his mother, Ichigo tells Rukia that he feels like he killed his mother because he chased a ghost to the river bend which led to his mother’s death when she tried to save him. As they’re having this confrontation, the same ghost of a little girl that Ichigo saw all those years ago appears in front of Karin and Yuzu (Ichigo’s sisters). Karin is soul-sensitive and can see the ghost, but it is a lure used by a very powerful hollow to trap people with high spirit energies. It was this same Hollow that murdered Ichigo’s mother.

Ichigo and Rukia arrive at the scene just in time to save Ichigo’s sisters from being devoured by the Holow, known as the Grand Fisher because he lures his prey with bait. After realizing exactly who this Hollow is, Ichigo enters the fight with reckless abandon which proceeds to result in him getting his ass kicked. However, Ichigo is probably anime’s biggest example of a determinator this side of Son Goku so even after being impaled with several razor sharp talons on multiple occasions, he doesn’t back down. Even when the Grand Fisher turns his lure into the form of Ichigo’s mother as a trap to stab Ichigo both literally and metaphorically right through the heart, Ichigo uses that opportunity to chop the Grand Fisher’s arm off. It was a bad-ass moment indeed. However, Ichigo is unable to defeat the Grand Fisher (who flees conceding the tie) and collapses after he’s expended nearly all of his spirit energy. That’s basically the whole volume which was the fight against the Grand Fisher/the exposition leading up to why it mattered. In the anime, a subplot is introduced involving a Soul Reaper from the Soul Society who comes to Earth to investigate why Rukia hasn’t returned to Soul Society yet. When he finds out she gave all of her powers to a human, he tries to arrest her but the fight with the Grand Fisher makes him change his mind and he leaves our two heroes in peace.

So far this has probably been my favorite volume. I finally felt like I knew a little bit more about Ichigo besides the fact that he is a certified bad-ass. The scenes where Tatsuki recounts her childhood memories of Ichigo and his mother to Orihime were well done, and seeing how Ichigo’s inability to protect his mother shaped him into the hero he’s become adds more context to why this otherwise brooding and moody 15 year old would suddenly decide to be a hero. Also, there just a layer of mourning and darkness to the whole proceedings. Ichigo has lived his whole life feeling guilty for his mother’s death and he finally finds out that it’s his high spirit energy that caused her to be targeted in the first place. But rather than going the easy way out and having him immediately conquer the demon that took away his mother, Ichigo loses the fight. The demon flees so basically it’s a tie, but Ichigo didn’t win and in his mind, that’s a loss. It should be interesting to see when the Grand Fisher will return because I’m positive I haven’t seen the last of him. I also really enjoyed the anime-only stuff about the Soul Reaper that was sent to arrest Rukia. I wonder if that was meant to foreshadow future events in the manga that the anime writers felt wasn’t probably contextualized in Tite Kubo’s original work.

I have no shame in how much I’ve been enjoying Bleach so far. If I were unironically enjoying something like Naruto (which I’ve watched and it’s painful at times, especially that 85 episode long filler arc), there might be a problem, but so far Bleach has been a refreshing twist on standard shonen conventions. I can easily understand why it’s one of the most popular anime/manga franchises alongside One Piece and Naruto. I know that sooner rather than later, it’s quality is going to start crumbling around me, but until then, I take pleasure in the fact that I can just sit back, turn my brain off, and enjoy the fantasy adventures of Ichigo Kurosaki (and soon, his nakama of friends). It’s a bad-ass dude doing bad-ass things in a world with an interesting back-story. What isn’t there to like so far?

Final Score: B