It took a while, but now I’ll finally be getting around to sharing my thoughts about each volume of Tite Kubo’s Bleach manga. It’s the first ever manga series I started collecting, so it has played an important role in getting me into collecting manga.
Bleach began serialisation in August 2001, in the Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine. The final chapter, number 686, was released in August 2016. In addition to the 686 normally-numbered chapters, there are also flashback chapters that have negative of fractional numbers.
Of course, you’re probably aware that Bleach got an anime adaptation which ran for 366 episodes, adapting everything up to the Lost Agent arc and threw in a few filler arcs, too.
Talking of arcs, I might tackle this particular manga one arc at a time, with the arcs based on the list found on TV Tropes’ Bleach Recap page. The arcs are as follows:
- Substitute Shinigami
- Soul Society (split into The Sneak Entry and The Rescue arcs)
- Arrancar Invasion
- Hueco Mundo
- Turn Back the Pendulum
- Fake Karakura Town
- The Lost Agent
- The Thousand Year Blood War
Bleach has a total of 74 individual volumes. Each one has its own unique title, with the first one being ‘Strawberry and the Soul Reapers’. I also think that Tite Kubo comes up with the best chapter titles. Each volume also opens with a few lines of poetry connected to the character that appears on the cover – I’ll include these in the caption of the image of each cover.
Volume one of Bleach contains seven chapters.
Ichigo Kurosaki has always been able to see ghosts, but this ability doesn’t change his life nearly as much as his close encounter with Rukia Kuchiki, a Soul Reaper and member of the mysterious Soul Society. While fighting a Hollow, an evil spirit that preys on humans who display psychic energy, Rukia attempts to lend Ichigo some of her powers so that he can save his family; but much to her surprise, Ichigo absorbs every last drop of her energy. Now a full-fledged Soul Reaper himself, Ichigo quickly learns that the world he inhabits is one full of dangerous spirits and, along with Rukia – who is slowly regaining her powers – it’s Ichigo’s job to protect the innocent from Hollows and help the spirits themselves find peace.
Chapter 1, ‘STRAWBERRY AND THE SOUL REAPERS’, begins with introducing Ichigo Kurosaki, who is picking a fight with some delinquents. The manga is quick to inform us that he is able to see ghosts.
He returns home and we meets his family; his dad Isshin and his younger twin sisters Yuzu and Karin.
Ichigo then has a fateful meeting in his bedroom – a female Soul Reaper appears. Ichigo thinks she’s a burglar at first, and doesn’t buy all the stuff she tells him about the Soul Society. The Soul Reaper uses an ability to bind Ichigo, and then explains about Wholes and Hollows – Wholes are good spirits, whereas Hollows are evil spirits that seek to consume souls.
Of course, a Hollow shows up and endangers Ichigo’s family – he breaks free from the Soul Reaper’s spell to go and try to help.
When the Soul Reaper tells Ichigo that the Hollow was seeking him out due to his spiritual energy, he tries to get it to focus on him. However, the Soul Reaper blocks its attack, since the Hollow wouldn’t stop with just Ichigo’s soul.
With the Soul Reaper injured, she comes up with a plan. Ichigo agrees to it, and the Soul Reaper introduces herself as Rukia Kuchiki.
Rukia transfers her power to Ichigo, who then becomes a Soul Reaper himself. he attacks the Hollow and bisects it.
The title of chapter 2 is ‘STARTER’. Ichigo’s family have no recollection of the Hollow attack.
We’re also introduced to a few students of Karakura 1st High School. They are Orihime Inoue, Tatsuki Arisawa and Mizuiro Kojima. Also present is Rukia Kuchiki, who is now playing the part of high school student.
Rukia tries to convince Ichigo that he needs to do the job of a Soul Reaper, but he’s reluctant at first. However, when Rukia shows a child spirit being hunted down by a Hollow, Ichigo saves the spirit and agrees to help her out with the Soul Reaper job.
‘Head-Hittin’ is the title of chapter 3, in which Rukia tries to train Ichigo. Meanwhile, Orihime finds herself being injured – something she attributes to her own carelessness, but Rukia seems to have other ideas.
Ichigo returns home to discover two unwelcome visitors – Rukia, and then a Hollow. Ichigo attacks the Hollow, but his attack is too shallow and he discovers a truth about them.
Chapter 4 asks ‘WHY DO YOU EAT IT?’. Orihime and Tatsuki are together at the former’s place, when something pays them a visit.
Ichigo and Rukia race to Orihime’s home, where Orihime finds her soul has left her body. She tries to save Tatsuki from the Hollow that’s appeared, so the creature turns its focus towards her. Ichigo arrives to stop its attack.
‘BLINDA BLINDA’ is the title of chapter 5. Orihime recognises Ichigo, though the Hollow knocks him out of the window before there can be any explanation.
The Hollow addresses Orihime – it is her deceased older brother, Sora. Sora is envious from Orihime spending less time praying for him, and wants to take her back to when it was just the two of them. He goes on to blame Orihime for him becoming a Hollow and says that he will kill her.
However, Ichigo returns and tells Sora that big brothers are born first to protect the little ones who come after them.
Chapter 6 is ‘Microcrack.’ It’s revealed that Sora and Orihime’s parents were monsters so Sora took Orihime and fled from their house when he was 18 and Orihime was 3. Orihime ends up being attacked by Sora, but she hugs him. He has a moment of clarity, and uses Ichigo’s sword to bring an end to his existence. Rukia assures him that reaping Hollows frees them of sin.
A flashback shows that Orihime and Sora had an argument shortly before Sora was killed, and she didn’t get to say farewell properly to him. Using this chance, she finally says those words. Before Orihime can ask anything, Rukia replaces her memories.
The chapter ends with Orihime telling some wild tales to her female classmates, though they have a hard time believing her.
‘The Pink Cheeked Parakeet’ is the title of chapter 7. It is here we are introduced to Yasutora ‘Chad’ Sado, who decides to start looking after a so-called ‘cursed’ parakeet. Misfortune strikes almost instantly.
Back at school, Keigo Asano joins Ichigo, Rukia and Mizuiro for lunch. A delinquent tries to pick a fight with Ichigo, but Chad arrives and promptly puts a halt to that. He has the parakeet in tow, and Ichigo can sense something about it. Rukia assures him it’s probably just a lonely soul.
The chapter ends with Chad being admitted to the Kurosaki clinic with a huge wound on his back. Rukia suspects it was caused by a Hollow.
This volume contains a couple of character profiles – one for Ichigo, and another for Rukia. This includes some interesting facts, including the person that Ichigo respects most is William Shakespeare. Tite Kubo also gives the characters featured here their own theme songs – Ichigo has “News From the Front” by Bad Religion, whilst Rukia has “Wing Stock” by Ashley Macisaac.
That’s the first volume of Bleach. It marks the start of Ichigo’s turbulent journey as a Soul Reaper, and also includes some development for Orihime as well. In fact, this first arc is pretty much about the character development – of course, Ichigo’s at the forefront, but a few of his friends have important roles to play as well.
This is also a simpler time when there weren’t hundreds of characters – apparently Tite Kubo’s method for dealing with writer’s block was to create more characters. We’ll see that later on, but for now, we’ve experienced Ichigo’s first encounters with Hollows. This will be a recurring experience, at least for this first arc.
By looking at each volume of Bleach, it’ll be a chance to see how the manga evolved over its fifteen year run. Regardless of personal opinion, it’s certainly quite the ride.
In the next volume, we’ll be learning more about Chad, and Rukia will be visiting a particular shop…