The first episode continues the introduction of Chad, the series’ strong man character, from the first volume. Chad comes into possession of a talking cockatiel that is supposed to be cursed. Chad takes pity on the bird and decides to protect it despite the misfortunes that befall him. The bird soon comes to the attention of Ichigo and Rukia, who think the bird may be a Hollow. Rukia and Ichigo’s suspicions are confirmed, though with a surprising twist. With the help of Chad, the two take on the Hollow.
The next two episodes introduce one of the series’ more colorful (and odd) characters, Kon. Rukia gives Ichigo “Soul Candy”, a pill in a Pez-dispenser that allows Ichigo to activate his soul powers when Rukia isn’t around. The “candy” also infuses Ichigo’s lifeless body with a “substitute soul” that carries on with his daily duties while Ichigo battles Hollows. However, the soul turns out to be defective and decides to take Ichigo’s body out for a joyride, ruining Ichigo’s social image in the process. This series of events eventually leads to the creation of Kon, a talking stuffed lion.
The final episode in the volume offers a little more insight into Ichigo’s past, as well as setting up what will eventually become the first major story arc of the series. Ichigo and his family visit his mother’s grave during the anniversary of her death, which Ichigo feels responsible for. At the same time, Rukia is attacked by a Soul Reaper who has come to bring her back to the Soul Society to face punishment for giving her powers to Ichigo.
Like the first four episodes, Bleach 02 is a mix of action and great character development. Though some of the motivations and characters come off a bit cliché, they still have a human aspect to their personalities that makes them real people. Chad is a soft-spoken giant who, like Ichigo, can’t stand by and see anyone suffer. While taking care of the cockatiel, he shows that he is full of heart and not one to stand down to any challenge.
Though Ichigo is only featured in two of the four episodes, each manages to flesh out his character a little more. He goes after the soul possessing his body not because it is endangering others, but because it is ruining his image. Even though Ichigo has great powers, he still shows that he is a teenager. The last episode also offers insight into why Ichigo may be reluctant to embrace his new powers.
Bleach 02: The Substitute comes with the same extras as the first volume. Both the English and Japanese voice tracks are available, as is a “clean” version of the ending.
For fans of the series, Bleach 02: The Substitute is a must buy. Newcomers will want to check out the first volume before jumping into the second. The introductory vignette that precedes each show will give you a good idea of what happened previously, though it doesn’t answer every question someone new to the series may have (such as why Rukia lives in Ichigo’s closet).