Episode Nine continues Ichigo’s fight with a Hollow named the Grand Fisher, a particularly troublesome Hollow who has eluded defeat by the Soul Reapers for over fifty years. The Hollow’s presence hits especially close for Ichigo when he discovers that the Hollow is responsible for the death of his mother – something he has long believed he was responsible for. The Fisher proves to be too difficult for the fledgling Soul Reaper but the encounter, as well as a few unusually touching revelations from his father (not to mention a swift kick in the back), bring closure to his guilt and cement his desire to become a Soul Reaper.
In Episode Ten, which is a standalone episode, Ichigo meets Don Kanonji, a flashy spirit medium and star of Japan’s most popular show (think John Edwards with the personality and style of Liberace). When Kanonji comes to Karakura for a taping of his show, the entire town goes crazy. Ichigo is unimpressed by Kanonji’s ability to sense spirits, though he is interested in the spirit he plans to exorcise on live TV. After the ritual ends in the creation of a Hollow, Ichigo has to pull Kanonji’s ass out of the fire.
The final two episodes begin a small story arch, eventually leading into the series' first major arch. While out hunting a Hollow, Ichigo runs into Uryu Ishida, a fellow classmate and member of a clan called Quincy – humans who have the power to see and combat Hollows. He immediately declares Ichigo as an enemy and challenges him to a Hollow-hunting competition.
The competition soon lures hundreds of Hollows to Karakura. While Ichigo and Ishida continue to outdo each other, Chad is forced into action, allowing him to tap into his spirit abilities which are manifested as an armored right arm.
Bleach 03 continues to show why Bleach is one of the better anime series to hit the airways – or at least good enough to hold my interest for more than a few episodes. Although every episode features one main battle as a centerpiece, all are backed up by strong character and story development, bringing a very human element to the show. As Ichigo becomes more comfortable with his new job, he becomes stronger and brasher. He is easily goaded into Ishida’s challenge at the suggesting that he is a mere “substitute.” At the same time he keeps his overconfident humor and usually has a wiseass answer to every problem. All of his traits help to make him a likeable, though flawed, character.
Rukia also continues to grow as a character. Though she isn’t completely comfortable with her role, she is much more accepting of her place as Ichigo’s mentor and back-up rather than being a Soul Reaper. She also becomes more familiar with her human life, trying to balance the "cute helpless teenage girl" role with her normally strong-headed nature. Though she shows more confidence in Ichigo, she isn’t above explaining things to him with crudely drawn pictures.
The introductions of the Quincy Clan and explanation as to how Hollows are formed broaden the series mythology. In particular, the Quincy Clan introduces a new dimension to the battle between the Soul Society and Hollows. Their methods are very different from the Society’s and help to give Ichigo a more tangable rival.
The same extras as the previous two volumes are featured in the third. Both English and Japanese voice tracks are available, as are English subtitles. A “Clean” version of the ending credits (just pictures and music, no words) and Production Sketches, which are great for budding artists, round out the features.
Also included in the package are Collector’s Stickers showcasing the title cards of each episode and the cover art.
Bleach 03: The Substitute is an obvious “Must Buy” for Bleach fans. For those looking for a new anime that goes a little deeper than numerous fights, the third volume is still a pretty good jumping on point since much of the main plot is still being explained, though it is probably best to watch the first eight episodes first for the full story and catch the smaller references. Now if only the volumes would come out a little faster…