The Agent of the Shinigami arc (死神代行篇 Shinigami Daikō Hen?) is the first season of the Bleach anime series. The episodes are directed by Noriyuki Abe and produced by TV Tokyo, Dentsu, and Studio Pierrot. In the English release by Viz Media, its title is translated as The Substitute. The episodes are based on Tite Kubo's Bleach manga series, and adapt the first eight volumes of its source material over twenty episodes. The episodes' plot covers the adventures of Ichigo Kurosaki after becoming a Soul Reaper and assuming the duties of Soul Reaper Rukia Kuchiki.
The arc initially ran from October 2004 until February 2005 in Japan on TV Tokyo. The first English airing of the series was from September 2006 until January 2007. It was shown on both YTV's Bionix and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming blocks, with Bionix airing the show one day sooner. The arc started airing in the UK starting in September 2007 on AnimeCentral.
The episodes use three pieces of theme music: one opening theme and two ending themes. The opening theme is Orange Range's single "Asterisk". The ending theme for the first thirteen episodes is "Life is Like a Boat" by Rie Fu, while the remaining seven used "Thank You!!" by Home Made Kazoku.
The arc was released on five DVD compilations, each containing four episodes of the show. They were released in Japan from February 2, 2005 to June 1, 2005. The first of these compilations, with art featuring the series main character Ichigo Kurosaki, was nominated at the American Anime Awards in 2007 for best DVD package design. A DVD collection box, containing all twenty episodes of the arc, was released by Viz Media on October 30, 2007. In addition to the television episodes listed below, the first of the two Bleach original video animations, "Memories in the Rain", falls into the Agent of the Shinigami arc, being an alternate version of episodes eight and nine that was shown at the 2004 Jump Festa.
|EP#||Title||Original airdate||English airdate|
|1||The Day I Became a Shinigami
"Shinigami ni natchatta hi" (死神になっちゃった日)
|October 5, 2004||September 8, 2006|
|Ichigo Kurosaki is a 15 year old boy who can see spirits with orange hair, brown eyes, in High School. As he tries to protect the spirit of a little girl from a hollow, he witnesses a clash between the malevolent spirit and a Soul Reaper. Later, Ichigo is met by the woman again in his room. She introduces herself as Rukia Kuchiki, and explains the basic goal of the Soul Reapers i.e. soul cleansing to Ichigo. The hollow returns, attacking Ichigo's home, and Rukia is wounded. In order to save his family, Ichigo desperately takes Rukia’s power into himself and becomes a Soul Reaper and successfully defeats the hollow.|
|2||A Shinigami's Work
"Shinigami no oshigoto" (死神のお仕事)
|October 12, 2004||September 15, 2006|
|After discovering Rukia has enrolled in his class, Ichigo learns that she has lost her power and that he must pose as her substitute, until her powers can recover. Although he refuses this responsibility at first, Ichigo eventually accepts after realizing he cannot just turn a blind eye if he encounters a hollow again.|
|3||The Older Brother's Wish, the Younger Sister's Wish
"Ani no omoi, imōto no omoi" (兄の想い、妹の想い)
|October 19, 2004||September 22, 2006|
|Ichigo discovers that one of his classmates, Orihime Inoue, is stalked by her older brother's spirit turned hollow which makes him hesitate to fulfill his duty. As he is forced to use his power again, his qualms of killing hollows are rested and he finally submits to his purpose as a substitute Soul Reaper.|
"Noroi no inko" (呪いのインコ)
|October 26, 2004||September 29, 2006|
|Ichigo’s friend Yasutora "Chad" Sado comes into possession of a cursed cockatiel that is inhabited by the soul of a small boy. The curse, which brings misfortune to anyone who possesses it, is really due to the acts of a hollow that has been stalking the boy's soul. Chad is attacked by the hollow, but with Rukia's help, they face off against the hollow.|
|5||Beat the Invisible Enemy!
"Mienai teki o nagure!" (見えない敵を殴れ!)
|November 2, 2004||October 6, 2006|
|With Rukia's help, Chad fights the hollow despite not being able to see it. Ichigo eventually arrives and defeats the hollow, but unlike the previous hollows that simply dissolved and went to Soul Society, the gates of Hell appear and capture the hollow. The spirit that inhabited the cockatiel is released to move on to Soul Society.|
|6||Fight to the Death! Ichigo vs. Ichigo
"Shitō! Ichigo vs Ichigo" (死闘!一護VSイチゴ)
|November 9, 2004||October 13, 2006|
|In order for Ichigo to transform into a Soul Reaper when Rukia is not around, she purchases some soul candy from the Urahara Shop for him. However, the candy is actually a modified soul, an artificial warrior from Soul Society created to destroy hollows. Once inside Ichigo's body the modified soul goes on a rampage, ruining Ichigo's social image.|
|7||Greetings from a Stuffed Toy
"Nuigurumi kara KONnichiwa" (ぬいぐるみからコンにちは)
|November 16, 2004||October 20, 2006|
|Ichigo confronts the modified soul possessing his body, but is then distracted by an emerging hollow. Together, they defeat the hollow. When Kisuke Urahara (the merchant who sold Rukia her gigai) comes for the "defective" merchandise, Ichigo takes the modified soul back. He places the modified soul into a stuffed lion plushie and names it "Kon". Meanwhile in Soul Society, another Soul Reaper is sent to track down Rukia, who has spent too much time in the living world and needs retrieving.|
|8||June 17, a Memory of Rain
"Roku gatsu jū shichi nichi, ame no kioku" (6月17日、雨の記憶)
|November 23, 2004||October 27, 2006|
|Ichigo and his family visit their mother's grave on the anniversary of her death. While there, the Soul Reaper sent for Rukia attacks them because she broke Soul Society law by giving him her powers. The battle halts when Ichigo's sisters Karin and Yuzu are attacked by a huge hollow.|
"Taosenai teki" (倒せない敵)
|November 30, 2004||November 3, 2006|
|Ichigo confronts the hollow, who is revealed as the Grand Fisher, the hollow who killed Ichigo's mother. In a fit of rage, Ichigo defeats the hollow, but does not manage to kill it. The Soul Reaper sent after Rukia leaves with a warning when he witnesses Ichigo's strength.|
|10||Assault on Trip at Sacred Ground!
"Burari reijō totsugeki no tabi!" (ぶらり霊場突撃の旅!)
|December 7, 2004||November 10, 2006|
|When popular TV star/spirit medium Don Kanonji transforms a spirit into a hollow during an exorcism, Ichigo is forced to clean up the mess. Upon the hollow's defeat, Don Kanonji is shocked to realize what he has done. With a little cheer-up from Ichigo, Don Kanonji is back to his old self again, and calls Ichigo, despite Ichigo's objections, his new apprentice.|
|11||The Legendary Quincy
"Densetsu no Kuinshī" (伝説のクインシー)
|December 14, 2004||November 17, 2006|
|While on another hollow fighting mission, Ichigo encounters Uryū Ishida, a fellow classmate belonging to a clan known as the Quincy, humans that can use spiritual power to manifest a bow to fight hollows. Uryū declares himself an enemy of all Soul Reapers and challenges Ichigo to a hollow-hunting competition.|
|12||A Gentle Right Arm
"Yasashii migiude" (やさしい右腕)
|December 21, 2004||November 24, 2006|
|The hollow-hunting contest between Ichigo and Uryū has lured hundreds of hollows to Karakura Town, endangering many of Ichigo's friends. Chad is forced to fight a hollow in order to save Karin. During the battle he is finally able to see the hollow clearly, and develops a new ability, an armored right arm capable of firing energy blasts.|
|13||Flower and Hollow
"Hana to horō" (花とホロウ)
|December 28, 2004||December 1, 2006|
|The situation worsens as more hollows appear in the human world, attacking the school where Orihime and her friends are. While defending them, Orihime develops her own power, the Shun Shun Rikka, a group of fairy-like creatures coming from the hairpins given to her by her brother, and defeats the hollow. Afterward, Kisuke Urahara takes in Orihime and Chad to help them with their new powers while Rukia and Ichigo confront Uryū.|
|14||Back to Back, a Fight to the Death!
"Senaka awase no shitō!" (背中合わせの死闘!)
|January 11, 2005||December 8, 2006|
|The legion of hollows force Ichigo and Uryū to team up in combat while the others watch. A giant hollow called a Menos Grande arrives on the scene, and is driven away after Ichigo inflicts a wound assisted by power from Uryu. However, he releases too much spiritual power in the process. The strain of his powers causes Ichigo to lose consciousness, and Uryū saves him by releasing the excess energy through his bow.|
|15||Kon's Great Plan
"Kon no UHAUHA daisakusen" (コンのウハウハ大作戦)
|January 18, 2005||December 15, 2006|
|Tired of mistreatment from Ichigo, Kon runs away to find a better owner. But he finds his abuse continuing from girls due to his freaky nature. Ichigo makes an effort to befriend Uryū but is rebuffed. Rukia becomes conflicted with her attachment with humans. Rather than endanger Ichigo, she runs away to face the newly-arrived hunters from Soul Society.|
|16||Encounter, Renji Abarai!
"Abarai Renji, kenzan!" (阿散井恋次、見参!)
|January 25, 2005||December 22, 2006|
|Ichigo faces off against the Soul Reaper Renji Abarai, who has come to capture Rukia. Renji triggers his initial release, gaining the advantage by releasing his zanpakuto, and Ichigo finds himself overwhelmed fighting a fully trained Soul Reaper.|
"Ichigo, shisu!" (一護、死す!)
|February 1, 2005||January 5, 2007|
|Ichigo makes a comeback against Renji, overwhelming him. Just when Renji is about to fall, Byakuya Kuchiki, Rukia's brother, steps in and defeats Ichigo with overwhelming pace. Rukia returns to Soul Society so that Ichigo can be spared death, and Ichigo is left dying, with his power stripped from him. He is then saved by Kisuke Urahara, who agrees to help him rescue Rukia, who faces the death penalty in Soul Society. Ichigo, however, must agree to train with Kisuke to regain his powers.|
|18||Reclaim! The Power of the Shinigami
"Torimodose! Shinigami no chikara!" (取り戻せ! 死神の力!)
|February 8, 2005||January 12, 2007|
|As his last day of school ends, Ichigo is upset to discover that no one except for Orihime, Chad and Uryū seems to remember Rukia, due to a Soul Society-imposed mind wipe. He begins his training at the Urahara Shop, first battling the shop's girl assistant, Ururu Tsumugiya to regain control of his spirit body. As the training enters stage two, Ichigo's soul is cut from his body and thrown into a pit.He must regain his Soul Reaper powers in 72 hours, or risk becoming a hollow. Meanwhile, Yoruichi Shihōin, a talking cat, offers to train Chad and Orihime to control and enhance their powers so they can join Ichigo to go to soul society and rescue Rukia.|
|19||Ichigo Becomes a Hollow!
"Ichigo, horō ni ochiru!" (一護、ホロウに墜ちる!)
|February 15, 2005||January 19, 2007|
|In Soul Society Rukia’s sentence is moved up and she only has 25 days left. In the pit Ichigo battles through the agony of the process of becoming a hollow. His transformation is almost complete as he enters his own mind, coming face to face with his inner spirit, Zangetsu, who helps him unleash the Soul Reaper powers he was born with. In a powerful display, Ichigo emerges from the pit with his Soul Reaper uniform on, wearing the mask of a hollow. Breaking the mask off, Ichigo enters the next stage of his training: fighting Urahara.|
|20||Gin Ichimaru's Shadow
"Ichimaru Gin no kage" (市丸ギンの影)
|February 22, 2005||January 26, 2007|
|While fighting Urahara, Ichigo learns the name of his zanpakutō, Zangetsu. Upon learning the name, the sword transforms into a much more powerful version and he unleashes an energy blast which knocks off Urahara's hat, completing the third stage in his training. Orihime and Chad, meanwhile, finish their training with Yoruichi. The entire group, including Uryū, who has been training alone, set out for Soul Society using a gate Yoruichi and Urahara made.|
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