We come to the deepest and the most emotionally stirring volume of Bleach so far, with the “6/17” arc that covers the entire tankoubon. It’s a summation of many of the themes that have been touched on about death and dying so far in the series.
Like many heroes, Ichigo has a wound and a haunted memory from his past. In the process, facing up to that memory is a key part in his evolution toward heroic status, toward making the mission that Rukia has given him his own, not just a mere assignment. It’s what overcomes his natural self-interestedness (it’s not really “selfishness” per se), and what enables him to fight harder than he’s ever had to in his life.
That wound, of course, is the memory of his mother’s death–for which he feels responsible. It’s very interesting to me to see that the problem was that, at the time, he was unable to clearly tell apart the living from the dead, and it was his own kind impulses that led indirectly to tragedy. It shows how his gift can also be a curse, a sign of actual complexity and internal conflict that should provide rich ground for drama later on–and of course, in this volume, as he deals with the spirit that led to his mother’s death.
At times, the battle seems overblown, especially when the spirit puts on the face of Ichigo’s mom in front of him, declaring that he will not lay a finger on that false likeness so long as it is there. To me, that did not seem like a very convincing test for Ichigo as a character; he does not strike me so far as being able to be swayed that easily by such a ploy, especially when it’s shouted out by the opponent. (It’d be another matter if the spirit had more skillfully hid the fact that this was not the mother, much as in the initial parts of Coraline with the “Other Mother.”) The material about honor, however, about Rukia’s dilemma as to whether to intervene in this “man’s fight,” is a bit more compelling; she understands that this is not only about honor, but it’s a very important step in making his role as a Soul Reaper his own. At the end of the volume, he is at last convinced that he must live to protect people from the Hollows, even strangers–because he realizes many have suffered in the way he did.
This is a fine volume, a glimpse of the genuine potential of this story, and I look forward to the subsequent volumes as things get fleshed out about the Soul Society–hopefully without endless filler as in the anime.