A cowering Hollow begs for Ichigo to spare his life. Ichigo swings his sword, telling the Hollow to shut up, stating that no-one is going to let him do that. Ichigo disposes of the Hollow and is approached by an elderly soul, who thanks him. Ichigo offers him a "ticket" to Soul Society.
The difference between "Pluses" and "Hollows" are explained by the Third Division's Rukia Kuchiki, complete with illustrations.
A week ago, Saturday at 1:58pm, Ichigo is walking home from school with Mizuiro, who is discussing where to eat, while Ichigo is surrounded by five spirits. Ichigo explains his family's profession, which is a mortuary, so he is used to seeing the ghosts of the deceased, but he witnessed something different on that day.
Suddenly, Rukia leaps out from nowhere, tackling a Hollow, while Ichigo looks on in shock. Mizuiro is confused, but assumes Ichigo is seeing a spirit. He comments that he's never seen ghosts wearing a kimono and fighting each other, and he gets a bewildered look on his face when Rukia pins the Hollow down, saying that it is all over, and promptly pushes her away.
Rukia gets back up and Ichigo instantly berates her, stating that girls shouldn't fight with a sword, let alone in a kimono. Mizuiro states that he is envious of Ichigo's ability to see spirits. Rukia is amazed that Ichigo can see him and Ichigo says that he sees spirits all the time. Rukia shouts at him to jump away, but as he turns, it is too late. The Hollow leaps up again, tongue wildly flicking in the air, enticed by the five pluses trailing Ichigo.
Rukia jumps to attack the Hollow and successfully slices off its arm. Ichigo's memory of the event ends there, and when he regained consciousness, Rukia had shrunk to the size of a packet of cigarettes. He complains that she forced her Shinigami job upon him, to which she replies "Got any problems?"
She explains that Shinigami don't have the ability to protect many souls at once, implying that she had to use all her power to protect everyone, resulting in her loss in power and size. Rukia then blames Ichigo for the entire debacle, and tells him to fulfill her job for him. As she speaks, she is having a bath in his cup of hot milk.
He demands that he be put back into his body, calling her "Rukia". Rukia asks casually "Where is the -sama? Rukia-sama?" Ichigo says her name with the prefix, and she restores Ichigo back into his body, whereupon he starts cackling wildly, towering over the powerless Rukia.
Ichigo says that he is in power now and tells her to get out of the cup. She punches him square in the face with the Gokon Tekkō, sending his soul gliding out of his body. Rukia then asks for his toothbrush, so she can scrub herself clean. Ichigo immediately refuses and Rukia begins drawing a mustache on Ichigo's body, and he rushes to get his toothbrush.
Ichigo reassures himself that, since this is the seventh day of the relationship, that things will soon be over, as he examines his mustache with a mirror. However, Rukia informs him that if her powers aren't restored by the end of the arrangement, he will have to continue acting in her stead. Ichigo complains, but then receives a new job message and has no choice but to go out.
Ichigo checks the message and realizes that his classmate, Orihime Inoue, was the person who died. Rukia asks if he knows her and he replies that she was a classmate. Orihime is sitting at the bottom of a flight of stairs leading up to a shrine and she asks herself "Did I just die?".
Ichigo explains her back story to Rukia, with her father dying three years ago and his family's mortuary taking care of the funeral service, while she currently lives on her own. Ichigo wonders whether she will be lonely in Soul Society, but Rukia comforts him, saying that after 60 years, she'll be able to move on to her next life.
Ichigo greets Orihime, who is shocked to see him. Ichigo tells her that he has become a Shinigami. Orihime doesn't question what a Shinigami is, but Ichigo tells her it is only temporary, leading Orihime to believe it is a part-time job. Ichigo raises his sword, proceeding to cut Orihime's Chain of Fate, giving her a ticket to Soul Society in the process.
Rukia, in a comical manner, pretends to be Ichigo professing his love for Orihime and he promptly smacked her unconscious, to which he tells Orihime that she's hearing things.
Then, Orihime's father appears, wearing a business suit and tells Ichigo that he'll escort Orihime to Soul Society. Orihime hugs him in delight and Ichigo says that he'll be on his way. Before Ichigo leaves, Orihime tries to tell him how she feels about him, but is stopped by her father, who says that she is dead and if she reveals that, then he'll just feel suffocated.
Ichigo wishes Orihime good luck, as her father leads her to Soul Society. Rukia wakes from her unconsciousness and asks Ichigo where Orihime went and he explains the situation with her father. Rukia instantly berates him for leaving her alone, proclaiming that her father is, in fact, a Hollow.
As Orihime is ascending into the sky, her father's face is viewed in a different light and he asks her to show him the ticket to Soul Society. She obliges and he promptly tears up the ticket, much to her surprise. He then asks her "How long ago was it when you forgot about me?" and denies her passage into Soul Society, stating that she'll live forever with him, revealing his true, Hollow form.
Her father reaches out for her, but is blocked in the nick of time by Ichigo. Rukia explains the cycle of Souls again, whilst her father uses this as a diversion to attack Ichigo from the back, but Ichigo heeds her warning and dodges just in time. He asks Rukia whether he could bring a Hollow back to normal, but Rukia says that the only way is to kill it with his Zanpakutō.
Orihime's father grows increasingly angry when Orihime calls out for Ichigo and states that it is his fault that Orihime forgot to pray for her father every day, that their relationship grew further and further apart, due to him. He says that he was lonely, proceeding to attack Ichigo again, only to block the direct hit with his Zanpakutō.
He confides with Ichigo that he will just kill her, because that's the only way in which she would stay by his side and it is revealed that he was the one who pushed Orihime down the shrine stairs and blames Orihime for her own death. Ichigo confronts her father, saying that his judgment is clouded because he became a Hollow, but her father retaliates, saying that he doesn't know anything about them.
Ichigo blocks the Hollow's arm thrust, charging at him directly with his sword, as Orihime and Rukia look on. But before Ichigo's blade could make contact, Orihime is grabbed by her father, who says that she is coming with him, no matter what. Orihime stares at Ichigo for a few seconds, then grabs his sword, plunging it through her chest, therefore killing her father in the process.
Before her father dies however, she confides to him that she never forgot about him, which brings a tear to his eye before disappearing. With things back in order, Orihime thanks Rukia, calling her "Little Shinigami", but before Rukia can insult her, she grows back to her normal size, avidly proclaiming it to Ichigo, who couldn't care less.
Before Rukia escorts her to Soul Society, she asks Ichigo whether they could talk more often, to which he responds "Yes".
Rukia has been revoked of her homeward right, due to how badly she acted during the seven-day period, and Orihime wonders why she isn't going to tell Ichigo, who is walking up towards them. She tells Orihime to tell Ichigo that they just came back to get something, and they walk up to Ichigo.
Orihime's father, who had died three years before Orihime's death, arrives to take her to Soul Society. Rukia identifies him as a Hollow and reveals that he killed Orihime so that she would stay with him forever, because she had stopped praying for him and seemingly forgot about him. He is then defeated by Ichigo. This concept was later adapted into the official, with the character of the father being replaced by Orihime's brother, Sora Inoue.
When Tite Kubo first introduced his idea to Weekly Shōnen Jump, it was rejected. Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball, saw the story and wrote a letter of encouragement to Kubo.Bleach (thanks to Toriyama's "importance" in the shōnen domain) was accepted for publication a short time later in 2001.
Early plans for the story did not include the hierarchical structure of Soul Society, but did include some characters and elements which did not come into the plot until the Arrancar arc, such as Ichigo's Shinigami heritage.