THE DEATH AND THE STRAWBERRY is the first volume of the Bleach manga series.
Ichigo Kurosaki has always been able to see ghosts, but this ability doesn't change his life nearly as much as his close encounter with Rukia Kuchiki, a Shinigami and member of the mysterious Soul Society. While fighting a Hollow, an evil spirit that preys on humans who display psychic energy, Rukia attempts to lend Ichigo some of her powers so that he can save his family, but much to her surprise, Ichigo absorbs every last drop of her energy. Now a full-fledged Shinigami himself, Ichigo quickly learns that the world he inhabits is one full of dangerous spirits and, along with Rukia - who is slowly regaining her powers - it's Ichigo's job to protect the innocent from Hollows and help the spirits themselves find peace.
At 2:23 a.m. on a Friday morning, Rukia Kuchiki stands atop a telephone pole and notes that she senses enormous Reiryoku nearby before leaping into the air.
At 7:30 p.m. that same Friday, Ichigo Kurosaki confronts a group of skateboarders, several of whom he effortlessly beats up while pointing out a broken vase of flowers lying on its side nearby. When the skateboarders admit that it is an offering for a dead child that they knocked over with their skateboards, Ichigo demands that they apologize to the Dead Girl as she appears behind them. Terrified, the skateboarders flee while promising to never do it again as Ichigo apologizes to the Dead Girl for using her. When the Dead Girl notes that it is fine because she asked him to help, Ichigo promises to bring fresh flowers soon before leaving.
As he notes that he can see and talk to ghosts, Ichigo returns to the Kurosaki Clinic, where Isshin Kurosaki berates him for missing dinner. While Ichigo and Isshin argue over the rules of the house, Yuzu Kurosaki pleads with them to stop before dinner gets cold, only for Karin Kurosaki to tell her to leave them be so they can have more for themselves. Yuzu notices that Ichigo has another spirit haunting him, much to his chagrin, while Karin muses that Ichigo's ability to see, talk to, touch, and channel spirits puts him in high demand before revealing her plan to monetize his powers for public events. Angered by this, Ichigo goes to his room and, while his sisters and father discuss the increased number of spirits haunting him as of late, notes that because he has always been able to see the souls of the dead, he has never even thought of those who would reap them as Rukia Kuchiki suddenly appears in his room.
While Rukia notes that "it" is close, Ichigo kicks her down and demands to know what she is talking about, prompting Rukia to express disbelief that Ichigo can both see and touch her. When Isshin confronts him over causing a ruckus, Ichigo claims he is merely subduing an intruder and demands to know where their home security is, only for Isshin to wonder whom he is referring to as Rukia reveals he cannot see her because she is a Shinigami. While Fishbone D devours the Dead Girl elsewhere and notes that there is much Reiryoku nearby, Ichigo recounts Rukia's explanation of coming to the Human World from Soul Society to vanquish an "evil spirit" before dismissing her story as completely ridiculous and, under the assumption she is simply another soul playing make-believe, attempting to make her leave; however, Rukia binds Ichigo in place with Bakudō #1. Sai for his rude tone and to back up her claims. Rukia explains how she is actually ten times older than Ichigo and is only restrained from killing him for his insolence by spiritual law before performing Konsō on the spirit that had been haunting Ichigo. Rukia proceeds to explain to Ichigo the difference between Souls and Hollows and the duties of the Shinigami regarding them before admitting that despite having come here to purify a Hollow, she has been unable to sense it for some time.
Suddenly, Ichigo hears a blood-curdling howl and demands to know what that was, only for Rukia to hear it as well a few seconds later and wonder why she seems to be hearing it through some sort of filter and why Ichigo heard it before she did. Rushing off to confront the Hollow, Rukia tells Ichigo to stay where he is, but is taken aback by the Reiatsu she senses upon opening the door. Karin appears, bleeding from a wound on her head, and tells Ichigo that she and Isshin were attacked by something before warning him to get away while he can. Enraged by this, Ichigo breaks out of the binding spell, which a shocked Rukia notes should be impossible, before grabbing a baseball bat and heading downstairs, where he finds Fishbone D. Trembling in fear at Fishbone D's monstrous visage, Ichigo sees that he is holding a wounded Yuzu and attacks him in fury, only for Fishbone D to effortlessly bat him aside, destroying the baseball bat in the process. As Fishbone D rears back to attack Ichigo, Rukia appears and cuts into his arm, causing him to drop Yuzu, whom Ichigo catches. After reassuring Ichigo that his none of his family have had their souls devoured yet, Rukia reveals that Fishbone D most likely came to the house in search of Ichigo due to his high levels of Reiryoku.
Stunned by this, Ichigo states that his father is dying and his sisters were injured because of him; when Rukia tries to correct him, Fishbone D sends her flying into a wall while Ichigo says he has had enough of him. Criticizing herself for not guarding her flank, Rukia is surprised to see Ichigo confronting Fishbone D head-on and demanding that the latter fight him alone. Fishbone D moves in to attack Ichigo, but Rukia intervenes by blocking the bite with her body, sustaining grievous injuries in the process. As she collapses, Rukia criticizes Ichigo for thinking this would end if he lost his soul and admits that she is too weak to fight before asking Ichigo if he truly wishes to save his family. When Ichigo confirms this, Rukia explains that if she drives her Zanpakutō into his heart and transfers half of her powers to him, he will temporarily become a Shinigami, as well as how this technique has a high rate of failure and may simply kill him instead. Noticing Yuzu tell him to run away, Ichigo realizes that his family is still worrying about him even while in danger themselves and agrees to go through with Rukia's plan. After introducing themselves to each other, Ichigo and Rukia push the Zanpakutō through Ichigo's chest, creating a blinding flash of Reiatsu. As Fishbone D moves to attack, Ichigo, now armed with an oversized Zanpakutō, cuts off his arm while a stunned Rukia realizes she has transferred all of her powers to Ichigo, whom she recognizes as the source of the power that was confusing her senses earlier. Cutting off Fishbone D's leg, Ichigo slashes through his mask, purifying him.
Ichigo Kurosaki sees his family standing before him, covered in blood and berating him for not saving them with his power. As Rukia Kuchiki tells him that he was too late, Ichigo is woken from his nightmare by his father, Isshin Kurosaki, greeting him with a dropkick. After subduing his father, Ichigo asks him where his wounds are, only to be surprised when Isshin asks him in turn if he was hurt. Shortly afterward, Ichigo learns that his father and sisters have had their injuries healed and believe the damage to their house was caused by a truck crashing into it. While his family bickers about the repair bills this will leave them with, Ichigo wonders if the Shinigami are behind this and if Rukia went back to Soul Society.
At Karakura High School, Orihime Inoue sits daydreaming, only to be interrupted by Tatsuki Arisawa, who teases her for thinking about Ichigo all the time before claiming that Orihime could go after someone much better than him. When Mizuiro Kojima reveals that Ichigo may not be coming because a truck plowed into his house the night before, a worried Tatsuki demands to know if he was hurt or killed, only for Ichigo to rap her in the back of the head with his bag and announce that he is still alive. Taking his seat while catching up on the day's schedule with Mizuiro, Ichigo is suddenly confronted by Rukia in a student uniform, who Mizuiro introduces as having started attending the school yesterday due to her family moving. Rukia asks Ichigo if she can borrow his textbooks and holds out her hand, which has a message telling Ichigo to stay calm or suffer the consequences written on it, to Ichigo's shock.
Later, Ichigo and Rukia walk to a more secluded part of the school, where Ichigo demands to know why Rukia is still here and attending his school instead of going back to Soul Society. Rukia reveals that she cannot return to Soul Society because she lost all of her Shinigami powers when transferring them to Ichigo, which has left her unable to perform more than a few Kidō spells and forced to live in a Gigai, allowing normal Humans to see her. When Ichigo asks her what she wants with him, Rukia proclaims that he must perform her Shinigami duties until she regains her powers, only for Ichigo to abjectly refuse because he does not want to fight Hollows on behalf of strangers instead of for his family, as he did the previous night. Hearing this, Rukia puts on her Gokon Tekkō and pushes Ichigo's Soul out of his body, to his shock, before telling him to follow her.
As they wait at a park, Ichigo asks Rukia why they have been there for twenty minutes, only for Rukia to ask him in turn if any Souls come to this park. Ichigo notes that one young boy does, but admits that he has only seen him a couple times and not spoken to him before asking why this is important. Rukia hands Ichigo her Denreishinki and reveals that the text on the screen details a Hollow appearing in the park fifteen minutes before or after 12:00 p.m. before noting that it will most likely attack the young boy. Suddenly, Ichigo and Rukia see the young boy running away from Hexapodus while screaming in terror. When Ichigo attempts to help him, Rukia stops him and points out that the young boy is a stranger before reminding Ichigo that he will be devoured sooner or later regardless of whether Ichigo saves him unless Ichigo performs her Shinigami duties. As Rukia tells him to not save the young boy unless he can commit to helping all Souls in need of help and even risking his life for them, Ichigo cuts off one of Hexapodus's legs and rebukes Rukia for speaking of self-sacrifice so casually before reminding her of how she risked her own life last night for him despite her Shinigami duties. Slashing through Hexapodus's head, Ichigo admits that he may not be able to save every soul before promising to repay his debt to Rukia as best he can, to Rukia's relief.
At night, as Orihime Inoue walks down a street while singing to herself, she is shocked to see a car barreling toward her.
The next day, Rukia Kuchiki tensely reads a horror comic, only to be surprised by Ichigo popping up behind her and demanding to know what she is doing. Rukia claims that she is studying the modern language of the Human World, but Ichigo sees through this and reveals that he finished Rukia's training of hitting 100 pepper-filled balls; however, Rukia berates him for hitting all of the balls, as he was only supposed to hit the balls with heads drawn on them and avoid the wrong balls filled with pepper, which Ichigo claims was impossible due to Rukia's drawings for both looking so alike. Meanwhile, Orihime walks on the elevated path nearby while singing to herself, only to stop upon seeing Ichigo.
When Rukia explains how Ichigo is supposed to defeat Hollows with a single strike to their head because that is their weak spot, Ichigo asks why he needs to change up his fighting style when it has worked fine so far, prompting Rukia to criticize him for not defeating Hollows in one blow before claiming that Ichigo should be approaching them from behind and finishing them off quickly, regardless of how unfair it may seem to him. Suddenly, Orihime pops up behind Ichigo and greets him, to his surprise. As she talks to Ichigo about getting ingredients for dinner, Orihime notices Rukia and they formally greet each other. Noticing Orihime's bandaged arm, Ichigo asks if she fell again, only for Orihime to reveal she was run over by a car, shocking Ichigo. Upon being told that Orihime manages to get hurt almost every day, Rukia notices a large bruise on her leg and inspects it, prompting Orihime to note that her leg hurts much more than her arm does before realizing that she is going to be late for Shōten. After declining to have Ichigo walk her home, Orihime leaves while noting she actually did want him to accompany her but could not say so out loud.
As Ichigo notes that he gets tired just watching Orihime, Rukia inquires about her, prompting Ichigo to explain how he has known her for a while before revealing that she had an older brother who died three years ago at his family's clinic. Denying being worried about Orihime, Rukia declares that she is going home and refuses to tell Ichigo where that is, to his irritation. Later, at the Kurosaki Clinic, Yuzu Kurosaki asks Ichigo if he knows where her dress and pajamas are, confusing him, while Rukia lies in a makeshift bed in his closet. Suddenly, she receives an order on her Denreishinki and is shocked by the details. Noticing the beeping coming from the closet, Ichigo is shocked when Rukia slams the door open and points out that she is wearing Yuzu's pajamas, but Rukia proclaims that there is no time to address this because a Hollow is about to appear in the room as she pushes Ichigo's soul out of his body with her Gokon Tekkō, just as an enormous claw bursts out of the air above his bed. As Acidwire pulls himself into the bedroom, Ichigo slashes at his head on Rukia's command, only to land a shallow blow that slices off part of Acidwire's mask, shocking him with what it reveals. When Acidwire howls in pain and retreats, Ichigo stops Rukia from pursuing him and demands to know what is going on because he recognized Acidwire as being Orihime's brother, Sora Inoue, prompting Rukia to reveal that the method of purifying Hollows with a single strike from behind exists so that Shinigami do not learn their Human identities, as all Hollows are originally Humans.
Meanwhile, at Orihime's house, while she and Tatsuki Arisawa eat and talk with each other, the face of Orihime's stuffed bear Enraku suddenly tears open as stuffing spills out.
When Rukia Kuchiki tells him that all Hollows were once Humans, an incredulous Ichigo Kurosaki reminds Rukia that he was told they were monsters he had to kill, only for Rukia to confirm that they are monsters now and Ichigo must kill them before proclaiming that Orihime Inoue will die if they do not hurry.
Meanwhile, at Orihime's apartment, Tatsuki Arisawa demands to know if she is stupid for losing such a chance to be alone with Ichigo before detailing how Orihime should have lured Ichigo to a secluded spot on the way to her apartment and thrown him to the ground, to Orihime's shock. Tatsuki notes that Ichigo has gotten pretty close to Rukia, prompting Orihime to reveal she saw them in the park earlier before daydreaming about going to the park with Ichigo, which quickly turns into her racing him and another person before she beats them both to become a boxing champion. As Orihime and Tatsuki react to the former's daydream, they are startled by Enraku falling on the floor behind them. Rushing to check on her stuffed bear, Orihime sees that there is a large rip in his fabric before noticing blood pooling on her hand. Suddenly, Acidwire's hand bursts out of Orihime's back, causing her to fall over with a blank expression on her face as Tatsuki frantically asks her what is wrong.
Elsewhere, Ichigo carries Rukia while hopping between rooftops and learning that Hollows devour the souls of their family before they go after other Souls and Humans. Rukia further clarifies that Hollows devour souls in order to ease their own pain, as they are themselves souls who were not sent to Soul Society by a Shinigami and who were not saved from other Hollows, and stalk those they loved in life in order to fill the emptiness inside of themselves. Revealing that she saw a large bruise on Rukia's leg earlier in the day, Rukia tells Ichigo that Acidwire will surely go after her if they are each other's only family.
Back at Orihime's apartment, Tatsuki is badly wounded by Acidwire while Orihime watches from the corner with a chain attached to her chest. Wondering what is going on and why she can see her own body lying nearby, Orihime tries to pull off the chain because it makes her uncomfortable, only to be alerted by Acidwire pinning down Tatsuki. As she realizes she cannot be daydreaming and must save Tatsuki, Orihime runs at Acidwire and pushes his arm off of Tatsuki, whom she tells to run away. When Tatsuki does not acknowledge Orihime's words or presence, Acidwire calls Orihime by her name and reveals that she cannot see or hear them, prompting Orihime to ask how he knows her name. This angers Acidwire, who attacks her while proclaiming he is wounded by her not knowing who he is, only for his attack to be blocked by Ichigo, who proclaims that Acidwire will have to go through him in order to get to Orihime.
With Acidwire having paused his assault, Ichigo Kurosaki wonders if the cut he left on the Hollow's hand scared him before noticing Tatsuki Arisawa on the ground nearby and noting she was in the wrong place at the wrong place. Suddenly, Ichigo notices Orihime Inoue lying on the floor as well and realizes she is also sitting behind him as she happily says that she knew it was him. Recalling Rukia's explanation that only spiritual beings can see him while he is working as a Shinigami, Ichigo asks Orihime how she can see him, only for Acidwire to proclaim that Orihime is a spirit and already dead before slamming his tail into Ichigo, who is unable to cut through the scales and is sent crashing out of the house into the air.
Stopping himself in midair, Ichigo grunts in pain as his forehead begins bleeding, prompting Acidwire to note he is slow despite talking tough before demanding to know if this situation is really so shocking as he uses Vitriol Shot, burning Ichigo's hand and forcing to drop his Zanpakutō. After slamming Ichigo into the ground below with his tail, Acidwire grabs Orihime and asks her if she has really forgotten him before lifting up his hair to reveal his exposed human eye, causing Orihime to recognize him as her brother Sora. On the ground below, Rukia berates Ichigo for being so easily taken down, prompting Ichigo to admit that he hesitated because Sora is different from the other Hollows. Accepting this, Rukia reminds Ichigo that Acidwire will eat Orihime's soul if Ichigo loses.
Back in Orihime's house, Orihime asks Acidwire why he hurt Tatsuki and Ichigo, prompting Acidwire to proclaim that they tried to tear him and Orihime apart before detailing how Orihime has stopped praying for him after befriending Tatsuki and Ichigo, the latter of whom she would talk about all the time, and how this made him feel like he was fading from her heart. Declaring that it made him want to kill, Acidwire sees Ichigo entering the house behind him and pushes him aside with his tail before asking Orihime to come with him so they can live together again. However, Orihime tearfully asks why Acidwire did not simply tell her he was lonely and declares that the brother she knew would never do this, prompting an enraged Acidwire to begin crushing her in his hands while declaring that he will kill her for turning him into a Hollow. Suddenly, Ichigo cuts off Acidwire's hands and most of his tail and claims that big brothers are born first to protect their younger siblings before angrily proclaiming that no brother should say they would kill their sister. Howling in pain, Acidwire demands to know why Ichigo keeps getting in his way.
Acidwire recalls how, as the Human Sora Inoue, he had to protect Orihime Inoue after she came into the world when he was 15 because their parents were true monsters who would beat children to silence their cries, and eventually ran away with his sister when he was 18. In the present, Acidwire tells Ichigo Kurosaki that it was them against the world from that point on and that he raised Orihime by himself before declaring that Ichigo will never have her as he lunges at him. Blocking Acidwire's bite with his Zanpakutō, Ichigo tells him that Orihime belongs to no one, but Acidwire decides that Orihime will have to die for him if she will not live for him before lunging at her and biting down.
However, Acidwire is stunned to find Orihime hugging him, even as he bites into her body. Orihime explains that she only ever wanted to make Sora happy by sharing the things that made her happy and hiding her sadness from him before apologizing for not realizing how lonely it would make him feel as she collapses. While Ichigo and Acidwire call out to her, Rukia reveals that it is not too late to save Orihime and that she can use her Kidō to put her soul back in her body. As Rukia tends to Orihime, Acidwire admits that he knew Orihime was simply trying to hide her sadness from him, but he did not want her to stop praying to him because her heart was all his while she did so. Asking Acidwire what he is looking at, Ichigo points out the hairpins Orihime is wearing and explains how Orihime wears them every day because they are the first gift Sora ever gave to her before declaring that everyone feels alone when someone dies and that Acidwire forgot about Orihime's loneliness because he was so caught up in his own.
As he notes that he thought Orihime threw the hairpins away, Acidwire grabs the blade of Ichigo's Zanpakutō and uses it to cut off the rest of his Hollow mask, to Ichigo's shock. When Sora explains that he wants to use this moment of sanity to pass on, Rukia agrees with his decision because Hollows cannot go back to what they once were and explains that the Zanpakutō merely cleanses Hollows of sin instead of killing them outright so they can enter Soul Society. While Sora leans over Orihime to bid her farewell, Orihime recalls how she did not like the hairpins he gave her at first and had a fight with him before he left for work and died the next day without saying anything to him before taking the opportunity to finally tell him to have a nice day as Sora dissipates into the sky. Watching this with Rukia and Ichigo, Orihime declares that she has many questions to ask them, only for Rukia to use a memory-replacement device on her and explain to Ichigo that Orihime will have the events of tonight wiped from her memory and replaced with random memories. The next day at school, Orihime tells her friends that a Yakuza gunman blasted a huge hole in her wall, to their great disbelief, only to have Tatsuki back up her story while Ichigo watches and realizes that this is what Rukia did to his family as well.
At night, as Yasutora Sado and his friends sit next to a construction site with a parakeet in a cage, Harutoki Ide explains how the parakeet is rumored to bring bad luck to his owners, all of whom have died so far. When Gitano Shigeo refuses to take the parakeet off his hands, Ide offers him to Sado, who takes interest due to liking cute things. Suddenly, an I-beam falls onto the group from the building under construction overhead, prompting Sado to stand up and catch the beam with his arms and back, much to his friends' amazement. While Sado claims he is fine despite bleeding, the parakeet thanks Sado for saving him and introduces himself as Yūichi Shibata, leading a stunned Ide to note that he is speaking like a regular person as Sado introduces himself in turn.
The next day, on the roof of Karakura High School, Ichigo Kurosaki notes that all traces of the burns from Acidwire's Vitriol Shot are gone, prompting Rukia to brag about his wounds being easy to heal because she had the best grades in her Kidō class before asking Ichigo how she is supposed to drink from a juice box, prompting a bewildered Ichigo to tell her that she needs to stick the straw into it. When Mizuiro Kojima appears and notes how much time Ichigo and Rukia are spending together, Ichigo denies them being in love and notes that he would have dyed his hair black a long time ago if he cared what people thought about him. While Rukia continues to struggle with the juice box, she returns Mizuiro's greeting and calls him by name, to his pleasant surprise as he notes they were never even introduced. When Mizuiro introduces himself, Ichigo interrupts him to warn Rukia to stay away because Mizuiro is very popular with women despite his appearances; Mizuiro claims to only go after older women, but this only makes Ichigo continue to warn Rukia.
Keigo Asano walks up and asks to join them before noting Sado is not here. Spotting Rukia, Keigo congratulates Ichigo on befriending her and enthusiastically introduces himself while Rukia continues to focus on the juice box. Suddenly, Reiichi Ōshima knees Keigo in the back and confronts Ichigo for trying to copy his appearance instead of dying his hair black, prompting Ichigo to remind him that this is his natural hair color before calling him a drag queen and telling him to leave. Seeing Ōshima enraged by this, Keigo attempts to defuse the situation by claiming no one can beat Ōshima anyway, only for Ichigo to proclaim that he will beat Ōshima down himself. As Ōshima reveals a pair of brass knuckles and prepares to go one-on-one with Ichigo, Sado appears and flings him across the roof into the stairwell entrance nearby.
While Keigo thanks Sado for saving them despite using more force than necessary, Ichigo asks how Sado got hurt, prompting him to reveal that he had an I-beam fall on him last night and ran into a motorcycle this morning while shopping for groceries, which hurt the driver badly enough that Sado had to carry him to the hospital, unnerving Ichigo and Keigo with his durability. When Sado sets down his cage, Yūichi introduces himself to the group, prompting Ichigo to look at him in shock. With Keigo testing how much Yūichi can say, Ichigo asks Sado where he got Yūichi, only for Sado to give a short summary instead of the full story, prompting Keigo to criticize him for being lazy and demanding the full story. Privately, Rukia confirms to Ichigo that there is something inside the parakeet, but it is harmless and likely nothing more than a lonely Soul which they will have to perform Konsō on tonight. While Ichigo complains about having another night without sleep, Rukia notes that he was worried for the safety of others as soon as he sensed the Soul's presence and that he may be understanding what it means to be a Shinigami.
Later, at the Kurosaki Clinic, Yuzu Kurosaki rushes past Ichigo with two boxes of medical supplies while telling him to move out of the way, prompting Ichigo to ask her where the fire is before narrowly avoiding Karin Kurosaki wheeling an injured man past him on a gurney. As Yuzu reveals there was a big car accident at the nearby intersection, Isshin Kurosaki yells at someone at the Karakura Hospital over the phone and demands that he tell his boss that Isshin is in need of free beds there for the patients he cannot fit at his own clinic before hanging up in anger. While Ichigo stays out of the way at his father's behest, Isshin calls him over to help with a larger patient, only for Ichigo to stop upon seeing that it is Sado while Karin freezes upon seeing Yūichi. Taking Sado's shirt off of him, Yuzu cringes in horror upon seeing the large wound on his back, which Isshin identifies as a burn that is still bleeding. Sado claims he is fine and tries to leave, but collapses at the doorway, prompting Isshin to tell Karin and Yuzu to get a bed ready for him.
That night, while Sado lies in bed with Yūichi on the table next to him, Rukia confirms to Ichigo that the wound on his back was definitely inflicted by a Hollow as Sado escapes with Yūichi through the window.