I gave up on Bleach twelve or thirteen seasons or so into its run because it kept stalling on anime-only filler arcs, most of which were hot garbage and almost never masked the fact that they were meant to stall for time while the source material developed. Now that Bleach is back, it feels fresh, and something new happens in every episode.
Take this episode, one that finally begins to explore Ichigo’s parents’ past in detail. From the moment Isshin showed up at Ichigo’s boss Ikumi’s place in his shinigami garb and told his son the time has finally come to talk about this stuff, I was riveted. my only beef with Ichigo’s return is that we don’t get to see any Karin or Yuzu.
In the not-too-distant past, Shiba Isshin was the captain of the 10th Squad, with a short-haired Matsumoto as his lieutenant and Hitsugaya as his third seat (and heir apparent to the captaincy). Toshio delivers a report on soul eater deaths during patrols in Naruki City in the human world. Those deaths are part of hollowification experiments being run by Aizen, Ichimaru and Kaname, who are in the early stages of planning their takeover.
Kurosaki Masaki is a kind, capable, and somewhat lonely young woman. She’s lonely because she is the last surviving member of her Quincy clan, and has been taken in by the Ishidas. Uryuu’s father Ryuuken’s mom is not that crazy about this, no doubt being obsessed with maintaining a pure a bloodline as possible, while Ryuuken himself is a lot nicer to Masaki (probably because he sees himself one day marrying her).
Tying in Aizen & Co.’s slow-burn scheme with the origin story of how Masaki and Isshin met is a brilliant bit of retroactive continuity. Isshin comes to Naruki to investigate the source of the deaths, and meets Aizen & Co.’s eldritch abomination: a hollow whose hole has been filled, adn who fights like a soul reaper…a powerful one. Aizen even slashes Isshin in the back to give him a handicap.
As a Quincy, Masaki is extremely attuned to spiritual pressure, and knows something is wrong when she senses Isshin and the Hollow fighting. But she’s also an empathetic and caring person with a strong belief in noblesse oblige. When she starts to run towards the trouble, Ryuuken tries to stop her, saying the lower-level Quincy can put themselves in danger.
But Masaki tells Ryuuken something I could easily hear Ichigo saying: it’s one thing to stay safe so one has a future. But if she stands by while someone dies, she won’t be able to forgive her future self. She runs into town under the pelting rain and finds a soul reaper locked in mortal combat with a strange hollow, Isshin’s fire-based zanpakuto lighting up the night.
To his warm flames, Masaki adds her icy Quincy arrows in order to save Isshin’s life. When the hollow charges her, she disarms and allows it to bit her shoulder, which allows her to kill it from point-blank range. So not only is Masaki a Quincy, but comparable in skill and power to a Gotei 13 Captain, and even possesses a sense of style to her fighting.
When the hollow prepares to self destruct, Isshin sees Masaki is in trouble and uses his body and spiritual pressure to shield her. On the ground, battered and bloody, Isshin thanks Masaki for saving her. She in turn thanks him for saving her, and he laughs, saying that must make them even.
When Isshin asks her who she is, Masaki considers how a soul reaper would react to learning that she’s a Quincy. Perhaps since he just saved her, Masaki isn’t in the mood to lie or deflect, and comes right out and tells him she’s a quincy. Isshin’s reaction of casual amusement is definitely not what she expected, and it puts a big Kurosaki smile on her face.
So there you have it: a shinigami captain and the last surviving member of a Quincy clan have a meet cute, all thanks to the series’ big bad’s machinations. Forget flashbacks; I could honestly watch an entire separate season of Bleach centered on these two (and the ensuing love triangle with Ryuuken). You can plainly see how Ichigo became such an honorable and upstanding young scamp from watching these two.