Starting off with a Kon-centered gag chapter, Bleach volume 4 has a decidedly comedic in tone. Those who fondly remember the early parts of the series for it’s humor would probably get the most out of this volume. Kubo’s comedic timing is pretty on the mark with great character gags. The best encapsulation of this is definitely “Paradise is Nowhere,” the Kon chapter. It’s a self-contained mad-cap journey that exploits the idiocies of the characters to great effect to engineer the most ridiculous and hilarious ways Kon can be abused and humiliated, which is enjoyable because the character’s perverted and egotistic personality elicits some form of comeuppance. The best part of this chapter is the unpredictability of the jokes. When Kon tries to attract the attention of Orihime, he gets kicked into a soccer ball and then hit into the sky with a baseball bat. You wouldn’t connect one to the other, but the series justifies this slapstick to make sense within the context of the world and the characters. While a filler chapter, it’s also probably the funniest one in the entire series. Intentionally, at least.
The main arc contained in volume 4 is the Don Kanonji story. Kanonji is often a fondly remembered character among Bleach fans, and while he’s so minor of one that he never left much of an impression on me personally, there’s a lot to like about the guy. He has a hilariously bombastic personality, being an over the top television personality spouting ridiculously cheesy catchphrases like “spirits are always with you” in addition to his One Piece-esque laugh “Bohahahaha” and signature crossed arms pose. He’s in way out of his league as an exorcist, but like similar poser characters like Dragon Ball‘s Mr. Satan, he’s got a heart that makes him very appealing. Oblivious as he may be to how much harm he’s actually doing, he genuinely desires to help people and spirits. Knowing his show is so popular among children, he wants to set an example for them and be a good role model and hero in their eyes, and he’s willing to risk his life to help Ichigo fight off a Hollow and plays it smartly, using what little power he has to free Ichigo’s zanpakuto when it’s stuck. The heart and humor of Kanonji’s character contrasts with the darker proceedings of the Grand Fischer story, helping return some levity to the series in an organic way while still retaining the series’ uneasy supernatural atmosphere. It’s a shame Kanonji is pretty much forgotten after this volume until Deicide, because he makes such a likable impression that it’s hard to not want to see more of him, especially in regards to his delusional master-student relationship with Ichigo.
Outside of humor, Kanonji’s story continues developing the world-building and character development of previous arcs. More of Ichigo’s friends are getting in tune with their sixth senses, with Orihime and Karin particular noticing Hollows and becoming suspicious of Ichigo’s Soul Reaper secret. We also finally see how a fallen spirit turns into a Hollow for the first time, and while it’s not quite as frightening or traumatic as the first volume implied, it’s still disheartening to see the tragedy of a person becoming a monster, especially against their will. This humanization of Hollows won’t continue for much longer before they start becoming treated as monsters and more human-looking enemies take their place, but I appreciate Kubo tackling the subject regardless, especially since it adds a layer of tragedy to Kanonji’s character as well.
The end of volume 4 loudly declares the end of lighter fare and return to more serious stories in the form on Uryu Ishida. Uryu’s introduction comes in at a right time, giving Ichigo a rival in his task of defeating Hollows, while also developing the world a bit more by introducing a new group outside Soul Reapers that can fight them. The most impressive action moment in the entire volume also comes during his introduction, with him shooting an arrow at a Hollow that’s all the way across the city and destroying it. Not only is the image of the arrow zig-zagging through the city to blow up the Hollow in one shot impressive artistically, dramatically it makes a profound impact in showing someone who can beat Ichigo at his own game, challenging him to improve himself. But will Uryu’s introduction facilitate character development for Ichigo, or will it take the form of just another strength-measuring contest leading to some lame old power-up? Let’s head on over to volume 5 and find out…