Yoh and his friends are waiting for the Shaman fight to be announced, but there is still time, so they go to help their friend Tao Ren fight against his father. His father decries friendship as weakness, so when Tao gained Yoh as a friend, he was determined to prove to his father that he had been wrong about friendship.
Taken captive by his own family, Ren is freed by Yoh and his friends, Wooden Sword Ryu and Horohoro. Then, they must fight their way from the dungeon to the top of the house to take on Tao Yuan, Ren's father, who has an oversoul composed of all the Tao Shamans who have ever died, and can direct their spiritual force at will. After his father's defeat, Tao is joined by his mother and grandfather, who knew Tao Yuan was wrong, and hoped that Tao Ren would be able to make a friend.
After that, it is back to Tokyo, where Yoh and his friends enjoy a last few days of freedom before they are summoned to the Shaman fight. Surprisingly, they are called to a military base, where the Shaman tribe in charge of the Fight have gathered all the Shamans. They are also busy selling concessions to help defray the costs of the Shaman fight. As Yoh, Tao Ren and the others discuss things, a Shaman named Hao, who bears a startling resemblance to Yoh, appears and calls them all amateurs. A fight threatens, but it is stopped when Hao is reminded to save it for the real fight.
The Shamans are loaded onto a plane for a flight to America, where the Shaman fight will be run. However, while the plane is still hundreds of miles away from their destination, the Patch de-materialize the plane, which was actually one huge oversoul. Just before they do so, they tell the Shamans that they must make their own way to the fight, and they have three months to get there. Anyone who dies or doesn't make it was obviously not good enough a shaman to be part of the fights.
Yoh and his friends survive by making their oversouls cushion their landing, but then they are stranded in the desert, with no idea where to go. Meanwhile, at home, Manta is missing his friends, and although he returns to the places where they used to go together, it just isn't the same. Fond memories remain, of course.
Okay, this is the kickoff to the Shaman fight, but at this point the manga still feels less about fighting than about character stories, which means I can still read it with something like joy. The characters are strong here, and the story is superb. Although later it degenerates into a series of fights with stupid fighting moves and ass -pulling new moves, right now, it's still good.