Zanpakutou Unknown Tales (part 1 of 2)

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Zanpakutou Unknown Tales part 1

episode 230 to 255 in total

This is part 1 of 2, covering episode 230 to 240.


SPOILER WARNING


(just in case)



The Zanpakutou Unknown Tales arc was inserted between the Arrancar: Decisive Battle Arc (episode 213 to 229) and the Arrancar: Downfall Arc (episode 266 to 316), continuing Ichigo vs. Ulquiorra. But I want to add that several short filler stories also appeared around that time. Maybe I will write about some of them eventually. Some of the short fillers are a lot of fun and offer more than a bit of amusement. These short stories are usually comedies with just a few exceptions.

The Zanpakutou filler story is probably the most popular of the long filler arcs. I am a big fan of that story and to me it is better than a lot of what happened in the canon Arrancar arcs. In hindsight, the whole Zanpakutou filler could be canon. A lot of it is now, especially when it comes to the design of the Zanpakutou spirits. I also believe it should be canon because it deals with important questions about the nature of Zanpakutous and their relationships with their owners. Bleach in general does deal with such questions but the Zanpakutou arc adds more dimension to it. Looking back, I don't think there is anything in the Zanpakutou arc that does not fit into canon Bleach.

The series starts with a brief introduction: Zanpakutou.Their shape and abilities are based on their Shinigami's soul. Shinigami gain power by learning their names and synergizing with them. They are born with Shinigami and die with Shinigami. That is what Zanpakutou are.

The story begins in the depths of a cave in the Soul Society. Water is dripping from the ceiling, forming stalagmites and stalagtites. Several people are gathered around a lake the water formed. All of them are Zanpakutou spirits. They were ordered to wait here after they have been summoned. Haineko is getting impatient. She wants to go out, explore the outside world. Sode no Shirayuki points out that not everyone has arrived yet and that they should wait. Kazeshini laughs, in his opinion it doesn't matter how many there are of them. He can also do it alone. Wabisuke is standing nearby, silent and gloomy. Hozukimaru agrees with Kazeshini. Suzumebachi and Tobiume stop their discussion when their master, Muramasa, returns with another Zanpakutou spirit: Hyorinmaru. Muramasa asks Haineko to be patient. The rest will awaken and join them soon.

What is obvious from the start is that Muramasa is their leader. He somehow summoned the Zanpakutou spirits from several Shinigami and ordered them to assemble in this place. The design of Muramasa is interesting. He is obviously powerful and dangerous but he is not a typical villain. I had the feeling from the beginning that he is a complex character.

The manifestations of the Zanpakutou spirits reflect their owners very well. Haineko is cat-like, moody, vain and playful - I immediately thought of Matsumoto and I was right. Tobiume and Haineko are very good friends. Tobiume is playful as well and carries two enormous bells. She looks a lot like her owner, Momo. Sode no Shirayuki is obviously Rukia's spirit. She is a silver haired, beautiful woman in white. Kazeshini is an amazing design. He is easily recognizable as Hisagi's spirit, black, demon-like and dangerous. Hozukimaru is a good match for Ikkaku. He is muscular, with a long mane but with a very relaxed attitude. Suzumebachi looks like a wasp. She is small, she has a stinger and contrary to her owner she is a fun character. Wabisuke is gloomy, wearing a ball and chain on his back. It fits, should he ever develop a Bankai, it would wear heavily on him. Hyorinmaru is kind of a male version of Sode no Shirayuki. He is beautiful, elegant and powerful. At the same time he is very quiet and very sad.

Muramasa points out that the age of the Shinigami is going to end. It won't be long now.

Meanwhile Ichigo wakes up in his inner world. The skyscrapers are tall, the sky is blue with only a few white clouds. It reflects Ichigo's confidence and balance. Old Man Zangetsu approaches him. He asks Ichigo if he can hear something. Ichigo doesn't understand. He only hears OMZ's voice, nothing else. OMZ asks Ichigo to forget it, then - something that would never work with Ichigo. Now he wonders but OMZ is not giving any explanation.

Byakuya and Renji are sparring in public. A lot of Shinigami are watching the competition between two of the most powerful officers. Both are using Shikai but already on that level, the fight impresses the audience. Now Renji is calling for his Bankai and the audience cheers. Renji is happy and proudly presents his powers. Byakuya sticks with his Shikai but announces that he will use his hands now to guide the cherry blossom blades, increasing their speed.

Suddenly an intruder appears in Byakuya's mind. Muramasa addresses Senbonzakura. Byakuya doesn't hear what happened but he feels that something is wrong. His hand is being cut by his own blades and then the intrusion is gone. The clash of both powers is hard, probably harder than Byakuya expected. The contest is over, ending with a draw. The audience applauds. Byakuya withdraws and nobody wonders. Byakuya is a proud individual after all.

Also Hitsugaya is training but he does so alone. He is calling for Hyorinmaru. His Zanpakutou spirit takes form as a beautiful, elegant ice dragon. Their bond has always been very close and Hitsugaya feels that something is wrong. He is reaching out his hand to his spirit when the dragon stands in front of him, a lot taller than the small captain. And suddenly the ice dragon shatters. Hitsugaya does not understand.

But he soon learns that for some time, some Zanpakutou spirits were difficult to summon at first and then refused to appear at all. Matsumoto, Momo, and Isane share that problem. It could be coincidence. Especially Matsumoto's spirit has always been stubborn. But Hitsugaya wonders more and more if there is more to it.

Three Zanpakutou spirits have been sent on a mission that leads them to the gate of Squad one. One is a lively pair of identical twin boys, obviously Ukitake's Zanpakutou twin spirit. The other is an elegant woman with an eye patch, Shunsui's spirit - the same design as it eventually appeared in the manga. The last Zanpakutou spirit is more difficult to identify. I only found out much later. It is a slim figure wearing a hooded cloak, revealing very little. This is Unohana's Zanpakutou spirit.

Muramasa sent these spirits after Yamamoto. Shunsui and Ukitake are among the strongest Shinigami. Unohana is even stronger, I am sure. But at this time the identity of her powers was kept secret. Minazuki, her Shikai, is a gentle living being that heals people in its stomach. Already then I wondered about the dark, menacing aura her spirit has.

Now in hindsight, this design fits perfectly. Unohana was a dual personality, more extreme than anybody else. We were left with a lot of questions when it comes to her Bankai. But we have been given an idea how deadly her powers were.

The gate opens and Sasakibe faces the arrivals. Yamamoto is alarmed... And this is where this scene ends. This fight would have been highly interesting but this was not the time to reveal what powers Sasakibe, Shunsui and especially Unohana have - not to mention the full range of Yamamoto's abilities.

Now it is night. All captains and vice-captains are summoned by hell butterflies. The meeting is deemed extremely urgend. It takes place on Sokyoku Hill. Everybody is confused because nobody knows who actually summoned them. Among the gathered Shinigami is also Rukia as well as Ikkaku and Yumichika. It makes sense, especially in hindsight. They have strong Zanpakutou spirits. If they don't have Bankai already they have the potential. Interesting is that Zaraki is not part of the group. We learn that Zaraki and Yachiru are away right now. Also in this case, their powers and relationship is something not meant to be revealed in this story.

Fog is creeping over the landscape and disappears, revealing the arrival of Sasakibe. Sasakibe is struggling to stay on his feet and collapses before he can say something. Unohana and Isane are alarmed: He is in cardiac arrest and his life is in danger. Nobody notices at first that another person is nearby. Muramasa explains that Yamamoto is not going to join them.

Komamura, who has always been extremely loyal to Yamamoto, takes this challenge very personal. He summons his Bankai. Muramasa smiles. He is not worried. Komamura's Bankai collapses and turns into a different manifestation of Tenken, his Zanpakutou spirit. He is a silent giant as well but fire is emerging from his mouth. Tenken's eyes are glowing. His weapons are laced with fire. Komamura has no chance. He is being cut down by his own Zanpakutou spirit.

Now that he has fallen, the one-on-one rule is forgotten. But one Shinigami after the other learns that their swords are empty now: Their Zanpakutou spirits are no longer in them. As Muramasa explains, he freed them from their Shinigami. Now they are rebelling. Fires are breaking out in the Seireitei. Kazeshini loves it to reap lives, leaving death and destruction behind. Other spirits are joining him, although usually in a less violent manner, allowing the Shinigami to escape.

This was just a taste of things to come. Muramasa reaches out with his mind and his hands and the Zanpakutou spirits materialize around him. This is the true appearance of the Zanpakutou which, as he put it, the Shinigami deluded themselves into owning. Hyorinmaru walks towards Muramasa. Senbonzakura and Ashisogi Jizo are following him.

Senbonzakura is a big warrior in an historic outfit wearing a full face mask. It fits to Byakuya, a proud noble with an old heritage. What is most interesting is Mayuri's Zanpakutou spirit. This is supposedly her true appearance and especially in hindsight, it makes me feel sad. Ashisogi Jizo is a baby with colourful butterfly wings and a halo. There is nothing menacing, nothing dangerous about her appearance and her behaviour.

Before Muramasa leaves together with the assembled spirits he announces that from now on the Zanpakutou will rule over the Shinigami. A wave of energy leaves his hands, also forming a brief symbol that still makes me curious.

It is the same symbol as in the series Code Geass. Does this symbol have a deeper meaning? I am curious.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net...ision/latest?cb=20161217191219&path-prefix=en

What Muramasa did, what he said was not something I could just dismiss as the actions of a villain. I can't condone his methods, the violence he unleashed, but I always felt uncomfortable with the relationship between Shinigami and Zanpakutou spirit in general. The idea of beating a Zanpakutou spirit into submission for achieving Bankai. I actually agree with Muramasa that a Shinigami is not the "owner" of his Zanpakutou spirit. I am not comfortable with "master" either. I had to think about it for a while and found a word that is much more appropriate - at least this is what this relationship should be about: I am thinking of the word partner.

This story highlights that the relationship between Shinigami and Zanpakutou spirit often has problems, sometimes relatively small, sometimes more serious. Even in the case when the Shinigami really respects his or her spirit, these are strong personalities and complete harmony is therefore unlikely. This is natural and how to deal with differences in opinion is a sign of the quality of a relationship as well. On the other end, there is Mayuri who enslaved and abuses his Zanpakutou spirit without hesitation.

I can't help it: When I look at Zaraki and Yachiru, I am reminded of Ash and Pikachu. All the other spirits are stuck in their swords (not so unlike the Pokemon in their pokeballs). Yachiru had the freedom to move around, to develop her own personality, even developing her own Zanpakutou with her own spirits, even two of them. Until Zaraki learned the truth and also Yachiru lost this freedom. I understand that a Zanpakutou spirit has to be ready for battle but I wish the Shinigami would give his or her spirit opportunities to leave the sword at times. A Zanpakutou spirit is a person, not just a tool to fight with.

The story continues with Ichigo on night patrol. He suddenly feels waves of strong spiritual pressure and when he looks around he sees a Senkaimon gate materializing. Rukia steps through it and falls down but fortunately Ichigo catches her in time. She is injured. Before she can answer any questions she loses consciousness. The gate opens again. Sode no Shirayuki materializes in front of Ichigo although Ichigo has no idea who she is. Ichigo refuses to hand Rukia over to her.

The woman in white is obviously using Rukia's powers when she attacks him. But what I also noticed is that Sode no Shirayuki is using these powers in a more sophisticated way than Rukia did at that time. These are her powers after all. After giving this cryptic message, the woman in white returns through the gate.

Ichigo is taking Rukia to Urahara's shop. Urahara, Uryuu, Chad and Kon are waiting for news while Orihime is treating Rukia next door. (The Bount mod souls are around as well and I was not happy about that. Fortunately they only play a very minor part in this story). Eventually Rukia is well enough to explain what happened while everybody gathers around her futon.

Rukia adds that Muramasa revealed that Yamamoto has been sealed away. His Zanpakutou spirit, Ryujinjakka, refused to work with Muramasa. No matter that their swords are empty, the Shinigami attacked Muramasa and the Zanpakutou spirits. Konjiki Ashisogi Jizo appeared. This was no longer the harmless looking butterfly baby. Mayuri warned everybody: She is about to release her poison. Everbody started to run, taking the casualties with them.

Renji and Rukia were fighting together in the Seireitei, fires burning everywhere. They no longer had Shikai or Bankai but other Shinigami powers and skills are still working, like Kido and Shunpo. Sasakibe's spirit (Gonryomaru, I had to look the name up) nearly got Rukia but Byakuya saved his sister using Kido. We can see that Sasakibe had lightning powers but we only saw ordinary lightning bolts, no sign of a more elaborate use, like his lost Bankai.

Byakuya was standing on a roof nearby, looking down at Rukia and Renji. Muramasa and Senbonzakura appeared together on a different roof. Muramasa watched while Byakuya and Senbonzakura started fighting. Senbonzakura warned Byakuya: He should know that he can't fight his blades with an empty sword. Using Shunpo, Byakuya ran, the wave of pink cherry blades chasing him, getting closer. Rukia cried out when the blades overtook her brother, smashing into him and the buildings around him. And then Sode no Shirayuki appeared...

Rukia can't give much more information. She got separated from Renji. While she and her friends discuss the situation, Yoruichi returns. The Gotei 13 has not been destroyed, not yet at least. Rukia asks about her brother but Yoruichi doesn't know. So far nobody has found him.

Urahara asks Ichigo if he had any problems with Zangetsu. Ichigo doesn't think so, not mentioning the strange conversation he had with him recently. Urahara had no problems with Benihime. Uryuu's conclusion is that the enemy is only able to affect Zanpakutou spirits in the Soul Society, not in the World of the Living.

Ichigo and his friends learn that Rukia disappeared. It seems she returned to the Soul Society without saying a word to anyone. Ichigo's mind is made up. He wants to follow Rukia, no matter the risk. Urahara decides to let Ichigo use his gate, respecting his decision. It helps that Yoruichi announces that she will go with him.

Rukia did indeed return to the Soul Society and hurries into Byakuya's office. He is not there. Instead she meets Renji again who is happy that she is safe. Renji is a bit too overenthusiastic and Rukia knocks it into him that it is enough now. I smiled - I could feel the bond between them very strongly. Renji tries to cheer Rukia up. Although a search party is still looking for Byakuya, he is confident that he is still alive.

Lost in thought Rukia wanders through the streets of the Seireitei when she notices signs of battle. People have been frozen within ice columns. Shinigami are screaming, trying to fight a woman in white who is using ice as a weapon against them. They have no chance. Full of anger Rukia confronts Sode no Shirayuki, demanding that she stops. Her Zanpakutou spirit is unimpressed. She points out that she won't tolerate it to be ordered around by her.

Meanwhile Ichigo and Yoruichi arrive. Yoruichi reminds Ichigo that he has to retreat immediately if he senses a change in Zangetsu. Yoruichi leaves Ichigo in order to check on the stealth force.

Sode no Shirayuki explains that she is free now. She won't spare anyone who gets in her way. In the past Rukia freely used her power as a Zanpakutou. Sode no Shirayuki had no choice. But now things have changed. From now on she will use her power for her sake, in any way she chooses. Rukia's Zanpakutou spirit demonstrates to Rukia that she can do nothing without her. Rukia also experiences again that Sode no Shirayuki is using her Shikai in ways showing that Rukia still has a lot to learn when it comes to using it herself.

Sode no Shirayuki is chasing Rukia around with ice missiles. Rukia doesn't want to fight her. She believed that they have a good relationship but now it seems her Zanpakutou spirit is hating her. It hurts. They are part of each other. Didn't they always exist together?

The story continues with a flashback. A younger Rukia was delighted when she discovered her Shikai for the first time. Kaien was watching and applauding while Rukia created her first ice column. He ruffled her hair and gave her a big thumbs up together with a huge grin. It is a lovely scene. It never occurred to Rukia that she might have monopolized the power of her Zanpakutou spirit and made her suffer. Sode no Shirayuki is about to bury Rukia in ice but Ichigo's Getsuga Tenshou prevents it. He came just in time to protect her.

Rukia is not pleased. He should not be here, it is way too risky for him and his Zanpakutou. On the other hand, Ichigo came as a friend to help her. And that thought makes her smile. Now they will work together as a team, also finding answers.

Ichigo and Sode no Shirayuki start fighting. Ichigo was aware of it from the beginning that Rukia's spirit is strong but he finds out quickly that she is stronger than expected. Rukia is still weakened from her injuries and only has access to Kido. Her Kido powers are also not particularly strong. Rukia watches while Ichigo is struggling and eventually ends up with a frozen arm. Ichigo channels his dark energy through his arm nevertheless, full of anger at the Zanpakutou spirit who hurt his friend and so many others.

In spite of her weakened state, Rukia sneaked up behind Sode no Shirayuki and attacked with her sword. Her spirit was ready for her and stopped her blade without even turning around. Rukia lands in front of Ichigo, who protests. Rukia doesn't want to hear it. She will do what she can to protect him. And she demands from her spirit that if she hates her, to direct that hatred at her. Sode no Shirayuki announces that she will do that: She will take everything that is dear to Rukia from her.

Her spirit reacts angrily when Rukia mentions that she was so proud that she got such a beautiful Zanpakutou. She is not one of her belongings. Rukia agrees. Sode no Shirayuki is free. Rukia is making it official: She is releasing her. Rukia explains that she is grateful for the time they had together. Rukia will go on living without her. And if this means she has to return to the Rukongai, so be it.

Rukia will let Sode no Shirayuki go but before this happens she traps her in a kido spell, facing her. She is giving her a warning: Rukia will not forgive anyone or anything that tries to destroy what she must protect. This is not what Sode no Shirayuki expected at all. Rukia drops her sword, letting her sadness show, bracing herself for the consequences of her actions. Rukia is willing to give up everything. What a powerful scene! Letting someone go who is very dear to you out of respect, out of love - Rukia is indeed a remarkable character.

Another spell is separating Rukia and her former Zanpakutou spirit in a violent explosion. Sode no Shirayuki is overwhelmed. She never expected it that Rukia would let go of her. Saying farewell, Sode no Shirayuki is instinctively reaching out to Rukia but a hand is stopping her. It is Muramasa.

Ichigo is running to Rukia who is now lying in a crater left behind by the explosion. Muramasa and Ichigo are now meeting for the first time. Sode no Shirayuki stands behind him, looking at the unconscious Rukia. Muramasa smiles when he sees Ichigo's shocked reaction. That Muramasa is a Zanpakutou is not what he expected.

After sending Sode no Shirayuki away Muramasa explains his goal to Ichigo. He wants to release the Zanpakutou from the Shinigami. Zanpakutou are souls that are born within the hearts of Shinigami. They share the same power as their Shinigami and exist alongside their Shinigami soul. Shinigami find the Zanpakutou hidden within their souls. They converse with their Zanpakutou, come to an understanding and are able to draw from their power by learning their name.

But living alongside Shinigami is not the only way for a Zanpakutou to live. A Zanpakutou has its own will. Zanpakutou are not a part of a Shinigami. They are separate souls. Their existence is equal to that of Shinigami. Muramasa sees that Ichigo is skeptical. He sees this a proof how arrogant Shinigami are. This is why Muramasa exists. He can understand the will of a Zanpakutou. He can talk to their souls. And he can give physical forms to those who share the same goals. Zanpakutou who answer his call become separated from their Shinigami and appear in this world. That is the power that was given to him.

Ichigo is angry at Muramasa but he is also showing his worry when he asks him why a Zanpakutou would respond to him. Muramasa stays very calm. It is the will of the Zanpakutou who have been oppressed. Muramasa wants to release all Zanpakutou, no exceptions. Therefore he used Rukia to lure Ichigo to the Soul Society.

Ichigo is determined not to let Muramasa get away with his plans. He and Muramasa move away from Rukia. Muramasa manifests his sword. His powers reach out to Ichigo and he strikes back with Getsuga Tenchou. This is the moment Muramasa disappeared. The reality around Ichigo warps and moves. It is a very confusing, disorienting effect Ichigo can't fight.

Muramasa returns. His hand reaches out to Ichigo who can't stop him. Muramasa is not talking to him. He is talking to Ichigo's Zanpakutou spirit. He orders him to follow his instincts and release his soul. "Discard your fear. Look ahead. Go forth. Don't stop. If you turn back, you'll grow old. If you're hesitant, you'll die." Ichigo screams when Muramasas hand enters his body. Holding a dark rope in his hand, Muramasa pulls. He orders Zangetsu to come.

This scene is very interesting. First of all, what Muramasa is doing here is not just asking a Zanpakutou. It is violent. It looks as if Muramasa is forcing his will on Zangetsu. The words he uses to address Ichigo remind me of what Zangetsu told Ichigo long ago:

"Abandon your fear. Look forward. Move forward and never stop. You'll age if you pull back. You'll die if you hesitate."
The black rope in the darkness - maybe I see things that are not there but it looks like an umbilical cord to me, like mother and unborn child also Shinigami and Zanpakutou spirit are separate but also part of each other.

Now Ichigo and Zangetsu are truly separate. Zangetsu is standing close to Muramasa but not for long. Muramasa watches while Ichigo and Zangetsu fight, crossing blades. Ichigo is horrified while Zangetsu shows no emotion. I am sure it never occurred to Ichigo that Old Man Zangetsu would ever fight him like this. Ichigo barely fights back. He obviously does not want to fight OMZ and does little more than shielding himself. Muramasa announces that it is over. OMZ unleashes Getsuga Tenchou at Ichigo...

Mayuri is busy in his lab. This is all very fascinating. Testing his own body Mayuri comes to the conclusion that his Zanpakutou spirit really left his body. After Nemu shares what she learned from Mayuri with Unohana and Isane, Isane has a question. She wonders what will happen if a Zanpakutou is being defeated in battle. Nemu doesn't know. Isane wonders if they would lose such a Zanpakutou forever. Nemu admits, that is possible. She adds that Mayuri is asking for Unohana personally for tests. Isane protests when Unohana agrees to go with Nemu. She is worried about her captain. But Unohana`s mind is made up. There is no time to lose.

... and Muramasa and OMZ are in for a surprise. Ichigo emerges from the dust cloud but he is partly hollowfied. Shirosaki is dominant now and he loves this fight. After throwing OMZ bare handed into a wall Muramasa wants to know who he is. OMZ explains. This is the other soul that is living in Ichigo.

Shirosaki's hollowfication is spreading. The whole body ends up being affected. Shirosaki has a tail and claws as well as a very visible Hollow hole on his chest. Unlike Ichigo, Shirosaki is fighting with intense ferocity. OMZ is barely keeping up. After deflecting a cero, OMZ is sent flying. Muramasa attacks next but he is confused when cracks appear all over his opponent: Ichigo is fighting back. The Hollow shell falls off, revealing Ichigo's original body. Calling Zangetsu, reaching out to him, Ichigo collapses at Muramasa's feet.

Right now it is quiet in the Seireitei. Byakuya is still missing. Rukia is unconscious and recovering in hospital together with the many other casualties. With Yamamoto missing as well, Shunsui and Ukitake have taken over as leaders. The Shinigami have orders to capture the Zanpakutou spirits. They are aware of it that killing it might destroy the Zanpakutou in question.

Suddenly a black tornado appears in the Seireitei: Hisagi's Zanpakutou spirit Kazeshini has returned. Kazeshini laughs when Hisagi recognizes him after he reaped the two Shinigami who were next to Hisagi.

Meanwhile Renji is walking though the Seireitei looking for clues to find out what happened to Byakuya. He is meeting a pair of Zanpakutou spirits, a woman with a long mane who has some features of a monkey and a much smaller one, a child with the body of a snake. They are linked together with a long chain. Renji is confused. He wonders who they are.

Saru (the monkey) and Hebi (the snake) see this as another sign of how stupid Renji is. Renji has seen his Zanpakutou spirit before and it looked very different, something they dismiss as petty details. It makes sense. That a Zanpakutou spirit can take different forms is plausible. The basics might be the same. The details can vary.

Saru and Hebi ask if Renji realizes how much he relied on them but before Renji can say anything, they start to bicker. They are indeed reflections of Renji's personality. These two amused me from the beginning. Hebi is proud of the bogey he just picked out of his nose and Saru does not like it when people point out her big hips. They stop their argument when Renji explains that he has no time for this.

They came here to get rid of him. A voice stirred their instinct. They are here to fight. Saru and Hebi manifest Zabimaru and attack Renji. But the attack is short lived. Renji can't take these two seriously and his spirits don't have time to play with a weakling like him.

Ichigo wakes up in his inner world, surrounded by tall skyscrapers under a blue, sunny sky. His memories return and with it his worry about his Zanpakutou spirit. Ichigo calls for Old Man Zangetsu. He wonders if he really left his body. It seems Zangetsu can't hear him. Instead Muramasa has entered his inner world. Yes, Zangetsu has left. And, no, he hasn't got a master. Muramasa reveals that he killed his master. He is here because he is curious about Ichigo's powers, of having more than one spirit in his body. Ichigo looks at Muramasa with contempt. He refuses to answer any question.

Muramasa`s voice is penetrating Ichigo. He wants Ichigo to listen to his instincts. He wants him to awaken, to manifest himself. Ichigo's Hollow side is flowing out from a Hollow hole that opens up in his chest. Some distance away from Ichigo it takes form, turning into Shirosaki. Muramasa is fascinated.

Shirosaki smirks while Muramasa wonders who this version of Ichigo is that feels so much like a Hollow. Shirosaki explains that he is his real self. He is his true instinct. And now Shirosaki has a question. He wants to know who this intruder is. Muramasa explains that he is a Zanpakutou. He frees Zanpakutous. They respond to his voice and he awakens their true instincts.

Muramasa reaches out to Shirosaki, sure that he has him under his spell. But Shirosaki surprises him. He enjoys the challenge to attack, their blades clash against each other. Shirosaki is in good spirits, laughing, going with his instincts. Using the Zanpakutou twirl Shirosaki is so well known for, he explains that he feels very much alive. It has been so long since he could unleash his powers without holding back.

Now Renji and his two Zanpakutou spirits are fighting more seriously. Saru and Hebi use the chain that is connecting them as a weapon as well. After sending Renji into a wall they start bickering again. Renji has enough. They keep calling him names like weakling. What Saru and Hebi are doing is following their instincts. They don't want to be weak. They are fed up with Renji's weaknesses and want to leave him. Renji is calling his spiritual pressure which surrounds him with a red glow. Holding his blade he calls for his power. But nothing happens.

Muramasa is being thrown into a skyscraper above but there is no damage. He comes to the conclusion that Shirosaki must be a Hollow. Shirosaki is getting curious. Why is Muramasa so interested in him and in Ichigo? He is not giving any answers to Muramasa's questions about their relationship, their connection. Muramasa is not prepared to answer that question. He will find out, eventually. Shirosaki's true instinct is to devour Ichigo and to take over his body. Muramasa understands. Shirosaki intends to get in his way. This means he has to deal with him.

Kazeshini is chasing Hisagi across the Seireitei over the roof tops. But eventually they talk. Kazeshini heard a voice. This voice told him to follow his instincts. Kazeshini's instinct is to reap lives. The chase continues through the forest. Hisagi dislikes his Zanpakutou and disagrees with what it stands for. If his spirit ends up being killed and his Zanpakutou disappears, he doesn't care. Kazeshini feels the same about Hisagi. Sneaking up from behind he cuts him down.

After another fight that ends with Renji's defeat, his spirits now call him a coward. Saru explains that they know everything about Renji. Renji gave something up very dear to him, meaning Rukia. He desperately tried to get it back. But he still doesn't have confidence in himself. She wonders, will Renji get serious if they beat her up and hold her in front of his face? The reason why Renji can't harm them is called weakness.

Saru and Hebi want to leave after Renji has been thrown through the wall of another building. But Renji's voice stops them. They should not leave until they have truly beaten him. Saru knows that Renji fears losing his own power should he defeat them. Renji ends up being hit again and again. He wonders what he should do.

Renji wonders what he did all his life, what he was aiming at. He remembers Ichigo and what he said. Ichigo said that he fights in order to protect. And then the image of a stern, proud, serious man appears in Renji's mind: Byakuya.

The fight between Muramasa and Shirosaki intensifies. Muramasa eventually decides to hurry things along. He is reaching out with his powers to Shirosaki, warping reality. Shirosaki seems to be held with invisible bonds, unable to move no matter how hard he struggles. And suddenly Ichigo discovers what is happening here. Lying on the skyscraper, looking at the reflection in the windows above him he sees the energy bonds coming from Muramasa that are ensnaring Shirosaki.

Muramasa explains that Shirosaki is just a Hollow. He can disappear. Shirosaki is helpless, looking up in fear as Muramasa summons his sword. Ichigo is getting up, holding his sword and facing Muramasa. He tells him that he can't let him have his way any further. Shirosaki is confused. Why is Ichigo protecting him? Ichigo explains, this is just who he is. And Shirosaki is a part of him. Now that Old Man Zangetsu is gone, he doesn't know what Shirosaki plans to do with him. He also doesn't know what he wants to do with himself. But there is one thing to do - and Shirosaki should know this himself.

Shirosaki may have been a Hollow once. But he is part of Ichigo now. What he is doing with him is his business. Muramasa, on the other hand, is a stranger. And Muramasa is wondering what Ichigo is. Ichigo's answer is very interesting. As he said it already so often, he is not a Shinigami. He is a human being. Looking back in hindsight, this is indeed Ichigo's driving force and what shaped him. The world of the living is Ichigo's first home. The Soul Society is his second.

Renji is gathering his strength, his willpower. Yes, maybe his Zanpakutou spirits are right that he is weak. But he doesn't have time to ramble on about such rubbish. Renji wants to become strong. That is all. At the same time Ichigo tells Muramasa that he will take himself back. The only way to do that is by getting Old Man Zangetsu back even if it means destroying him. Renji announces that there is someone he has to defeat. Therefore he has to become strong, whatever the cost.

The anime shows beautifully how Ichigo and Renji's thoughts are in synch at this moment. It also reflects how much these two friends are alike. Both of them are determined: They can't afford to lose. Renji draws his sword, calling Zabimaru. And it changes form! Saru and Hebi are stunned. Ichigo is lifting his sword, pointing it at Muramasa.

Ichigo is channelling his spiritual pressure into his sword, facing Muramasa with pure willpower. It is so strong that Muramasa is forced to retreat, leaving Ichigo's mind. They are now facing each other outside, in the Soul Society. Ichigo runs towards Muramasa but suddenly Old Man Zangetsu appears, blocking his sword with his own. Ichigo announces that he will fight him to get him back. OMZ is revealing what he wants. He wants to find out who is truly the strongest, Ichigo or him, his Zanpakutou spirit.

Silvery bluish spiritual energy is emerging from OMZ, spiraling around him and then reaching out. It fits in hindsight. This is the spiritual energy of a Quincy. Shirosaki talks to Ichigo. Ichigo can't fight now the way he usually does because his blade is empty. Therefore Shirosaki is prepared to lend him his powers. Looking at this development now, in hindsight, I find this very interesting indeed.

Shirosaki adds that if he fills the void in Ichigo's sword, Ichigo can't use the power of his mask. Also that makes sense in hindsight because the mask originates from White. With Shirosaki stepping in as the Hollow power, White's access is blocked.

OMZ calls for his Bankai. He has no such restrictions. His Getsuga Tenchou is as powerful as ever. Now Ichigo calls for his Bankai. Nothing happens. OMZ points out that without him, he can't use his Bankai. Shirosaki is ready. Ichigo calls for Getsuga Tenchou.

Saru and Hebi continue their fight against Renji. Renji is determined to beat sense into both of them. Although his spirits recognize that he got is fighting spirit back, they are far from convinced that this will be enough to beat them.

Hisagi is badly wounded. He is unable to fight. Kazeshini laughs, lifting his blade and strikes. But a different blade is stopping it. Kira is protecting Hisagi. He explains that he considers a Zanpakutou spirit killing his owner as a sick joke. Hisagi is conscious but barely able to move. Kira explains that he did not only come to help him. Their job is to stop the Zanpakutou rebellion. Now Kira and Kazeshini fight. But Kira had no intention to try to defeat him. He uses a kido spell to trap Kazeshini in a sticky web, picks up Hisagi and disappears using Shunpo.

Renji's sword achieved its Shikai form no matter that it is empty. Saru and Hebi admit that they didn't expect it that Renji could use them so well. But he won't defeat them. Both spirits disappear in a cloud. Renji hears the command Bankai. In hindsight, this scene makes a lot of sense. Hebi has changed into the snake. Saru stands unchanged in the middle with the snake moving around her. It shows that Renji's first Bankai was indeed only supported by one of his spirits, the snake. Hebi is following the commands Saru is giving him.

Muramasa retreated, leaving Ichigo and Old Man Zangetsu alone but he keeps watching. OMZ wanted to see which one of them is stronger. Ichigo wonders why. It would mean that he doesn't really want to leave him. OMZ`s only desire was to make him stronger. Now he has nothing left to teach him. Whether Ichigo can surpass him is up to him. Ichigo understands. In order to get Zangetsu back he has to hit him with everything he has got and show him how strong he is. OMZ agrees. This is precisely what he wants. Before Ichigo starts, Shirosaki smirks in his mind, warning Ichigo that he is difficult to handle.

Renji has to find out that his Shikai is no match for her Bankai. (The anime actually said "her"). While Renji is thinking, Hebi changes back and the Bankai snake disappears. They are amused. Saru states that Renji has no brains and therefore thinking about it is pointless. Of all his weaknesses, his intelligence is the weakest.

His weakness... Renji looks at his hand. There is something else he can try. Renji is using Kido. Kido is indeed not something he is good at but that doesn't stop him. His red energy balls sometimes explode into his face but Renji keeps both spirits on the move. Hebi grabs Renji's sword. It is in Shikai mode but the segments are barely connected. Shortly afterwards they become undone during the fight. Renji smiles. Another command turns these segments into blades, entering both spirits violently. They are defeated and return into Renji's Zanpakutou: Renji has won.

Ichigo and Shirosaki are in synch now. Ichigo fires a Getsuga Tenchou as well: It is white, the features of a Hollow face with gleaming red eyes appears just before the mouth opens as if it wants to swallow the dark Getsuga Tenchou Zangetsu is firing. It is an amazing sight. Shirosaki laughs in Ichigo's mind. He can't let his host die. OMZ is struggling, amazed. Ichigo is not even using his Bankai! Ichigo and Shirosaki are redoubling their efforts. The Hollow skull appears again, bigger, more prominent. And this time the mouth swallows OMZ completely. They have won. (The images remind me a lot of the scene so much later when the spirit of White was about to devour Masaki in the flashback).

Zangetsu returned into Ichigo's blade. And now Ichigo will fight Muramasa. Muramasa is curious. He wonders if he had any misgivings about destroying his Zanpakutou. The answer is no. Ichigo explains that OMZ is a part of him. He would definitely take in his power. There is no way he can cower from battle and turn his back on him. This is their bond. Muramasa's features start to blur and he is obviously unwell. He has to leave. Before he does he repeats what Ichigo said, that their bond is their strength. He finds this very interesting.

As soon as Muramasa left, Old Man Zangetsu appears in front of Ichigo. Ichigo immediately asks him if he is all right. OMZ is fine now. He is free of Muramasa's mind control. At the same time Renji is addressing his spirits in his sword. Maybe he is weak. But as long as he has the desire for strength he can become stronger. He will definitely become stronger. Suddenly Renji hears voices coming from his sword. Both of them came to the conclusion that Renji is not bad. They came to their senses. They won't continue this silly battle any more.

OMZ thinks about Muramasa and his powers. It appears he was controlling Zanpakutou spirits by awakening their urges and inciting them. All the other Zanpakutou are most likely also under Muramasa's control. OMZ tells Ichigo that he saved him this time and Ichigo adds that his other self helped too. OMZ wonders what Ichigo is going to do. To Ichigo, the answer is obvious: He is going after Muramasa.

Where ever Muramasa disappeared to, it is dark, barren and for some reason the location looks narrow and depressing to me. Blood is running out of his eyes. His body is unstable. He is thinking of Ichigo Kurosaki. He might be the one.

Ichigo is meeting with Shunsui, Ukitake and Unohana, sharing what he learned. Shortly afterwards Renji joins the meeting, accompanied by his two Zanpakutou spirits. Hebi wants some fun and the result is a merry chase around the table until Renji slides over the table by accident, nearly into Unohana's face. Unohana smiles. She is glad that Renji is so energetic but he should better stop behaving like a child. Renji understands the threat behind her friendly advice very well. Scared and sweating he retreats from the table.

A few Zanpakutou spirits relax in the cave next to the lake. They are exchanging news and make plans. Others are busy bickering with each other. Everybody calms down when Muramasa returns. Hozukimaru (Ikkaku's spirit) heard that he let a Shinigami go away. Muramasa explains that Ichigo Kurosaki has a special power. Kazeshini is not convinced. He is just a substitute Shinigami. Should he appear in front of him, he would shred him to pieces. Muramasa has different plans. No, if possible he wants to capture Ichigo alive. Everybody gathered doesn't mind. It will be an interesting challenge.

Omaeda is munching rice crackers while being on patrol with a few men from his squad. Suddenly he trips and falls. He fell over an unconscious Shinigami. A few Shinigami have been knocked out by a mysterious figure just a short time ago. Several knocked out Shinigami are suddenly flying past Omeada. This time it is obvious who did it: Hozukimaru and another Shinigami spirit, Gegetsuburi. Also Gegetsuburi is munching rice crackers. They look at each other intently. Omaeda and Gegetsuburi are delighted to meet each other. And I must agree with Omaeda: Gegetsuburi is very obviously his Zanpakutou spirit.

It doesn't take long and the enthusiastic welcome tips over to bickering. Gegetsuburi is summoning his weapon, the spiked ball with chain. Omaeda is determined to make him surrender to him. Gegetsuburi is ready. Omaeda is welcome to try. He orders Hozukimaru to stay out of this fight, something he would have done anyway.

Matters take an unexpected turn. Ichigo, accompanied by Ikkaku, had kicked in the wall and the piece of wall hit Omaeda, knocking him out and into the next building. Ikkaku thinks that this is no big deal. It was just Omaeda after all. Hozukimaru recognizes Ikkaku immediately and attacks him. Ikkaku wants proof that Hozukimaru is who he appears to be. He challenges him to a test. Both of them are performing the lucky dance. They both do it very well - it was very funny to watch and it definitely helped to reinforce their bond. Now they are fighting. Both of them share the same morals, believe in the same rules. This will be a fair fight.

Meanwhile Gegetsuburi is attacking Ichigo. Ichigo discovers quickly that Gegetsuburi is not a believer in a fair fight. All that counts is to win. While fighting, Ikkaku and Hozukimaru drifted away from Ichigo. A dust cloud is covering their surroundings. Ichigo can't see that Hozukimaru is calling for his Bankai. Also, Gegetsuburi is keeping Ichigo occupied.
Ichigo knocks Gegetsuburi out using his own spiked ball against him. Hozukimaru is about to use his Bankai mode against Ikkaku. But a commanding voice stops everyone in his tracks. Soi Fon arrived with several people from her stealth force. Shunsui and Ukitake are among them as well. Hozukimaru has enough. He escapes. Gegetsuburi is being captured. One of Soi Fon's people asks if he should be handed over to Omaeda. Omaeda is still unconsious. Ukitake suggests to hand over Gegetsuburi to the department of research and development. Soi Fon agrees.

Ichigo did not lose sight of Hozukimaru and runs after him. He is getting closer. But suddenly Hozukimaru is getting help. A cloud of pink blade petals attacks Ichigo. It is obviously Senbonzakura. Ichigo has to stop and deal with them. Hozukimaru has gone but for a moment Ichigo notices someone else nearby on a roof: Byakuya left, using Shunpo.

While Ichigo is running into the forest close to the Seireitei, looking for Byakuya Muramasa is wandering in a different forest. This is the Forest of Menos, a place in Hueco Mundo that was introduced in a filler story. I intend to write about that filler at a later time. This forest is where the Menos Grande live as well as many other Hollows. The trees are huge, growing through a layer of sand high up and some tips emerge as barren twigs on the surface.

The Forest of Menos is a dark place with hungry Hollows hidden all around him. Muramasa is exhausted, barely able to walk. Each Hollow attacking him ends up being cut down by his sword, disintegrating and Muramasa is absorbing its spiritual energy. More and more Hollows end up that way. It is not enough. But then Muramasa is meeting a very humanoid Hollow with a glowing red spiritual aura. Yes, this is what he has been looking for.

Haineko and Tobiume are walking in the same forest Ichigo ran into. They are looking for Hyorinmaru. He is so handsome but he is also shy. Both are soon bickering about looks and men when they are interrupted with the arrival of Senbonzakura. He is looking for Muramasa but Haineko and Tobiume can't help him. But maybe they can do something for Muramasa when he returns. Muramasa is very interested in Ichigo and he just ran past them. Tobiume decides to go after him, having some fun.

While continuing their bickering Ichigo is being chased. He really has no time for this but Haineko and Tobiume want him. Suddenly a voice calls out from a tree, telling both Zanpakutou spirits that this is enough. Matsumoto and Momo are joining Ichigo. They want to trade. They need to defeat their spirits. Ichigo gladly agrees, moving on.

Haineko explains that it is great to be free. When she is with an old lady like Matsumoto she starts to feel old herself. And Tobiume no longer wants to be with a Shinigami who is so weak. Haineko's taunting is having no effect on Matsumoto. She is amused and responds in kind in order to get her spirit to be careless. Momo on the other hand loses her cool when Tobiume rubs in her weakness called Aizen. Both parties fight hard.

Ichigo reaches a rocky area. Somebody is here and soon he is being attacked by icy tentacles. They turn into small dragons. Soon afterwards he sees Hyorinmaru standng on a rock formation. It should have been obvious who this spirit is but Ichigo is not connecting the dots properly. Hyorinmaru shows interest when he learns that the stranger in front of him is a Bankai user and his sword is fully functional. Hyorinmaru is sad. He can't remember who his master is and what his name is. After locking Ichigo into an ice prison he walks away.

Tobiume is determined to beat into Momo the realities of life. She knows, if Momo continues like this she will self destruct. And Haineko tells Matsumoto that she should be aware of one fact: Women have an expiration date. She should stop believing that she is beautiful. Matsumoto is definitely past the expiration date. Both spirits are in for a surprise: Matsumoto and Momo were working as a team. After they are tied up, unable to fight any more, their masters give them a lesson in return.

Momo explains to both spirits that she wants to grow old. Being young is not appealing. Being young means that your heart is shallow. So whenever you admire someone or are betrayed, you feel as if you are flying or drowning. Your emotions get the better of you and you lose sight of where you belong. Growing old means that your heart is gaining depth. You are able to step away from your wild emotions and keep those thoughts of flying or sinking within you. "Expiration date" sounds shallow. Don't use it when referring to a woman's age.

I like Momo's speech. I am not a fan of her character but this moment was beautifully written. Matsumoto liked it too but maybe she was right: Children like them simply can't understand.

Hyorinmaru is not walking far. Hitsugaya found him and gives him the answers. But Hyorinmaru is not believing him. He doubts it that a child can be his master. Hitsugaya is shocked when he learns that Hyorinmaru lost all his memories when he was released from his master. Right now he is working for Muramasa but his goal is to find his real master. If Hitsugaya is his master, Hyorinmaru needs proof. Both of them start to fight.

The first round ends in a draw. Hitsugaya asks his spirit what his desire is. He wants to know what his soul wants. Hyorinmaru can at least answer that question. What he wants is a place he can call his own. In other words, he wants a home.

A home... Hitsugaya's thoughts return to his memories of his home, a story that is, by the way, not filler but is based on a manga short story. Young Hitsugaya lived in the Rukongai in an isolated house together with his grandmother. People avoided him. He was different and he didn't have the skills and confidence to make a connection. His grandmother gave him money to buy some sweets and Hitsugaya went into the village shop.

The shopkeeper served the boy but was very impolite, making it very clear that he wants him out of his shop. Matsumoto happened to be a customer as well. She gave the man a lesson in good manners, pointing out that she had no idea that this shop lacks common courtesy. Afterwards she picked up the boy from the floor, scolding him for crying instead of giving that man a piece of his own mind. Hitsugaya denied that he cried and ran off.

Since recently Hitsugaya heard voices and felt a strong presence at night. He can see an ice dragon. He is trying to tell him something but the boy is not able to hear the full message. One day Hitsugaya woke up and looked into Matsumoto's face. She tells him that he has to come with her to the Seireitei or his grandmother will eventually die. Looking at his sleeping and shivering grandmother Matsumoto explained that he has to learn how to control his powers. He has to become a Shinigami.

It was a hard decision. The boy Hitsugaya cried but his grandmother understood, stroking his hair and smiling. And Hitsugaya made himself a new home, a place where he belongs. He is no longer isolated and he will do anything he can to help Hyorinmaru to return to his home.

Hitsugaya demonstrates that he can use Hyorinmaru's power, forming a dragon. He doesn't know what will happen when he uses it in Shikai mode but they will both find out now. Wrapped into an ice dragon Hitsugaya propels himself at his Zanpakutou spirit. While Ichigo finally manages to break free, Hyorinmaru and Hitsugaya are surrounded by ice. Hitsugaya urges his spirit to remember. And he remembers the special day when he could finally hear the name of his Zanpakutou spirit. Hyorinmaru does remember now. He found his master. The ice cover blows outwards, away and Hyorinmaru emerges, carrying his master, a captain who looks like a boy, in his arms. He is sleeping now. Both are smiling, happy. I believe their bond even grew stronger after what happened.

Omaeda is running to the department of research and development. He discovers that Mayuri tied Gegetsuburi around a pillar and gagged him with sticky tape. Nemu is standing next to them, not saying a word. Omaeda is upset while Mayuri just points out that he is going to use this "sample" to find out what caused the Zanpakutou rebellion. Mayuri was about to cut Gegetsuburi open with a saw but Omaeda steps protectively in front of him, stopping Mayuri. Omaeda points out that he is the only Zanpakutou they have captured at the moment. Shouldn't he be treated a bit better?

Nemu uses one lower arm as a drill and nearly missed Omaeda. Omaeda protests. He is not the target. Shouldn't she aim at Gegetsubury instead? His spirit protests, that is obvious in spite of the gag. For Omeada, the choice is simple: It is better than getting cut open himself. After this scene that was obviously played for comedy (including cheerful music), the camera moves away after focusing on Nemu's drill. Gegetsuburi is dead. All the colour has gone from this manifestation and there is nothing left inside. Mayuri learned that when a Zanpakutou is killed by the owner, they go back to normal. But if someone else does it, this is not the case.

Mayuri's crimes used as comic relief - I can't imagine what is so funny about this scene. :(

Haineko and Tobiume are locked up in a prison wagon with bars to be transported to Squad four. A group of Shinigami take them away while Matsumoto and Momo are running to a different destination. After a forceful collision with Ichigo, they continue walking together. Both Shinigami are glad about Ichigo's good news about Hitsugaya and Hyorinmaru.

The three of them have just arrived at some ruins in the forest when Muramasa returns through a briefly visible dimensional crack. Muramasa believes that he and Ichigo might have a strong bond. This is why he is here now. Ichigo's power will be useful in achieving his goal. Muramasa's hand is reaching out to Ichigo and he is getting worried. But Old Man Zangetsu tells him not to worry. Muramasa's voice is not mind control but suggestion. It works on the subconscious but now that OMZ knows his voice, his suggestions won't work on him.

But Muramasa has another weapon, the same one he used against Shirosaki. Ichigo, Matsumoto and Momo can't move. Muramasa's spiritual pressure is unstable. Suddenly his eyes bleed again and he is coughing. His control is gone and Ichigo is immediately after him with his sword. But another sword is stopping him: It is Senbonzakura.

Somebody else is on the move. The group transporting Haineko and Tobiume feel a sudden rise in spiritual pressure. It is squad sixth's captain. Byakuya knocks all of them out and then he releases the two captives. They ask why he is doing this but there is no answer. And then Byakuya is on the move again.

Ichigo and Senbonzakura continue fighting. Senbonzakura tried to crush Ichigo in a sphere of pink blades but Ichigo survived after putting on his mask. Senbonzakura is impressed. For a moment Ichigo wonders if it is all right to kill Byakuya's Zanpakutou spirit but he quickly realizes that he has no choice - if he himself wants to survive. Their fight ends in a draw but a small part of Senbonzakura's face mask is breaking off.

Suddenly Byakuya appears. He is ordering Senbonzakura to stop the fight. Momo and Matsumoto are surprised, wondering what he is doing here. Byakuya tells Ichigo that he can't allow him to kill this man, meaning Muramasa. Ichigo demands an explanation but all Byakuya tells him is that he would never surrender to a Zanpakutou. It is his own decision. The Zanpakutou followed their desires and made their intentions known. He and many other Shinigami witnessed the Zanpakutou release themselves. This is the same thing. He is following his own desires.

His desire is to defend his pride. That is all. Byakuya warns Ichigo not to interfere with Muramasa any more. Or he will die. With these words, Byakuya is pointing his sword at him. A cloud of pink sakura blades appears and when it is gone, Ichigo, Matsumoto and Momo are alone. Ichigo is angry, calling Byakuya's name. All Byakuya did was provoking him and make Ichigo even more determined to get answers.


********​

Part 2 [LINK]
 
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Can't wait for part 2. This filler arc was better than the other fillers. There are some aspects that I really enjoyed:

1. In the ending song, we see Byakuya wearing Senbonzakura's mask, standing along with Ichigo who is wearing his own Hollow mask. I found it very aesthetically appealing.

2. I liked watching White and Ichigo working in sync. Especially after the reveal in the TYBW arc, this seems to make much more sense (The Blade IS Me).

3. I liked Sode no Shirayuki's design a lot. It resembled a Yuki Onna. Especially after looking at Hakka no Togame, Sode no Shirayuki's design seems more than appropriate.

4. I must confess that I did not like the fact that Hyorinmaru was humanoid and not an ice dragon. I, of course, enjoyed Toshiro's flashback because it was canon. But at the same time, I can't help but admit that Hyorinmaru did look very beautiful.

5. Minazuki intrigued me because its Shikai and Bankai are homonyms. Same pronunciation but different kanji. Minazuki in bankai means 'decimation/slaughter/mass-killings'. Like you said, the names of the shikai and bankai represent her dual nature.

6. And I LOVED Katen and Kyokotsu. Speaking in retrospect, I am a huge fan of Karamatsu Shinjuu, and perhaps that's why I loved those two.

7. I found Sogyo no Kotowari's design cute but a little odd, especially after the Mimihagi reveal in the TYBW arc. I mean, normally, dual blades mean that you have some kind of a different existence residing within you. In case of Shunsui, he had to hide Shinken Hakkyoken, that's why Katen gave birth to Kyokotsu. That's why he's got dual blades. In case of Ichigo, he was born with Quincy blood as well as White's influence, that's why he's got two swords. So going by that logic, I wonder why Ukitake's zanpakuto spirits look identical. They oughtn't to be, because Pisces actually consists of a mother and a son.

8. I wanted to write my opinions about Muramasa's very interesting relationship with Koga, but I'll reserve that for your second article 😊😊 It was Koga and Muramasa's dynamic and Soul Society's politics that I enjoyed the most in this arc. Koga was a good man, but Soul Society created a villain out of him. Soul Society has always created their own enemies. I hope the Hisagi novel shows us more of Soul Society's dark side.
 

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This is another fantastic article, B. Haddrell!

I haven't watched the Zanpakutou Unknown Tales anime arc, but from your review (and other comments I read), it does sound like it's a very good story arc regardless of it being filler. I can't judge how it compares to other filler arcs since I only saw a handful of episodes from the Bount arc. What makes it so different and interesting is that it covers an important theme from the source material - the relationships and interactions between Shinigami and their Zanapkuto Spirits.

I've seen most of the Zanpakuto Spirit designs and they really fit their partner Shinigami. Kubo oversaw and agreed to their designs, even using some in the manga himself. The designs I liked the most include (not in particular order) Sode no Shirayuki, Kazeshini, Senbonzakura, Katen Kyokotsu, Hyorinmaru (though I agree with scheneizel that it should've been a proper dragon instead), Zabimaru, Hozukimaru, Minazuki, Suzumebachi, Gonryomaru.

When it was said that the age of Shinigami is going to end, I wondered how would Zan Spirits get to live on their own. The answer is that they probably couldn't be completely separated. First of all, it was revealed that Muramasa would abuse the connection he would establish with a Spirit by feeding them some false information. Zan Spirits are Shinigami themselves (Blade is Me) and they're born from Asauchi (made in a process involving soul blending science). The spirits could exist alongside Shinigami (Rukia letting Sode no Shirayuki go, Kenpachi and Yachiru case), but most probably not without them.

What I liked about this arc is the relationships they established between various Shinigami and their Zanpakuto. That Ryujinjakka refused to follow Muramasa is impressive. Then you have Mayuri where it's enough to say his name and it's no longer weird why would his Zan Spirit abandon him. Kazeshini was very interesting (and now I can see some parallels between Hisagi and Tokoyami Fumikage from Boku no Hero Academia, which is interesting).

Ichigo's journey with his spirits was very interesting. Rukia's battle against Sode no Shirayuki sounded emotional and I'm glad that she realized that her Zanpakuto isn't just a tool but a partner. Hyorinmaru loosing his memories was unique and made Hitsugaya's story stand out among others.

Geniuses like Hitsugaya are rare and even he has to train a lot with his Zanpakuto Spirit. That's why I'm not surprised that Zabimaru behaved the way it did in this arc. But I also have to note that both sides, and not just in Renji's case, were impatient. The Shinigami wanted more power at basically any cost without considering that Spirits aren't tools but their very selves. On the other hand, I sensed the lack of patience with Zabimaru who constantly complained how Renji is weak and not too bright when we know that Renji tries and trains hard and that eventually he would become more powerful and earn himself respect from Zabimaru. It looks like Renji's quest to triumph over Byakuya as soon as possible made him oblivious to the "blade is me" concept.

It's almost hilarious that Kenpachi, unknowingly, used the right method from the beginning which included being a buddy with your Zan Spirit, forming a proper relationship through conversation and not violence. Sure, training with your Spirit in your inner world is alright, but "beating it into submission" sounds so wrong. Back to Zaraki, it's just amazing how he achieved the ideal of Shinigami - Zan Spirit relationships, just the really long way around. I do hope that Yachiru still has her freedom to get out of Zaraki's inner world if she wants. Now it might be a good idea for Zaraki to explore his inner world.

Also, it's so nice that Yoruichi, Urahara and Uryuu appeared in this arc. Byakuya's quest is also interesting. I don't know everything there is about it, but know some details that should be covered in part 2 and that explain Byakuya's behavior in part 1.

That's about all I can say without dragging this too long. The original article is such an interesting read and once again, it's no wonder why the Zanpakuto Unknown Tales is a popular anime-only arc. :thumbs
 
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Thank you for your interesting replies, Scheneizel and Polgarena! :)

Scheneizel, it never occurred to me to compare Ichigo's and Senbonzakura's masks. This is indeed a very good, interesting point.

Damaging a mask during emotional scenes is a very old trick to make it easier for the viewer to emotionally connect with the character. People first of all look at the face and especially the eyes. I have noticed this more than once in Spider-Man stories.

I know, Shirosaki is not an official name but this name invented by parts of the fandom fits perfectly. Ichigo's inner world is very complicated but my understanding is that Shirosaki and White are not the same. Shirosaki and Ichigo agreed that Ichigo is the King and Shirosaki is the Horse. They are a team. White is an intruder who moved over from Masaki into her son when she died. White only takes over when Ichigo is dead. With Ichigo's death also Shirosaki is dead. They are a unit. Therefore Shirosaki keeps making the point that he can't allow Ichigo to die. He is his host.

I think the point was to show the Zanpakutou spirits in a human form. This is why the first design of Renji's spirit was changed. They all have human faces and as "real" people you can find an emotional connection with. Therefore I think the choice was correct to also change Hyorinmaru into a person. He appeared frequently in dragon form too. I think it was a good mix.

Koga - yes, I intend to write a lot about him in the next article. Let me just say for now that I disagree with your opinion: Koga was a villain, a really nasty person who only has himself to blame for what became of him.

Polgarena, the Zanpakutou arc is special to me as well. I love the designs and it is a touching, thought provoking story.

Zanpakutou spirits are representing the fighting abilities of the Shinigami. That this aspect is also most important when it comes to the Shinigami, in one way or the other, is understandable and part of their nature. Even if the Shinigami is not that strong, yet, Renji is a good example that effort also counts. Also this is a way to gain respect. I smiled when both of them said they came to the conclusion that Renji is "not bad". That Renji is working hard and that there is room for improvement, that is good enough. Nevertheless, Renji's Bankai stayed incomplete for quite a while longer.

Ichigo's human friends have a bigger part later in the story. I also welcomed it that it was much more than an Ichigo & Rukia show. And like you, I hope Yachiru still exists, also as the person we got to know her.
 
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Polgarena

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Interesting post once again. :D

Ichigo's bizzare soul components are always food for thought. We know that Shirosaki (Hollow Ichigo Zangetsu, the one that exists alongside Old Man Zangetsu in Ichigo's inner world) was born as a result of Whitey jumping to a new host from Masaki to Ichigo and blending with Ichigo's Shinigami heritage.

You mentioned that Whitey takes over only when Ichigo is dead. This is how I think the process works. When Ichigo is dead, traces of what's left of Whitey's pure essence react as a result of imbalance, taking over Ichigo in order to find a new stable host. In that aspect Whitey isn't Shirosaki. Whitey is a parasite and Shirosaki is (one of) Ichigo's Zanpakuto Spirit(s).

Now about Zanpakuto Spirits again. Zanpakuto is a weapon. It is a sword, but not just a tool meant for killing. Zan Spirits do represent the fighting abilities of their Shinigami and they're also reflections of the Shinigami themselves (their personalities, motives, urges, ideals). Willster328 would always say something like "judge the Shinigami through their Zanpakuto Spirits" and he was always correct. Sure, he wasn't the only one following that idea, but in my memory, Willster328 was the most vocal one, haha.

The fact that Renji still had to wait a long time for his true Bankai is understandable. This story arc we're discussing is an anime-only. Plus, neither the Arrancar nor the Fullbringer arcs were appropriate for that development, and once the final arc was reached Kubo finally gave his true Bankai to an always hard-working Renji. The method (in video game terminology "a cheat" through Royal Guard's help) was tricky and not widely acclaimed within the fandom because such fast pace training sessions hardly ever are.

But, I'm glad that Renji still got his true Bankai because now he can prove his worth to Zabimaru while using it.
 
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