Again, I will never stop being dumbfounded by the fact that the era of the Big 3 is once again upon us. You’re telling me that in the year of our Lord 2022, we not only have One Piece airing, but also a Naruto Uzumaki comeback thanks to Boruto: Naruto Next Generations? That’s already wild enough. But now Bleach is coming back from the dead to grace our screens and it’s almost too much. Will I be using this as an excuse to talk smack about some of my gripes with the hit manga series? You know it!
Look, I’m not saying I have a problem with how nerfed Ichigo Kurosaki felt during the Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War arc. But you have to admit, for being the protagonist, his Bankai upgrade is so, so weak compared to the rest character roster present in the franchise. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Fans have always been skeptical of how genuinely unimpressive Ichigo’s Bankai, the Tensa Zangetsu, feels, and I have to agree. Beyond super speed, it feels like it doesn’t add much.
I mean, just take a look at all the characters and the powers their Bankai bestows upon them. I mean, Sōsuke Aizen’s Bankai, the Enma Kōrogi, could create a black hole reminiscent space that bleeds its opponents of all senses. Byakuya Kuchiki’s Bankai has the ability to go full Gilgamesh ala Fate/Zero and summon millions of other blades to rain down on his enemies. Compare the Tensa Zengetsu to that and it feels like Ichigo got the short end of the stick when it comes to Zanpakutō spirits.
Are we missing something here? Honestly, I don’t think so. We’ve talked about Bankai levels on this website before, and even there, Ichigo’s Bankai didn’t really rank high enough to justify being the main character’s special attribute. Like, you just expected more from the creature that is Hollow Ichigo. But why is that? Could there be some logical reasoning behind it? Let’s discuss that in today’s segment of Lore Analysis!
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Zanpakutō VS Bankai: Where Does The Zengetsu Spirit Lie?
So, one of the main confusions some of the newer fans had been separating the Zanpakutō, which is the sword, from the Bankai, which you could think of as a supplementary asset to the blade itself. The Zanpakutō are special blades that can summon a spirit that resides in them, and the Bankai enhances those spirits powers to new levels.
The Bankai is the final form of the Shinigami’s famed Zanpakutō and therefore, are immensely reflective of their owners’ attributes. For example, with Ichigo, his Zengetsu spirit is an amalgamation of the Hollow White that he inherited from his mother, a Quincy, and the Shinigami powers that were passed on from his dad’s side.
However, it can also manifest in the opposite form, where it feels like it’s completely ill-suited to its wielder, such as in the case of Suì-Fēng and her giant bazooka of a Bankai known as the Jakuhō Raikōben. Why is it funny? Because she is known for being very fast and agile, with a very clean style of fighting. So, to throw a giant missile launcher that causes mass destruction in her arsenal is peak character writing.
Tensa Zangetsu: A Weak Bankai Hiding Immeasurable Power
So, if Kubo-san could write interesting Bankai styles for other characters, why did it feel like the ball was dropped for the main character himself? Honestly, I don’t think there is a clear answer here. Even though Ichigo was the main Shinigami that entire franchise hinged on, his Bankai proved to be less than impressive.
Part of why the Tensa Zengetsu was weakened from its original impressive state, was to add a layer of complexity to Ichigo’s arc. After all, if you take away all the cool powers, does Ichigo still stand up to someone like Yhwach?
Turns out, he does. With or without the strong or weak Bankai powers, Ichigo manages to redeem himself and move past the setback to be the hero he was meant to be. It ends up making narrative sense, even if it ends up making fans feel underwhelmed initially.
But I do genuinely like the fact that Bleach broke a stereotype here. Just because Ichigo is front and center, doesn’t mean he gets to have all the coolest toys. Sometimes, that helps to add more dimension to a character than simply handing them the biggest sword.