The Quincy Blood War was a truly complex fight for the Shinigami, as Yhwach and his Sternritter really pushed the Shinigami to their limits. The members of the Gotei 13 had to surpass their own limits over time, and in that aspect, they also discovered some new and amazing powers. These changes also affected some well-known Bankai in the series, which is why this article will finally explain whether a Bankai can change form or not in Bleach.
Intrinsically, a Bankai cannot change its core form, but it can change its shape and it can become more powerful alongside its user. The Bankai is a complex technique, and it requires a lot of effort to be fully mastered, which is why it not unusual that it changes slightly over time as the user discovers new abilities of his Bankai. If a Bankai does, indeed, change form, this just means that the user did not activate the true form of their Bankai, as Renji and Ichigo did. Mayuri Kurotsuchi is also able to modify its Bankai, but this is a unique case, and he still cannot change its core, only its manifestation.
The rest of this article is going to focus on the Bankai, as you might have deduced for yourselves. We are going to explain the nature and importance of a Bankai, through which you will understand its core. Based on that, we are going to further elaborate on the evolution of a character’s own individual Bankai and how it can or cannot change. The article might contain some spoilers, though, so be careful how you approach certain sections of this article over the course of reading.
The very nature of a Bankai is quite complex and in order to fully master it, one needs to be completely in sync with it
The Zanpakuto is a Shinigami’s primary weapon. It is a blade with special abilities that holds a Spirit that corresponds to the user in one way or another. There are several types of Zanpakuto, but most of them look like normal katanas, but there are others that look like other bladed weapons.
The Zanpakuto has two releases – the Shikai and the Bankai. The Shikai changes the shape of a Zanpakuto and it gives the users some additional powers, while the Bankai is the peak of a Shinigami’s abilities, as it provides a Shinigami with some absolutely amazing powers and abilities. Since the Bankai is the focus of this article, we are going to explain it first.
Bankai (卍解) is the second and final form of a Zanpakutō. At this stage, the sword’s power usually increases many times over, and its appearance often changes dramatically. Normally, a Shinigami only uses the Bankai in extreme emergencies. Unlike Shikai, this one doesn’t have an activation phrase, although most say “Bankai.” The Bankai of a Zanpakutō often manifests the spirit inherent in the sword itself.
Usually, only Captains have reached the Bankai level, but there are a few Lieutenants and officers who have achieved it. For example, Rukia Kuchiki, achieved it while she was only a Lieutenant in the 13th Division. Renji Abarai, Lieutenant of the 6th Division; Chōjirō Sasakibe, Lieutenant of the 1st Division; Shuhei Hisagi, the Lieutenant of the 9th Divison, or Ikkaku Madarame, as the 3rd Seat of the 11th Lieutenant.
However, not only does the strength and appearance of the Shinigami change, but also that of the ghost. In Zangetsu’s case (and according to Isshin, Engetsu’s too), Zanpakuto’s personality also became very aggressive.
It seems that a Shinigami must conquer the spirit of its Bankai in its inner world before it unleashes its true powers. In order to attain this level, one must be able to make the Zanpakutō’s spirit appear in the real world and subdue it there. This usually takes more than ten years, but thanks to the Tenshintai, an invention of Kisuke Urahara, Ichigo Kurosaki achieved his Bankai in under three days.
According to Yoruichi Shihōin, the Bankai increases the power of the Zanpakutō five to ten times, depending on the nature and level of training of the user. However, maintaining it takes a lot of strength, and when the wielder of the Zanpakutō is near death, the Bankai disappears.
A Bankai can also be dangerous to the user, so prolonged use is not recommended. During the fight against Ichimaru, Ichigo said that a Bankai can stop another Bankai, so it’s safe to assume that a Bankai’s blades are very strong.
However, Renji justified this theory in his fight with Byakuya. According to him, the Bankai’s weapon is directly connected to the wielder’s Reiatsu, which is why Renji could slice his giant snake, and the individual segments are also extremely durable. A better example of this aspect is the Bankai Tensa Zangetsu, which consists of only the sword and cloak and often repelled the most violent attacks without suffering the slightest nick.
In conclusion, however, it must be said that another Bankai can only be stopped if you have enough Reiatsu yourself, such as Aizen, who can also stop Komamura’s and Ichigo’s Bankai with his bare hands. The Bankai can be destroyed and somewhat repaired, but it will no longer have the full extent of its strength, and only if it wasn’t fully destroyed. Only Akon was able to repair Ikkaku’s Hozukimaru after he took a lot of damage in the Bankai state, but the Bankai wasn’t completely destroyed.
If a Bankai is completely destroyed, as Mayuri Kurotsuchi explained to Ichigo, it cannot be repaired, and has to be reforged by Oetsu Nimaiya. This is also one of the main reasons why a Shinigami should only use his Bankai in an emergency; otherwise, you run the risk of permanently damaging or losing your Zanpakuto.
As you can see, a Bankai is a more or less fixed technique, as it doesn’t really change that much. Sure, it can become stronger, or a user can develop new attacks, but the Bankai won’t change its appearance or abilities. Yet, in the series, we have seen several examples of an altered Bankai.
First of all, some of the Bankai were changed after being temporarily Hollowfied by Urahara so that the Captains could get them back, but this was an insignificant change. In Ichigo’s case, the Bankai did change drastically, but only in terms of the blade’s appearance; Ichigo initially had a one-bladed Zanpakuto, which later became a two-bladed one.
But, the nature of his Bankai remained unchanged. Komamura’s Bankai also changed significantly after he became a human, but this was due to a special technique, and it really did not change significantly – it only lost the armor, activating its true potential. Renji’s Bankai also changed, but this was explained by the fact that Renji had not activated his real Bankai, which he ultimately did after training in Hyosube’s Riden. Finally, Mayuri Kurotsuchi’s Bankai also changed, but this was an intended modification that didn’t change Ashisogi Jizo’s core but its appearance by adding a new, more powerful technique.
So, as you can see, all of these changes did happen, but none of them actually changed the core of a Bankai, only some details. This actually does confirm that a Bankai cannot change, at least not in its core, as all these Bankai remained the same. If a Bankai, such as in Renji’s case, changes significantly, then that only means that the user activated their true Bankai at that moment and that the former version wasn’t the user’s true Bankai. But, to conclude, a Bankai cannot, indeed, change its base form.