Bleach Thousand-Year Blood War arc entered its 2nd week, and the fans finally got the official opening and ending songs and animations. Plot-wise, the arc seems to take the in-medias res approach, as we have already witnessed the beginning of the conflict between Quincies and the Shinigami in the first episode, as the Wandenreich declared war on Soul Society.
In episode one, a devastating incident took place in Soul Society, and it took the lives of many subordinates within Gotei 13, but also that of Sasakibe Choujiro. The unidentified intruders that appeared out of the blue slaughtered 116 1st division members who guarded the Kokuryo Gate, and made an appearance in Captain-Commander’s chambers.
It was there that they declared war to Soul Society in the presence of Yamamoto Genryusai, mere seconds after Sasakibe’s body flew into the room and was impaled to the wall by a ray of blue light – a characteristic of the Quincy weapons and abilities. At the beginning of episode 2, we learn about all that happened through a report from the Department of Research and Development.
While the anime honors the late Vice-Captain of the 1st Division in the most subtle and heartwarming way, the depth of his loyalty and devotion remained veiled to those who have not read the manga.
Sasakibe’s connection to the Captain-Commander of Gotei 13 was partially revealed during Kuchiki Byakuya’s conversation with Abarai Renji just before the official funeral which we saw in the episode. This is taking place in chapter 486 of the manga, and quite accordingly, it is the pride and honor-driven Kuchiki Byakuya who sheds light on the late Vice-Captain’s legacy.
From his monologue, we learn that Sasakibe was, in fact, one of the strongest Shinigami in Soul Society. As told by Byakuya, he was meant to become a captain, for he has mastered his Bankai before both Shunsui Kyouraku and Jushiro Ukitake did. However, Sasakibe never used his ability in front of others, and he never sought to obtain a position of a Captain or even just a substitute of a Captain’s authority, which was the role Hisagi Shuuhei and Kira Izuru embodied after Ichimaru Gin and Sosuke Aizen’s betrayal.
Due to the records showing that Sasakibe never took part in battles, he was oftentimes insulted by other Shinigami who treated him as a mere Sekikan, aka a Seated Officer. However, his resolve and loyalty never faltered, and he persisted in remaining a Vice-Captain, serving under Yamamoto Genryusai. His pledge was to serve as a Vice-Captain for as long as Yamamoto Genryusai was alive, and this was the notion honoured by the poignant, emotive scene just before Genryusai gave the order for the fire to be lit at the funeral.
Another detail the anime honoured very subtly is Sasakibe actually using his Bankai in the 1st episode. Just before an officer rushes into Captain-Commander’s office to report about the intruders in Soul Society, Yamamoto utters a beginning of a sentence about Sasakibe that he never actually finishes. Mere seconds later, Sasakibe’s impaled body hangs from the wall of the office, and once the intruders have retreated, Sasakibe ushers to warn Genryusai about the enemy’s ability to steal Bankai. Looking back on Byakuya’s words from chapter 486, a man of character like Sasakibe Choujiro used his Bankai in a fight for the first time and died.
There is more insight given in regard to the bond shared between Genryusai and Sasakibe in chapter 504, as Genryusai himself reminisces during the invasion that is already set in motion by that point in time, so perhaps this is where the anime will grant this powerful bond, brimming with pride, respect, and loyalty the spotlight it surely deserves.