As far as Bleach characters go, Ichigo Kurosaki is, of course, the most important character as he is the protagonist and main hero of the story who always ends up saving the day. Initially, he was introduced as a yanki-type character, but Ichigo evolves gradually throughout the series to become a truly noble character with a lot of depth. As his story evolved, his powers and abilities evolved as well, and by the time the story ended, Ichigo had gone through several phases and transformations, with each of them giving him more powers and new ones as well. This is going to be the topic of our article.
Ichigo finally reached his final Bankai form during the war against the Quincy when Oetsu Nimaiya reforged his blade into its true form. After merging his powers, he activated his Bankai’s final form, which he used to defeat Yhwach.
Everyone knows that one of Ichigo’s most loyal companions was his Zanpakuto, Zangetsu, whose Bankai form he achieved in just three days, a peculiarity in the Bleach world. But, with Ichigo’s Bankai changing several times during the series, we decided to explain these forms to you and give you a proper answer to the questions that had been bugging you.
Due to various reasons, Ichigo’s Bankai is unique in the world of Bleach, and it helped shape him as a character as well
The Bankai of Zangetsu and thus its ultimate form is called “Tensa Zangetsu.” Everyone knows that. It took Ichigo only three days of training to reach this level, thanks to an invention by Kisuke Urahara. During this training, Ichigo had to choose his sword from among many hundreds while, at the same time, fighting Old Man Zangetsu because only with the real sword could he defeat the spirit of his Zanpakutō.
In the end, he succeeded by finding Zangetsu within himself as he realized that Zangetsu was a part of him.
Tensa Zangetsu has a rather unusual appearance, which is yet another of its specific traits. Namely, the Bankai usually looks impressive on many Zanpakutōs and is usually larger than the Shikai. With Ichigo, on the other hand, it’s the other way around – in the Bankai form, Zangetsu becomes both smaller and narrower than before, becoming a daitō, a Japanese longsword, all black in color, with a chain at the end instead of the ribbon, and a guard plate in the shape of a manji, which has the same shape as the kanji 卍 (which actually means “ban,” about full).
On top of that, it has to be said that the Bankai changes Ichigo’s attire in a very special way. Namely, the clothing shows how much Reiatsu Ichigo possesses: when it sinks during an exhausting fight, certain parts of the clothing become less resistant, and the fabric progressively dissolves; when his reiatsu is restored, the clothing is also restored.
So, when Byakuya Kuchiki faced Ichigo for the third time, he didn’t actually believe Ichigo had reached the Bankai, believing that it was impossible to do in just three days and that the appearance of his blade was far too ordinary. But, despite the unusual appearance, Tensa Zangetsu’s abilities should not be underestimated. As noted by Byakuya, Ichigo’s Bankai is a concentration of his power rather than an unfolding, unlike other Bankai, which induce large growths in ability.
This “compression” of reiatsu, as Byakuya described, enables Ichigo to move at speeds exceeding that of ordinary Shunpo and gives him proportionate agility and reflexes, thus allowing him to push his natural strength to the limit. Additionally, it enables Ichigo to use Tensa Zangetsu longer than other Shinigami of a similar level because compression retains more power than a release, which actually makes a lot of sense.
But, Ichigo’s initial inexperience with his Bankai wasn’t all that pleasant, as he wasn’t really used to the pressure. Namely, the compression caused all of his bones to snap, as White Ichigo remarked, as Ichigo was not used to such powerful pressure, which lowered his power levels in general. But, it seems that Ichigo was able to surpass this. These general remarks aside, we have to note that Ichigo’s Bankai also changed over time, as did Ichigo himself.
The first time it changed was after he Learned the final Getsuga Tenshō. He lacked footwear and a right sleeve but had a black right glove and a black chain around his arm. The manji guard had grown quite a bit, as did his Reiatsu. As a result, his physical abilities improved greatly.
The second time it changed was after Ichigo regained his Shinigami powers and mastered Fullbring. In this phase of his evolution, he donned a small armor under his cloak, which showed three crosses in the cutout. Furthermore, Zangetsu itself looked more like a long saber, and the guard plate had sharper points.
Finally, during the war against Yhwach, the Bankai changed again after Ichigo had his sword broken by the Quincy and then reforged by Nimaiya. This is his final form. Tensa Zangetsu now resembles Zangetzu’s Shikai after regaining his Shinigami abilities. The blade now has an extension that is about as long as the handle, and a chain is attached to the end of this and is also attached to the upper part of Tensa Zangetsu.
As you can see, Ichigo’s journey with the Bankai was difficult because every step in that process was just a small piece of the final puzzle. This is why his Bankai kept changing over the course of the series. It never actually reached its final form until the very end, and that is why each new change also caused a change in form.
Plus, it was a narrative way of showing Ichigo’s evolution as a character. Sometimes, these changes were more obvious, while at other times, they were more subtle. Ichigo’s changes fall into the latter category, although not exclusively, as several “forms” of Ichigo have changed his appearance, as well as his Zanpakuto. But, the physical changes of the Bankai were more obvious, even when Ichigo remained Ichigo.