As far as Bleach characters go, Ichigo Kurosaki is, of course, the most important character as he is the protagonist of the story. Initially a yanki-type of character, Ichigo evolves gradually throughout the series to become a truly noble character with a lot of depth. As his story evolves, his powers and abilities evolve as well and by the time the story ends, Ichigo will have gone through several phases and transformations, with each of them giving him more powers. One of his most loyal companions was his Zanpakuto, whose Bankai form he achieved in just three days, which was a peculiarity in the world of Bleach.
The revelation of Ichigo’s Bankai was a major moment for Bleach and since that moment, as well as the Bankai, were so special, we have decided to write an article explaining its powers and abilities to you, as well as when and how it debuted.
What is Ichigo’s Bankai, Tensa Zangetsu?
The Bankai of Zangetsu and thus its ultimate form is called “Tensa Zangetsu”. It took Ichigo only three days of training to reach this level, thanks to an invention by Kisuke Urahara. In this training, Ichigo had to choose his sword from among many hundreds in the fight against the Old Man Zangetsu, because only with it could he defeat the spirit of his Zanpakutō.
In the end, he made it by finding Zangetsu within himself as he now realized that Zangetsu is a part of him. Tensa Zangetsu is unusual in appearance because usually the Bankai looks impressive on many zanpakutōs and is usually larger than the shikai as well. With Ichigo, on the other hand, it’s the other way around, Zangetsu shrinking and narrowing, becoming a daitō, a Japanese longsword, all black, 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).
Therefore, in their third fight, Byakuya Kuchiki didn’t believe Ichigo had reached the Bankai either, believing that it would be impossible in three days and that the appearance was far too unusual. Furthermore, it can be said about the appearance that freeing the Bankai, like Renji’s Zanpakutō, changes the clothing of the user. In Ichigo’s case, he is given a long-sleeved, ankle-length black cloak similar to Old Man Zangetsu’s.
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. 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 allows Ichigo to move at speeds exceeding that of ordinary Shunpo, and gives him appropriate agility and reflexes, thus allowing him to push his natural strength to the limit. Additionally, simply compressing his abilities allows Ichigo to use Tensa Zangetsu longer than other Shinigami of a similar level use their Bankai, allowing him to use less Reiatsu in comparison from the moment of release.
Ichigo’s initial inexperience with his Bankai caused a massive disadvantage, as the pressure of all the spiritual energy being compressed within his body caused all of his bones to snap, as noted by his inner hollow, thus drastically reducing his power over time. However, since this disadvantage hasn’t been mentioned again so far, Ichigo has presumably overcome it. After learning the final Getsuga Tenshō, Ichigo’s Bankai has changed. He lacks footwear and a right sleeve, but has a black right glove and a black chain around his arm.
The manji guard has grown quite a bit, and Ichigo’s reiatsu has grown quite a bit. In fact, it is so high that not even a strong shinigami like Sosuke Aizen can feel it. As a result, his physical abilities have greatly improved. This allows Ichigo to smash a mountain without touching it with one swing of his sword. After Ichigo regained his Shinigami powers and even mastered Fullbring, his Bankai took on a slightly different form again. So he now had a small armor under his cloak, which shows three crosses in the cutout.
Furthermore, Zangetsu itself looks more like a long saber and the guard plate has sharper points. After Ichigo reforged Zangetsu, his Bankai also changed. 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.
How and why did Ichigo’s Bankai change?
Well, in the previous section, we have explained how and when Ichigo’s Bankai changed. Ichigo’s journey with the Bankai was a difficult one 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 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.
Visual changes are quite normal in anime and as a character evolves, he also changes visually. Sometimes the changes are more obvious, while at other times, they are seen only when a power is activated. Ichigo’s changes fall into the latter category, although not exclusively, as there have been several “forms” of Ichigo that changed his appearance, as well as his Zanpakuto. But, the physical changes of the Bankai were more obvious, even when Ichigo remained Ichigo.
How and when did Ichigo learn how to use Bankai?
Okay, now that we’ve gone over everything… a question still remains! How the hell did Ichigo learn Bankai in the first place, knowing that he is not a Shinigami like the other members of the Gotei 13? Well, we are going to go over these events once more here. Before his Bankai training and after his fight against Kenpachi, Ichigo goes to the Senzaikyū to save Ganju and Hanatarō from Byakuya Kuchiki. When he arrives, he confronts Byakuya, although he hasn’t yet regained his full strength. Ichigo’s fight is going better than when they first met, but this time Yoruichi interrupts the fight, implying that she and Byakuya share some past experiences. She then takes Ichigo to Bankai training. Yoruichi tells Ichigo that he can’t save Rukia with his current strength and advises him to practice attaining his Zanpakutō’s Bankai.
The training was scheduled to last for three days since that was the amount of time that Ichigo had before Rukia’s scheduled execution. To help him train, Yoruichi brought in the Tenshintai, an invention of Kisuke Urahara’s that greatly reduces the time it takes to learn Bankai. According to Byakuya Kuchiki and Youruichi, a talented Shinigami needs a lot of combat experience and at least 10 years to materialize and defeat the spirit of their Zanpakutō to learn the Bankai, while a Tenshintai reduced the time needed to just three days.
By stabbing his Zanpakutō into the roughly human-shaped figure of the Tenshintai, the Shinigami forces the spirit of his Zanpakutō to materialize. This lasts for a day, after which the spirit returns to the Zanpakutō, which is still in the Tenshintai. During this time, the Shinigami must defeat their Zanpakutō to master their Bankai. Unlike the usual method, this way of reaching the Bankai also involves certain risks, because by forcibly forcing the Zanpakutō’s spirit to leave the Shinigami’s soul, there is a risk that it will be torn apart. Because of this, this method can be fatal if used more than three times in a row.
After summoning Old Man Zangetsu, the latter chooses his method of battle – he summons numerous fake Zanpakutō to the training area and tells Ichigo that he must find the real one; only one is, of course, real among the numerous Zanpakutō in the arena. At the same time, he must clash with Old Man Zangetsu and avoid being killed by him. At first, this seems like an impossible task. There are too many swords, Ichigo has absolutely no clue which one could be the right one, and Old Man Zangetsu is truly intent on killing him. Yet, he manages to survive the first day of training.
On the second day, after resting, he is joined by Renji, who also wants to achieve Bankai in the Study Chamber. Ichigo is not successful on day two and whereas Renji manages to achieve Bankai before him, Ichigo swears he will protect Rukia and goes on to challenge Zangetsu, who says that he will not hold back despite their time running out. He is seen several times, bloodied and beaten, but he doesn’t give up and as the future will demonstrate, Ichigo will be successful in activating his Bankai, although this won’t be revealed until his upcoming fight with Byakuya.