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 Zanpakutō, whose Bankai form he achieved in just three days, which was a peculiarity in the world of Bleach.
But, unlike our other texts – that have focused on Ichigo’s Bankai – in this article, we are going to talk about Ichigo’s Shikai. We are going to explain everything you need to know about Zangetsu’s Shikai, how it changed and what Ichigo’s true Shikai looks like and what powers it ultimately has. There might be some spoilers present, so be careful how you approach it.
What is the true form of Ichigo’s Zanpakutō, Zangetsu?
Ichigo Kurosaki’s Zanpakutō is quite specific and is one of the more unique swords we’ve seen in Bleach. It changed a lot over the years, and it wasn’t until the final arc that we actually discovered its true nature and saw its final form. In this section, we are going to go over the evolution of Ichigo’s Shikai as it changed over the years.
The Shikai is the common form of Zangetsu as it is a permanently liberated Zanpakutō type, according to Yoruichi. In its Shikai form, Zangetsu is an oversized (5’7″, the same height as Ichigo himself) plain black blade with a broad silver cutting edge, without a guard plate or proper hilt. It just has a white ribbon wrapped around the handle.
The tape serves several purposes. When Ichigo is not using Zangetsu, the band wraps around the blade, and Ichigo can use it to tie Zangetsu to his back. This is especially helpful since Zangetsu is no longer sheathed in the Shikai, but is permanently liberated. In combat, it unwraps again automatically.
In combat, the band will lengthen or shorten as needed. It gets shorter in close combat because it’s only in Ichigo’s way, but in ranged combat, the cord can get longer, and Ichigo can toss and throw Zangetsu around like a flail. However, this technique is rarely used and has actually only been used by Hollow Ichigo so far. When Ichigo activates his Bankai, the band wraps around his sword-wielding forearm, symbolizing the Shinigami’s increased synchronization with his Zanpakutō, a prerequisite for sword releases.
After losing and regaining Ichigo’s powers, his sword has also undergone a change: the top and bottom ends now have arcuate tips, the grip surface more closely resembles that of the Bankai, and the band has been removed. Instead, like in Bankai, a chain now hangs down from the sword. Zangetsu’s abilities have not changed. However, it seems to have become a bit stronger due to the additional Fullbringer power.
After Jugram Haschwalth broke Zangetsu while in the Bankai state, it had to be reforged by Ōetsu Nimaiya. During the smithing, Ichigo found in his inner world that Hollow Ichigo was actually the true spirit of Zangetsu and the “old man Zangetsu” was his manifested Quincy power, which was inhibiting Zangetsu’s true power all the time.
Now, however, Ichigo could draw on the true power of Zangetsu, but he didn’t want to do without the Old Man Zangetsu either. As a result, the old man Zangetsu became an integral part of Ichigo’s Zanpakutō as well, and Zangetsu split into two blades: a large sword representing Hollow Ichigo and thus Zangetsu’s true form, and a smaller blade representing the old one Man represents Zangetsu and Ichigo’s Quincy powers.
Why is Zangetsu’s true form dual?
The fact that Ichigo’s Zanpakutō turned out to be a dual blade is the result of Ichigo’s dual nature, the fact that he has both a Quincy part and a Hollow part, which are later combined in his Shinigami powers. This is actually a unique phenomenon in the world of Bleach and the reason why Ichigo is so special. We have already explained Ichigo’s dual Shikai and how he has the powers he has (the latter in separate articles), so let us now introduce the two parts of Ichigo’s Zanpakutō – Old Man Zangetsu, the embodiment of his Quincy powers, and White Ichigo, the embodiment of his Hollow powers and his true Zanpakutō.
Old Man Zangetsu
Old Man Zangetsu is a spirit who resides in Zangetsu. He is actually the image of Yhwach from 1,000 years ago and, as part of Ichigo’s soul, represents the Quincy portion of his powers. He originally pushed back Hollow Ichigo and posed as the only zanpakuto spirit to become Ichigo’s central power and prevent him from becoming a Shinigami.
However, over time, he began to appreciate Ichigo more and helped him in his projects; in the end, he no longer objected to Ichigo becoming a Shinigami and voluntarily stepped down as its central power so that Ichigo could obtain his true Zanpakutō (Hollow Ichigo). However, Ichigo did not want to lose his old companion, which resulted in the Old Man Zangetsu being included in Zangetsu’s new form as well.
When Ichigo is in his “spirit world,” Zangetsu appears in the form of a 30 to 40-year-old male. He has shoulder-length hair, tinted sunglasses, and a three-day beard. He is wrapped in a reddish-black coat. He also has a habit of keeping at least one hand in his pocket. Zangetsu is always portrayed as calm and wise and seems to enjoy testing Ichigo, even if the purpose of these tests sometimes seems contradictory to the goal.
When Ichigo uses his Bankai, the Zanpakutō spirit also transforms in accordance with the change in the actual sword. Accordingly, the new form of the Zangetsu is called Tensa Zangetsu and is that of a young man (about Ichigo’s age). The clothing changes only slightly, the collar is shorter, and Tensa Zangetsu wears a hood but no sunglasses.
According to Isshin, Ichigo’s father and owner of Engetsu, Zangetsu is more aggressive than before in his Bankai form. He also doesn’t leave his hands in his pockets as often. One of the spirit’s abilities was frequently displayed in battle: Zangetsu’s ability to temporarily seal severe and deadly wounds, which Ichigo later traced to Quincy’s latent Blood Vein ability. Likewise, like the actual Yhwach, he can create a great broadsword out of Reishi, but its strength of it is unknown. Old Man Zangetsu now represents the smaller of Zangetsu’s Dual Blades.
Hollow Ichigo (White Ichigo)
Hollow Ichigo is the “true” Zanpakutō spirit of the sword Zangetsu. Originally a failed experiment by Sōsuke Aizen, he is a parasitic Hollow with the ability to become the spirit of a Shinigami’s Zanpakutō, with whom he fuses. He had attached himself to Masaki Kurosaki and passed it on to him when Ichigo was born. When Ichigo briefly came between Hollowfication and attaining a Zanpakutō during his Shikai training, both Hollow Ichigo and Yhwach’s spirit together took a place in his soul as the source of his power.
Due to his Hollow instinct, however, he constantly tries to gain control over Ichigo’s body or to transform Ichigo into a complete Hollow. Depending on Ichigo’s inner strength, a conflict takes place in his soul for his place as the true spirit of ‘Zangetsu’: if Ichigo maintains enough willpower, he can control his powers from Old Man Zangetsu and fight as a Shinigami. The Hollow is then just a faction under Zangetsu’s control.
However, when Ichigo becomes mentally weaker than his inner Hollow, the latter overwhelms the Old Man Zangetsu and becomes the primary Zanpakuto spirit. This affects Ichigo in such a way that he can no longer draw power from his Zanpakuto without simultaneously allowing his inner hollow to gain more influence over his mind and body.
However, if Ichigo is stronger than the Hollow, the Hollow stays in the background. As Ichigo subdued his inner hollow within his soul, Ichigo gained the abilities of a Visored. Hollow Ichigo also has his own version of the Zangetsu blade. However, his version has the colors reversed. Any progress Ichigo makes as a Shinigami with his Zanpakutp gains the hollow at the same time. So he can perform the same attacks as Ichigo, but much better and more skillfully due to his natural Hollow instinct. For example, he was the first to come up with the idea of holding Zangetsu by the ribbon in Shikai and throwing it at the opponent, and also the Getsuga Tenshō in Bankai, which he named Kuroi Getsuga, was first used by Ichigo’s inner Hollow.
In the fight against Ichigo, he also pioneered the tactic of simply using Tensa Zangetsu on a parried blow while the swords were still in contact to use Getsuga Tenshō. This resulted in a large, reddish-black shockwave that seemed to hit the enemy hard. It is also believed that Hollow Ichigo has never used his full strength in a fight, as he always seems very casual and unmotivated when fighting. He now represents the larger of Zangetsu’s dual blades.
After Old Man Zangetsu and the Hollow agree to teach Ichigo the final Getsuga Tenshō, they merge into an entirely new spirit: whose appearance resembles a “hollowfied” Tensa Zangetsu, whose hair and coat are now white with black collars. On the left side of his head, he has a fragment of the horned hollow mask and a hollow eye on this side his right one is blue.
The creature’s Zanpakutō features a white blade like the Hollow’s but a blackguard like a shinigami version. This apparition can be seen as the actual source of Ichigo’s power and presumably possesses the combined strength of the two fusion partners. However, he held back extremely in the fight against Ichigo. If Ichigo is wounded by this spirit’s sword, it will not hurt him since he does not receive an enemy’s blade but his own power. Instead, it gives him the ability to use the final Getsuga Tenshō.
How did Ichigo get the true form of his Zanpakutō?
When Ichigo manages to break free from Opie’s “The Jail” and arrives in Soul Society, whereupon he furiously starts a fight with Yhwach. Yhwach defeats him after a relatively short time. Being unable to kill him, Yhwach exits the battle, but before Ichigo can stop Yhwach, however, his Bankai sword is broken by Yhwach’s right hand, the Sternritter B, Jugram Haschwalth, and cut in half.
After Mayuri informed him that a broken Bankai could not be repaired, Ichigo was taken to the Soul King Palace by the Royal Guard, where he would have his Zanpakutō reforged by Nimaiya. As they reach his palace, they are first received by Nimaiya and his Zanpakutō girls in his eccentric way until Mera admonishes the member of the Royal Guard to finally lead the Shinigami to the true Hōōden.
This turned out to be a small, dilapidated hut with a deep dark shaft inside, into which Nimaiya shoves Ichigo and Renji unceremoniously, taking their Zanpakutō from them and destroying them. He says that the two of them have no love for their swords, and because of that, they have drawn the anger of the Asauchi lurking in this basement.
While Renji is able to defeat the Asauchi after some time, proving himself to be a true Shinigami in front of Nimaiya, Ichigo is unable to do so. Disappointed, Nimaiya ties him up with Kidou and lets him fall through a portal back into the human world. Once there, he meets Ikumi Unagiya, who invites and comforts the frustrated Ichigo to her home. After a short time, the doorbell rings, and Ikumi opens it but is surprised to find that nobody is there. However, Ichigo sees his father standing in front of him in his shinigami form; he orders him to follow him.
He goes home with Ichigo and strikes up a lengthy conversation with him, opening up about his and Masaki’s past. With Ichigo thus becoming aware of his true nature and roots, Mera reappears to bring him back to Hououden. There, Nimaiya sends him to the basement for a second time to fight the Asauchi. However, before he can leave, all of the Sword Spirits have already bowed to Ichigo. Ichigo grabs the hand of one of the Asauchi, which he recognized as his Zanpakutō spirit. He turns into Hollow Ichigo, wearing his mask.
Along with him and Nimaiya, Ichigo goes to the cave by the waterfall where the Royal Guard forges all the Zanpakutō. With the help of his 5 helpers (the Zanpakutō girls Mera, Toki, Sato & two others), Nimaiya forms a new sword out of Hollow Ichigo. Meanwhile, Ichigo delves into his inner world and encounters Zangetsu, who now truthfully introduces himself as the spirit of Yhwach from 1000 years ago and apologizes for deceiving Ichigo all along.
However, Ichigo realizes that Zangetsu’s only intention is to protect Ichigo and does not want to part with his old comrade-in-arms. He, therefore, intervenes in the forging process and directs his reiatsu into the forming weapon. Although surprised, Nimaiya lets Ichigo do it, saying something interesting might come of it. After the newly forged sword cools down, it turns out to be a pair of dual blades, now containing both Zangetsu (Ichigo’s Quincy powers) and the Hollow (Ichigo’s Shinigami powers). After saying goodbye, Ichigo continues on his way to Senshumaru Shutara.