The Zanpakutō is an essential element of Bleach‘s lore and the main weapon of all Shinigami, as well as some other groupations. The Zanpakutō is both a blade and a special entity with a very important role in the evolution of an individual Shinigami. Now, while we mostly know them by their names and specific powers and abilities, the Zanpakutō actually have a whole history and a ritual that is necessary for a Shinigami to mold their Zanpakutō into what they become later on. The process evolves a special entity called an Asauchi and in this article, we are going to tell you everything youu need to know about them.
The Asauchi are nameless Zanpakutō spirits that live in Ōetsu Nimaiya’s Hōōden. They were actually invented by Nimaiya himself and they are temporarily assigned to about 6,000 pupils of the Shinigami Academy, who live with them and eat with them until they mold them into their final forms. The Asauchi Spirits are quite powerful and they can even pick the Shinigami themselves.
The rest of this article is going to explain everything you need to know about the Asauchi, which is an essential part of the shaping of a Zanpakutō. You’re going to find out the general details that are relevant for understanding what the Asauchi are, but also all the relevant plot elements that are necessary for understanding how the whole process was handled in-universe. Spoilers will be present, so be careful.
Who are the Asauchi in Bleach?
For starters, before we actually get to the Asuachi part, we have to understand that each Zanpakutō possesses a soul, also called a Zanpakutō Spirit. These spirits manifest themselves to the owners of the Zanpakutō and knowing them, their names, and their personalities is essential to properly use one’s Zanpakutō. One anime filler arc saw the Zanpakutō Spirits manifest themselves in Soul Society, but this was quite uncommon for the canon manga.
In the beginning, each Zanpakutō in its original form possesses a spirit called Asauchi. These could be described as a wild rough draft of a Zanpakutō spirit, as they are unable to speak and behave more like animals. Of the approximately 6,000 members of the Gotei 13, those who do not yet know the name of their Zanpakutō possess an Asauchi in the form of a blade that has not been shaped into any specific form; it is a blank blade, so to say.
As soon as a Shinigami molds their Zanpakutō into their final form, with every action, especially during training, he unconsciously transfers something of his own soul to the Asauchi, thereby shaping the Asauchi into a specific Zanpakutō Spirit that will then transform the blade itself into a unique weapon for the Shinigami in question. Thus, each Shinigami subconsciously creates their individual Zanpakutō.
The Asauchi spirits thereby change their form and become similar in personality to their bearer in a certain respect. A Zanpakutō is part of the wearer’s soul and has a similar personality, however, a Zanpakutō is also self-contained at the same time. When a Shinigami is in meditation and concentrating, he can contact his Zanpakutō Spirit in his “inner world” as long as he knows its name.
So far, only the spirits of the swords Zangetsu, Zabimaru, Hyōrinmaru, Mera, and the Shadow of Kazeshini have been shown so far, as far as the canon material is concerned (there is also a theory that we’ve seen the Zanpakutō Spirit of Kenpachi’s Nozarashi, i.e., that Yachiru is actually Nozarashi, but that has not been definitively proven).
However, in a filler arc, the Zanpakutō Spirits of many more swords were shown. However, this is the subject of heated debate among fans, since all Spirits have a human form, and even the already-known Spirits of Zabimaru and Hyōrinmaru have been changed quite drastically in the Zanpakutō: The Alternate Tales anime-only filler arc. No exact reason for this change is known as of the time of writing, nor is it known how much Kubo himself contributed to the designs of these Spirits (on the other hand, Kyōraku’s two Zanpakutō Spirits, who debuted in the anime arc, were later made canon by Kubo himself, as he used the designs from the anime in the manga).
The Spirits of the following Zanpakutō are also known to have appeared: Sode no Shirayuki (Rukia Kuchiki), Tobiume (Momo Hinamori), Katen Kyōkotsu (Shunsui Kyōraku), Sōgyo no Kotowari (Jūshirō Ukitake), Suzumebachi (Soi Fon), Ashisogi Jizō (Mayuri Kurotsuchi), Hōzukimaru (Ikkaku Madarame), Ruri’iro Kujaku (Yumichika Ayasegawa), Tenken (Sajin Komamura), Senbonzakura (Byakuya Kuchiki), Haineko (Rangiku Matsumoto), Wabisuke (Izuru Kira), Gonryōmaru (Chōjirō Sasakibe), Gegetsuburi (Marechiyo Ōmaeda), and the four mentioned above. Sword beasts also appear in this filler arc and are Zanpakutō Spirits who have lost their masters.
Only after much training and experience is a Shinigami able to hear the voice of their Zanpakutō. From this point on, the Shinigami is able to use Shikai.
How are the Asauchi created?
In Japanese, the name Asauchi actually means “Shallow Hit,” and it is a reference to the fact that the Asauchi are not defined and that they are actually shells of a potential Zanpakutō. In that aspect, they are usually considered to be drastically weaker than the future Zanpakutō and are considered to be a very weak weapon. But that is actually not wholly true, as Asauchi can be considered the ultimate Zanpakutō in terms of power, as they have the potential to become absolutely anything based on their owner’s skills and personalities.
As for the creation of the Asauchi, we can confirm that Ōetsu Nimaiya, one of the members of Zero Division, invented the Asauchi. Since Nimaiya is responsible for the forging of all Zanpakutō, he has created the Asauchi as a training phase for a Shinigami to fully obtain their Zanpakutō. The Asauchi are created through a very complicated process that involves using and blending several Shinigami souls into one spiritual entity, which then becomes an Asuachi. It is interesting to observe that Aizen replicated this method to create the Hollow White before Ichigo’s birth.
Does every Shinigami have an Asauchi?
The Zanpakutō were invented by Ōetsu Nimaiya, a feat that earned him a place among the Royal Guard. They were created as weapons for Soul Reapers, while the names of their forms – the Shikai and the Bankai – as well as the term “Zanpakutō” itself, were given to them by Ichibē Hyōsube. The Zanpakutō is, as we know, the principal weapon of every Shinigami, although the Arrancar also used blades that are very similar to a Zanpakutō. From that standpoint, every Shinigami should have a Zanpakutō as their main weapon, regardless of how skilled they are and how often they use their swords.
As we have said above, it is known that each Shinigami entering the Shinigami Academy receives an Asauchi, which is the above-mentioned spiritual entity forged into a generic, shapeless sword. As the Shinigami evolves, so does the Asauchi until, at one point, it becomes a Zanpakutō. This is the traditional process and while it might seem straightforward, it is actually quite difficult. This is witnessed by the fact that not all Shinigami are able to transform their Asauchi into a Zanpakutō, which means that Niamiya will never forge a Zanpakutō for them. Such cases are not common, but they are present (we cannot really count Ichigo’s failure to defeat and find a suitable Asauchi for himself the first time he was training with Nimaiya as an example of this, because the circumstances were very different).
Since the Zanpakutō and the Shinigami are so well connected, when a Shinigami dies, their Zanpakutō also disappears with them. This is the general idea. On the other hand, a Shinigami can reforge a destroyed Zanpakutō as long as it was not destroyed while in Bankai; a non-released Zanpakutō and a Shikai can be repaired and reforger (okay, Niamiya can repair any Zanpakutō, but he cannot make an exact replica, but rather a completely new sword, which may or may not look like the original, based on how the Shinigami passes Niamiya’s Asauchi test in his palace). This means that the relationship between a Zanpakutō and a Shinigami is quite close; this is why it is quite difficult, it is not wholly impossible to properly control and use another Shinigami’s Zanpakutō as one’s own (it is not impossible, as in Kenpachi’s case, as the guy stole a Zanpakutō from a guy he killed, but that’s Kenpachi for you); the Zanpakutō itself would reject it.
This is why the answer to the question of this section is – in general, yes; every Shinigami has an Asauchi, an Asauchi that later becomes a Zanpakutō. This is the normal procedure as the Zanpakutō were actually created to serve as a weapon for the Shinigami, with the Asauchi being a normal part in the training and formation of a full-fledged Shinigami. This is also why the procedure is, in general, both important and well-established, as it is the natural way of not only obtaining but also mastering one’s Zanpakutō. Due to the swords having their own wills and quirks, a connection to the Shinigami has to be important, which is why it is important to fully understand the whole situation and why we have given so much effort to fully explain all the things related to the Asauchi and the Zanpakutō.
In the next section, we are going to talk about the exceptions to this rule, i.e., about those three Shinigami that actually held the power of their Zanpakutō, although each of them at an earlier point in the plot.
Is it possible to have a Zanpakutō without an Asauchi?
This is a very intriguing question, and we actually have several rare examples of Zanpakutō that did not follow the usual Asauchi-to-Zanpakutō procedure. The first and best-known example is, of course, Ichigo Kurosaki at the beginning of the story, up until Nimaiya forged Zangetsu’s final form. Namely, as Ichigo obtained his powers from Rukia, his original Zanpakutō wasn’t actually his – it was a combination of his own spiritual powers and Rukia’s powers as well. This is why his original Zangetsu did not have an Asauchi, nor did any later incarnation up until Nimaiya’s intervention. That is also why Ichigo was unable to defeat and find an Asauchi during the training with Nimaiya (unlike Renji, who had absolutely no trouble finding Zabimaru), as he never actually knew the true nature of his powers. Once he found that out, he was able to find an Asauchi and receive a new Zanpakutō that embodied both elements of his personality.
Another, lesser-known example is the Shinken Hakkyōken, the Zanpakutō owned by Nanao Ise, current Co-Lieutenant of the 1st Division. Namely, the Ise clan members have a specific tradition in which their Zanpakutō is actually inherited from generation to generation and not acquired in a regular procedure. Nanao Ise thus inherited the Shinken Hakkyōken, which means that she could never actually imbue it with her own spiritual powers and properly shape its Asauchi into a Zanpakutō. This, though, doesn’t mean that this Zanpakutō wasn’t an Asauchi; it was, but the Ise clan used the first owner’s transformed Asauchi and never changed it, passing it down from one owner to the next.
The third example we have for you is, of course, Kenpachi Zaraki, who is specific in so many ways, so why would this be an exception? Namely, Kenpachi Zaraki, as we know, never entered the Shinigami Academy, yet he managed to forge his Asauchi into a Zanpakutō, but he did not find out the Zanpakutō’s name until much later in the storyline. Namely, Kenpachi Zaraki killed a guy somewhere in Rukon and stole his Asuachi without ever knowing its name. Then, while fighting, Kenpachi was able to turn the Asauchi of another person into his own Zanpakutō, without ever having entered the Shinigami Academy, speaking to the Zanpakutō, or even training with it in any way. These are the only known examples where the usual procedure was not used.