Much excitement is stirred whenever a character in Bleach utter that word, especially for the first time. It’s easily one of the best things about this manga/anime. As the ultimate evolution of the Zanpakutō, it’s expected to be large, flashy, and amazing. Oftentimes, a Shinigami is at his or her most badass whenever he or she activates his or her Bankai.
One of my biggest disappointments with the way Bleach wrapped up is how it ended with several notable characters’ Bankai still remaining unrevealed. Anyway, unless the last arcs of Bleach are still going to be adapted into anime and the unrevealed Bankai are going to be shown there for the first time – something very unlikely at this point – then that means all Bankai that were set to be revealed in the narrative, incomplete they may be (arg!), are now available on hand. And from those, I picked my top 10 favorites.
Same with my list on Shikai, these are all based on my personal preference, after weighing in each Bankai based on – let me just copy-paste what I wrote there – “not only its raw power, but also how well it impacted the narrative, how gratifying was the delivery of its initial revelation and subsequent appearances, how kickass and efficient it was wielded by its Shinigami and how much it added to his or her characterization, and, of course, how stylish its design is.”
10.) DAIGUREN HYŌRINMARU
Wielder: Tōshirō Hitsugaya
Though I was actually more impressed when Tōshirō revealed his Shikai for the first time than when he did with his Bankai, it’s nonetheless one of the most notable Bankai in Bleach. Not only does it give Tōshirō ice wings, increased freezing power, and the ability to cast a variety of ice attacks, but it also allows him to create out of ice a life-like image of himself which he uses as a decoy in the latter part of battles since it can only fool an opponent once.
9.) UNNAMED (NOZARASHI’S BANKAI FORM)
Wielder: Kenpachi Zaraki
Kenpachi’s Bankai transforms him into a cleaver-wielding, red-skinned demon, granting him immense physical strength and cutting power. He becomes chaos and carnage incarnate. He basically becomes Doomsday, if Doomsday has a meat cleaver that can cut from a distance.
This would have ranked higher if he had actually been the one that delivered the final killing blown on the giant Gerard. It’s also ranked lower because it has a critical weakness. It also damages Kenpachi since his body can’t handle its power yet.
8.) RYŪMON HŌZUKIMARU
Wielder: Ikkaku Madarame
Ikkaku revealing that he has a Bankai is one of Bleach’s most thrillingly surprising moments. Though he doesn’t quite have a thorough mastery of it yet, its special ability is fascinating: it grows stronger as the fight drags on.
The existence of his Bankai is a secret that Ikkaku keeps with utmost commitment, for fear of being promoted to captain and transferred out of the 11th division. Thus, like with his division mate Yumichika’s case with the true of his Shikai, he would rather lose the battle than win it at the cost of revealing his Bankai to his peers.
7.) KONJIKI ASHISOGI JIZŌ
Wielder: Mayuri Kurotsuchi
Mayuri’s Bankai looks like the demon love child of a caterpillar and a yellow alien who got aborted, sent to Hell, and ultimately spat out. It creates a multitude of blades, excretes lethal poison, and also has a self-destruct protocol. It’s scary already that way but, later on, Mayuri would even further modify his Bankai. In its modified form, it looks like a cross between Jabba the Hut and a Laughing Buddha, and has the ability to create customized versions of the Konjiki Ashisogi Jizō based on the data that Mayuri inputs on it, allowing him to counter on the fly the special abilities of a particular opponent.
6.) JAKUHŌ RAIKŌBEN
It’s a friggin’ rocket-propelled nuke launcher. What’s not to love?
5.) SENBONZAKURA KAGEYOSHI
Wielder: Byakuya Kuchiki
This is easily one of the most versatile Bankai in Bleach. In its initial form, it’s made up of two rows of a thousand giant blades coming up from the ground, which would disperse into huge masses of countless cherry blossom petal-blades – it’s basically his Shikai multiplied a thousand times. However, it takes other forms as well. In its “Senkei” form, the petals assemble into thousands of regular-sized pink swords, divided into four rows, one atop another. These rows encircle Byakuya and his opponent, giving their fight a “cage-match” definition, much to the former’s advantage since he can mentally control these swords, either to grab one Senkei sword at a time for melee combat or send all of them flying simultaneously toward his opponent. And then, finally, he can also combine his Bankai’s blades – concentrating all of their strength – into a single sword of immense spiritual pressure and cutting power.
4.) KOKUJŌ TENGEN MYŌ'Ō
Wielder: Sajin Komamura
For some time, Sajin’s Bankai was my favorite. It’s not the flashiest, most multifaceted, and most powerful in this list, but I love how straightforward and basic it is. Of course, aesthetics and cleverness are important factors in the design of a great Bankai, but they get too unnecessarily complex at times (e.g. Shunsui Sōzōsuke Jirō Kyōraku’s Bankai). With Sajin’s Bankai, you easily know what it’s all about: a giant armored samurai, about a hundred meters tall, and capable of being as impressively intimidating and destructive as you would expect from something of that scale.
3.) KAMISHINI NO YARI
Wielder: Gin Ichimaru
Here’s another Bankai that impressed me for being uncomplicated. Gin’s Bankai basically functions like his Shikai – the blade grows longer. But as a Bankai, Gin’s sword can now extend up to 13 kilometers, and its force when elongating and slashing power are exponentially increased, that Gin can cut an entire town in half with one attack. And the best thing about it is that it elongates and retracts in a very fast rate – 171,500 meters per second, to be exact. That’s 500 times of the speed of sound! That means it can extend to its maximum length of 13 kilometers in just 0.08 seconds. So unless his opponents can react faster than 500 times of the speed of sound (or is immortal like Aizen), the fight is already over once Gin activates his Bankai. Moreover, the Bankai’s true ability – a secret that Gin keeps – is that the blade can break up into dust that he then leaves inside his opponent. It lies dormant until Gin chooses to activate it, poisoning the opponent at the cellular level and disintegrating him from the inside.
2.) KANNONBIRAKI BENIHIME ARATAME
Wielder: Kisuke Urahara
It took a while – it was already at the near end of the manga – before Urahara revealed his Bankai. But it was worth the wait. It was exactly as exciting as expected. Taking the form of a giant mannequin woman, it can cut objects into pieces or stitch them back together. When used against a target, it dissects it like a pathologist cutting a corpse open. As a supportive application, it can heal damaged body parts by stitching them back together. It can also restructure a certain body part so that it can perform in its most optimum level – increasing its efficiency and strength.
1.) ZANKA NO TACHI
Wielder: Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto
The most badass Bankai unsurprisingly belongs to the long-time Captain Commander of the Gotei 13. Possessing arguably the most devastating Shikai, his Bankai oddly starts off in a visually restrained manner – taking the form of a worn-out, scorched katana. Nonetheless, it’s very powerful. All the flames that Yamamoto’s Shikai has previously produced are absorbed and condensed into the blade. Thus, though there are no visible flames, each swing of Yamamoto’s Bankai katana has the power of all of his flames behind it, incinerating everything it cuts to oblivion. In addition, Yamamoto is engulfed in heat which surpasses 15 million degree Celsius – that’s hotter than the frggin’ sun! Hence, when he wields his Bankai, water and moisture dry up in the surrounding area (extending to a city-wide radius, at least). In this condition, even Tōshirō’s ice Bankai is made inutile. This makes Yamamoto’s Bankai a threat to both his allies and enemies, and for that reason, he rarely uses it.
And it doesn’t end with that. Yamamoto’s Bankai can do more. With it, Yamamoto can also summon an army made up of the ash and corpses of everyone that his flames have consumed to fight for him!
Hands down, Yamamoto has the most awesome Bankai in Bleach. Even when the manga had already become convolutedly bad back then, the revelation of Yamamoto’s Bankai became one of my most favorite Bleach moments. The only thing that somewhat negated its awesomeness and cheapened the experience of witnessing his Bankai for the first time was that Yamamoto shortly died afterwards – getting killed by the real Yhwach, because the one he was initially fighting with his Bankai was actually a Quincy lackey imitating Yhwach.