Bleach just ended a month ago in a saddening, unsatisfactory manner. But there was a time when it was a terrific, badass anime/manga. And one significant reason that made it so is the surprises and excitement brought by the Zanpakutō, the Shinigami’s weapon that takes the form of a katana, wakizashi, nodachi, or tantō when sealed. So even if I hated what Bleach had eventually become, for the sake of the great thrill and enjoyment it had delivered to its fandom when it was at the top of its game, I want to somewhat pay homage to it by listing my most favorite Zanpakutō releases.
For this post, I will first enumerate the top 10 Shikai – the first released form of the Zanpakutō – that I liked the most. A list for my favorite Bankai – the second and ultimate form of the Zanpakutō – is set for another post. So, in this sense, this is a two-parter.
I ranked them based on my personal preference. I considered 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.
Wielder: Kensei Muguruma
Release command: “Blow it away.”
When a Shikai is released, the Zanpakutō often becomes longer or bigger. But in the case of Kensei Muguruma’s Tachikaze, it shortens from a wakizahi into a combat knife. I find that unique and appealing. Moreover, Kensei wields his combat knife with as much intimidating presence as any Shinigami with a sword has. The form of his Shikai gives Kensei, especially as a Visored, an air of someone being in the Special Forces.
Wielder: Ichigo Kurosaki
Release command: None
Of course, the lead character’s Shikai is featured. What I like most about it is ever since Ichigo learned to activate his Shikai, it has always been in its released state. It’s easily one of the most badass large-ass swords I’ve ever seen – a major reason why I thought of Ichigo as a notable fictional swordsman.
Wielder: Izuru Kira
Release command: “Raise your head.”
In its Shikai form, Izuru’s Wabisuke takes the shape of a blade that bends into two 90-degree angles – like a square-shaped sickle. I like it for its weird shape and its cool ability: doubling the weight of anything it strikes. Thus, anybody who clashes swords with Izuru will find his or her weapon growing exponentially heavier, to his disadvantage.
Wielder: Tōshirō Hitsugaya
Release command: “Sit upon the frozen heavens.”
Its special ability is creating ice dragons. ‘Nuff said.
6.) “FUJI KUJAKU”/RURI'IRO KUJAKU
Wielder: Yumichika Ayasegawa
Release command: “Bloom.”/“Split and deviate.”
Among the Shikai in this list, Yumichika’s has the best twist. He belongs to the 11th division, wherein everyone is expected to fight with a close-combat weapon. However, the true form of Yumichika’s Shikai is Kidō-type. Thus, for fear of being scorned by his division mates, he hides his Zanpakutō’s true Shikai form by calling it “Fuji Kujaku” – a name it hated. Whenever he calls it this and utters the release command “Bloom”, the Zanpakutō sulks and takes the form of four fanned falx blades – for close combat.
Wielder: Kenpachi Zaraki
Release command: “Drink.”
Kenpachi is such a magnificent badass that he never needed a Shikai and Bankai to become the captain of the toughest, roughest division of the Gotei 13 – the 11th. However, in the need to become stronger in the upcoming war against the Quincy, he trains under (and kills) Retsu Unohana, allowing him to finally learn his Zanpakutō’s name – a requirement to activate the Shikai. When released, his Zanpakutō, Nozarashi, takes the form of a gigantic axe-cleaver that is powerful enough to destroy a huge meteorite in just one blow.
4.) RYUUJIN JAKKA
Wielder: Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto
Release command: “Reduce all creation to ash.”
Despite his old age, Captain Commander Yamamoto is a terrifying badass. His overwhelming spiritual power is unrivaled in the Gotei 13. True to form, his Shikai is immensely destructive. It takes the appearance of a sword engulfed in fire, and everything that Yamamoto waves it at disintegrates to ash. It can also summon big pillars and walls of inferno.
Wielder: Renji Abarai
Release command: “Howl.”
Renji’s Shikai arguably has the most kickass design. Zabimaru, when released, takes the form of a segmented blade that elongates and functions like a whip. During the first time I saw it, I felt it was a more awesome version of Cho’s Hakujin-no-Tachi sword in Samurai X.
Wielder: Gin Ichimaru
Release command: “Shoot to kill.”
When I first saw Gin’s Shinsou, it reminded me immediately of Kojiro Sasaki’s enchanted sword in Yaiba; both of their weapons have the same ability: the blade can grow longer. But Gin definitely wields his with much more authority, suave, and charisma.
Wielder: Byakuya Kuchiki
Release command: “Scatter.”
I find the premise of Byakuya’s Shikai fresh and clever. When released with the perfect-fitting command “Scatter”, the blade of Byakuya’s katana gracefully crumbles into thousands of very sharp fragments that look like cherry blossom petals. Byakuya can then use these “cherry blossom petals” to shred targets at a distance or to protect himself from attacks.
If nothing else, Byakuya made the color pink a badass color.