Zanpakuto are the trademark weapons of Soul Reapers. Capable of cutting both spiritual and physical bodies, they are amongst the few weapons which can be used to combat Hollows. Each Soul Reapers carries a Zanpakuto, and each Zanpakuto is unique: as the sword are both reflections of a Soul Reaper's soul and power, and sentient beings unto themselves. The Zanpakuto's name is also the name of the living spirit that empowers the sword and lends its strength to the Soul Reaper who wields it. These beings can vary greatly in appearance and have their own distinct personalities which match their owner's. Normally, the Zanpakuto spirit can only be seen by its wielder. Otherwise, they dwell in their own "inner world", created within the minds of the Soul Reaper who wield them. As such, each Soul Reaper's inner wolrd is drastically from another Soul Reaper's and is unique to themselves. A Zanpakuto's spirit can bring its wielder into its inner world though the Soul Reaper can voluntarily achieve this simply by meditation.
A Zanpakuto's shape and abilities are based on their Soul Reaper's soul. Once a Soul Reaper or Zanpakuto wielder learns his/her sword's name, they are able to communicate with one another and grow stronger together. Zanpakuto are born with their Soul Reaper or Shinobi and they die along with their Soul Reaper and passes down to it's next wielder. When released, they can display a vibrant power. They are one with the Soul Reaper or Zanpakuto wielder, and they share a Soul Reaper's conviction.
Asauchi (meaning "shallow hit") the class of nameless Zanpakuto that all low-class Soul Reapers wield. Soul Reapers who are still in training - those who do not yet belong to any of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads - all wield generic Zanpakuto. Soul Reapers whoare unable to communicate with their Zanpakuto, "the shallow hit", which refers to the grossly-reduced power of a Zanpakuto whose wielder cannot connect with it properly.
- Because they are a part of their owner's soul, a Zanpakuto cannot be replaced, thought it will slowly regenerate if it is broken.
- The Zanpakuto size reflects the amount of the swordman's spiritual powers
- If a Soul Reaper pierces the chest of a human with their Zanpakuto and channels their Spiritual Powers through it into the Human body, it will transform that human into a Soul Reaper temporarily. The act does not a high chance of viability even when the human in question has a high level of spiritual energy, and if the method does fail the human will die.
- Every Zanpakuto has its own name
- A Zanpakuto can determine whether or not its wielder is worthy of its powers.
- Normally, even a broken Zanpakuto would return to its original state as its wielder recovered.
- Zanpakuto have a true form. This form resides inside the wielder (the Soul Reaper mostly). A Zanpakuto has a mind and a body that controls their powers.
- Zanpakuto possess their own spiritual pressure, which can be sensed as any spiritual pressure can and is identical to that of their wielder through with subtle differences.
- Though rare, it is not impossible for more than one soul to be attuned to the same spirit. In such cases, ancient law of the Soul Society will not allow two beings to wield the same Zanpakuto, in which cases, they must duel in ownership of the spirit, with the winner gaining it and the loser being sentence to death.
- No matter what form (or size) a Zanpakuto takes, it is alway virtually effortless for its owner to wield because it is a part of its owner's soul. Soul Reaper captains all consciously keep their Zanpakuto in a manageable size, otherwise they would be holding Zanpakuto the size of skyscrapers. Therefore, one cannot judge one's opponent's strength solely by the size of their Zanpakuto.
Obtaining a Zanpakuto
A wielder knows their Zanpakuto spirit very closely and vice versa. The connection is very deep, though in the beginning the connection is one sided with the wielder being unable to fully hear the spirit communicating with them.It is not uncommon for the introduction of the two (the Soul Reaper and Zanpakuto Spirit) to take place in the inner world while the prospective Soul Reapers sleeps.
A Zanpakuto is generated by its wielder upon the solidification of their Spiritual Powers into the sword's form. Commonly, when a Soul Reaper graduates from the training academy, he/she gains his/her own unique weapon. The process by which this happens has not yet been shown. What has been shown is that Ichigo Kurosaki, who was trained independently and in an unusual manner, gained his own Zanpakuto via a test of combat that required him to reach deep within and talk hold of his own power in a way he never had before. Whether this is the same process other Soul Reapers go through is not yet known. At any rate, it is known that when a Soul Reaper obtain their own Zanpakuto, they learn its name and become able to "activate" it. This activated ability is called the "Shikai," the first two levels of activation. When a Zanpakuto sword is changeed into its Shikai form, what is actually being seen is the true form of the weapon.
Depending upon the Soul Reaper's ability to communicate with and control his Zanpakuto's spirit, a Zanpakuto can manifest itself in two additional forms and revert to a sealed state. These two forms, known as Shikai and Bankai, are akin to "upgrades" for the Zanpakuto, giving it abilities far beyond that of its simple use as a sword. Soul Reapers usually carry their Zanpakuto in the seal state and activate the released forms as necessary.
All Zanpakuto have two levels of release. The first one is Shikai (initial release) and the second one is Bankai (final release). One must be able to do both of them to become a captain. The powers and forms of Shikai and Bankai are dependent on the Zanpakuto. They also vary accounding to the wielder's strength and training.
Most Zanpakuto look like regular katana, with slight variations between them as one would expect between different swords. There variations are commonly:
- Katana: The term katana may be applied to the standard-size, moderately-curved, Japanese sword with a blade length of greater than 60 cm (23.6 inches). The katana is characterized by its distinctive appearance: a curved, slender, single-edged blade, a circular or squared guard, and a hilt long enough to accommodate two hands.
- Wakizashi (meaning "side insertion"): A short blde between 30 and 60 cm (12 and 24 inches), with an average of 50 cm (20 inches). It is similar but shorter than a katana, and usually shorter than a kodachi (meaning "small sword"). The wakizashi was usually worn together with the katana.
- Nodachi (meaning "field sword"): The nodachi was more difficult to wielde due to its size and weight. The length of the nodachi's hilt varied between twelve to thirteen inches (30 to 33 centimeters). Its cutting capability and range exceeds that of a katana, due to its weight and size.
In addition to the upgraded forms, the sealed form of a Zanpakuto can be radically altered, though such alterations are purely cosmetic and usually don't offer any significant advantage in battle; one exception is Ikkaku Madarame's "Hozukimaru", whose hilt stores a blood-clotting ointment. Zanpakuto can also be disguised as other objects, though such objects seem to need to be similar propostions to the sword itself. Both Kisuke Urahara and Head-Captain Yamamoto, for example, disguise their Zanpakuto as canes, Yamamoto's as a large walking stick that dissolves on command to reveal his steathed Zanpakuto. Kisuke Urahara's as a shikomizue, a thin blade hidden within the hollow shaft of a cane.
A Zanpakuto will return to its sealed state when its wielder is knocked unconscious.
The Shikai (meaning the "Initial Release") is the second form (or first "upgraded" form) available to a Zanpakuto. To activate it, the Soul Reaper needs to learn the name of their Zanpakuto. This is not an easy as simply picking a name, as the living spirit of the Zanpakuto already has its own name,Therefore, the Soul Reaper must be also be able to communicate and harmonize with their Zanpakuto effectively, which requires being able to speak to the spirit within its world.
A Zanpakuto can change size and shape depending on the spiritual strength of the owner.
Achievement of the Shikai is a mark of control of a Zanpakuto,and it appears to be a requipment for advancement within the Soul Reaper ranks, as presumably most seated officers are capable of Shikai. It is also required in order to achieve the rank of lieutenant; as it is a requirement most captains look for. After first learning the Zanpakuto's name, the Shikai can be performed at will simply by speaking speaking a command followed by the Zanpakutp's name. The commands vary between users and range from a simple imperative verb to am short poem. They often relate to the Zanpakuto's signature ability, or hint at the nature of the spirit. This step may be bypassed by expert Soul Reapers who have learned how to use their Bankai
Constant-Release: In rare cases, a Zanpakuto, once released, will remain in that state indefinitely. This is due to the vast amount of spiritual energy the possessor has that cannot be finely control upon initial generation of their Zanpakuto, as such the Zanpakuto is described as a constant released form. The only known Soul Reapers with Full-Time Release Zanpakuto are Ichigo Kurosaki and Kenpachi Zaraki. By the nature of this type of Zanpakuto, a Soul Reaper with a constant release form does not need a command release nor is it necessary to even know their Zanpakuto's name. However, not knowing the name of one's Zanpakuto can put a Soul Reaper at a disadvantage in terms of power against those who do know their Zanpakuto's name.
Shikai Forms: Once the Shikai is activated, the Zanpakuto will change form to access whatever special abilities it is capable of. They almost always take the form of a weapon of some kind, though the type of weapon vary greatly among different Zanpakuto. One exception Retsu Unohana's Shikai, which seems to take on the characteristics of an animal, rather than a weapon.
Special Abilities: Once the Shikai is activated, the Zanpakuto will change form to access whatever special abilities it is capable of. The special abilities of the Zanpakuto, like the Zanpakuto itself, have specific names that usually must be announced to fully activate the effect. As Ichigo's Zanpakuto, Zangetsu, explains, knowing the name of an attack and not knowing it makes a very drastic difference in the amount of power that attack utilizes. Some special abilities are aumomatically activated upon release.
The Bankai (meaning the "Final Release") is the second and final upgraded form of a Zanpakuto. To achieve Bankai, one must be able to materialize and subjugate the Zanpakuto's spirit. Matrialization means the opposite of getting dragged into the Zanpakuto's inner world. Instead the wielder needs to summon the Zanpakuto's spirit into the physical world. It usually takes 10 years or more to achieve, plus the experience needed to master it.
The power and forms of Shikai and Bankai are denpendent on the Zanpakuto. They also vary according to the wielder's strength and training. But in general, one's power can grow 5 to 10 times greater. Only the strongest Soul Reapers can do it. It is also the ultimate technique of a Zanpakuto. Even the Four noble families, whose members are always exceptionally talented, have a member capable of Bankai only every few generations. Those who achieve Bankai always have remarkable roles in the history of the Soul Society.
Ichigo Kurosaki, Kisuke Urahara, Tsunaku Senju, and four selective ninja from Sunagakure, Iwagakure, Kumogakure, and Kirigakure are the only known individuals that have mastered Bankai through a far shorter, yet much more dangerous method. Using a special device by Kisuke, which forcibly materialize a Zanpakuto spirit, (thus bypassing a large portion of the training), they were able to attain their Bankai within three days instead of the normal hundreds of years. After successfully testing the device and achieving Bankai, Kisuke stated that training by using this method for more than three consective days could prove to be fatal, which is why Ichigo was also forced to achieve his own Bankai within three days.
Besides Ichigo Kurosaki, Naruto Uzumaki, and Tsunaku Senju, the only non-captain Soul Reapers known to have achieved Bankai are Renji Abarai (Lieutenant), who finalized his training at about the time, Ichigo (although he did not use Kisuke's device, but rather perfected it while Ichigo was training), and Ikkaku Madarame (3rd Seat), who did so through his own years of training.
Bankai Forms: After the Soul Reaper is able to materialize and subjugate their Zanpakuto Spirit, the Zanpakuto can assume its final and most powerful form. Unlike the Shikai, there is no command phrase to activate Bankai, though the user will usually say "Bankai" beforehand. A Zanpakuto's Bankai is often a manifestation of the spirit itself, usually creating a massive creature or a very powerful effect to aid the user in battle (Tsunaku, Naruto, and Ichigo's Bankai are an exception, becoming more compact instead). The Bankai itself will receive a different name in addition to the ordinary Zanpakuto (for example Ichigo's Zangetsu becomes Tensa Zangetsu, Byakuya Kuchiki's Senbonzakura becomes Senbonzakura Kageyoshi). Certain Soul Reapers (along with Zanpakuto Wielders) also change their Zanpakuto, gaining clothing similar to what their Zanpakuto Spirit looks like. Most Zanpakuto will also gain additional special abilities, or a more enhanced version of the usual one. Like with the Shikai, most of these abilities have an associated name. Maintaining the Bankai is taxing for the wielder, and it is difficult to maintain it for long periods of time for most Soul Reapers, with the exceptionof Ichigo, as it becomes more compact, thus allowing him to hold it for long periods of time.
Special Abilities: The power that comes with Bankai tends to be similar to the Shikai's ability/theme, but amplifies it to much greater levels of power and effects. Some simply increase the original ability, such as Byakuya Kuchiki's blade count multiplies greatly, Ichigo Kurosaki's Getsuga Tensho becomes faster, far more powerful, and its color becomes black with outlines (Ichigo; Red outline, Naruto; Orange outline, and Tsunaku; Light Green outline), or Sajin Komamura's, who instead of only generating pieces of the giant, summons the whole giant itself. While other Bankai follow the theme of the sword, such as Rejin's remains whip-like which cotaining baboon and cobra features, or Mayuri summons a monster with same face (Jizo) on his trident-esque sword, but kept the theme of poison that came from the monster's breath.
Weakness: A high enough level of spiritual energy can be used to disrupt the rhythm of a Bankai. The biggest flaw of Bankai lies in the overwhelming power it releases. Its power and form are often far beyond that of a normal weapon. This is the reason that in order for one to become capable of using it completely and effectively, one needs to train at least 10 years with Bankai. Any Bankai before that period of time has been reached should not be used in battle.
There are several types of Zanpakuto through only three types metioned (Melee, Kido, and Elemental), along with having a second type through the elemental types. Kido has many sub-groups and the Elemental-typeswhile part of Kido-type grouping, is so big and diverse that is able to stand on its own as its on grouping. Note, Types are determined by what a Zanpakuto is shown and/or stated to be capable of within the confines of these types and nothing more.