HIGHER THAN THE MOON is the thirty-fifth volume of the Bleach manga series.
While the Shinigami are entrenched in bloody one-on-one battles with the Espada, their sworn enemy Sōsuke Aizen is preparing to make the next move in his elaborate plan. The battlefields of Hueco Mundo will soon give way to another battlefield where the price of losing will prove to be infinitely higher.
Mayuri proceeds to lecture Szayelaporro on the implications of his claim that he was an immaculate being; following that, he revives his lieutenant, Nemu, whom he gets to dig up the 8th Espada's laboratory for him.
The 8th Espada, Szayelaporro Granz, is reflecting over how much time appears to have passed him by since being poisoned by Captain Mayuri Kurotsuchi's Superhuman Formula. He is also wondering how long it will be before Mayuri's sword finally pierces his heart, and puts him out of his misery, literally begging it to come quicker and end his torment.
Mayuri then begins lamenting how his foe described himself as an 'immaculate being,' going on to describe how he perceives perfection. Mayuri claims 'I spit on perfection...' due to the implication that perfection means one has reached a point in which nothing more can be done, and no improvements can be made, continuing that perfection would render scientists such as himself and his foe useless. Mayuri continues that once his opponent dared to call himself the 'perfect being,' his fate was sealed. He then breaks his Zanpakutō as punishment for betraying its owner.
The captain then proceeds to revive his lieutenant, by what appears to be rather explicit means, which causes a slight altercation between Mayuri and Uryū Ishida. Mayuri then has her dig up the rubble in an effort to find his former opponent's laboratory. While digging Nemu encounters Dondochakka Birstanne and Pesche Guatiche, whom she promptly tosses aside. Mayuri finally finds what he was looking for: Szayelaporro's specimen conservation hall, in which, to the shock of both Lieutenant Renji Abarai and Uryū, he finds two bodies hanging from the ceiling.
Mayuri attempts to 'fix' Uryū, and Kenpachi attempts to prove Nnoitra's claim that no blade can ever cut him is incorrect.
After the defeat of his opponent and excavation of his specimen hall, Mayuri attempts to "fix" Uryū, much to the latter's chagrin. The two proceed to argue until Renji interrupts them. Renji requests that Mayuri heal his wounds first, as he wishes to assist his friends in their respective battles with the other Espada. Mayuri retorts that there would be no need for that, as the only member of the Soul Society's task force left fighting is the captain of the 11th Division, Kenpachi Zaraki. Mayuri claims that helping Zaraki would be suicidal, as, when the captain is fighting, he is like a beast, and Renji would just be like a piece of roar meat for him. Mayuri continues that being torn to pieces by a couple of beasts would be a rather stupid death.
Meanwhile, Zaraki is continuing his battle against the 5th Espada, Nnoitra Gilga. The two of them continually clash swords until Zaraki slashes Nnoitra up into the air. Nnoitra counters by swirling his blade over his head and throwing it at his opponent. The blade barely misses Zaraki, who then proceeds to put down his Zanpakutō, and grab the chain connected to Nnoitra's blade. Zaraki pulls his opponent down towards him, and subsequently grabs his face, slamming him into the ground. After grabbing his opponent's face, Zaraki regains his sword and thrusts it towards Nnoitra's face, whom barely dodges it. Zaraki finds it interesting that Nnoitra decided to dodge his attack, as this seemed to suggest that it was dangerous, going against the Espada's earlier claim that no blade could cut him. Zaraki deduces that there are some places on his opponent's body which are vulnerable to attack.
Nnoitra then attempts an aerial attack on Zaraki, whilst claiming that him dodging was due to pure battle instinct, and that there is no way his opponent's blade could ever cut him. Nnoitra then brings down his blade upon Zaraki, resulting in a cloud of dust surrounding the captain. Much to the Espada's surprise, Zaraki is still alive, furthermore, he has grabbed the edge of Nnoitra's blade. Zaraki then proceeds to tell Nnoitra that a lot of people in Soul Society have dared to say that his blade could never cut them, however, Zaraki claims that he has never met someone whose eyes or throat cannot be cut. Upon saying this, the captain has forced his Zanpakutō through Nnoitra's eyepatch, and, seemingly, his head. Much to Zaraki's surprise, while still impaled on his opponent's Zanpakutō, Nnoitra once again restates that no blade can ever cut him. After saying that, the Espada thrusts his hand deep into Zaraki's chest, leaving him with a dumbfounded look upon his face.
Nnoitra takes his hand out of Kenpachi's chest and explains that the reason why he was able to survive being stabbed through the head is because there is a huge hole where his eye is supposed to be, which he gladly shows to Kenpachi. Kenpachi begins smiling at this, though, because he realizes that he will be able to kill him eventually if he just cuts him enough times.
The two battle again and Kenpachi is able to make a slight cut on Nnoitra's arm. Nnoitra believes this was just luck and attacks him again. However, Kenpachi is able to cut through Nnoitra's Zanpakutō and make a cut across his face. Kenpachi explains to him that he's now used to his Hierro and goes to attack him again. Nnoitra fires a Cero from his tongue, which Kenpachi easily blocks with a single hand. Nnoitra attacks him again in anger and accidentally knocks off Kenpachi's eye patch. Kenpachi then makes a vertical slash across Nnoitra's entire body.
Nnoitra is breathing heavily, barely surviving the attack from Kenpachi, who is just now noticing that his eye patch was knocked off. He tells Nnoitra that the eye patch was a seal on his Reiatsu so he can enjoy battles more. Nnoitra, angrier than ever now, goes into his Resurrección.
He gains two additional arms, each of which has its own weapon, and the cuts he got from Kenpachi heal up. Kenpachi simply smiles at this and goes to attack Nnoitra again. His Zanpakutō is easily blocked by Nnoitra though who counter attacks by cutting across Kenpachi's body which causes him to fall to the ground.
Nnoitra, believing that he's killed Kenpachi, decides to finish off everyone else. Orihime runs over to Yachiru to protect her and Ichigo attempts to go after her. The barrier he's in rejects him from leaving and he questions if Orihime's abilities were always able to do this. Orihime uses Santen Kesshun on Yachiru, but Nnoitra doesn't think anything of it. All of a sudden, Nnoitra is attacked from behind and one of his arms is sliced off.
Kenpachi is shown to be just fine from the attack, which angers Nnoitra, who accuses Kenpachi of playing dead. Kenpachi defends himself by saying he was thinking of a strategy and decided to just cut off all of his arms one by one, since it would be too boring if his Zanpakutō was always blocked. Nnoitra tells him that he won't be able to cut off a single one of his arms, and proves this by regenerating his cut off arm. The two then battle once again and neither can gain the upper hand until Nnoitra grows another arm that goes straight through Kenpachi's chest. Nnoitra then grows yet another arm revealing that he has six arms in total.
Ichigo curses in shock as Orihime notes Nnoitra's six arms. Nnoitra tells Kenpachi that it's over, but Kenpachi laughs out loud, shocking Nnoitra. Kenpachi says that he would not have things any other way and wondering what's over. Kenpachi says that now that he has a hole of his own, they are finally on even ground, going on to say that it is time to get started and attacks. Nnoitra dodges and manages to slash Kenpachi, but Kenpachi counter-attacks and pushes Nnoitra back. Nnoitra kicks Kenpachi away and continues to press his advantage, cutting part of a nearby pillar and dropping it on Kenpachi, but Kenpachi slices it in half. Nnoitra continues to press his advantage, but it does not seem to faze Kenpachi. Nnoitra wonders what's going on, thinking to himself that while he is the one cutting, but Kenpachi is still fighting back. Nnoitra then motivates himself by repeating his mantra "I am the strongest" and charges at Kenpachi, telling him to just die and slashes Kenpachi once more, perforating his neck.
Kenpachi touches the wound on his neck and comments that at this rate he really is going to die, causing Yachiru to worriedly say his name. Kenpachi goes on to say that as dying would be a pain, he will have to give Kendō a try. Nnoitra is momentarily confused by this as Kenpachi explains that Yamamoto forced him to learn Kendō when he first joined the Gotei 13, but it was not his style and he couldn't stand the name, but that it did convince him of one thing. He then asks Nnoitra if he is aware that a sword is more powerful when it is swung with both hands. Nnoitra charges him, saying that something like that is totally obvious. However, Kenpachi comments that Nnoitra does not know just how big of a difference it makes. Kenpachi then swings his sword with both hands and unleashes a burst of power.
Nnoitra thinks back on his life as his fight with Kenpachi comes to a conclusion.
As Nnoitra charges him, Kenpachi stays dead still. Nnoitra goes in for the kill and that is when Kenpachi swings his Zanpakutō down with both hands. The force of his swing shocks Nnoitra and causes a great explosion. When the dust clears, Kenpachi is surprised, but pleased to find Nnoitra still alive. Kenpachi compliments Nnoitra for being tough and turns away to leave. When Nnoitra yells at him to stop, Kenpachi replies that he's being irritating. Nnoitra states that it is not over, but Kenpachi replies that he ended it there and that he is under no obligation to do the deathblow to someone that can't even fight any more. Nnoitra says that that is even more reason why this is not over, stating that he can still fight. Kenpachi does not respond, leading to Nnoitra taunting him about being scared. An annoyed Kenpachi replies that it seems he has no choice and tells Nnoitra to bring it. As Nnoitra charges in, he recalls the time when he and Nel were Espada together and were sent on a mission by Aizen.
During the mission, Nnoitra exterminated an entire colony of Hollows, causing Nel to wonder why he did that when it was not part of the order. Nnoitra counters that the order didn't say don't commit mass murder. Nel points out that Aizen's orders were to locate the Vasto Lorde and that mass murder is contradictory to that objective. Nnoitra says that not everyone approves of Aizen and those who attacked them are renegades and so killing them benefits Aizen. Nnoitra goes on to say that anyone he can kill can't be Vasto Lorde and that Nel is making too big a fuss about one or two hundred ordinary Hollows. Nel replies that Nnoitra should think very carefully about what he is saying, going on to say that they evolved from those ordinary Hollows by a stroke of luck, nothing more. Nnoitra tells Nel to bring it if she has such a problem with him, but Nel simply replies that although he has become an Espada, he is still a child and turns away. Nel's words anger Nnoitra and he charges her.
Sometime later, Nnoitra is knocked unconscious and when he comes to, he sees Nel sitting and reading. Nnoitra wonders why Nel helped him, but Nel replies that she did not help Nnoitra, but merely put a stop to his suicidal actions so that they would not be short an Espada. Nnoitra asks Nel why she follows him around when she knows perfectly well that he hates her. Nel replies that it is because he is weaker than her. This angers Nnoitra, to think about how much he resents the fact that everybody takes pity on him. He thinks that he will not show anyone mercy. Whether it is a baby or a beast, strong or weak, he'll crush them all in a single blow. He says he won't leave them the strength to rise up.
Before he can complete his chain of thought, however, Kenpachi deals the death blow and Nnoitra falls to the ground. As he dies, Nel is resting against a broken pillar. Nel opens her eyes and says his name as Nnoitra falls to the ground, dead.
Kenpachi tells Ichigo to take Orihime and return to Karakura Town but before he can, Starrk kidnaps Orihime once again.
Nnoitra recalls an unnamed Arrancar pleading with him for his life, but Nnoitra kills him. Following this, Nnoitra tells someone unseen that if they have something to say and wonders what's wrong with killing the loser. Nnoitra wonders what the argument is, but they are both Arrancar. Nnoitra dismisses that notion and says that he killed the Arrancar because they were both Arrancar. He tells his unseen companion that if they are going to follow him, then they need to remember that he will not spare the life of a comrade out of pity.
He then remembers an encounter with Nel, who tells Nnoitra that she doesn't want to fight him as she sees no point in the battles Nnoitra engages in. Nnoitra replies that the fight itself is his reason. Nel confesses that she doesn't understand. Nnoitra replies that he wants to die. He wants to die fighting and that is why he wants to get stronger, so the fight will come to him and then he can spend every breath in battle. Nel comments that this is a form intoxication. Nnoitra agrees, saying all liquor is like water when compared to a fight.
Nnoitra thinks how they were beyond salvation from the start and that Aizen's presence doesn't change that. He says that if there is anything he is grateful to Aizen for, it is the power Aizen gave him as it allows him to savor battle with more and more powerful opponents. Nnoitra resolves to get stronger until he can fight the strongest, saying that anyone stronger than him cannot be allowed to exist and that he'll crush them all by any means necessary, saying that getting cut down and taking his last breath before he hits the ground is how he wants to go out.
Back in the present, Tesra sheds a tear as Nnoitra lies dead. Kenpachi thanks Nnoitra for a good time. Tearing off his tattered captain's haori, Kenpachi turns his attention to Ichigo. Kenpachi kicks through Orihime's shield and grabs Ichigo and throws him towards his Zanpakutō. Kenpachi tells Ichigo to pick up his Zanpakutō and take Orihime back home. He tells him that his job here is done and that from now on, they will handle things. Ichigo starts to protest, but Kenpachi reminds him that he is a Substitute Shinigami only, and therefore it is his job to project Karakura Town and that he should be happy that he was able to rescue the girl. He also tells Ichigo that he has been hogging too much of the fighting as it is. Kenpachi then orders Orihime to heal him. As Orihime runs towards Kenpachi, Starrk appears in front of her. After apologizing for what he is about to do, he grabs Orihime and says that he'll borrow her for a bit. As Ichigo and Kenpachi charge Starrk, the latter disappears in a burst of Sonído. The next moment, Orihime is in Aizen's throne room. Aizen tells the distressed Orihime to smile, telling her that all she has to do is smile and wait there for a little while, just until they return from destroying Karakura Town. As Aizen says this, a Garganta to Karakura Town opens.
As Aizen reveals he is leaving for Karakura Town, the Shinigami become trapped in Hueco Mundo.
As he walks towards the open Garganta, Aizen states that he will destroy Karakura Town in order to create the Ōken. Upon Aizen's instruction, Tōsen activates Tenteikūra, allowing the Shinigami and Human interlopers to hear Aizen's voice. As several of the intruders recognize the voice, Isane Kotetsu identifies the Kidō he is using. Aizen expresses his respect for defeating so many Espada, and informs them that they are now commencing their invasion of the Human World. Uryū questions this, having believed that he would wait until the Hōgyoku had been awakened by Orihime's powers. Sōsuke continues, telling them that he was leaving Orihime in the fifth tower for them to rescue. He says that she is no longer of any use to him, but that her ability is a power that exceeds the realm of what is permitted to Humans. As the highest levels of Soul Society understood this, her abduction caused a sense of crisis that led to Soul Society concentrating on strengthening its own defenses, rather than those of the Human World.
Aizen then reveals that Orihime also served as bait to lure the Ryoka to Hueco Mundo, and that he has succeeded in capturing the four Shinigami captains who came to reinforce them. Isane notes that the four Garganta used by the Shinigami to enter Hueco Mundo have closed. Uryū asks Mayuri if he can open them from where they are, but he replies that only Kisuke Urahara has analyzed the Garganta enough to be able to create one. Aizen explains that the thirteen captains of the Gotei 13 are the primary military strength of Soul Society, and that with three of them having defected and four more now trapped in Las Noches, the military strength of Soul Society has been halved. He finishes by saying that he will deal with the intruders once he has created the Ōken and conquered Soul Society.
Upon hearing this, Ichigo rushes off, but is stopped by Zaraki, who reminds him that he had previously stated that Urahara had received a few orders. The first was to allow captains to access Hueco Mundo and the second was to prepare Karakura Town for a battle. In the Human World, the remaining Shinigami captains and several lieutenants gather in preparation for Aizen's arrival.
As the plans of the Gotei 13 are revealed, Aizen summons the top three Espada to Karakura Town, while leaving Las Noches in the care of Ulquiorra.
As the captains explain to the Ryoka that the Gotei 13 intends to fight in Karakura Town, Sado says that the town would be destroyed in such a conflict. Byakuya tells Rukia that simply deploying the captains to the Human World is not what was meant. Mayuri explains to Uryū that Karakura was transformed into a suitable battlefield using Tenkai Kecchū. Urahara created this device to generate a one ri radius Senkaimon, bound by four linked points at each cardinal direction. At the same time, the Shinigami Research and Development Institute constructed a replica of Karakura Town, which was swapped with the real thing via the Tenkai Kecchū. Since the Real Karakura Town and its sleeping residents are now in the outskirts of Rukongai, it will not matter if the fighting damages or destroys the town in the Human World.
As Aizen steps through the Garganta, Captain-Commander Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto comments that they made it in time. Aizen questions this, stating that he already knows that the Real Karakura Town in not below him, but that it will not interfere with his plans. He summons Coyote Starrk, Baraggan Louisenbairn, and Tier Harribel, who arrive via separate Garganta, along with their Fracción. Aizen tells Yamamoto that if Karakura Town is in Soul Society, then they will annihilate them in the Human World and then create the Ōken in Soul Society. He then tells Ulquiorra that he is leaving Las Noches in his care until then. As he says this, Ulquiorra breaks out of the Caja Negación in the fifth tower, close to Orihime.
Ichigo tells Zaraki that he was wrong about his duty being to protect Karakura Town. Instead, he tells the captain that his job is to protect his friends and he charges towards the fifth tower and Ulquiorra Cifer.