THE BATTLE is the fifty-ninth volume of the Bleach manga series.
After the defeat of the Shinigami by the mysterious group of warriors calling themselves the Wandenreich, Ichigo heads to the Royal Palace to heal his wounds. With that accomplished, it's time to get stronger! But does Ichigo have what it takes to survive some super-intense training?!
As they fall towards Kirio Hikifune's palace, Renji and Ichigo squabble over which of them will break the other's fall. They, discovering Kon had hidden himself in Ichigo's robes, use him to cushion their landing.
After Kirio greets them, she prepares a banquet for them to feast upon. When Ichigo initially thinks there will be a catch to being fed, Kirio notes being around Kisuke Urahara has made him overly suspicious. While she goes to make dessert, Renji, Ichigo, and Kon dine. Ichigo wonders if it is alright for them to be treated to hot springs and feasts while those in Seireitei prepare for battle, but Renji reassures him they need to be fully recovered before they can train hard.
Kirio, returning with the dessert, has become much slimmer, leaving the trio bewildered. She reveals that when she cooks, she uses up her Reiatsu, and thus, she tries to put on as much weight as possible to counter the weight loss which results from cooking.
Kirio tells them the Royal Guard members have all contributed something significant to the history of Soul Society, as recognized by the Soul King. Kirio is responsible for the creation of Artificial Souls, and she used the same principles to strengthen their Reiatsu via their food. She warns them that in the next palace, they will meet the unpredictable Ōetsu Nimaiya, the man who made the Zanpakutō.
Ichigo, Renji, and Kon are greeted by Ōetsu, who soon pits them against the Zanpakutō.
While Ōetsu is told Ichigo and Renji have arrived, Kon complains about the two Shinigami using him as a cushion to land, and how he was dragged away from the last palace by them, despite wanting to stay. The trio are loudly greeted by Ōetsu, who identifies himself as the number one Zanpakutō creator. He brings them to a building, where they are welcomed by a number of ladies, and formally introduces himself, forcing them to perform an elaborate formal greeting, which was apparently a prank.
Mera, interrupting Ōetsu, has the group follow her to a hut on the edge of a precipice. She states the hut is the real Hōōden, and her master does not like to acknowledge he lives there. Ichigo and Renji, stepping inside, fall a short distance. Ōetsu tells them he is the only Shinigami there, and the other people are actually Zanpakutō. Noting Ichigo's inability to discern the difference, he states they have no love for Zanpakutō, which is why they cannot tell the difference. He shatters Renji's Zanpakutō, saying a Zanpakutō which is not loved breaks easily. As they notice beings around them, Ōetsu states the wrath of the Zanpakutō is around them, and if they can get out alive, he will reforge their blades.
Ichigo and Renji find themselves pitted against nameless Zanpakutō, which Nimaiya reveals to be the Asauchi. Nimaiya reveals the Asauchi every member of the Gotei 13 is given upon graduation from the Shin'ō Academy is essentially a blank template, and over time, the essence of the wielder's soul is projected onto the blade, thus creating the wielder's personal Zanpakutō. These Asauchi are all made by Nimaiya himself. Nimaiya further explains the Asauchi feel anger towards Ichigo and Renji because of their incorrect usage of their Zanpakutō, and finally asks who is truly superior in the relationship between Shinigami and Zanpakutō.
Meanwhile, on the lowest floor of the Central Underground Prison, "Muken," Kenpachi Zaraki and Unohana enter a dark, cavernous space. Unohana explains this is the only place she and Kenpachi could freely fight, and it is only due to special permission from the Captain-Commander they are permitted there; under normal circumstances, those who are not criminals would not be allowed there. Kenpachi states if not for their strength, they would be deemed criminals themselves. Unohana, giving Kenpachi a chilling look, comments on how talkative he has been, revealing a scar above her heart. Unohana says her wound is throbbing, and Kenpachi, pointing at the scar over his left eye, echoes her.
In another room, Captain-Commander Kyōraku remarks upon the strength of the original Gotei 13, and says their 11th Division Captain (Unohana) was famed for her mastery of different swords and schools of swordsmanship, taking the name "Yachiru." He says when Zaraki and Unohana clash, it is inevitable one of them will die. Back in Muken, the two jump towards each other, and the fight begins.
Kenpachi Zaraki and Retsu Unohana face off against each other.
Isane enters Unohana's room and finds a note with her name on it. Meanwhile, Yachiru enters Kenpachi Zaraki's room and finds his eyepatch on a cushion. One read-through of the note leaves Isane in tears, while Yachiru understands with sadness what Kenpachi leaving behind his eyepatch means.
Unohana and Zaraki continue fighting. Unohana easily dodges Zaraki's strike and slices the side of his throat, wheeling him across the room. Zaraki lunges at her, but to no avail, as Unohana kicks away his armed hand. She then attempts to behead him, but he manages to dodge and throw her off just in time. The two charge at each other, swords clashing and face to face. Unohana commends that he is wise enough to remove his eyepatch before coming to fight her. However, she calls him pathetic, asking him if this is the extent of his power. With her free hand, she plunges a dagger into his back and goes back a distance. She says that he cannot possibly enjoy fighting while one arm idles by. Zaraki scoffs at her round-about tactics to damage him, and exclaims that she is no longer the person he once respected. Unohana retorts that one does not use the word 'respect' when addressing the enemy, especially in a fight to the death.
With Zaraki cornered against a tree and her sword at his throat, she tells him that she hasn't changed and that in their previous fight, he never gave her a chance to use those 'round-about' tactics. Zaraki states that he worshiped her, and that he felt fear for the first time in their fight; he wanted to fight like her. He asks if he's going to die without knowing what it's like to defeat her, but Unohana proceeds to impale him by his throat. Dazed for a moment, Zaraki regains his self-control finds his sword clashing against her's. Unohana remarks that he seemed to have lost consciousness for a brief second. Zaraki wonders what just happened, but casts the thought away and states that it is time to use his basic instincts, not his brain. Unohana notes that he will not die; he grows stronger every time he is on the brink of death, and that it is the oversight he imposed on himself, as well as her sin.
Kenpachi Zaraki and Retsu Unohana continue to fight. Meanwhile, Unohana recounts their first battle.
While being hurled across the arena, Zaraki struggles to discover why he keeps suddenly losing consciousness in the middle of the fight. He feels nostalgic as if it happened once before.
Meanwhile, Unohana thinks back to a time when she was on a mission in Rukongai. Her subordinate arrives at her presence and informs her that no matter how much he searched, he will not be able to find a single person in Rukongai strong enough to satisfy her. Unohana remarks that he has realized her real intentions. The subordinate states that the mission is to "subjugate the warriors on the outskirts of Rukongai to keep the peace in Seireitei", and that if there wasn't such a reason there would be no need to send someone like her. He further tells her that he considers that the size of the mountain of corpses beside them to represent the amount of her displeasure, but Unohana only noticed the pile when it was mentioned. Then, a young Zaraki suddenly appears on top of the mountain. Zaraki and Unohana immediately face off, and Unohana states she never thought she'd find so much pleasure facing a child.
Back in the present, the two Kenpachis continue to battle. Zaraki realizes that he is now fighting by reflex, instead of reacting to the sword like before. He feels that every time he regains his consciousness, he feels like he's been reborn. In her thoughts, Unohana remarks that Zaraki probably did not realize that he was restraining his fighting power to the extreme all along. She also notes that during their previous fight, they both enjoyed an experience they've never felt before, and he found pleasure in fighting to the limit. She was weaker than him, and he had to restrain his power to make the fight longer, as he was afraid of losing the only opportunity to enjoy a fight. He got weaker because of her weaker power. She noted that as Zaraki fought more fights to the verge of death, he was releasing his shackles and growing back to his normal self. As Unohana impales Zaraki with her sword, she thinks that she will kill Zaraki a hundred thousand times and heal him again and again, until he returns to his former self, even after he surpasses her. Engulfed with blood, Zaraki strikes Unohana down her entire body.
The battle of the two Kenpachi continues, with Unohana using her Bankai.
Unohana surprises Zaraki by slashing back at him. As she asks if he thought she was dead, she heals her wounds and states that he should know why she sought to master her healing skills. She activates her Bankai and the two resume battle.
As they fight, Zaraki thinks to himself that he is melting away. He notes that it is wonderful and that everything feels different, concluding that he has been asleep for all his life, dreaming of fighting with Unohana. He realizes that this is true battle.
Unohana ponders how Zaraki sealed away his power so he could enjoy battle forever, while she learned to heal herself so that she could enjoy battle forever. She realizes that she has obtained this power for the sake of this battle, noting that for each age, there is a single Kenpachi and that when a truly strong person discovers another with true strength, they can only kill the other or raise them up. She remembers standing over the defeated young Zaraki and noting that he is deserving of the name "Kenpachi", before bidding him farewell as Kenpachi impales her through the chest with his Zanpakutō.
As Unohana lies dying, Kenpachi Zaraki hears the voice of his Zanpakutō. Meanwhile, Ichigo fails Ōetsu Nimaiya's training.
As Zaraki despairs over Unohana dying, she thinks to herself that he is like a child. She notes that he has recovered his full strength and that while many battles may now be very one-sided and boring, he has an enemy worthy of his power, allies he can face as equals and a new partner that has awakened with him. As Unohana notes that she has now relinquished everything, including the name "Kenpachi", she is glad to be able to die having fulfilled her purpose.
Zaraki begins to hear a voice, which claims to have watched over him. His Zanpakutō begins to tell him its name.
Meanwhile, in the Soul King Palace, Nimaiya tells Renji that after three full days he has passed the test. However, Ichigo has failed. Ichigo insists that he can still pass the test, but Nimaiya tells him that the Asauchi did not choose him and there is no point in carrying on. He states that the test has proved that Renji is a true Shinigami. He opens a path home for Ichigo and tells him not to return to Soul Society, as it is a place for Shinigami, not Humans who do not have a Zanpakutō. Ichigo asks what will happen to Zangetsu, but Nimaiya states that he will not heal him. As Ichigo charges at him, Nimaiya sends him home, afterward stating that Ichigo does not understand what it means that the Asauchi refused to choose him and that he has been able to fight all along without wielding one. He states that Ichigo needs to learn of his roots, even if he never comes back.
Ichigo returns home and Isshin tells him how he met Masaki.
Ichigo returns to the Human World to find that his body has been moved from Urahara's shop. Unable to face his father, Ichigo wanders around in the rain until he gets to Ikumi's home. She dries Ichigo's clothing and, as he thanks her, she proceeds to hit him in the face with an extremely hot bun. Ichigo apologizes for always skipping his job, only for Ikumi to headbutt him in the face and tell him he should do his job properly. She goes on to tell Ichigo that ever since she hired him, she has felt like she is an older sister to him and that he should know that he can rely on her. When Ichigo points out that she is over ten years older than he is, she attempts to punch him in the face because Ichigo thought that she was joking.
Their shouting match is interrupted when a customer, who turns out to be Isshin dressed in his full Shinigami uniform, shows up, though Ikumi is unable to see him. Ichigo thanks Ikumi and she lets him borrow her umbrella. He leaves, forgetting his Substitute Shinigami Badge. When they arrive home, Isshin attempts to lighten the mood, only for Ichigo to ask if he knew what had happened. Isshin says that he knows about Ichigo's Bankai being broken and that the Royal Guard showed up, thanks to Urahara. Isshin says that he is not surprised that his son was sent back because he knows nothing about himself, shocking and angering Ichigo. Isshin says it is time that he told him about his mother. At some point in the past Masaki saved Isshin's life and revealed that she was a Quincy.
Ōetsu Nimaiya explains more about Asauchi and tells Renji about the reason for Ichigo's failure, while Isshin's past is revealed.
Nimaiya notes that Renji did not protest against Ichigo being cast away. He explains further that no matter how hard Ichigo would have tried, it would have been useless. He goes on to say that all Shinigami are given an Asauchi and that they can make it their own Zanpakutō through training, and that not a single Shinigami has managed to awaken their Zanpakutō without an Asauchi. He then states that Ichigo has to find out about his soul.
Isshin explains to Ichigo about an event when he was the captain of the 10th Division, then known as Isshin Shiba. His lieutenant, Rangiku Matsumoto, spends some time tracking him down and borrows a tray from some bystanders, throwing it at her captain, who is hiding in a tree. Isshin catches the tray before it hits his face, but Matsumoto kicks the tray into it. As he complains, Matsumoto tells him to get back to work. Isshin and Matsumoto begin squabbling over Isshin's status as a captain and the head of the Shiba family and him neglecting to do his work. Isshin then makes a remark about Matsumoto's breasts, which causes her to assault him.
The two then convene with Tōshirō Hitsugaya, then the third seat, and he announces that he is finished with a stack of papers. Isshin praises Hitsugaya and says that he could become the new captain, to which Matsumoto objects. Hitsugaya then reports that in Naruki City, two Shinigami had died in the previous month, as well as the Shinigami in charge before that. Isshin rushes off to investigate, and Hitsugaya stops Matsumoto from pursuing him.
Meanwhile, Captains Gin Ichimaru and Kaname Tōsen are at a computer, when Sōsuke Aizen enters. Tōsen reports that their current attempts at Hollowfication are too virulent and do not work on normal souls, nor those of Division members. Aizen says not to worry, as he is about to find Shinji Hirako and the Visored and carry out Hollowfication experiments at the same time, telling Gin and Tōsen to be patient.
530. Everything But the Rain op.3 "Dark of the Moon"
While Isshin investigates the disappearances, Masaki has dinner with the Ishida family.
Two Shinigami are patrolling Naruki City on a cloudy night. One of them says to the other that the two Shinigami who had previously been in charge of the city died on a rainy night. Isshin, who had been following them, notes that it is good information that rainy nights are dangerous. When the two Shinigami ask why he is there, Isshin makes the excuse that he was looking for a toilet. Isshin then tells the two to leave if it starts raining.
Meanwhile, at the Ishida household, Ryūken Ishida's mother asks Masaki how school is going, as well as the "holy training". Masaki says that she is making slow progress, to which Ryūken's mother reprimands her, saying that Masaki is the last of the Kurosaki family, and that she is supposed to be training as a Quincy. Ryūken enters and tells his mother that she is being too loud. She responds by saying that she is going to her room and that she will have Ryūken's food prepared. Ryūken inquires about his father, and his mother replies by saying that she does not know when he will return. Ryūken apologizes to Masaki for his mother's behavior, and she tells him not to worry. Katagiri, the maid, tells Ryūken that the meal is ready and asks what is the matter. Ryūken replies that his mother arranged for him and Masaki to marry, but is unsure of whether Masaki will be happy. Katagiri says that Ryūken's concern is kind, and that his kindness will make Masaki happy. Ryūken says that he wants Masaki to be happy because if she is not, she cannot look at the Quincy's future positively.
Meanwhile, it has started to rain in Naruki City. The two Shinigami argue about whether they should return to Soul Society. Isshin tries to attract the Hollow with Reiatsu. The two Shinigami he met earlier are killed by the Hollow, which then appears before Isshin.