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Song of the Blog: [Boku no Immortal] by Swaggy Y.H
Disclaimer: This blog is about Bankai as a story device and as a thematic tool, not a dissection of every Bankai ever. Individual Bankai will be discussed in blogs about the individual characters when necessary. That being said, some Bankai of note will be discussed to prove the point.
'Bankai', or 'Final Release', refers to the ultimate form a Zanpakutō can take on. This state is acquired through the manifestation (forced or otherwise) of a Zanpakutō spirit into the physical plane through training or artificial means, the only known practitioners of the latter being Kisuke Urahara and Ichigo Kurosaki. The Bankai state is, in essence, an astronomical enhancement of a Zanpakutō's Shikai state, and the powers of the two states will always be thematically linked; for example, a simple melee-based Zanpakutō will always have a melee-based Bankai. The first Shinigami to achieve Bankai, then known as 'Shinuchi' and with the weapon itself known as an 'Evolved Zanpakutō', was Ichibē Hyōsube, who later named the state Bankai as a part of his role as 'The Monk Who Calls the Real Name'. Prior to the introduction of Ichigo to the world of the Shinigami and his later accelerated development, most Bankai were known for their elaborate, grandiose natures. Examples of this tendency include the reality altering effects of Shunsui Kyōraku's Katen Kyōkotsu: Karamatsu Shinjū, the sensory deprivation field of Kaname Tōsen's Suzumushi Tsuishiki: Enma Kōrogi, and the weather-shifting ice powers of Tōshirō Hitsugaya's Daiguren Hyōrinmaru. Since Ichigo's attainment of his comparatively subdued Tensa Zangetsu, many such small-frame Bankai have been revealed or obtained, including Ikkaku Madarame's Ryūmon Hōzukimaru, Renji Abarai's Sōō Zabimaru, and Kenpachi Zaraki's as-yet unnamed Bankai.
Bankai exists in the story as a way for Shinigami to win previously hopeless fights, at least in theory. For most Shinigami (exceptions being most notably Hitsugaya, Ichigo, and to an extent, Byakuya Kuchiki), Bankai is a fight-finishing last resort, as it takes great skill and spiritual power to maintain the state and wield the power of the form for any length of time. For most Shinigami, the Bankai state is only able to be combated in full using another Bankai. It is a way to accurately portray the full extent of a Shinigami's power in combat, and win or lose, the use of a Bankai typically announces the end of a given Shinigami's role in a fight.
Bankai can also change or evolve to reflect the growth of a Shinigami's power. The only natural displays of this aspect of a Bankai thus far are Renji's Bankai revealing its true name to him upon attainment of a certain level of skill and strength, Hitsugaya's Bankai attaining a 'complete' form after training for years, and Ichigo's Bankai adapting after his attainment of the Final Getsuga Tenshō and again after he accessed his latent Fullbring abilities. Mayuri Kurotsuchi demonstrated that a Bankai can be artificially modified through his creation of both modifications of his original Konjiki Ashisogi Jizō and a complete new form, Konjiki Ashisogi Jizō: Matai Fukuin Shōta. These evolutions and alterations further showcase the increased power and adaptability of Bankai, showing that it is not an innate state of the Zanpakutō, but is more akin to a learned and refined technique on the part of both user and spirit.
Bankai also reflect the user's personality more directly than Shikai. Ichigo, for example, pairs his brash, headstrong nature with a Bankai devoted to speed and power, while distant Byakuya wields a Bankai with almost unparalleled ranged offense, only shifting to melee when his pride, something he holds close to his heart, is threatened.
Lastly, Bankai best encapsulates the (in my opinion) central theme of Bleach, that one can attain greatness through perseverance, strength of will, and help from one's comrades (in this case, the Zanpakutō spirit itself). No Shinigami has ever achieved Bankai through solo effort or strength on their part, and a Bankai is useless without the will and power to use and master it. The nature of this form is the one and only defining characteristic that separates it from similar augmentations like an Arrancar's Resurrección or the Vandenreich's Quincy: Vollständig. Understanding the definition of Bankai is, to me, the most important aspect of an intellectual reading of Bleach, and that is why I chose to devote an entire blog to it today.
That's all I have for y'all today! While I will do a poll to assess readership, it won't be the driver for discussion today. Instead, I want you to talk Bankai to me. What are your favorites? What Bankai do you want to see Kubo reveal next or develop further? What are your opinions on recent Bankai revelations, and what do you think of Bankai as a thematic concept? As always, I look forward to your opinions and hope to see you next time on what is fast becoming a renewed weekly effort.