Bleach Zanpaku-to Guide

An Explanation of Terms:
Zanpaku-to, Shikai, Bankai Almost as important to the story of Bleach as Ichigo, Rukia, Aizen and the other characters are the swords that they carry; their zanpaku-to. Unlike other series' super-special attacks and weapons, the blades of Bleach are characters in and of themselves, with quirks and personalities of their own.

A zanpaku-to is the direct reflection of the power of its wielder, a shinigami's spiritual pressure given physical form. While they mostly look like any other katana an old-time samurai might carry around, zanpaku-to are far from normal. The foremost difference is the ability of zanpaku-to to harm shinigami. Since shinigami are really a kind of ghost, normal blades and weapons can't touch them. In fact, "zanpaku-to" literally means "soul cutting sword."

The other major point that separates them from plain ol' swords is a zanpakuto's ability to transform. Each blade has up to three distinct forms which its wielder can acces according to their strength and skill. The first, and one that doesn't take any effort to attain, is the blade's normal form. With a few exceptions, a zanpakuto's normal form is indistinguishable from that of a plain katana.

The second form is called "Shikai", or "first release". The key to Shikai is learning the zanpakuto's name. Discovering it is not the easiest thing in the world; some Shinigami never do manage it. But for those that do, they gain a whole new level of power. Easily triggered by an incantation unique to each sword, a shikai zanpakuto changes immensely, often becoming a weapon far removed from a sword. Also, shikai zanpakuto usually have special powers a shinigami can use, such as poisons, illusions or power blasts.

"Bankai", the third form, means "all release". Only shinigami at the Captain's rank, or highly powerful Vice-Captains can acquire bankai. Increasing the zanpakuto's power by as much as a factor of ten, it takes many decades of intense training to learn Bankai (or three days of cheating courtesy of Urahara and Yoruichi. ^^) Triggering a zanpakuto's bankai needs only a one-word incantation: Bankai.

Bankai zanpakuto get additions to their names, indicating it is New and Special, and it changes even more drastically, usually (presently with only 1 exception) becoming something far, far larger than the wielder.

As of the present (Chapter 183), 26 zanpakuto have been introduced, and we've seen 7 Bankai. But there are still several Captains and Vice-Captains who haven't shown us what their zanpakuto can do, and several of the blades we have seen have only given us teasers. So this list is not nearly finished yet.

Done up by: Paul Poh