- "A Zanpakutō's shape and abilities are based on their Soul Reaper's soul. Once a Soul Reaper learns his sword's name, they are able to communicate with one another and grow stronger together. They are born with their Soul Reapers, and they die with their Soul Reapers. They are Zanpakutō."
The Zanpakutō (斬魄刀, Soul-slicing sword) is the main weapon of the Soul Reapers and Arrancar. They are superior to the Keyblade in terms of strength, but lack the ability to release Hearts. However, they are capable of trasforming into more elaborate and powerful forms. The art of wielding a Zanpakutō is called Zanjutsu (斬術, Swordsmanship).
OverviewZanpakutō are the trademark weapons of the Soul Reaper. Capable of cutting spirit bodies, they are amongst the few weapons which can be used to combat Hollows. Each Soul Reaper carries a unique Zanpakutō, and each Zanpakutō is unique, as the swords are both reflections of a Soul Reaper's soul and power, and sentient beings unto themselves.
Each Zanpakutō has its own name which its Soul Reaper must learn in order to be able to wield its power. The Zanpakutō'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 widely in appearance and have their own distinct personalities which match their owner's. The Zanpakutō spirit can normally only be seen by its wielder. Otherwise they dwell in their own "inner world," created within the minds of the Shinigami who wield them, as such each Shinigami's inner world is drastically different from another Soul Reaper and is unique to them. A Zanpakutō spirit can bring its wielder into its inner world, though Soul Reapers can voluntary achieve this by simple meditation. Because they are part of their owner's soul, a Zanpakutō cannot be replaced, though it will slowly regenerate if broken.
Depending upon the Soul Reaper's ability to communicate with and control their Zanpakutō's spirit, a Zanpakutō 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 Zanpakutō, giving it abilities far beyond that of its simple use as a sword. The power and forms of Shikai and Bankai are dependent on the Zanpakutō. They also vary according to the wielder's strength and training. However, the fourth release state, Resurrección, is exclusive to the Arrancar and requires no training to master.
The sealed form of a Zanpakutō is the first and most common form. Most sealed Zanpakutō look like regular katana, with slight variations between them as one would expect between different swords. These variations include the colour (often limited to brass, pewter, or silver), shape and design of the guard, as well as the colour of stitching on the hilt. Soul Reapers usually carry their Zanpakutō in the sealed state and activate the released forms as necessary. The only two exceptions to this are Ichigo Kurosaki, who carries Zangetsu in a constant release state, and Kenpachi Zaraki, who didn't bother to seal his Zanpakutō and did not bother to learn its name. The sealed form of a Zanpakutō can also 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 Hōzukimaru, whose hilt stores a blood-clotting ointment. A Zanpakutō will return to its sealed state when its wielder is knocked unconscious.
The Shikai (始解, Initial Release) is the second form of a Zanpakutō. In order to achieve Shikai, the Soul Reaper needs only learn their Zanpakutō's name. Picking a name will not work, as the Zanpakutō spirit already has a predetermined name. In order to learn it, the Soul Reaper must be able to communicate with the spirit in their Inner World, which varies with the wielder. After first learning the Zanpakutō's name, the Shikai can be performed at will simply by speaking a command followed by the Zanpakutō's name. The commands vary between users and range from a simple imperative verb (such as Byakuya Kuchiki's "Scatter" for his Senbonzakura) to a short poem (such as Jūshirō Ukitake's "All Waves, Rise now and Become my Shield, Lightning, Strike now and Become my Blade" for his Sōgyo no Kotowari). They often relate to the Zanpakutō's signature ability (Kaien Shiba's "Rankle the Seas and the Skies" for his Nejibana refers to its manipulation over water) or hint at the nature of its spirit (Tōshirō Hitsugaya's "Sit Upon the Frozen Heavens" for his Hyōrinmaru refers to both its noble nature and status as the strongest ice-element Zanpakutō). This step may be bypassed by expert Soul Reapers who have learned how to use their Bankai.
Bankai (卍解, Final Release) is the final release and most powerful form of the Zanpakutō. Unlike learning Shikai, Bankai must be learned by materializing the Zanpakutō spirit (effectively the reverse of entering the Inner World) and forcing the spirit into submission. Due to the great difficulty, achieving Bankai can take ten years. However, Ichigo Kurosaki and Kisuke Urahara have mastered Bankai through a far shorter, yet much more dangerous method. Using a special device created by Urahara, which forcibly materializes a Zanpakutō spirit (thus bypassing a large portion of the training), they were able to attain their Bankai within three days instead. Unlike the Shikai, there is no command phrase to activate Bankai, though the user will usually say "Bankai" beforehand. A Zanpakutō's Bankai is often a manifestation of the spirit itself, usually creating a massive creature or a powerful effect to aid the user in battle. The Bankai itself will receive a different name in addition to the ordinary Zanpakutō (for example, Shūsuke Amagai's Raika becomes Raika Gōen Kaku). Certain Soul Reapers also change with their Zanpakutō, gaining clothing similar to what their Zanpakutō's spirit form looks like. Most Zanpakutō will also gain additional special abilities, or a more enhanced version of the usual one. Like with the Shikai release, most of these abilities have an associated name.
Resurrección (帰刃 (レスレクシオン), resurekushion; Spanish for "Resurrection", Japanese for "Returning Blade") is an Arrancar-exclusive Zanpakutō release. Unlike Soul Reaper's Zanpakutō however, an Arrancar's Zanpakutō is simply the Arrancar's Hollow powers sealed into the shape of a weapon. By releasing their Zanpakutō in the same manner as a Soul Reaper, an Arrancar can release his or her Hollow powers. Most known Resurrección give the Arrancar user an animal-like appearance (for example, Avirama Redder's Águila transforms him into a bird), although Resurreccións not based on animals are not unheard of (for example, Rudobōn's Árbol gives him a tree-like appearance). While most unreleased Soul Reaper's Zanpakutō take the form of a katana or wakizashi, there is a significantly broader range for Arrancar (for example, Apache's Cierva is sealed in the form of her bracelets, which transform into chakram-like weapons with three blades each). The name of a Resurrección, unlike a Soul Reaper's, is in Spanish (for example, Findor Carias's Pinza Aguda, which is Spanish for "Sharp Pincer") and also has a corresponding Japanese equivalent (for example, Edrad Liones's Volcánica, which is Spanish for "Volcanic" and Japanese for "Volcanic Beast"). Because their powers are sealed in their Zanpakutō, an Arrancar's release will usually transform their body into a Hollow-like form, allowing them to use all of their abilities freely. This form usually reflects what the Arrancar looked like as a Hollow, although to highly varying degrees (for example, Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez's Pantera grants him paw-like feet and form-fitting segmented armor, reflecting his former appearance as a panther-like Adjuchas). A Resurrección restores an Arrancar to its "true" form, resulting in significantly various increases in speed, strength, stamina, durability and spiritual power, as well as allowing access to both more powerful variations of previous techniques and completely new abilities (for example, Ulquiorra Cifer's Murciélago gives him access to the Cero Oscuras and his Segunda Etapa). The Resurrección has been shown to be able to be modified to a certain extent, although this has only been seen once; Wonderweiss Margera's Extinguir was created for the sole purpose of sealing Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto's Zanpakutō, Ryūjin Jakka.
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