While many more bankai have been revealed in Bleach, Byakuya’s Senbonzakura Kageyoshi still stands out above the rest.
In the history of BleachCaptain Byakuya Kuchiki served as an example of what a Soul Reaper commander is supposed to be: powerful, upper-class, disciplined, wise, and ruthless towards his enemies. During the Soul Society arc, Byakuya revealed his deadly shikai, Senbonzakura, and unleashed the full power of his bankai during the climax of the story arc.
Bankai is a rare and powerful ability, and according to Byakuya, each bearer of bankai will have their name engraved in the annals of Soul Reaper history. While many more bankai have been revealed since Senbonzakura Kageyoshi, Byakuya’s own bankai remains above the rest.
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The personality of a bankai
Many shikai and bankai reflect the personality of their users, although some of these reflections are closer than others. For example, Captain Mayuri Kurotsuchi’s bankai is a monstrous creature wielding the power of mad science, while the assassin, Captain Soi Fon, strangely has a cannon-like bankai. Meanwhile, Captain Kuchiki’s bankai, Senbonzakura Kageyoshi, fits his personality perfectly, and that’s more significant than it sounds.
Byakuya was the first Captain seen in the Bleach series, giving an example of what a Captain “should” be, a control group that other Captains can be compared to. So it makes sense that his bankai is exciting but not terribly exotic compared to Captain Kaname Tosen or Captain Kurotsuchi. It is also a control group, but that doesn’t make it boring. Byakuya is the head of the Kuchiki family and a lot is expected of him. He indulges in calligraphy, walks in beautiful gardens, Soul Society politics, fancy clothing, and more, but he’s a warrior under that dazzling exterior. Byakuya is expected to dive in and uphold the high culture of Soul Society, being the flower and the sword in one package.
Both the shikai and the Byakuya bankai embody this, as the zanpakuto will dissolve his sword into countless sharp pieces floating around. They catch light in such a way that they resemble pink cherry blossoms blowing in the wind. However, these are not soft petals, they are ready to slice and dice, representing and defending with blood the beauty of Soul Society at the same time. This bankai is a wonder to the eyes and a devastating foe to Byakuya’s foes, as is the man himself.
How the Bankai of Byakuya continues to grow in spirit
Senbonzakura Kageyoshi’s basic powers and abilities do not change as he Bleach progresses, but Byakuya’s own perspective on his zanpakuto changes, so in a way, Senbonzakura evolves to match his owner. This further reinforces the notion that a Soul Reaper and his bankai are trusted partners, rather than teachers and tools. Byakuya’s use of Senbonzakura Kageyoshi actually reflects his own personality and attitude at the time.
In the Soul Society arc, Byakuya was arrogant and conceited, despising his enemies as unworthy. He only used shikai against them reluctantly, as he didn’t want to acknowledge that his enemies were worth it. During Byakuya’s final duel against Ichigo, he continued to retain his bankai, and even then, he used a moderate version, not wanting to flatter Ichigo with all his power right away. This gave Ichigo, the underdog, a chance to fight against such a powerful enemy. In the end, Ichigo and Byakuya achieved a tie.
Later, during the Hueco Mundo arc, Byakuya was a changed man. Since then, he had renounced his stubborn views on honor and law and instead fully accepted his role as the responsible older brother and protector of Rukia Kuchiki at last. Now Rukia is the pride and joy of Byakuya’s life, not the laws and ancient decorum, and this fact is reflected in Byakuya’s duel against Zommari Rureaux, the seventh Sword. Once Byakuya finished discovering his opponent’s abilities, Byakuya immediately used bankai and completely crushed his enemy mercilessly. He explained that he was killing Zommari not out of Soul Reaper duty, but to protect Rukia. Byakuya’s full power represented his fierce determination to protect Rukia from this Espada, without arrogant pride standing in his way.
Byakuya learned to appreciate the use of his shikai and bankai again after the Sternritter attacked. Sternritter “F” As Nodt had stolen Senbonzakura Kageyoshi until he discarded him and thus allowed Byakuya to claim him. After losing his bankai and nearly losing his life, Byakuya had the opportunity to step back and re-examine his zanpakuto with artist eyes.
Byakuya and his sword are now closer than ever, and he will never take his shikai or bankai for granted again. Few other soul reapers have such a perspective on their own power.
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