An Arrancar’s zanpakuto is a significant gesture of resistance in Bleach. However, the zanpakuto of a Soul Reaper is quite different.
BleachThe combat system is primarily based on soul-cutting swords known as zanpakuto. Soul Reapers are the main warriors who wield such weapons in battle, although there are exceptions. A zanpakuto is essential to a Soul Reaper’s duty to slay monstrous Hollows and escort the souls of the dead to Soul Society, but what about an Arrancar’s zanpakuto?
Broadly speaking, an Arrancar’s zanpakuto is similar to that of a Soul Reaper, but there are some functional and thematic differences that set them apart, and not always in a good way. In fact, Arrancar zanpakuto could be said to be the ultimate expression of futility and denial of one’s own destiny.
Soul Reaper and Arrancar Zanpakuto: the functional differences
The basic concept of a zanpakuto is to have a blade weapon that can unleash its true power, which will be unique from character to character. However, that is the only true similarity between Soul Reaper and Arrancar zanpakuto. Most of Soul Reaper’s zanpakuto are shaped like katanas, with minor differences in blade length, hilt color, and handguard pattern. An Arrancar’s sealed zanpakuto can take a wide variety of forms, from a normal katana to a battle ax or even a squid-like appendage. Some zanpakuto are actually two weapons in one, such as Gantenbainne Mosqueda’s, which appears as a pair of brass knuckles with fangs-like accessories.
The zanpakuto of a Soul Reaper is a separate being from its owner, a unique spirit with its own mind and personality. In this sense, the two are really partners, rather than a warrior and his weapon, which you can remember Bleach spectators of the living weapons in Soul Eater. In contrast, an Arrancar’s zanpakuto is more of a vessel. Once released, the sword disappears and the wearer’s body will be modified to closely mimic its hollow shape. Here there is no association.
Soul Reaper zanpakuto will grow stronger as the wielder forms a deeper and more meaningful relationship with his inner spirit. This allows them to unlock zanpakuto’s shikai mode first, and if there is potential, their bankai mode will also be mastered.
More than once, a Soul Reaper only unlocked the true power of their weapon once they put their pride aside and closely attuned to their Zanpakuto spirit. Renji Abarai did this once to achieve his bankai, Hihio Zabimaru, and Kenpachi Zaraki then unlocked his shikai, Nozarashi. However, the latter’s achievement came at a heavy price: Kenpachi had to kill Captain Retsu / Yachiru Unohana in combat to truly become one with his zanpakuto and learn his name at last. Arrangers don’t go through this process; the power of his zanpakuto is ready from the start.
Soul Reaper and Arrancar Zanpakuto: thematic differences
The nature of these weapons, and that of their wielders, make Arrancar and Soul Reaper zanpakuto quite different on a philosophical level. Soul Reapers enrich themselves by talking to and befriending their Zanpakuto, matching the traditional Shonen values of forming friendships and bonds of trust. It’s a good lesson to teach viewers, while the Arrancars don’t have that opportunity. Captain Sosuke Aizen simply used the power of the Hogyoku to turn the Hollows into Arrancar and seal their powers within. There is no room to grow beyond that point.
Most importantly, however, Arrancar zanpakuto represents the futile attempt to escape the fate of a Hollow. The empty nature of Hollows and Arrancars is one of the BleachThe most persistent themes since Hollows look for a worthwhile future when there is none. Many Arrancar, such as former King Baraggan Luisenbairn and scientist Szayelaporro Grantz, try to find salvation and purpose through sheer power, but this is futile. Aizen strengthened his Hollow minions by unmasking them and giving them Soul Reaper-style swords, but he simply saw his Arrancar followers as tools.
No matter how hard they try, mimicking a Soul Reaper will not allow an unmasked Hollow to find satisfaction in life. In contrast, Soul Reaper’s zanpakuto has plenty of room for growth and development, thanks to their guidance from their Soul Reaper partners.
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