Bleach – 162
Surprised at the sight of Ichigo’s mask and at how powerful Ichigo is, Ulquiorra is forced to use both hands to try to stop a Getsuga Tenshou attack, but it still overwhelms him. Ichigo’s mask falls off soon afterwards, and he finds that Nel is in tears because she was so worried about him. The battle, however, is not yet over because a relatively uninjured Ulquiorra stands back up and is disappointed at what he concludes must have been Ichigo’s full power. Ulquiorra then fires off a Cero that knocks Ichigo and Nel out of the building, and he follows it up by kicking Ichigo into a different structure. As Ichigo struggles to get back up, Ulquiorra observes that Ichigo had earlier pulled out his mask for an instant to protect himself from the Cero. He knows that Ichigo can’t do it again and urges Ichigo to give up, but Ichigo tries to stab him in the chest. Ichigo believes that Ulquiorra is the top Espada and thinks that beating him wins the battle, however Ulquiorra quickly proves him wrong by revealing that he’s actually the Number 4 Espada.
Ulquiorra then plunges his hand into Ichigo’s chest and says that Ichigo can’t defeat him. He thinks that even if Ichigo could, then there are three more even stronger Espada, and all this has proven to him that he overestimated Ichigo. Walking away, Ulquiorra tells Ichigo to leave here if he can still move, and if he can’t, then he should just die. Ichigo reverts out of bankai form moments later, and across Las Noches, Inoue senses what just happened. She’s in disbelief that both Rukia and Ichigo could have been defeated, but she doesn’t get too much time to think about it because Loly and Menoly soon show up in her room to play with her. The two girls are jealous of how Aizen seems to favor her and how there are five people here to save her, so they start throwing her around and stomping on her head. Meanwhile, Renji continues to struggle against Szayel and can’t seem to do much damage to the Espada, though he does finally get Szayel to move. Having grown tired of this because he’s learned pretty much everything he wants to know about Renji, Szayel decides to end things and summons a horde of Arrancar.
Szayel explains that these Arrancar are known as Fracción and are subordinates who are of Number 11 and lower. Some Espada choose only one, and others choose many, though Szayel’s are unique because he modified them before Aizen turned them into Arrancar. In any case, he feels that Renji isn’t worth personally finishing off, so he sends one of his Fracción to do it. Renji manages to cut this Fracción’s hand, but that only serves to drive the Arrancar berserk, and Renji finds himself moments away from being smashed into the ground. Fortunately, a blue arrow suddenly pierces through the Fracción’s body, and Renji realizes that Ishida is here after having sensed the spirit power from three walls away.
So Ulquiorra is the Number 4 Espada, and by my count, even in the manga, the current top three spots are still unknown. It’s split somehow between Stark, Halibel, and the old guy. And depending on which direction the story goes, we may not find that out for a long time. I think that ultimately the question is (essentially what Ulquiorra said) how Ichigo gets strong enough to fight any of them or even Aizen if he can’t even defeat Ulquiorra. Just putting on that mask for longer periods of time doesn’t seem like it’ll cut it. I’m sure Kubo Tite probably has something planned out – I just hope it doesn’t approach DBZ levels of ridiculousness. For the time being though, we continue forward with the manga story (two more chapters covered this episode), and next week looks to have the return of Grimmjow.