Fourth division captain Unohana instructs her VC Isane to tell all of the captains, vice-captains, and even Ichigo’s group about what just happened and what they learned from Aizen. After hearing her message, Ishida and Ichigo realizes that above all, Aizen wants to kill Rukia. Back at the Soukyouku, Renji is adamant about not giving up her up, so Aizen attacks and injures Renji’s arm. Their conversation causes Renji to understand how much Aizen was manipulating people. Renji releases Zabimaru on him, but Aizen blocks the first hit and catches the second one in his hand. After slicing through Zabimaru’s released form, Aizen tells Renji that he was always the problematic one, which is why Aizen had him placed away from the fifth and third divisions. When Aizen goes in for the kill, everyone is surprised when a black sword parries the attack – Zangetsu.
After a brief bit of comedic catching up, the Ichigo and Renji turn to face Aizen. Renji uses the broken pieces of Zabimaru for a special attack that theoretically leaves an opening for Ichigo. However, when Ichigo closes in, Aizen stops Zangetsu with a single finger and counterattacks by almost cleaving Ichigo in half. He then finishes off Renji and takes Rukia. Ichigo struggles to get up, but can’t; Aizen tells him that it’s not possible for him to get back up and that his duty is over. Apparently Aizen predicted their every move and used Ichigo and company as pawns in a diversion from his own movements. The one thing Aizen guessed incorrectly is that Ichigo is working under Urahara. When he learns that Ichigo isn’t, Aizen goes on to explain his goal in all this: extracting a substance called “Hougyoku.”
When he used to be a captain, Urahara researched and developed a way to hybrid Shinigami and Hollow, which allows the person to achieve new limits of power. Urahara realized how dangerous his research was, so he tried to destroy it. Failing that, he decided to hide it in Rukia through the gigai he provided her. It was a special gigai that weakened a shinigami’s spiritual power until it transformed the shinigami into a human. That way, he could hide the Hougyoku forever. Just as Aizen gets to the part in the story where he kills the Central 46, the large shadow of Captain Komamura appears behind him. Komamura’s sword comes down and creates a large explosion.
This episode showcases just how much ass Aizen can kick. Granted both Ichigo and Renji were already injured, but Aizen uses almost no effort to stop them. We learn what Aizen is after – the ability to surpass a Shinigami’s limits – and how he plans to do that – by merging Shinigami and Hollow using Urahara’s creation. Of course, we must be reminded of what happened to Shiba Kaien, and how Ichigo is already somewhat of a Shinigami/Hollow hybrid (and note how quickly he became this powerful). I’m reminded of how well the story ties together when they bring back and use plot elements (Rukia losing power, using Urahara’s gigai) from so long ago. The Bleach storyline seems quite well planned and written.
We’ve gotten far enough into the plot now that I feel comfortable linking an interesting article explaining the Ichigo/Hollow/Shiba Kaien connections. It’s not a bad read, even if you’ve already read the manga.