With the appearance of Lunuganga again, Rukia prepares to use her zanpaktou’s second released ability, but she forgets that she’s riding on Bawabawa and hurts him while trying to do this. Lunuganga then sends them into another sand pit, and Rukia gets thrown off of Bawabawa in the process. The entire group gets sucked under the sand, and they fall into an underground cavern. Around them are giant trees similar to the ones they saw on the surface, and Ishida realizes that the ones on the surface are simply the top parts of these trees poking through the sand. Nel and her companions call this the Forest of Menos, and Ishida is reminded of how he saw a large group of Menos in the distance as they were falling into the area moments ago. He reasons that the Espada and Arrancar inhabit the surface while the Gillians and other Hollows live underground, and Nel confirms this. Unfortunately, Nel hasn’t been here before and thus doesn’t know the way back up to the surface. She starts crying because she thinks they’ll all die, but Ichigo reassures her that it’ll be fine, and Ishida suggests that there has to be a path that the Hollows use to come and go from here.
Renji then notices that Rukia isn’t with them. As it turns out, she landed in a different part of the forest and soon finds herself surrounded by Hollows. No matter how many she defeats, more show up, so Rukia starts running in search of everyone else towards a source of light in the distance. However, when she reaches the clearing, Rukia finds two Menos waiting for her, and one of them prepares to fire a Cero blast. Rukia is saved when a masked figure suddenly appears and grabs her, and he proceeds to destroy both Menos with what appears to be a zanpaktou. He then carries her through the forest and ignores her request to be let go. She manages to get free from him at one point, but he proves to be faster than her and quickly recaptures her. When she questions what he intends to do, he asks her to be patient and reveals that they’ll soon arrive at his hideout. Unbeknownst to her or to Ichigo’s group, a group of Hollows meet on the surface to discuss the disturbance in the Forest of Menos, and they find out more from Las Noches.
The masked figure soon arrives at his cave hideout, and Rukia realizes that he’s a Shinigami after all. He doesn’t respond to her question of which Division he’s with, making her think that he had left his Division. What he does reveal is that his name is Ashido, and that this is the Forest of Menos – a world where Menos reside that is nowhere near the rules of Soul Society. He then surprises Rukia by attacking her, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s stronger then her. Ichigo and company meanwhile have started searching for Rukia, and since they can’t find her, Bawabawa suggests climbing up one of the trees to get a look from above. Ishida and Sado go up with Bawabawa, but they don’t see Rukia anywhere. They soon come under attack by hordes of Hollows from both the ground and the air, and these are followed up by several Menos. When one of the flying Hollows carries away Nel, Pesche, and Dondochakka, and Ichigo can’t immediately save them because even more Menos appear. Back at Ashido’s cave, Rukia wonders if he brought her there just to kill her. When he corners her, she throws some sand at him and uses the chance to strike, but he disappears and reappears behind her, thrusting his sword at her.
For an anime original, this wasn’t too bad. The animation quality was solid, and there’s enough interesting things going on at once with the mysterious Shinigami, all the Menos, and those above-surface Hollows that I didn’t feel like this was just wasting time (compared to some of those episodes that took place before all this, such as episode 134 with the baker). I assume the masked Hollow has good intentions and that he’s really just testing Rukia to see if she’s strong enough or something. The real bad guys for the arc would then be those sinister looking Hollows, and there’s probably a gimmick of some sort to either make them more powerful or to make Ichigo and company weak enough so that they’re not pushovers. Overall, this was a decent start to the mini-arc, though of course I hope it doesn’t go for too long. There was no preview for next week this time because they aired a promo for the upcoming movie instead, but (like I mentioned last week) the future episode titles indicate that this will last until at least the end of the this month.