After looking like he was about to kill her, Ashido reveals that he was just testing Rukia’s strength because he know how harsh this forest is, and it’s not easy to survive. He then goes outside and senses someone fighting in the distance – people that Rukia realizes are her friends. After getting Rukia’s name, the two head off together towards the battle. At that moment, Ichigo and company are having trouble with the sheer number of Gillians appearing, so they decide to run away to go save Nel and to search for Rukia instead. Since Bawabawa seems to know where Nel is, they ride off on top of him. Meanwhile, a special group of Hollows lands in the forest because of the intruders and sense that Ashido is involved too. Nearby are Nel, Pesche, and Dondochakka surrounded by a group of Hollows, and they get locked up while the Hollows look for the intruders.
Ashido and Rukia soon arrive at the site of the earlier battle, and although it initially looks empty, they soon come under attack by one of the special Hollows. From his power, Rukia realizes that this Hollow could be an Adjuchas, though Ashido doesn’t have too much trouble avoiding his fists. When Ashido manages to hit him, the Hollow calls forth numerous Gillians and directs them all to fire Cero blasts. After avoiding the first blast wave with Rukia, Ashido uses one of the Hollow masks on his back as a shield for the second one and kills the Hollow. He also takes care of all the Gillians in one fell swoop and then confirms that they just fought an Adjuchas. However, he notes that these Adjuchas only appeared recently and wonders if something happened in Soul Society. Remembering everything that took place with Aizen, Rukia tells him that Soul Society isn’t ironclad and that various bad things occurred.
As they make their way through the forest, the two take down a few more Gillians, and Ashido gets to see more of Rukia’s power. When Rukia asks Ashido about his mask, he takes it off and reveals that he came here chasing Hollows many hundreds of years ago. Although he knows there’s an exit out of the forest, he doesn’t leave because he feels that as a Shinigami, it’s his duty to get rid of the Hollows who would otherwise appear in the real world. However, from the look on Rukia’s face, Ashido realizes that the amount of Hollows appearing in the real world hasn’t decreased at all. Elsewhere in the forest, Pesche and Dondochakka decide to use the fact that Nel is an Arrancar to get their captors to bow down to them and so that they can find out where the exit is. Unfortunately for them, the Adjuchas know better and stop them because they want to use Nel for their own plan.
Ashido meanwhile brings Rukia to the spot where he and his comrades first appeared when they got here. They had chased some Hollows through a dimensional tear and arrived in the forest to find themselves surrounded. His group was eventually overwhelmed, and Ashido watched his friends fall one by one. Enraged, Ashido had picked up a Hollow mask and continued fighting on his own in order both to protect human souls and to keep the promise to fight that he made with his companions. Since he now knows that he hasn’t made much of a difference in the number of Hollows appearing in the real world, he suggests that she go back to Soul Society with her friends because he doesn’t need reinforcements. Rukia, however, reveals that she has a friend who’s being held in Las Noches, and she’s confident that they’ll be able to save her with everyone’s power. When she asks him why he brought her here, Ashido explains that he just wanted his buried friends to hear the voice of a Shinigami.
The two then detect Ichigo fighting again, so they make their way towards where they thing the battle is, but they find no one there. This turns out to be a trap by one of the Adjuchas who has brought an entire contingent of Gillians with him. Rukia and Ashido concentrate on the Adjuchas, but in dodging one of the Gillians’ cero blasts, Rukia leaves herself open to the Adjuchas’ attack. Remembering how his friend had died, Ashido jumps between them, and the hit shatters his mask.
Wow, these Adjuchas-class Menos aren’t nearly as impressive looking out in the open as they were from in the shadows last episode. There’s something to be said for higher animation quality and glowing eyes. I might be thinking a bit ahead, but I don’t see how any of them stand a chance against the people in Ichigo’s group. Rukia and Ashido might be more their level, though Rukia probably just needs to release her zanpaktou to win.
And as expected, Ashido was only testing Rukia to see how strong she was. It was kind of strange though that they didn’t pick up exactly where last episode left off, making it seem like the cliffhanger end (where Ashido appears to stab Rukia) never happened. In any case, I can see two possible scenarios since he’s now realized that his work here isn’t doing much good. Either he’ll live and stick with the group in going to Las Noches (like how Ririn and the other mod-souls persisted after the Bount arc), or he’ll die protecting Rukia and feel some sort of relief for having accomplished something worthwhile. I hope that it’s not the former, and what happens at the end of this episode could be good step towards the latter.