Rukia returns to Soul Society concerned about Byakuya, but he’s still missing according to Renji. While wandering around thinking about him, Rukia happens to come across Sode no Shirayuki terrorizing some Shinigami, so she steps in to stop her. Sode no Shirayuki makes it a point to say that she’s now free and can do what she wants, and in the ensuing battle, she shows that Rukia has a hard time fighting without her Zanpakutou techniques. Rukia tries to counter with a kidou spell, but Sode no Shirayuki has no problem protecting herself with a barrier of ice. As she dodges the counterattack, Rukia wonders why Sode no Shirayuki seems to hate her, and she remembers her joy practicing her techniques in front of Kaien many years ago. Just when it looks like Sode no Shirayuki is about to finish her off though, Ichigo steps in and saves her. Rukia doesn’t think that Ichigo should be here when they don’t know what’s behind the Zanpakutou uprising, but Ichigo feels that it’s fine and that they just have to find out what that reason is.
Ichigo then engages Sode no Shirayuki in battle, but she soon notices that he’s hesitating to attack her. She has no such reservations towards him though and uses the full extent of her ice powers. Rukia tries to take advantage of this by attempting a sneak attack, but Sode no Shirayuki senses it coming and easily blocks it. Not giving up, Rukia has Ichigo back down since this is her fight, and Sode no Shirayuki admits that she hates her and that her goal is to deprive Rukia of everything important to her. Rukia responds by acknowledging that her Zanpakutou is free now, and she asks her to calm her hatred. Sode no Shirayuki is surprised to hear this, and she’s even more surprised to see Rukia use another kidou spell to bind them together. Rukia is ready to relinquish everything and uses a final kidou spell whose explosion envelopes both of them. Her farewell causes Sode no Shirayuki to want to reach out to her again, but she’s stopped by Muramasa. His appearance also stops Ichigo dead in his tracks and distracts him from checking up on the now unconscious Rukia. When Ichigo questions who he is, Muramasa reveals that he’s a Zanpakutou.
There’s something to be said for this new anime original arc; it’s pretty damn good. The entire time when Rukia was talking to Sode no Shirayuki inside that swirling ball, I kept thinking that this was powerful stuff they usually reserved for late in an arc. And yet here we are only three episodes into it, and we’re already seeing such a high profile battle that carries with it so much character development. For a series like Bleach whose anime originals haven’t been great and whose main story often tends to drag on, this is a refreshing and exciting change of pace. The animation quality has stayed above average as well, so that’s another bonus.
I think my main complaint about this episode is how they lowered Ichigo’s level a bit to make Sode no Shirayuki seem more powerful. Basically, I don’t understand why Ichigo was caught off-guard by her techniques. After all this time, surely he should know them by now, and even if he didn’t, he should be more than powerful and agile enough to avoid everything she can throw at him. Oh well, that didn’t take away too much from what was otherwise an enjoyable episode.
Muramasa confirming that he’s a Zanpakutou was interesting as well (though not really surprising given the origins of his name), and I wonder who he originally belonged to. It’s probably another anime original character, but it could also be any number of captain or vice-captain class Shinigami whose Zanpakutou names haven’t been revealed yet. In any case, next week looks to be the showdown between Ichigo and Zangetsu, and it should be another interesting episode since it appears to have Ichigo being forced to bring out his Hollow side.