While Kurotsuchi continues to try to figure out the Zanpakutou problem, Hinamori and Rangiku have their own Zanpakutou taken to the 4th Division. The two are now concerned about Hitsugaya, so they go looking for him, and by chance they run into Ichigo who tells them what happened. The three of them then happen to see Muramasa emerge from a rift, and he appears to be in bad shape. Muramasa reveals that Ichigo’s power is useful to him, but because of his own condition right now, he’s unable to use his powers effectively against these Shinigami. Fortunately for Muramasa, Senbonzakura appears and protects him. Knowing that he’s fighting Byakuya’s Zanpakutou, Ichigo initiates bankai, and he’s even forced to bring out his mask to break out of the sphere that Senbonzakura tries to trap him in. In their next clash, Ichigo is able to break off part of Senbonzakura’s mask, but after that, to everyone’s surprise, Byakuya himself appears and puts an end to the battle. They’re even more surprised when Byakuya attacks Ichigo with a spell to get him to back off and appears to be on Muramasa’s side. Byakuya claims that he’s doing this all on his own will, and he warns Ichigo not to interfere with Muramasa or else risk death. Ichigo thus can only watch in shock as Byakuya, Senbonzakura, and Muramasa then disappear in a pink wave.
Knowing about Byakuya’s betrayal from the episode title, I originally thought that they were doing this to be able to milk another long Byakuya vs. Ichigo battle. However we basically saw all the highlights of that in this episode, with Ichigo as the clear victor after a decent battle where he had to use his mask, and the way the episode ends seems to indicate that there’s actually something interesting about Byakuya switching sides. The stuff he said about pride felt cryptic, and he obviously knows something regarding Muramasa that hasn’t been revealed yet (unless he’s just bluffing to get Muramasa to trust him). I question though the scope of this so-called betrayal and how it relates to this arc as a whole. I find it hard to believe that they’d set up Byakuya as a semi-villain for more than a few episodes, and I suspect how long it lasts and what we learn from it will be a clue to how long this anime original arc will ultimately go. Regardless, it’d be great if Byakuya actually got some significant character development in the process, and I wonder what he’s doing attacking Sode no Shirayuki in the preview.