After Yamamoto goes down, Ichigo seizes his chance to attack and uses his hollow mask. He lands a hit, but Aizen reveals that he has fused with the Hougyoku itself, and it heals him. He states that all the battles Ichigo had gone through from the very beginning were pre-planned as part of Aizen’s scheme.
Aizen reveals that every step of Ichigo’s development (and his friends’) was orchestrated by him. After that, the rest of the episode was dedicated to flashbacks. I thought that was a cheap tactic, but it was actually pretty nostalgic seeing all the battles from many, many years ago when Bleach was still in 4:3. In addition to the reused footage, there was actually some new filler material also, but it didn’t really serve any purpose besides showing that Aizen had been spying on Ichigo in everything he did.
Although the flashbacks were awfully disjointed, I enjoyed certain scenes, such as the emotional moment Rukia gave Ichigo her shinigami powers. Since I have never re-watched any Bleach episodes, it does bring back some epic battles and nice memories. There was also the intense and extremely long sequence in which Ichigo brings out his bankai for the first time: it was a time when bankai was still an incredibly powerful and difficult power. Now unfortunately (and inevitably), it’s just trash that is overused, and aside from certain characters like Yamamoto and Aizen— relatively underpowered. The flashbacks reminded me why Byakuya vs. Ichigo ranks high on the best Bleach fights list, perhaps because it was the first time for two of Ichigo’s powers. The circumstances in which his hollow abilities come out are reminiscent of his final transformation against Ulquiorra, which is something I didn’t notice until now. It’s a nice touch linking two fights that are almost hundreds of episodes apart. Unfortunately, the revelation that it was all “just as planned from the very beginning” sort of makes everything that happened up until now almost useless and irrelevant now. Aizen’s whole master plan thing seems like a lot of bullshit to me, as if he was lying just to mess with Ichigo’s brain. However, there’s no evidence for this, and even in the manga a lot of questions are still unanswered, so it may be just poor writing on Kubo’s part. As for next week, the flashbacks end and it looks like Gin and Isshin will be getting in on the action.