The protagonist of the popular shonen anime Bleach is a punk teenager with a decent heart who can sense spirits. He became a Soul Reaper on a fateful night when Rukia Kuchiki loaned him her powers to defeat a formidable Hollow, but there is much more to the story. Several episodes later, Ichigo encountered a spirit named Zangetsu in his inner world.
Zangetsu was one of Ichigo’s early teachers and instructors, and for a time, Ichigo believed that the black-robed Zangetsu was his genuine zanpakuto spirit, but he was mistaken. In actuality, Ichigo’s inner universe contains two spirits named Zangetsu, with the Hollow Zangetsu being Ichigo’s true zanpakuto spirit and the original representing Ichigo’s Quincy background.
Two Bleach characters named Zangetsu reside in Ichigo’s spirit realm, and while both play a crucial role in Ichigo’s training and development as a shonen hero, their backgrounds and natures are radically different.
Both Zangetsus were inherited from Ichigo’s parents, with the first Zangetsu representing the final remnant of Masaki Kurosaki’s love for her son. Masaki may have been killed by Grand Fisher as a depowered pure-blooded Quincy, but her motherly instincts and Quincy’s ancestry linger on in her son, Zangetsu.
Even though he won’t admit it, Zangetsu, who wears a black robe, is extremely protective of Ichigo, making him a strange tsundere character. Although he employs tough training methods and speaks with little love, he has Ichigo’s best interests at heart. Zangetsu embodies Masaki’s protective sentiments for her son, which are amplified by his Quincy nature.
Ichigo didn’t realize it at first, but the black-robed Zangetsu is an embodiment of Ichigo’s maternal Quincy heritage, to the point where Zangetsu physically resembles King Yhwach, the Quincy overlord. Once Bleach’s lore established this connection, it was impossible for fans to overlook.
In contrast, the other Zangetsu, the Hollow version of Ichigo, has no ties to the Quincy families or Yhwach but is instead the remnants of the Hollow known as White, which previously poisoned Masaki. It was up to Captain Shiba Ishin and Kisuke to save Masaki from that Hollow’s lethal power, and it eventually transformed into Ichigo’s genuine Zangetsu. In the plot of Bleach, the two Zangetsus do not always get along, and one of them eventually triumphs.
Early on in Bleach, Quincy Zangetsu established himself as Ichigo’s main defender and primary tutor; he emerged on crucial occasions, such as when Ichigo nearly lost to Captain Zaraki midway through the “Soul Society” arc. Nevertheless, anytime Ichigo wanted to properly strengthen his zanpakuto and learn more about it, he invariably encountered Hollow Ichigo, who also claimed to be Zangetsu.
Ichigo encountered him while training with the elite Visoreds, but he didn’t learn the full truth until much later: he has two Zangetsus within him and must choose one.
Ultimately, the Quincy Zangetsu acknowledged he had always wanted to protect Ichigo from harm by replacing the other Zangetsu and guiding the young man away from a life of violence and conflict, possibly due to Masaki’s maternal instincts as a Quincy.
At that time, however, Ichigo required more strength, and Quincy Zangetsu was unable and unwilling to grant Ichigo the ability to engage in ever-deader battles. When compelled to pick, he chose the Hollow Zangetsu as his single source of power.
As he faded away, Quincy Zangetsu declared that he was incredibly pleased with Ichigo’s achievements, almost as if he were a parent. Quincy Zangetsu was gracefully excited as he and his protective skills were no longer required as Ichigo began a new era of his protagonist career. Ichigo will always remember what the original Zangetsu — and by extension, his mother Masaki — accomplished for him, despite his passing.
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