For shinigami, zanpakutō are the manifestations of their souls. Each soul reaper's zanpakutō can have up to three distinct forms. The first form of a zanpakutō is called its sealed state. In this form, a zanpakutō appears as a regular katana or wakizashi with no unique abilities, though minor details such as the hilt, guard, and sometimes shape vary from person to person. Nevertheless, a shinigami still use it to perform a soul burial (konsō), a ritual in which a shinigami sends a plus to Soul Society, by placing the butt of its hilt on a plus' forehead. When a shinigami discovers its zanpakutō's name, the zanpakutō will change its form and gain unique powers, which is referred to as shikai (lit. "initial release"). In this form, a zanpakutō is capable of things a regular sword wouldn't. Shinigami with exceptional spiritual pressure are able to unleash their zanpakutō's bankai (lit. "final release"), which is the second and final upgraded form. A soul reaper's power in bankai, according to Yoruichi Shihōin, is typically increased tenfold. To achieve it, a soul reaper must fully materialize his/her zanpakutō's spirit in the real world and subjugate it, thus granting complete access to its power. Since such a feat requires hundreds of years of combat experience, few soul reapers have attained it and is almost exclusively limited to the captains of the Gotei 13. Byakuya Kuchiki claims that among the four noble houses of Soul Society, only one person in several generations will be born with the spiritual pressure necessary to attain it.
Even so, it typically takes almost two more decades of special training for a shinigami to master his/her bankai. However, Kisuke Urahara devised a method that allows a shinigami to achieve and master bankai within a week--a method which only he himself and Ichigo Kurosaki have successfully used. Using a special device Kisuke invented which forcibly materializes a zanpakutō's spirit, Kisuke and Ichigo were able to bypass hundreds of years of training and achieve bankai in three days. After Urahara successfully tested this method, he concluded that using this method is dangerous, and training for more than three consecutive days using it can prove fatal (which is why Ichigo was forced to achieve bankai in three days). Other than Ichigo, Renji Abarai (though not by Kisuke's method) and Ikkaku Madarame are the only two non-captains who have attained bankai.
Unlike shikai, there is no command phrase to activate bankai, though a shinigami will typically say "bankai" beforehand. A zanpakutō's bankai is often the manifestation of the spirit itself, usually creating a massive creature or effect to aid the user (Ichigo's being the exception as his is compact). A zanpakutō's name will also change, gaining either an extension or becoming different altogether (Zangetsu becomes Tensa Zangetsu or Suzumebachi becomes Jakuhō Raikōben). In bankai, most zanpakutō have enhanced versions of previous shikai abilities, others gain new abilities which either replace previous ones or are added on. The majority of these abilities are also named like in shikai. Maintaining bankai requires a tremendous amount of spiritual power, thus making it difficult to use for extended periods of time for most soul reapers. However, since Ichigo's bankai is a compression of spirit particles, he is able to maintain it for long periods of time with relative ease.
The power that comes with bankai either augments the original abilities of a zanpakutō's shikai or follows the general theme. For example, the small blades of Byakuya Kuchiki's Senbonzakura will substantially increase in number when in bankai, while Renji's Zabimaru remains a whip however in the form of a skeleton with a baboon's head. In addition to a zanpakutō's appearance changing when in bankai, some shinigami will change their appearance as well, such as Ichigo's shihakusho gaining a black overcoat similar to spirit form Zangetsu.
Asauchi (lit. (浅打ち; "shallow hit") is the type of Zanpakutō that have no name an are used by low level Shinigami. Those that are still training - and thus has yet to join the Gotei 13 - weild this type of Zanpakutō. Shinigami that are unable to communite with their Zanpakutō, the "shallow hit" refers to the grossly reduction in power due to the lack of connection between Shinigami and Zanpakutō.
 Obtaining a Zanpakutō
A Shinigami can obtain their Zanpakutō by solidifying their Rieryoku into a Sword form. According to tradition, when a Shinigami graduates from the academy they will gain their own unique sword. However the actual process in which this is done has not been shown. What is known about the obtaining of a Zanpakutō was shown through Ichigo Kurosaki. He was trained independently in a perhaps unorthodox manner and gained his Zanpakutō through means of digging deep into his own soul to grab the power he had never had before. Whether this is the method used commonly for Shinigami is also still unknown. When a Shinigami obtains their own Zanpakutō they learn it's name as a way of "activating" it. This activation of power will release the Sword's Shikai, the first released state of any Zanpakutō. When the sword changes into this form, what is actually being seen is not the change of state, but the true form of the Zanpakutō.
 Zanpakutō Control
Using a Zanpakutō takes more than just the skill of swordsmanship the wielder has. Since the swords are living beings in their own right, the Shinigami master must obtain cooperation between themselves and their Zanpakutō in order to maximise its maximum potential power. This attainment of cooperation can be achieved in several ways, although the most orthodox and straightforward method would involve the Shinigami subjugating their Zanpakutō counterpart; the Shinigami that are members of the Gotei 13 keep their sword in its Sealed State for the duration that they are not using its power and have strict rules about when and where one can release their swords Shikai. If a Shinigami were to keep their sword in a constant released state then they are seen upon as inexperienced and careless (However there are exceptions, one can have their Shikai constantly released, not by choice, but because they can't keep it sealed because of their exceptionally large level of Spiritual Energy). The Shinigami use specific phrases that their sword, and their sword alone, will activate Shikai, this phrase seems to be the only method a Shinigami can release the "seal" keeping it sealed. This removal of the seal is another example of the swords subjugation to their Shinigami, as the phrases often spoken act as a command.
However knowing the name of the Zanpakutō alone will not guarantee complete control over the Zanpakutō's power. If the wielder were to lend some of its power to its Zanpakutō then it would become stronger. However in order to fully utilise the Zanpakutō's power, one must get to know and communicate regularly with its Zanpakutō.
With this, they can call forward the true form of their Zanpakutō's spirit. This has been used for thousands on years in Soul Society since it's formation. This technique is entirely about speaking and communicating with their own swords, which all other technique to do so require a type of subjugation. The Shinigami must enter a calm state of mind and entering the inner world of their Zanpakutō, in which they must engage in a battle far worse and far more brutal than any other battle previously undertaken with the Zanpakutō. These battles allow the Shinigami to gain skills that would usually take thousands of years to perform at a level of which it would become of any use. When the Shinigami enters this meditative state, all wounds and injuries are ignored, even those that are sustained.
But Zanpakutō (be it all or only some) are reluctant to teach the Shinigami the true form of their power, and Jinzen is used to force the issue and they often go to extreme measures to fight their wielder off.
 Mood & Communication
As previously states, a Zanpakutō can be extremely temperamental. It's mood depends of a couple of factors; how it is treated by it's Shinigami master and it's overall personality. This makes the Shinigami partly responsible as to whether they can achieve it's full power or not. An example of this lies within the release command of Yumichika Ayasegawa, who usually uses calls his Zanpakutō Fuji Kujaku (Wisteria Peacock), however it's true name is Ruri'iro Kujacku' (Azure Peacock). With the knowledge that his Zanpakutō's favourite colour is Azure while it hates the colour of Wisteria Purple, he does this so his Zanpakutō becomes moody and releases only a fraction of it's potential power. He does this to make his Zanpakutō appear as a Melee type as he is part of the 11th Division. There is an unwritten law that all members of the 11th Division can only have Melee type Zanpakutō, and since his is actually a Kidō type, he does this to avoid detection. Only when it's true name is uttered can it's full power be unleashed.
However there is a major exception to this rule, and that is the Captain of the 11th Division, Kenpachi Zaraki who somehow has not been able to obtain his Zanpakutō's name. He ignored it's embodiment as a living creature and used it only as a tool of destruction, relying solely on his own power. He has never developed the skill needed to keep his swords in it's sealed state, which breaks the rule/tradition of all Shinigami within the Gotei 13 to keep their Zanpakutō in it's sealed state unless you need to use it's power. His immense Spiritual Energy and strength not only allowed him to ignore these rules, but also allowed him to attain the position of Captain. The neglect he gave to his sword wasn't good for it, experiencing vast amounts of pain to it's embodiment and damage to the actual sword itself.
 General Powers
Zanpakutō, as a whole, have 3 main powers, each are exactly the same for each and every one with no exception or variation. One of the major roles a Zanpakutō plays out is sending Pluses to Soul Society using the Soul Burial (Or Konsō). As well as this they all have the power to purify Hollows, thus sending them to Soul Society. However a Zanpakutō can only rid the sins the Soul committed as a Hollow, if the Plus had lived a life of Sin beforehand, they will be transported to Hell instead. Each Zanpakutō can also transform in more powerful, and often elaborate, forms.
Zanpakutō, although they serve the same function as far as slaying other souls, differentiate for arrancars. As opposed to a shinigami, an arrancar's zanpakutō is the manifestation of his or her former hollow self. So a zanpakutō's release for arrancars will cause them to transform into their hollow form with all of their original abilities available to them. An arrancar's zanpakutō release is called resurrección (Spanish for "resurrection"), referring to an arrancar's return to its original hollow self. Although arrancars are obviously not capable of bankai, there is one case in which an arrancar has performed a similar second release called resurrección segunda etapa (lit. "resurrection second stage"). This extraordinary feat is currently only available to Ulquiorra Cifer, the fourth Espada.
Due to a Shinigami connecting with their Zanpakutō they are able to release it into two stages and revert it back to its sealed state. These two forms are called Shikai and Bankai, and are upgrades of a Zanpakutō's power, giving it abilities far beyond that of a normal sword. Commonly Shinigami carry their Zanpakutō in their sealed forms until their more powerful, upgraded forms are needed in battle.
All Zanpakutō have two levels of release. As aforementioned the first one is Shikai (Initial release) and the other is Bankai (Final release). A Shinigami must have acheived and mastered both of these forms in order for them to become a Captain. The power and abilities of a Zanpakutō in both Shikai and Bankai vary from Zanpakutō to Zanpakutō, no two can have the same power or spirit (The only known case of this ever happening was the sharing of Hyōrinmaru between Tōshirō Hitsugaya and Sōjirō Kusaka), they also vary depending on their weilders strength and training.
Most Zanpakutō in their sealed state resemble a regular Katana with various and slight differences between them. The said variations are commonly;
- Katana: The term Katana is applied to a standard, hilted, curved Japanese sword with a blade greater than 60cm in length. It is categorised via it's distinct appearance; curved, slender, single-edged blade, a circular or squared guard, and a grip long enough to accommodate two hands.
- Wakizashi: A short blade between 30-30cm in length (Averagely about 50cm). It is very similar in appearance to a Katana but shorter in length. Traditionally the Wakizashi is worn with the the Katana. When worn together they were called a Daishō, due to this the Katana was affectionately called "The Long Sword" whilst the Wakizashi was known as "Companion Sword"
- Nodachi: These are more difficult to wield due to their size and weight. It's hilt capability was 30-33 cm in length and it's cutting capability was higher than that of a Katana.
In addition to these "Upgraded forms" the sealed form can be altered, either radically or with little detail. Such alterations are purely for cosmetic reasons and don't offer any, or at least significant, help in a battle situation; one exception to this though is that Ikakku Madarame keeps a blood clotting ointment in his Zanpakutō's, Hōzukimaru, hilt. As well as this Zanpakutō can be disguised as other objects, for example both Kisuke Urahara and Yamamoto-Genriyusai disguise there's as canes. Yamamoto's disguise dissolves as it's command is spoken whereas Urahara's is a thin blade that is hidden within the hollow frame of the cane, the head acting as the hilt.
The Zanpakutō will return to it's sealed state when the wielder wishes it to, or is the wielder is knocked unconscious. In the Zanpakutō Unknown Tales Arc the Zanpakutō would return to it's sealed state if it were killed or defeated by a Shinigami.
Shikai, or Initial Release, is the second form (First upgraded form) of a Zanpakutō. In order for a Shinigami to active his or hers Shikai they must learn the name of their Zanpakutō. However, the Shinigami cannot pick a name for their Zanpakutō as they are living creatures that reside within a Shinigami's soul and thus already have names. The Shinigami must be able to communicate and harmonise with the Zanpakutō effectively, which means entering their 'inner world' in which their Zanpakutō spirit resides.
Depending on the wielders strength, the size of the Zanpakutō can vary.
Achieving and controlling Shikai is the mark that a Shinigami and effectively control their Zanpakutō and appears to be a necessity in order for any Shinigami to raise their rank level within a squad, most notably the rank of Leuitenant. Shikai is something all captains look for in a Shinigami. After learning their Zanpakutō's name, they can release their Shikai by uttering a 'Release Command' followed by the name of the Zanpakutō. The length of a Release Command varies for every Shinigami, some being a simple imperative verb where as other are short poems. These commands often refer to their Zanpakutō's Shikai Special ability or the nature of their Zanpakutō. This first step can be over looked by advanced Shinigami who have achieved the next stage of a Zanpakutō's power, Bankai.
Constant Release: This are very rare to find. Under certain circumstances once a Zanpakutō has been released once, it stays in it's Shikai state indefinitely. This is due to it's wielders immense spiritual pressure and cannot be controlled initially by the generation of Zanpakutō and thus it is described to be in Constant Release. The only known Shinigami known to possess this type of Shikai are Ichigo Kurosaki and Kenpachi Zaraki. Due to the nature of this type of Zanpakutō the Shinigami has no need to speak a Release Command or even know the name of their Zanpakutō. However A Shinigami not knowing their Zanpakutō name puts a Shinigami to a disadvantage in terms of power as opposed to those that do know their Zanpakutō's name.
Shikai Forms: Once the Shikai is activated, the Zanpakutō will change it's appearance to suit the it's Shikai Special Ability. Although they do change forms upon release, they usually stay in the shape of a normal sword, with various shapes and/or multiple extensions (This however has several exceptions; Soi Fon's is a stinger, Byakuya Kuchiki's turns into Sakura type blades, Ikkaku Madarame wields a 3 sectioned staff, Kaien Shiba wields a Trident, Marechiyo Ōmaeda's is a flail, Shūhei Hisagi has two duel scythes, Rangiku Matsumoto's turns to ash, and Retsu Unohana's turns into a green flying Manta-Ray), but the types of swords vary greatly between each Zanpakutō.
Special Abilities: Once released, the Zanpakutō will alter it's form for accommodate it's special ability. The special abilities are like the Zanpakutō itself, they have names that need to be known and called out upon their use, not calling out their name can weaken the move drastically. However some special abilities are activated upon release.
Bankai, or Final Release, is the second and final upgrade for a Zanpakutō. To achieve the level of Bankai one must summon and subjugate their Zanpakutō spirit. This process is opposite of the way a Shinigami would obtain Shikai, as the Shinigami must force the Zanpakutō to manifest in the real world as opposed to conversing with them in their inner world. Usually it would take a Shinigami ten years to reach this level, and even more years to master it.
The forms and power of Bankai and Shikai are dependant of the Shinigami and Zanpakutō combined. However, the power of a Shinigami and Zanpakutō can increase tenfold. Only Shinigami of great strength are able to achieve this level. It is the ultimate technique and form of any Zanapakutō. The Four Noble Families, that have always produced an exceptionally challenged Shinigami that was capable of achieving this level. Those capable of reaching Bankai level are always involved in historical roles within Soul Society and the Gotei 13.
Ichigo Kurosaki and Kisuke Urahara are the only known Shinigami to by pass the ten year training in order to reach the level of Bankai. Although this method is alot quicker than normal, it is highly dangerous. It was created by Urahara by using a special device that forcefully causes the Zanpakutō spirit to materialise, thus bypassing years of training, and they were able to achieve Bankai level in three days of training as opposed to the norm of at least 10 years. After successfully testing this method, Kisuke comments that training for any period longer than three days could prove dangerous, which is why during the animé, Ichigo only had three days in order to complete his training.
Apart from Ichigo Kurosaki, there are only a few Shinigami that have reached Bankai and have not been promoted to Captain Level for various reasons. Renji Abarai (Leuitenant) finalised his training to achieve Bankai at the same time Ichigo did, however he attained his through the normal conventions, he was only perfecting during his training. Another Shinigami is Ikakku Madarame (3rd Seat) who also achieved it through years of training.
Bankai Forms: Once a Shinigami has manages to materialise and subjugate it's Zanpkautō's spirit can they assume their most powerful and final form. Unlike the release of Shikai, no Release Command is needed, Shinigami can either choose to activate it quietly or more commonly, Shinigami shout the word "Bankai". Usually, Bankai involves the Zanpakutō changing it's sword form into that of it's spirit, generally transforming into Poseidon sized creatures or a powerful effect to aid the Shinigami in battle. The only exception to this is Ichigo's compressed Bankai state. In essence, the Bankai form itself will receive a slightly different name to that of it's Shikai form, for example Byakuya Kuchiki's Senbnzakura become Senbonzakura Kageyoshi, and Ichigo's Zangetsu becomes Tensa Zangetsu. Certain Shinigami also change in appearance upon the release of their Bankai, Ichigo being the primary example, he gains a black robe much like the one worn by Zangetsu himself. Upon the release of Bankai most Zanpakutō also gain extra special abilities or a more powerful rendition of a Shikai Special Ability, again, much like the Shikai form, they each have their own names. However keeping Bankai active eventually becomes taxing to the Shinigami using it and thus are unable to use it for extended periods of time, Ichigo again being the only exception with his Banaki causing his power to become compressed, causing him to use it for a limitless amount of time.
Special Abilities: The Special Ability of Bankai is usually an exemplified and more powerful version of that of his Shikai counterpart, some just increase the power of the move such as Byakuya's Zanpakutō's blade count multiplies, and Sajin Komamura's creates a giant rather than just pieces of it. Others however follow the theme of the Shikai form, such as Renji's segmented Shikai become a large segmented Baboon Snake, or Mayuri summoning a large creature with the same face as that on his Sword's hilt.
 Zanpakutō Types
Zanpakutō are categorized into various types according to their abilities and appearance. The types listed here are only through how the zanpakutō have been displayed to be used. So this list is viable to change throughout the course of the animé/manga. These types include:
These are designed for direct melee combat rather than using kidō or magic based abilities.
- Ichigo Kurosaki
- Sajin Komamura
- Renji Abarai
- Ikkaku Madarame
- Shūhei Hisagi
- Makoto Kifune
- Kenpachi Zaraki
- Marechiyo Ōmaeda
- Tetsuzaemon Iba
These zanpakutō are designed around their special abilities more than physical combat adaptability.
- Yumichika Ayasegawa
- Hanatarō Yamada
- Retsu Unohana
- Kisuke Urahara
- Kaname Tōsen
- Rōjirō Otoribashi
- Shunsui Kyōraku
- Izuru Kira
- Jūshirō Ukitake
Most zanpakutō are classified into their respective elements that they produce or an element a zanpakuto manifests itself in. All the below zanpakutō element types can be classified as kidō types as noted by Kenpachi with his battle with Maki Ichinose.
 Electricity Types
These are Zanpakutō whose classification cannot be clearly verified.
- Chōjirō Sasakibe
- Isane Kotetsu
- Jūshirō Ukitake
- Izuru Kira
- Byakuya Kuchiki
- Rangiku Matsumoto
- Tetsuzaemon Iba
- Hiyori Sarugaki
- Lisa Yadōmaru
These are zanpakutō are types that do not classify a zanpakutō on their ability but their state of appearance.
 Constant Release
These are Zanpakutō that are perpetually in their shikai state because of their wielder's immense spiritual power.
 Dual Bladed
These are zanpakutō that become dual bladed upon their release. Having two blades is considered to be rare amongst zanpakutō and is speculated to be some kind of uniqueness in the wielder's spiritual power.
 Shinigami Zanpakutō
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