Every good shonen anime/manga franchise has a clearly established fighting system, and in the case of Bleach, that fighting system is based on zanpakuto (swords), kido spells, and spirit energy. Soul Reaper Captains can unlock the maximum potential of their zanpakuto by mastering not only shikai, but also bankai.
How about Captain Byakuya Kuychiki? He can use Senbonzakura, which can dissolve the blade into countless petal-like blades that can slice an opponent apart from many different angles. He has used this fearsome power against Ichigo, Renji, Zommari Rureaux, and As Nodt, among other villains, and this makes Byakuya among the most powerful Soul Reapers of all. But what else should fans know about this beautiful but deadly sword?
10 Its Petals Are Not Petals
The name Senbonzakura roughly means “a thousand cherry blossom petals,” and this makes Senbonzakura one of the most beautiful zanpakuto of all. In shikai form, it looks like a swarm of pink cherry blossom petals per its name, but that’s an illusion.
The shikai is really just a collection of tiny blade slivers, and they can catch and refract light in such a way that they resemble cherry blossom petals. Whether in shikai or bankai mode, that’s how they look, and it’s quite a sight.
9 Its Shikai Can Be Interrupted
This is Yoruichi Shihoin, an old friend and rival of Byakuya’s, and she is probably the only Soul Reaper who can outperform Byakuya’s flash step. She also once blocked Senbonzakura’s shikai from fully manifesting.
During the Soul Society arc, Byakuya declared shikai, but with a long bandage, Yoruichi wrapped up the sword blade and prevented shikai from happening at all. It’s likely that few people besides Yoruichi could pull off such a feat.
8 Rukia Once “Stole” It
This is a minor but amusing bit of trivia. In the original Bleach manga series, Byakuya faced off against Zommari Rureaux, and he used Riku Jokoro to stop Rukia from slicing herself apart while controlled by Zommari.
Near the battle’s end, the panels focus on Rukia, and she was accidentally drawn holding Senbonzakura in its sealed form, rather than her own zanpakuto, Sode no Shirayuki. Rukia’s good, but she probably couldn’t handle wielding Senbonzakura for real.
7 It Can Speed Up At Will
When Byakuya first used his bankai (Senbonzakura Kageyoshi) against Ichigo, he summoned a whole swarm of cherry blossom petals, and chased Ichigo across the battlefield with several streams of them. But Ichigo could handle it.
This prompted Byakuya to raise his hand and open his palm, revealing that he can speed up his bankai and make it even more precise when he’s guiding it like this. Few other abilities in Bleach can be modified like this, but Byakuya can do it just fine.
6 Senbonzakura Is Vulnerable Up Close
When fighting against Byakuya’s shikai or bankai, an opponent may be tempted to get further away and start dodging all of those petal swarms that come their way. But in fact, the best countermeasure is to get close to Byakuya instead.
To protect himself from the blades, Byakuya stands in a circular safe zone, where no petals will go. If his opponent can get in there, then Byakuya will hesitate to strike them, since he’s liable to accidentally hit himself, too. He still might try it, though.
5 It Can Form Body Armor
Does Byakuya’s throat look vulnerable in this screenshot? Cutting it may not be so easy. When Byakuya activates the bankai of his zanpakuto, he can use the countless cherry blossoms both on offense and defense, in many different ways.
Byakuya is not often seen doing this, but he can gather enough petals around himself to form a suit of body armor, and this is bound to stymy most enemy attacks. Once Senbonzakura Kageyoshi is active, Byakuya has practically no blind spots at all.
4 Senkei Is Rarely Used
Right now, Byakuya is using the true form of Senbonzakura, known as Senkei, or “slaughterscape” (what a name). This technique forms four rows of countless swords, trapping Byakuya and his opponent inside.
Don’t expect Byakuya to use this for just any opponent, though. Not even the Espadas or Sternritters saw it, and Ichigo was only the second to witness this technique. Byakuya has a great deal of pride and restraint, all right, and that reflects in how he uses that bankai.
3 It Is Reckless
For the most part, Byakuya is an elegant and disciplined Soul Reaper who doesn’t like to fight unworthy opponents, nor does he fight for fun, like Kenpachi does. He fights only when there is no other choice.
But in its different forms, Senbonzakura is oddly offense-oriented, to the point of leaving Byakuya vulnerable. It does have some defensive abilities, but many of its forms and techniques are offense only, something that Kenpachi or Ikkaku would like.
2 It Represents Its User Well
As a whole, it is clear that Senbonzakura is a good analog for its very own user, Byakuya Kuchiki. It is not drawn unless absolutely necessary, just as Byakuya will not confront people unnecessarily. And an enemy has to really earn the right to see its full power, just the way few people earn Byakuya’s respect and admiration.
Like its user, Senbonzakura is elegant and beautiful, but deadly and ultimately a weapon, not just a light show. And goodness knows that Byakuya’s use of Senbonzakura closely mirrors his pride; that is, he won’t release his power for just any old opponent. He doesn’t often flatter others.
1 It Had Room For Improvement
At first, it may be tempting to think that Senbonzakura is the perfect zanpakuto, since its shikai can handle many powerful enemies and its bankai can defeat just about anyone. But Byakuya soon learned otherwise.
Sternritter As Nodt stole it with his medallion, and Byakuya learned the lesson “you don’t miss it until it’s gone.” When he got his bankai back, he renewed its power, and he had trained with Squad 0 to reach new heights in power. He said that his bankai is like a pointillist painting; you cannot get the full picture until you step back to admire it.
Senbonzakura, which can dissolve the blade into countless petal-like blades, is a powerful fighting style in Bleach.