Bleach: Rukia Kuchikis Zanpakuto, Sode no Shirayuki
Sode no Shirayuki or Sleeves of White Snow in the Bleach manga is Rukia Kuchikis white ice type zanpakuto and is regarded as the most visually beautiful zanpakuto in all of soul society. In its unreleased state, her zanpakuto looks like a normal katana with no standout features. It has a reddish-brown hilt and a rectangular handguard. In order to enter its shikai mode, Rukia holds the zanpakuto in front of her and utters the command “dance” while simultaneously turning the blade counter clockwise.
During this motion, the entire blade turns into a snow white colour including the handguard which takes on a more circular design. The handle also turns white and a long white ribbon forms from the pommel of the katana and when the entire motion is done forms a large white circle. The all white appearance of the shikai is why this zanpakuto is regarded as one of the most beautiful zanpakuto.
In Bleach the general ability of Rukia Kuchikis zanpakuto revolves around ice but focuses more on freezing and incapacitating enemies, as opposed to something like Hyorinmaru which focuses more on generating and manipulating ice for offensive purposes. The freezing capabilities also extend to non physical items such as quincy spirit weapons which are made primarily of reishi or spirit particles. The way the freezing works with Sode no Shirayuki is that the coldness does not originate from the blade but instead from the user in that the ability allows the user to reduce the temperature of their body and anything they touch subsequently freezes.
The blade just extends the user’s reach instead of being the actual source of coldness. This allows Rukia when using her zanpakuto to actually regulate and control how her body functions by decreasing her body temperature and can even reduce them to levels of close to absolute zero which stops even atoms or reishi from moving. Also due to the source of the coldness originating from the user rather than the environment, this would allow it to possibly circumvent the limitations of ice based abilities when another ability of intense heat is present such as the captain-commanders zanpakuto, Ryujin Jakka. Hyorinmaru for example is cancelled out by Ryujin Jakka as the intense heat dissipates any moisture in the environment that hyorinmaru can manipulate.
The zanpakuto in its shikai state gives its user a set of abilities that are named according to dances such as first dance, second dance and so on but there are also abilities that don’t follow this naming convention. The first dance, Tsukishiro, creates a circle on the ground where the user wishes and once the target is within the circle can be activated to freeze them within the area of the circle. The freezing effect doesn’t just occur on the ground where the initial circle is placed but can extend into the air as well. Once the target is frozen after a short duration the ice then shatters along with the target, if the target is not captured then the user can still initiate the freezing process but it won’t shatter and instead leaves a pillar of ice.
The second ability in its shikai state is Tsugi no Mai, Hakuren and this is initiated when Rukia places the tip of the blade of her zanpakuto into the ground 4 times in front of them which creates 4 pillars of ice with particles flowing upwards, once this is done they take a battle stance with the blade pointing at their intended target and calls out which then releases an immense amount of frigid air in the direction they were facing. Anything caught in this cold wind is frozen immediately.
The 3rd ability is San no Mai, Shirafune which allows the user to extend the blade of the sword using ice thus increasing its range. This allows it to be used sort of like a spear to pierce targets and whatever the ice blade pierces will also start to freeze around the point of impact. This extension can take place even if the blade is broken and can be used to somewhat restore the blade temporarily during a fight.
The bankai state for sode no shirayuki is called Hakka no Togame or White haze punishment. When Rukia activates her bankai, her physical appearance and her clothing is changed, with her shihakusho turning into an all white kimono and her hair and skin also turning white. Accompanying this change is also a burst of cold air that emanates from the user in a large circle around them that instantly flash freezes anything it comes in contact with which will immediately shatter shortly after. Now i’m not sure whether her ability to reduce her body temperature all the way to absolute zero was inherently part of the shikai or bankai as we see Rukia use this ability before she went into bankai in the manga so I have to assume that the bankai only extends the range in which her low temperature is able to influence where in shikai she is able to lower her temperature to absolute zero levels but needs contact (such as a slash) to freeze others whereas in her bankai she is able to do it in a larger area around her.
The ability to freeze something to absolute zero levels is immensely powerful, technically speaking you are not just freezing them in ice but essentially stopping the functions of their atoms outright with particles losing all their heat. The implications of this is you would instantaneously die with all your functions completely ceasing which makes it extremely powerful. This ability comes with a heavy risk however in that it leaves the user extremely fragile afterwards as well as having to regulate the users temperature back to normal levels else risk the possibility of breaking themselves. This is a problem if the initial attack misses for whatever reason as it would leave the user open to a very easy counterattack from their enemy. It’s very much a one shot ability in that sense.
Throughout Bleach we have only seen Rukia Kuchikis zanpakuto bankai once with her being able to retain her bankai form only for 4 seconds and her shikai only a number of times meaning that potentially there is still more room for growth. It’s likely that in the future when she learns to better control the regulation of her body temperature this zanpakuto’s ability will be even more powerful. Imagine if she is able to maintain the absolute zero form for hours into a fight, I doubt many opponents would be able to even do anything before getting frozen. Putting aside the rule that higher reiatsu can nullify the abilities of some zanpakuto, the ability to completely stop the functions of an opponent at the atomic level is borderline hacks levels of power.