The sprawling story of Bleach had more than one supervillain. At first, the traitor Captain Sosuke Aizen was the ultimate threat to the Soul Society, scheming to seize the empty throne of Heaven and rule all of creation. Not long after Aizen's downfall, an old and familiar foe emerged: the Quincy tribe, out for revenge. The Thousand-Year Blood War began here.
A full millennium ago, the Quincy lost to the Soul Reapers and the Quincy king, Yhwach, went into a hibernation of sorts to recharge his power and one day face the Reapers again. When that time came, Ichigo Kurosaki and his friends got swept up in the bloody chaos. These five plot twists best defined this exciting and high-stakes story arc in Bleach.
When Captain-General Yamamoto Died At Yhwach's Hands
Yhwach and a handful of Sternritter launched an all-out assault on the Soul Society, aiming to wipe out everyone there. Captain-General Yamamoto had already lost his beloved Lieutenant to these invaders, and he was ready to strike back. He vaporized Driscoll Berci with a single blast of flame, then confronted Yhwach's body double. Yamamoto was determined to finish the job this time, unleashing his incredible bankai, Zanka no Tachi, to slay the Quincy king.
The flames barely died down when the real Yhwach arrived and stole Yamamoto's bankai, then slew his old enemy with surprising ease. Yamamoto's death proved how dire the Quincy threat was, and it shook the Captains out of the rut they'd been in. All the Captains resumed training harder than ever, determined to avenge the loss of their leader. In particular, Squad 8's Shunsui Kyoraku assumed command of Squad 1 to fill the gap left by Yamamoto.
When Ichigo Learned Of His Quincy Heritage
For some reason, Yhwach called Ichigo "my son, lost in the darkness," and the Bleach protagonist could even use the Quincy Blut Vene technique. When the fighting died down, Isshin Kurosaki explained how Ichigo's mother Masaki had once been a human Quincy and close associate of Ryuken Ishida, Uryu's father. Ichigo learned that his father, who had once been Captain Isshin Shiba, saved Masaki's life from the Hollow named White, giving up his powers to help save her.
Ichigo is part Quincy through Masaki, thus his bankai cannot be stolen with the medallions that most Sternritter carry. His destiny is to face his ancestor Yhwach and take him down, building toward the Thousand-Year Blood War arc's decisive battle.
When Kenpachi Unlocked His Shikai, Nozarashi
For a long time in Bleach, it was widely accepted that Kenpachi Zaraki would never learn shikai, having to rely on brute strength alone in fights. Then his old mentor, Captain Retsu Unohana, confronted Kenpachi as her former self -- the thuggish Yachiru Unohana -- to see if he had finally surpassed her. Unohana was ready to give her life to help Kenpachi realize his potential, and after he slew her in their duel, he finally heard the call of his zanpakuto: Nozarashi, or "weather-beaten."
Kenpachi took a huge step forward as a fighter and a person in Bleach. He honored Unohana's memory when he wielded his incredible shikai in battle against the Sternritter and won. This shikai can cut absolutely anything, as Sternritter "V" Gremmy Thoumaux found out to his horror.
When Captain Jushiro Ukitake Gave His Life To Restore The Soul King
Bleach's mysterious Soul King soon became the primary focus for both sides of the Thousand-Year Blood War arc's conflict. At one point, Ichigo was even forced to destroy him to slow down Yhwach's plans. This upset the balance of the Soul Society though, so Captain Jushiro Ukitake stepped forward to help. The one-eyed god Mimihagi, the right hand of the Soul King, had saved a young Ukitake's life, and he was ready to repay that favor.
Ukitake gives up his very life to become the new Soul King with Mimihagi's help, but then a battle ensues over the Soul King's fate. Ultimately, Yhwach absorbs Mimihagi and the Soul King to gain new powers, but it was still an honorable move for Ukitake to sacrifice himself to restore the Soul King. He alone provided hope when all seemed lost, and it was a shocking but fascinating end to Ukitake's character arc.
When Uryu Turned On Yhwach As Ichigo's Friend
It seemed Uryu had completely switched sides for a time in Bleach, honoring his Quincy heritage over his friends as the Wandenreich muscled in. Ichigo was aghast and tried in vain to bring his friend back to his side. Uryu even helped Yhwach absorb Mimihagi and the Soul King, and it seemed like the Wandenreich had won. When the time was right, however, Uryu turned on Yhwach's right-hand man and defeated him.
Uryu then accepted a special silver arrowhead from his father Ryuken, using it to temporarily disable Yhwach's terrible powers. This, in turn, allowed Ichigo to deal the final blow, destroying Yhwach and ending the Thousand-Year Blood War once and for all. Uryu took down the entire Wandenreich from the inside, proving himself a true hero and friend when it counted most.