Bleach's story arcs all feature thrilling shonen-style action and new characters to round out the case. Hueco Mundo is no exception. After the Soul Society arc wrapped up, Ichigo faced two problems: his bloodthirsty inner Hollow and the threat of Sosuke Aizen, the traitor Captain. Once Aizen captured Orihime Inoue, it was time for action, leading Ichigo to storm the world of Hueco Mundo to rescue his friend.
After Ichigo and his friends stepped through the garganta portal, they were all alone in a strange land, and this story arc would feature some of Bleach's most powerful villains, most shocking plot twists and most thrilling victories. But which five scenes defined this story arc the most, and how did they set up the ones to come?
When Rukia Overcame Her Grief & Defeated Aaroniero
By this point in the story, Rukia Kuchiki had been rescued from twisted justice and even regained her Soul Reaper powers, complete with an icy zanpakuto, Sode no Shirayuki. But she hadn't yet scored a major victory. When she faced the 9th Espada, Aaroniero Arurruerie, she was shocked to see Kaien Shiba's face looking back at her. But this was a trick -- Aaroniero had eaten the Hollow that had fused with Kaien, and Rukia, who was still plagued with guilt about Kaien's death, could barely muster any resistance.
Kaien had Rukia on the ropes until Rukia recalled Kaien's words to her: that their "heart" was the immortal bond between them and that Kaien lived on in her. Encouraged by this, Rukia dissolved the last of her guilt, forgave herself for killing Kaien and then slew Aaroniero with her shikai's newest form. Never again would Rukia be haunted by the past.
When Nelliel Was Exposed As An Espada
Early in the Hueco Mundo arc, Ichigo and his friends met a toddler Arrancar named Nel who traveled with a few cartoony Arrancar friends. Ichigo fought hard to keep Nel safe, but after Grimmjow's defeat, Nnoitora Gilga arrived and he revealed the truth: little Nel was once Nelliel Tu Odelschwanck, the 3rd Espada, and a former peer of Nnnoitora's.
In a way, Ichigo had been working with the enemy all along but by now, Nel was more loyal to her friends than to Sosuke Aizen. When Ichigo was beaten half to death, Nel resumed her original adult body with all its strength and stood up to Nnoitora to buy Ichigo some time. Nelliel soon resumed her toddler form, but she would return again in the Thousand-Year Blood War arc, but Nelliel's and Ichigo's friendship started right here in the Hueco Mundo arc.
When Byakuya Saved Rukia From Zommari
Rukis was already unconscious by the time the 7th Espada, Zommari Rureaux, found her. That was also when Byakuya Kuchiki intervened, and he fought Zommari not out of duty as a Hollow-slaying Soul Reaper, but as a doting big brother who would protect Rukia from any harm, regardless of Soul Reaper law.
This became the next step in Byakuya's personal arc in the Soul Society -- he abandoned the rigid law in favor of personal loyalty and love. Rukia was Byakuya's pride and joy, Byakuya told Zommari, and he slew the 7th Espada without hate or malice. This showed how far Byakuya and Rukia had come, becoming true family at last. This bond would grow even stronger in future story arcs, such as when Byakuya guided Rukia in the use of her new bankai, Hakka no Togame.
When Captain Kurotsuchi Became A Hero
The last time viewers saw Captain Mayuri Kurotsuchi in the Bleach anime, he was a sadistic scientist who loved to torture Quincy, such as Uryu Ishida and his grandfather, Soken. In the Soul Society arc, Captain Kurotsuchi was a total villain, but now, in the Hueco Mundo arc, he became an antihero, and he was on Uryu's side for the first time.
This proved that Captain Kurotsuchi was more interested in scientific discoveries than sheer sadism. He recognized Uryu and Renji as allies, not test subjects. Arrancars are fascinating creatures, after all, and Captain Kurotsuchi took great pleasure in fighting, studying and slaying the 8th Espada, Szayelaporro Granz. From this point on, Captain Kurotsuchi would be a chilling but reliable antiheroic figure who could coldly save the day, and that trend would continue well into the Thousand-Year Blood War arc when he faced villains such as Giselle Gewelle and Pernidas.
When Ichigo's Vasto Lorde Form Took Over
Ichigo's inner Hollow was already a major factor by the time the Hueco Mundo story arc launched in Bleach, but there were still a few surprises left in store. When Ichigo faced Ulquiorra one more time to protect Orihime, he lost his life in the battle... or so it seemed. Ichigo's Vasto Lorde form, his ultimate power, was awakened at last, and Ichigo went into a berserker mode.
But when Ulquiorra was fatally wounded, Ichigo showed his noble side, lamenting that such terrifying power led to his ill-earned victory. This prompted Ulquiorra to seek out the so-called heart for the first time, and the shape of Ichigo's Vasto Lorde form also hinted at the true origin of Ichigo's Hollow powers: the unique Hollow named White that once attacked his young mother, Masaki. But that story wouldn't be told until later.