** REMINDER **: As always, remember not to Tweet to Kubo about this chapter or using art from this chapter until Monday.
Those of us who said that there was something wrong with Ichigo from the start - a fact that became increasingly obvious over the last few chapters - were right. As were those of us who also said: 'Be patient, Kubo will give us an explanation as to why Ichigo has suddenly become so different. He won't throw away vital character development.' The two weren't mutually exclusive positions.
It should be noted that those who were wary about the spoilers saying "Hollow Ichigo" (or "White Ichigo") crying and wanting to protect Ichigo were also right - the last time that we saw Ichigo's inner world, Tensa Zangetsu was still merged with Hollow Ichigo, and it made no sense that they'd suddenly separate. And this chapter confirms it - it's not "Hollow Ichigo" by himself who wanted to protect Ichigo, but Tensa Zangetsu and perhaps Tensa Zangetsu with Hollow Ichigo. (pikeish also pointed out that the spoiler script used "watashi" for "I," which is a word Zangetsu uses, not Hollow Ichigo.) (Personally, I think that Hollow Ichigo's threats weren't idle - he'll take over the minute Ichigo shows weakness, as he did on the dome, becoming IchiThing.)
Anyway, so Tensa Zangetsu wanting to protect Ichigo... so many people called it, I can't name how many XD It was really obvious, huh? Still, it was very nice for Kubo to have Tensa Zangetsu say it explicitly. And the tears... poor Tensa Zangetsu. :/
I like how Ichigo was able to read "sadness" in Tensa Zangetsu/Shiro's sword. It goes back to what Ichigo said to Gin some chapters ago, about being able to read the 'heart' of his opponents by fighting them. Of course, Ichigo should be the one to understand his own zanpakutou, but clearly he hadn't been, prior to coming to his inner world. He didn't realize the terrible state of his inner world, after all, nor why Tensa Zangetsu was at first angry, then later crying for him. But he understands that TZ is sad, at least, and realizes he must throw away his sword and let himself be impaled by Tensa Zangetsu in order to progress.
And holy crap at Ichigo's final form of Getsuga Tenshou. He'll lose his shinigami powers by using it? That's why it's final? No wonder Ichigo is so calm, so resigned. Losing his powers is not something he wants. Yet in order to protect Karakura and defeat Aizen, he will have to part with his powers; it's necessary, but not something Ichigo embraces. Many of us wondered what Ichigo would have to accept or give up in exchange for his current strength - for it to be his shinigami powers, though, I don't think anyone saw that coming. That Ichigo carries around a sadness, a lack of passion - it makes sense since he knows he's going to lose all the power that he had so desperately yearned for, ever since his mother died, by using this final attack. How fitting, then, that his final form is "Mugetsu," which means "moonless sky." Please see the informative posts by mezzo_marinaio over at this link and by pikeish over at this link in the IchiRuki FC at BA for more information on "mugetsu" and its meaning. Clearly, this is a reference to how Ichigo, in using this attack, will lose his shinigami powers - i.e., Zangetsu, the 'moon.'
Ichigo's final form looks... like Arucard from Hellsing to me. I'm sure others can name multiple other manga and anime characters Ichigo resembles. XD But it's interesting that Aizen before said (while BSing?) that perhaps shinigami merging with their zanpakutou was a higher evolution that shinigami were meant to achieve. And now Ichigo becomes "getsuga" - becomes his attack? Well, we don't see Ichigo holding Tensa Zangetsu anymore; at the very end, it looks like only a blade materializes in Ichigo's hand.
Way too late, now Aizen starts to realize just how far above Ichigo is over him.
Since Bleach isn't anywhere near over, as tragic and moving as this chapter is, let's begin speculation on how Ichigo will regain his powers after losing them. pogo2468 pointed out that Isshin may have lost his own shinigami powers this very same way - after all, Isshin also knows the final Getsuga Tenshou and its price. Maybe Isshin will be involved somehow in restoring Ichigo's powers? Additionally, Rukia and Ishida have also lost their powers before. Ishida's a Quincy, so there's obvious differences, but... And one wonders if Rukia, being so important to Ichigo (and in giving him his powers to begin with), as well as being the 'white moon,' as dubbed by Kubo himself, will play any role. Or if it'll be the nakama generally.
Anyway, I personally love this chapter~ So much angst fodder. Ichigoooo. ;_; ;_; ;_;