In-Dwelling Hollow

So what of Ichigo? Even if you are not convinced that Ichigo is Kaien's reincarnation, consider this: Ichigo was always part Hollow. You might say that he only became part Hollow after Urahara subjected him to the Shattered Shaft (trial in the pit), a challenge for him to find his innate Shinigami powers before the chain of fate erodes and he transforms into a Hollow. In the last moments of the trial Ichigo even started to form a Hollow's mask over his face, yet this was perhaps the strongest evidence I offer to the contrary. You see, as Urahara himself noted, Ichigo's stages of becoming a Hollow were highly unorthodox. Normally the soul explodes and regroups, forming the Hollow's body first and the mask as the final seal of the transformation.

The fact that Ichigo manifested the mask first can be explained in one of two ways. Urahara explained (falsely or not) that it was pointing to Ichigo's resistance of the transformation. Another explanation could be that Ichigo was not transforming into a Hollow at all but into his true self - his soul's Shinigami-Hollow hybrid that Kaien died as, the slumbering root of his true power.

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Chapter 63
Transforming into his true self and finding his own power was what the Shattered Shaft was designed to accomplish in the first place. Ichigo emerged out of the pit as a Shinigami-Hollow hybrid, with a Shinigami body and a Hollow's mask. For a moment we are left wondering what exactly happened in the pit and what the hell that thing is, but Ichigo promptly breaks and thrusts off the Hollow's mask, leaving most of us content to believe that he merely overcame the threat of becoming a Hollow at the last minute. <<< Read from RIGHT to LEFT <<<

Chapter 64
But gradually we learn this was not the case. Ichigo did not get through the trial scott-free, something had remained. The same Hollow mask he though he broke and was rid of kept appearing time and time again out of nowhere inside his clothes, protecting him. It is interesting to notice that the mask gains an additional stripe every time it helps Ichigo cheat death. Some kind of countdown perhaps? It seems to ominously correlate with the Hollow's growing influence in Ichigo's affairs. Does it hint at some kind of pact to forfeit one's soul in exchange for temporary power and invincibility?

Oddly enough, even when the mask first appeared after the Shattered Shaft, it already had two stripes in place (see above). The very question of "where did the stripes come from?" implies that the mask existed in some form prior to the Shattered Shaft. Certainly Ichigo vs Renji and Ichigo vs Zaraki were not Ichigo's first brushes with death. Ichigo surviving his initial encounter with the Grand Fisher when he was a child, Ichigo being stabbed multiple times by the Grand Fisher later, Renji dicing up Ichigo's torso the first time, Byakuya's dispatching of Ichigo in the rain, and even the Shattered Shaft itself could all be considered suitably life-threatening events.

True, the mask didn't appear in those instances, but we already know that it is not a set, solid thing. No matter how many times it cracks, breaks, or is thrown away it always re-forms like new. Just because it was not physically present does not necessarily mean it did not exist as an essence, presence, or "counter" of some kind within the fabric of Ichigo's soul, from which it materialized after it was literally forced to form during the Shattered Shaft.

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Exhibit C: after Aizen fight...
does that look like 5 stripes now?

Exhibit D: Ichigo vs Hollow Ichigo fight...
9 stripes?!

Chapter 100, 116, 189, 222
And finally, during the fight with Zaraki, all doubts that Ichigo was not alone in his body were dispelled once and for all. There were indeed at least two resident Ichigos, except the white-haired aspect had the eyes and manners of a Hollow. This Hollow-esque being was not inherently hostile to the Shinigami Ichigo. He called him his "partner" and it was made clear that they were the same being.

But if they were the same being, why were they split? If Ichigo was Kaien's reincarnation, his soul would have been a result of an Aizen style of incomplete fusion, one that was unable to truly create a "new being"... meaning, a whole, unified being different from and superior to the original(s)? The apparent duality within Ichigo's soul likely means he has not yet reached the potential of a fully merged Shinigami-Hollow hybrid.

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Chapter 110
It's important to point out that this split personality was not an altogether new development, either. Ichigo's more psychotic side appeared during the first time he encountered Renji, when he was on the brink of defeat and death and had nowhere else to turn. <<< Read from RIGHT to LEFT <<<

Chapter 55
However, a question has to be raised about who is in control of this relationship. The Hollow aspect has an obvious interest in Ichigo's training and development, but how does one interpret the words "because one day, that power will become mine"? Is it the innocent implication that, being one with Ichigo, he will share in Ichigo's growing strength as equal partners? Or the more sinister implication that he intends to somehow take over Ichigo in the end? After all, he was part of Aizen's experiments to turn Hollows into Shinigami, presuming the Hollow would be the dominant personality.

It is intriguing that as Hollow-Ichigo disappears, it flows into Zangetsu's leg. A zanpaku-tou being an expression of Ichigo's soul, I guess this isn't particularly surprising, but it hints at some fascinating implications for the nature of Zangetsu as a sword. As befits the hybrid nature of Ichigo's soul, Zangetsu is probably a hybrid sword, with all the boundless power and consequential massive size that comes with it. If it draws on the energy from Hueco Mundo as well, it would explain why it is capable of dark blasts. And if so, would it mean that Zangetsu could act as some kind of link with or gateway to Hueco Mundo (another potential reason for why the Hollow disappeared into it)? Was this hypothetical link what allowed Ichigo to deflect Menos Grande (a gigantic Hollow that usually takes a task force to deal with) and send it retreating back to Hueco Mundo?

I should point out that Ichigo's sword had extraordinary size even before Zangetsu and the pit episode. Any sword he holds being an outer manifestation of his own soul, it could be more evidence for him being part Hollow to begin with. When Zangetsu first appears to Ichigo during the Shattered Shaft, he says Ichigo should already know who he is, and that nobody in the world knows him better.

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Chapter 111
Whatever the case may be, when Ichigo emerged from his first encounter with his inner Hollow, his battle aura flared up with the mask's signature design. <<< Read from RIGHT to LEFT <<<

Chapter 113
The Hollow makes its first real entrance into the outer world by freaking the bejeezus out of and going apeshit on poor Byakuya. Though it would seem it itself does not quite know who or what it is (or simply doesn't see Byakuya as worth telling), this did not stop it from leaving a lasting impression. It also appeared to have a better understanding of Ichigo's abilities, more efficiently utilized his power reserves, and wielded Zangtsu with greater skill. Was this knowledge instinctive or conscious? <<< Read from RIGHT to LEFT <<<

Chapter 166
Just like in the pit trial, Ichigo still had a fair bit of control over his Hollow form's manifestation and it did not take him long to beat the Hollow back into the recesses of his soul and tear off the mask. Interestingly enough, the Hollow actually displayed an overt (if somewhat misplaced) desire to work together with and help Ichigo, and Ichigo was the one that sought to assert dominance. If left on their own, would they eventually fuse naturally? Would the Hollow aspect gradually overwhelm Ichigo as the stripe counter adds up? Will they employ Urahara's help and use the hou gyoku to fully merge and reach new heights? Will Urahara reveal why the hou gyoku is considered dangerous, and if it is related to the stripe countdown? All has yet to be seen. <<< Read from RIGHT to LEFT <<<

Chapter 166
When Ichigo faces his inner Hollow again during his training with the Vaizards, Hollow Ichigo confirms what was already visually implied during their first encounter when the Hollow was absorbed into Zangetsu. Zangetsu and Hollow Ichigo are the same entity, and have been one from the very beginning. One's zanpaku-tou being a direct reflection of one's soul, Hollow-ness IS Ichigo's inner power.

So, to know how long Ichigo had Hollow/hybrid potential, all we have to figure out is... how long has Ichigo had Zangetsu?

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Chapter 218
Ichigo first sees Zangetsu during the Shattered Shaft trial at the bottom of the pit when he is on the brink of fully transforming into a Hollow. But regardless of Ichigo's inability to hear him, Zangetsu has existed before the Shattered Shaft. He says that he has called to Ichigo many times in the past and that there is nobody in the world that knows him better than Ichigo.

If Hollow Ichigo was one with Zangetsu from the very beginning, and Zangetsu existed before the Shattered Shaft, then this was not the instance where Ichigo acquired his Hollow self! Zangetsu tells Ichigo that he has his own Shinigami powers outside of those transferred to him by Rukia, and it is those that he is here to reclaim. As the red reiraku that leads to the box with Ichigo's soul contains Zangetsu's sword hilt, Hollow Ichigo is among those powers.

If Ichigo was born with a Shinigami soul, and Zangetsu is the direct expression of that soul's power, then given that Zangetsu and the Hollow are the same entity, Ichigo had a Hollow for as long as he had Zangetsu - i.e. from birth!

Just as Rukia awakened Ichigo's own latent Shinigami powers, so the Shattered Shaft awakened his latent Hollow powers.

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Chapter 63
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