Let us get the shortest of these out of the way, shall we?
Truth About Uryu
As many of us suspected, Uryu has not genuinely allied himself with the Vandenreich. Rather, his intent from the beginning was to destroy the Vandenreich from the inside, and he revealed his intentions to destroy the Wahrwelt to Ichigo (after a brief scuffle) by using the same chips that are used in the Sanrei Glove to gather reishi, and then to detonate the chips using his own reiatsu.
While he did reveal this to Ichigo and Co., there are a couple of things that I find suspect. The first is the fact that Uryu waited this long, and even 'aided' Yhwach when he was going to absorb Mimihagi and the Soul King. Uryu took a very bold risk by waiting for Yhwach to absorb the Soul King itself before going through with his plan. I imagine that Uryu may be banking on the explosion caused by the Sanrei chips being able to bypass "The Almighty" (since it is not a "power" from a Shinigami, Quincy, Human or Hollow, but a technological device of sorts) and kill Yhwach, but doing so at this time would also warrant the destruction of the power of the Soul King as well.
Which brings me to my second point: Uryu gave a Sun Key to Ichigo and Co. so they can return to the Living World through a gate that was prepared for the invasion of the Living World. The Sun Gate to the Living World itself is interesting, because it means that the sequence of Yhwach's invasion places emphasis on the Living World after absorbing the Soul King. It makes me wonder what he intends, aside from reestablishing the Lichtreich.
But what about the Shinigami? Virtually every Captain and Vice-Captain of the Gotei 13 is present up in the Wahrwelt at this point in time, meaning that detonating the Sanrei chips would kill not only every Quincy along with Yhwach, but also all of the Shinigami as well. Of course, one could assume that Uryu was telling Ichigo to take the Shinigami through the Sun Gate as well, but that doesn't work because the Gotei 13 want to defeat Yhwach personally, and I doubt they'd trust Uryu enough to take him on his word in this circumstance. So this raises the question of why Uryu was willing to not only destroy the Wahrwelt along with himself, but also the Gotei 13. I don't think Ichigo and Co. realized this aspect of Uryu's plan, but I have a feeling it may be brought up later on.
However, Uryu's initial plan fell through and changed because Haschwalth now bears "The Almighty", and was able to "see" virtually all of Uryu's plans and actions, and force a confrontation. Regardless, Uryu realizes what Haschwalth's words and actions mean - right now, Yhwach does not possess "The Almighty", and is vulnerable while he is asleep, so Uryu changes plans - he will hold off Haschwalth while Ichigo and Co. go kill Yhwach (assassinate him in a sense, since Yhwach is asleep).
It is at this point we see a potential weakness in "The Almighty" - Haschwalth was not able to 'see' Uryu's change in demeanor when they prepared to fight, and Uryu realizes that Haschwalth may not have fully grasped "The Almighty ability yet. This makes sense, since "The Almighty" is originally Yhwach's power, and the fact that Haschwalth missed "seeing" Uryu's change makes me think that the future which "The Almighty" sees is not one singular future,but all "potential futures", which allows the user of "The Almighty" to guide the future along the path they wish for it to take.
However, Haschwalth mentions something rather foreboding - there is no need to pursue Ichigo and Co., because they will perish. Since all the Schutzstaffel have engaged themselves in battle with the Gotei 13 and Urahara's group, this really only leaves two possibilities: either Yhwach will awaken before Ichigo and Co. reach him in time,or there is one or more Stern Ritter left. I say this, because one of the Schrift we have yet to account for is "K". One could say BG9 counts as "K", but he is an automaton, which leaves the question of who built BG9. For that matter, the same person could be the one who devised the Vollstandig in the first place, and the Star Medallion.
For one reason or another, Haschwalth is confident that Ichigo and Co. will perish when they come across whoever the last line of defense for Yhwach is, which I feel may be something we'll see very soon.
With that out of the way, let us move on to the battle that concluded recently.
The World Beyond This One
Askin was always one of the more interesting members among the Stern Ritter, and he certainly did not disappoint in his battle against Urahara and Yoruichi. I will start out by saying that I was actually surprised that Yushiro was as powerful as he was, and demonstrated another variant of the Shunko with an "explosion-based" Shunko. However, I also saw that the boy was dabbling in the same form of arrogance that a number of characters in the manga do: "There's no way I can lose to a mere Shinigami/Quincy/Hollow/Human". Really, this means that both sides of the war are looking down on the other, since both Shinigami and Quincy have said that about the other at one point or another in this war.
Regardless, Askin shows why that kind of bravado doesn't bear fruit, as he reveals that "The Death-Dealing" can make him immune to any reiatsu he has taken in, effectively making him immune to the attacks of both Shihouin, and skewering Yushiro after he attempts a futile Shunko. After we cut back to Yoruichi from the above events, we initially see Askin lying on the ground, but the one who is actually beaten is Yoruichi, who got a dose of a reishi-oxygen-nitrogen giftball. At this point, Askin has Yoruichi dead to rights, and she can't even react to him when he has walked right up to her.
But Yoruichi gets a save and antidote from Urahara Kisuke, whom Askin is not happy to see because he is one of the Special War Potentials. Through Askin, just as we got confirmation about the aspects of the Soul King and how Gerard is the Heart of the Soul King, we finally receive an explanation on who the remaining War Potential are, and why the War Potentials are ranked as such. Rather than sharing a specific quality (though that may go hand in hand), the Five War Potentials all possessed qualities that were determined to be "unknown variables":
Ichigo is a War Potential because of his "latent potential". This is no surprise, given exactly how powerful we saw Ichigo become in "Deicide", and his heritage of all four soul types. Should Ichigo tap fully into all of his potential, there is probably no one in the series he could not be stronger than. Unfortunately, on the current ground situation, Ichigo seems to be subconsciously avoiding his Quincy abilities. As I noted before, and I will note again, Ichigo only used one "Zangetsu" when he confronted Uryu. This leads me to believe that what happened with the Soul King affected him just as his Hollow (the true "Zangetsu") did - he is afraid of that side of that himself.
Zaraki's "fighting strength" is why he is designated as a War Potential, and this war has definitely shown us why that is the case. While he is beaten out on the "latent potential" front, Nozarashi more than demonstrated that Zaraki is nigh-unmatched when it comes to raw combat power. Even before he learnt Nozarashi's name, Zaraki was the only Shinigami outside of Yamamoto to kill any Stern Ritter (three in his case) in the First Invasion, and he did it all with a sealed Zanpakuto, as we now know. I'll get more into him later, considering his role in recent chapters.
The last War Potential to be confirmed was Ichibei Hyosube, and he is marked for his "wisdom". In part, we probably should not have been surprised by this, but we were surprised, because we tend to rely on out-right declarations of certain facts. When you look at his position, it is not hard to see why: not only is Ichibei essentially THE Founding Father of the Soul Society, but he is the Captain of Squad Zero, and knows the names of every Zanpakuto from the moment a Shinigami takes up one of Nimaiya's Asauchi. That is a sort of "omniscience" right there. In a sense, we have already seen this aspect of him have an impact in the war, since not only did he tell Renji the true name of his Bankai, but he is also likely the one who told Rukia the name of Hakka no Togame and, given his situation, probably informed Ichigo of the true name of his Bankai as well.
We knew Aizen was on the list for a long time, and now we know why: "Reiatsu". Compared to every other War Potential, Aizen Sousuke was singled out for the power of his "Reiatsu", and that title was well-earned, given he is more powerful than he was before (NOT as powerful as when he was evolving due to Hogyoku, mind you), as he demonstrated clearly when he crushed the torrents of the Soul King's power, cast a Kurohitsugi that fractured the shroud generated by Yhwach and Mimihagi's power, and planned to shoot down the Soul King Palace from Soul Society. The fact he was able to mess with Yhwach's perception of time without a Zanpakuto is also a cause for concern, since what Aizen was assuming when his Zanpakuto started to disappear may have actually happened: he become one with his Zanpakuto while still being made "a normal Shinigami".
The last one is Urahara for his unknown "Means". In other words, Urahara is the master strategist that is able to account for any possible scenarios, and prepare accordingly. He has done this throughout the series, and he was definitely a variable that changed the war when he prepared the pills that allowed the Shinigami to regain their Bankai, the Fullbringers to assist Ichigo and Co. and bring Grimmjow and Nel to the Soul King Palace, and the Shihouin Relics to create a Gate for the Gotei 13.
Now Urahara is being pit against a Stern Ritter whose ability revolves around adapting to the reiatsu of anyone he fights, and he has his plans to counter that as well.
You recall how I mentioned I was annoyed with Yoruichi's demeanor when fighting Askin months back? Well, even after she was injected with the drug to boost her immunity, Yoruichi goes and makes the same mistake Yushiro did, charging at Askin with Shunko sparking, despite the fact that Askin already told her that he had become immune to her reiatsu. Thankfully (but not so for Yoruichi's personal pride), Urahara is not one who really cares about "pride" in these kinds of situations, and knows what needs to be done. Once Yoruichi goes down a second time, Urahara pulls the trigger on a new transformation for Yoruchi.
Where to begin? To start off with, Fairy Tail probably desensitized me enough to fan-service that I don't give a damn if Yoruichi's transformation turned her into a Were-Cat with only bands of lightning keeping her from being completely naked. It is either that, or Kubo didn't throw all the fan-service in our faces, and focused more on the action. Urahara tells us that this form is Shunryuu Kokubyou Senki, and he is the one who has to tell us because...Well, being transformed into a Were-Cat has got Yoruichi's tongue.
Moreover, we quickly learn why Urahara wanted Yoruichi to use this transformation in the first place - although her behavior and demeanor all change to that of a cat, the "mood" of a cat also has a drastic effect on her power and reiatsu, changing the nature of her reiatsu 48 times per second, meaning Askin's "Death-Dealing" cannot keep up with Yoruichi's new form.
The form itself raises a few questions for me, such as how in the world she attained it in the first place. We know she was called a "Were-cat" all the way back in the Turn Back the Pendulum days, so it is likely she possessed this power even back then. But is this a Shihouin Clan secret technique (akin to the techniques that originally made Komamura's Clan werewolves to begin with), or was it a power that Urahara devised and gave to Yoruichi as part of his long line of experiments in strengthening the soul (since he's the only one who can get her attention in this state)? It reminds me a lot of the Komamura Clan, so I hope that some answers are given for this soon.
But Askin is not down for the count, and he releases Hasshain - a Vollstandig that encompasses the entire area in a "Gift Ball Deluxe" to poison everyone in the vicinity. Moreover, since he is being cautious about Urahara having any more tricks, he sets up a "Gift Bereich" to close Urahara into the Gift Ball Deluxe. While in Vollstandig, Yoruichi's changing reiatsu cannot affect him anymore (if she could move, that is), because all he has to do is take in all forty-eight different reiatsu for one second to build up an immunity to her completely.
This is where the conversation between Urahara and Askin gets interesting - when questioned about his loyalty to Yhwach, Askin confesses that, more than being loyal to Yhwach, Askin is interested in Yhwach. He is interested because Yhwach is attempting something that virtually no one else would dare to attempt: destroy Soul Society, Hueco Mundo and the Living World, and create a new world after those worlds are gone. Askin does not want to miss this chance with Yhwach, and that is why he is loyal: he wants to see what Yhwach will create, and asks if Urahara is the same.
In regards to Askin, this makes me wonder about his back-story. He speaks as someone who has seen all the world has to offer, and as someone who has lived a very long time "because he just won't die". That is what he said is the reason why Yhwach took him, but he was quite clear on only Pernida and Gerard having powers before they were recruited into the Stern Ritter, as everyone else had their power awakened by the Schrift. It is really a mystery when it comes to Askin, not to mention his words about Haschwalth being "the next emperor" and how any conflict with Bazz-B would be "poison" for him.
On Urahara's part, his response to Askin also makes me wonder what Urahara's end game is going to be. He states that he is not interested in the world that Yhwach wants to create, but it is not, as Tekking101 points out in his review, a classical Shounen hero "you're just twisted and evil" rebuttal. Rather, it is a "no but yes" scenario: Urahara does not want to see what Yhwach will create, and he states that Mayuri wouldn't either, because scientists are people who will create something new that has never been seen before with their own hands.
Askin completely agrees with Urahara's answer, even if he still wishes to see what Yhwach will create, and goes on the offensive with the Gift Ring, a ring of reishi that disappears as it approaches the target before piercing the targeted limb or organ (Urahara's eye), and killing it instantly. He is doing it because, according to his own words, Urahara is too troublesome an opponent for him to simply lower the lethal dosage on.
However, Urahara has a few more tricks up his sleeve, one of which embodies his words about the nature of scientists all too well:
Kannon Biraki Benihime Aratame, Urahara's Bankai.
Taking the form of a large puppet-woman, Kannon Biraki Benihime Aratame allows Urahara the ability "to restructure anything it has touched" that is within her range. That includes Askin's body, as well as his own, which he used to repair his eyes and physically augment himself in battle, enough to physically overpower Askin in his Vollstandig state. Because Urahara forced a physical confrontation, Askin attempts to counter by heightening the lethal dosage of the Gift Ball Deluxe, because he does not want to directly deal with Urahara's Bankai.
However, Urahara has one last trick up his sleeve: he used Kannon Biraki to "restructure" a path into the Gift Ball Deluxe through the Gift Bereich to allow Grimmjow, in his Resurreccion, to come up behind Askin and rip his heart out.
Kannon Biraki Benihime Aratame is a frighteningly powerful ability. Even though Askin said the Gift Bereich made it impossible to escape the Gift Ball Deluxe, Urahara realized it wasn't "impenetrable", and he used his Bankai to create a path into and out of the Gift Ball for Grimmjow (and later Nel) to use. That said, Kannon Biraki also reminded me of something else: the techniques that Urahara created for the insertion and extraction of objects from a soul. He used the technique to placed the Hogyoku into Rukia, and Aizen used another one to extract it from Rukia. As we saw, the hole created from Aizen extracting the Hogyoku simply mended itself. Now, I realize, Urahara may have based both technologies on the ability of his own Bankai.
We also learn a little bit more about the Resurreccion - along with returning to an Arrancar their original form and power, their reiatsu also changes from that of an Arrancar to a Hollow, a trait which Urahara used to get one over Askin, confessing that it was one of a thousand possible scenarios that he prepared for. As a result, he found the Resurreccion's changing of the reiatsu of an Arrancar "interesting", and "prepared" for it.
Thus we see Urahara's ethos on battle - in war, you die if you lose, so you must take every precaution possible to avoid death. Askin realizes that this is what makes Urahara so terrifying right before Grimmjow deals one more killing blow to him...
...Which causes the Gift Ball Deluxe to increase his power exponentially, because Askin can no longer maintain the locks on it now that he is "dead". The man certainly is talkative for someone who is "dead", even when the Gift Ball is magnifying its power because he "died". I'm almost tempted to think that "Death-Dealing" is like Sode no Shirayuki - "Death-Dealing" allows Askin's body to function even in a state of death by manipulating the reishi of his body.
Either way, there is the possibility that he may survive this still, since Neliel, whom Urahara had stationed outside the Gift Ball to extract them if "one of the five possibilities" occurred, noticed that were were four reiatsu still in the Gift Ball Deluxe. Since they moved away from the area where Yushiro was struck down, that leaves the fourth reiatsu as Askin's reiatsu. It is going to take her at least two trips (according to some translations), and she goes to rescue everyone in the Gift Ball, even though she'd prefer to go meet up with Ichigo.
But Urahara has something else on his mind as he nears his death due to the intensity of the Gift Ball, the stitches created by Kannon Biraki opening up with blood as his Bankai collapses and de-activates. In what he believed may be his last breaths, he entrusts everything - the future of the world - to two individuals: Kurosaki Ichigo and Kuchiki Rukia.
Viz confirms that the "Kuchiki" he is talking about is Rukia (he says Ms. Kuchiki), which is really quite a big deal, and may point towards just how far ahead Urahara has planned everything. He chose Rukia to be the container of the Hogyoku at an unknown point in time for an unknown reason. Given how so many things are coming together in this Final Arc, I sincerely believe that those reasons are going to tie into this Final Arc, and perhaps the Quincy as well.
Perhaps Urahara has seen something about Rukia that has escaped the eyes of everyone else, even Yhwach and Aizen.
Now we move on to the final part.
The Three Warriors Battle the Heart of a God
This battle has been going on in the background for a while, and now it is at the forefront (and may be reaching its conclusion in a few chapters). After Gerard took down everyone else, the Visoreds finally show back up, and the four of them try to tag-team Gerard (using their Masks, no less). Hachigen uses a new Kido, Love uses Tengumaru, and Lisa uses a new Shikai technique while Hiyori distracted him with a Cero. But even with all of them (except Hachigen) augmenting their power with their Hollow Masks, not a scratch has been laid on Gerard, who simply knocks all of them aside with the force of swinging his shield arm.
Now, I know a lot of people have wondered why Kensei and Rose (or Shinji, for that matter) did not use their Hollow Masks when they were fighting the Stern Ritter, especially in Bankai. Some people have speculated that a condition for re-joining the Gotei 13 was for them to not use their Hollow Masks, but I think it is something else. Namely, the Visoreds can't use their Bankai and Hollow Masks at the same time. Although they have hybrid powers, using one or the other means they are drawing on only one main source of power, and they can't use both at the same time. It is no different from how the Stern Ritter could not use their Vollstandig whilst in possession of a stolen Bankai.
When Gerard attempts to wipe out everything by punching the ground, Toshiro finally appears on the scene and freezes Gerard, and immediately goes to Bankai to fight him. The next time we see Toshiro, half his petals are gone and he hasn't done anything to Gerard in his current state. We see that Gerard didn't completely take down everyone, as a slightly bloodied Byakuya shows up to assist Toshiro...Only for Gerard's attack on the both of them to be interrupted by Zaraki showing up, arm regenerated and legs healed, and slicing Gerard's arm off.
It really goes to show how efficient Mayuri's healing tubes are. They even give the healing pods "Resurrection of "F"" a run for their money, since Zaraki must have only been in one of those healing tubes for less than an hour before getting back up on his feet (and beating Ikkaku and Yumichika to Gerard).
That said, Gerard continues to prove himself to be a powerful opponent, as he simply regenerates his cut off arm in a more powerful state. This has Toshiro concerned, who even blocks a held-back swing from Zaraki to keep him from cutting Gerard into too many pieces, because, according to Toshiro, something as big as Gerard falling from the height the Soul King Palace is at would destroy the Seireitei
I would assume that the seventy-two barriers would destroy anything falling down first (though they didn't stop Lille when he fell down as light), or we partly misinterpreted exactly when Ichigo arrived in the Soul Society (closer to one day instead of half a day), and the barrier still has a hole in it from when Ichigo punched his way through it. Yhwach was specific on the 6000 seconds, so that's just under two hours. If it is already night when it was morning when Ichigo arrived, then the barrier should be closed already.
Moreover, the speed for something as big as Gerard would have to be moving to wreck Seireitei would be astronomical.
NOTE: I checked other translations, and they say Seireitei, not Soul Society.
But Zaraki is nonplussed even when Gerard tries to stomp on him, simply grabbing his leg and throwing him aside, and strike to strike at Gerard's head. However, Gerard's shield is sturdy enough to block Zaraki's sword, and Gerard sends him flying, and decides to draw his "Hoffnung" to deal with Zaraki. Since Zaraki couldn't cut through the shield, he responds immediately by taking off his eye-patch, and releasing Nozarashi in one go. The sword release particularly surprises Toshiro, and leads Byakuya to realize that Zaraki never had a "constant-release" Zanpakuto, which further leads him to speculate that the "constant-release" Zanpakuto never existed to begin with.
Is this a ret-con? No, I would not say that. Although Ichigo was always believed to be a "constant release" type, that Zangetsu was a "fake" Zanpakuto, and Ichigo's newest Zanpakuto came out looking like they do straight from the forge. Moreover, we know that Getsuga Tenshou was Isshin's sealed Zanpakuto technique first, which points towards the possibility that Ichigo's current set of swords are sealed as well, not a Shikai. After all, it is clear now that you need to know the name of the Zanpakuto to possess a Shikai, which Zaraki never did possess. It would be more accurate to say that they both fall under the category of Zanpakuto that possess special abilities even when sealed, but still have a Shikai release (e.g. Isshin, Ichibei, Kirinji, etc.)
However, even going all out is not enough for Zaraki to over-power Gerard, since Gerard clashes evenly with Zaraki. What is more, chipping Hoffnung with Nozarashi has consequences for Zaraki, because it causes a wound to appear across his body. He explains that "The Miracle" is a power derived from the emotions of those around him - "Fear" caused his body to grow to gigantic size, and Hoffnung is shrouded in "Hope", which causes despair if it were to be chipped or broken.
But Zaraki is not dissuaded at all, and continues to go on the offensive against Gerard, the two exchanging banter back and forth with each other as they do. Zaraki is so engrossed in the fight, in fact, that he knocks aside Toshiro when he attempts to help him. Although Zaraki does not listen to reason, Toshiro still wants to help because he realizes that Gerard is not an opponent that not even Zaraki can beat on his own, even with his eye-patch removed.
Toshiro is proven correct on this point, because Zaraki becomes weaker and weaker as the fight progresses with each chip in "Hoffnung's" blade, eventually being beaten entirely. This speaks volumes of just how powerful Gerard is in this form, and the strength of Hoffnung - Nozarashi obliterated a Seireitei-razing meteorite and cut through Space itself, yet it can only chip Gerard's blade. Gremmy was monstrously powerful in his own right (to an unusual extent), but Gerard has him completely beat, even able to counter both Toshiro and Byakuya when they try to go for an opening to take him down. By this point, Gerard has definitely proven he is the Heart of the Soul King.
Then Yachiru shows up out of nowhere, essentially reveals that she is Zaraki's Zanpakuto, and gives him Bankai.
This is very interesting for a number of reasons: this means that Yachiru was manifested in the material world all this time and, rather than Zaraki needing to fight and subjugate his Zanpakuto to attain Bankai, like every other Shinigami, Yachiru instead chose of her own free-will to give Zaraki the power of Bankai, without the need for a fight. As I stated when the chapter initially came out, I am starting to wonder if this is not the proper method for a Shinigami to attain Bankai - not by fighting and subjugating the Zanpakuto, but by having it manifested in the material world for a prolonged period and bonding with his Zanpakuto spirit.
Someone suggested that Nimaiya would be completely behind this idea, given that he is the man who created the Asauchi that all Shinigami use to forge their Zanpakuto to begin with. However, I disagree with that idea, because Nimaiya's established idea when Ichigo and Renji were training was "which was superior, Shinigami or Zanpakuto," and that is not what you see with Yachiru and Zaraki. When Ichigo came back from learning about himself, the Asauchi reacted by kneeling before Ichigo. Yachiru does not "kneel" or subordinate herself before Zaraki, and instead enjoys watching him fight, and in chapter 668 pulled his hand up and gave him the power of Bankai to continue fighting.
Yachiru is not the "superior" in the relationship, and neither is Zaraki. Yachiru and Zaraki are equals to one another. The Zanpakuto and the Shinigami are one and the same being; the Zanpakuto is the power of the Shinigami, but have their own will separate from the one who wields their power. The two Zangetsu have their own motivations separate from Ichigo's own; Zabimaru withheld the full name of Renji's Bankai because he did not fully acknowledge him yet.
But Nimaiya and Ichibei, in a sense, take that authority away from the Zanpakuto. The system of attaining Bankai takes that ability of choice away from the Zanpakuto, in part or in full. Nimaiya made Renji and Ichigo fight the Asauchi until they triumphed over them, or until Ichigo learnt about himself, with that knowledge causing the Asauchi to kneel before Ichigo in subordination. Furthermore, Ichibei told Renji the true name of his Bankai, and told him to manifest Zabimaru and "convince/make" him recognize Renji's power.
Did Zabimaru have a say in that at all? No. Ichibei took away Zabimaru's authority over its own Name, and simply gave the Name to Renji, who in turned had already been powered up to such an extent by the Squad Zero training, that Zabimaru may have had no other choice now but to give Renji that power.
That is not what we are seeing with Nozarashi and Zaraki - Nozarashi chose to give Zaraki his Bankai on her own terms. Assuming that there are two Zanpakuto spirits comprising Nozarashi (the skeletal figure Zaraki is depicted as in volume sketches and his reiatsu), that is likely true for both Nozarashi, since the other would likely need to allow Yachiru to give Zaraki the power of Bankai in the first place.
People may complain about how Zaraki has gotten a Bankai just like this, while every other character has had to train and fight their Zanpakuto, but I see this as the natural method of attaining a Bankai, one that is not corrupted by a militarized institution which believes in fighting and subjugating the Zanpakuto Spirit, a part of yourself, in order to attain its power.
As for the other thing that is interesting about Zaraki's Bankai:
NOTE: The image is one that I made.
Does that look like an ordinary Bankai to you? Most Bankai in the series either expand on the existing ability of the Zanpakuto by generating a large effect, creature, or increase the size of the weapon. Even in cases where this doesn't occur (Yamamoto and Unohana), it is only the Zanpakuto that is transformed. Here, not only did Nozarashi becomes smaller when the Bankai was released, but Zaraki physically transformed into a red-skinned demon with vastly augmented physical strength, able to tear off Gerard's entire arm just by biting his fist and twisting his arm off.
On top of that, he carves straight through Gerard's shield and other hand when he goes to strike for Gerard's head, tosses him away off the Wahrwelt with a single hand, and then completely cuts Gerard in half when he attempts to fly back up and destroy Zaraki. It was no joke when Yachiru/Nozarashi said there was no one Zaraki couldn't cut down if he used her properly, as Zaraki completely overwhelmed Gerard with the power of his Bankai.
But even cut in half, Gerard is still not done, as his two halves pull themselves back together with reishi, and he is restored in an even more powerful form than before - Aschetonig. It might be his Vollstandig, but we can't be certain with the Heart of the Soul King. With just a (comparatively) small blast of reishi, Gerard blows off one of the sections of the Wahrwelt, with Toshiro barely able to suspend it in place with ice, but just the force of Gerard moving his sword is enough to blow away Toshiro.
Unfortunately for Zaraki, it seems even his body (the same one capable of containing the same reiatsu and power that killed Gremmy's body) is not strong enough to handle all of the power of his Bankai, as Yachiru (I'm going to have to settle on one of the two at some point -_-) realizes after the power of his Bankai blows his arm off, leaving him vulnerable to Gerard's strike, cutting off his arm and smashing him into a crater.
We see this scene surrounded by black, as if we are seeing a scene that only Zaraki may be aware of. While Toshiro and Byakuya were concerned that Zaraki may be mindless in his Bankai, it seems that Yachiru was actually the one guiding Zaraki in this state, and giving him as much power as she saw fit. Though it seems that she over-estimated how much Zaraki could handle.
Gerard then swats Toshiro aside when he realizes he is there, and Byakuya catches Toshiro with Senbonzakura Kageyoshi. Byakuya tells Toshiro to release his Bankai, since he believes Toshiro is at the limits of which he can use his Bankai, because the petals are starting to quickly count down to zero. However, it is not quite how Shawlong (and everyone else) assumed it to be all those years ago, now that Toshiro has completed his Bankai. Now that his Bankai is "complete", when the petals count down to zero, Daiguren Hyorinmaru reaches full maturity.
So does Toshiro, since the Bankai reaching full maturity gives Toshiro the Captain Marvel (DC) treatment and ages him up into a young adult. This delights Gerard, since he finds more joy in fighting an adult than in a child, but Daiguren Hyorinmaru's power in its mature state has become monstrously powerful, allowing Toshiro to freeze Gerard's thrown shield in mid-flight, and has made Toshiro powerful enough to cut in half and freeze Hoffnung instantly, completely suspending its "Hope" power.
It is clear from this that Daiguren reaching full maturity doesn't simply mean the Bankai has reached full power, but that Toshiro has also had a significant power increase as well, to the point where he is at the stage that Kyoraku claimed Toshiro would reach in a century. It is also a demonstration of the marked difference between a mature and complete Bankai, and a Bankai recently attained. As powerful as the Bankai of Nozarashi is, it put too much strain on Zaraki when he was given too much power too quickly. Toshiro, on the other hand, has had more time to train and eventually "Complete" his Bankai, allowing him to fight at this level, even able to freeze the function of whatever he uses Daiguren against, including the concept of "Hope" itself. It goes to show just how much greater Toshiro's control over ice has become, and he still isn't using Tenso Jurin, from the look of things. Once he pulls Tenso Jurin out, I don't even want to imagine how much stronger that technique has become.
Even when Gerard resorts to using a Quincy bow, that is not quite enough, because Toshiro used Shikai Hyouketsu, which is capable of freezing all elements of the world - fire, water, air, earth - to completely freeze Gerard and the bow solid in an instant after four seconds (or four steps, depending on the translation).
At this point, it is safe to say that Daiguren Hyorinmaru is still much more powerful than Hakka No Togame. But as I've said elsewhere, Hakka no Togame is a relatively new Bankai, and Rukia has not had the time yet to fully master its power. Once she has more time to train Hakka no Togame, I imagine that the gap between the two Bankai will close once more.
But even with Shikai Hyouketsu used on him, Gerard is not quite out for the count, as he is able to break free and grab Toshiro, declaring himself to be a "disciple of God", and that he cannot be bound by the elements of the world. Even if Gerard is the Heart of the Soul King, him and Pernida both make it clear that the aspects of the Soul King have all evolved distinct personalities and identities of their own. If it weren't for Pernida speaking of how it has always been a Quincy, completely distinct from its usual pattern of speech, I would wonder if the aspects of the Soul King even remember that they were once part of the Soul King. That certainly wasn't the case for Mimihagi, though its own behavior may have been influenced by Ukitake being its host. Despite all of that, their powers are still those of the Soul King - the power of a God.
But it is no longer a one-on-one bout, as Zaraki grabs Gerard's foot and causes him to fall before he can crush Toshiro, Toshiro freezes Gerard again as a result of Gerard being in physical contact with him, and Byakuya pulls out a technique we have not seen in a very long time:
Senkei: Senbonzakura Kageyoshi. This time, Byakuya does use all one thousand blades at once (the compressed power of one hundred million of Senbonzakura's blades) as part of Ougi: Ikkasen Jinka, which stream towards Gerard's head in a brilliant display of light.
Unfortunately for Byakuya, I doubt that blowing up Gerard's head will kill him. Byakuya already destroyed his head once when Gerard was Human-sized, and Zaraki cut Gerard in half and he still got up. Perhaps Byakuya is aiming for the Quincy Cross that appeared between the two halves of Gerard's head when he pieced himself back together, but Gerard is The Heart of the Soul King, not the Mind of the Soul King (I think that is Gremmy). If you are going to kill Gerard (if the aspects of the Soul King can be killed completely), you are going to have to destroy his body and Heart.
Finally, I caught up. Sorry for the long read.