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In Season 10, after Nnoitra survives the Cero Doble that Nelliel ate and shot back, Nnoitra said that it had been years since Nelliel was an Espada.

From my understanding the Espada only started to form after Aizen got the Hogyoku and I don't see how it's been years since he took the Hogyoku out of Rukia.

So how was Aizen building up the Espada before getting the Hogyoku?

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I believe the scene in question is from chapter 291 and episode 192, so this is what I'm going to work off of.

According to the wiki:

The original Espada were already in existence sometime before Aizen's defection from Soul Society and acquisition of the Hōgyoku.

So this would mean that Aizen did not have either Hōgyoku before the Espada were being gathered.

Then to answer the second half of your question, in the scene you mentioned Nnoitra is talking about how it has been years since Nelliel has taken her full form as an Espada due to the trama he inflicted on her long before rendering her appearance to that of a small child.

"Nnoitra said that it had been years since Nelliel was an Espada."

It was because she had "vanished" from Las Noches.

So in this instance he was not saying that it had been years since Nelliel had become an Espada, but that it had been years since she returned to being an Espada.

  • The original Espada were already in existence as Vasto Lordes. They turned into the Espada we know only after they come in contact with Aizen. Hougyoku is needed for a Hollow to pass the boundary between Hollow and Shinigami. – 絢瀬絵里 Nov 29 '16 at 5:38
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SPOILER ALERT for those who haven't finished Aizen's Arc!

Just a guess based on the fact that there were 2 Hougyoku. The fact that there were 2 Hougyoku was disclosed during a flashback of Ichimaru Gin's memory as he was dying.

There were 2 hougyoku, one made by Urahara and another made by Aizen. The latter was then fused into the first as both were incomplete. The fused one is the perfected Hougyoku that was hidden inside Rukia.

Since there was years prior to the story then a reasonable answer would be Aizen was using his own Hougyoku. This is because the other Hougyoku was in Urahara's lab. But then again, since it is Aizen that we are talking about here, another possibility would be that after both was fused, Aizen used Kyouka Suigetsu's Kanzen Saimin (Perfect Hypnosis) on Urahara to make him believe that the Hougyoku was still with him while in actual Aizen took it with him to perform some experiments with the Hollows.

The second theory has a weakness in that why would Aizen return it to Urahara, which suggest that there might be a time limit to Kyouka Suigetsu's Kanzen Saimin. It would be possible to determine which one happened had we know the extend of Aizen's Hougyoku's power. What we currently know is the power of the already fused Hougyoku and there is no way we can know the limit of the two original Hougyoku since Bleach has already ended without it being disclosed. It is safe to say that the original Hougyoku would be weaker compared to the fused Hougyoku, but what abilities each can grant, whether both grant the same abilities or not, well, we wouldn't know.

  • I always thought Aizen fused them after he got Urahara's from Rukia. Though Kanzen Saimin could explain it, it does not explain why he had to take one from Rukia. It makes the most sense that he had his own, and everything in the story up until he left the Soul Society was simply to obtain Urahara's Hougyoku. – Ryan Nov 28 '16 at 17:16
  • The fusion happened back during Aizen's Gotei days. IIRC it was either explained by Aizen when he was dying from a surprise attack, during Aizen vs Ichigo+Isshin or when Ichimaru Gin was dying. Forgot which one exactly. He needs to take the one inside Rukia since a that time that is the only Hougyoku since his was already fused into it. – 絢瀬絵里 Nov 28 '16 at 17:52
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The short answer: by being a magnificent bastard with an overpowered shikai.

The more general answer varies slightly between each Espada. Aizen would find the to-be Espada and prey upon their weaknesses and desires to lure them to his banner. Sometimes they just wanted ever more power, either because they had a singular lust for it (like Grimmjow), or because they wished to use it to some ends.

For example, Halibel wanted it to protect her friends/fraccion from the aggressions of other hollows.

And Starrk

Just wanted companionship. Chapter 375, Page 7, Aizen finds and recruits Starrk: Chapter 375, Page 7

But sometimes brute force comes into play.

At one point, someone explains that the reason that Aizen can keep such a powerful group of Espada functioning together is by his sheer, overwhelming power. In Chapter 371, for example, we see how he recruited Barragan. It was basically by humiliating him. Here's a few of those pages: Page 4 Chapter 371 Page 4 Page 7 Chapter 371 Page 7 Page 8 Chapter 371 Page 8 Page 11 Chapter 371 Page 11 Page 12 Chapter 371 Page 12 Page 13 enter image description here

One thing that may be worth noting here:

When we see Aizen recruiting Barragan, he has his "soul society" haircut, so this is before he's revealed as the bad guy, and so before he has extracted the Hogyouku from Rukia. When we see him recruiting Starrk, though, he has his "post betrayal" haircut, so this event occurs after he has the Hogyouku from Rukia.

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