"I'm going to di--LOLSURPRISE HOLLOW MODE", and the Vizard training was more than enough Complete Hollowification. This fight felt so damned recycled.
We knew from over a 100 chapters ago that his hollow would be back, the guy said so himself.
Besides, there are plenty of differences between this battle and Byakuya's. From the immense power gap, influence from other characters, Ichigo's death, Ulquiorra driving Orihime and Ishida to the point of terror, Ichigo's lack of mind, his inability to return to normal, him desecrating corpses and attacking his own friends.
If you think just going hollow makes the two fights the exact same, that is being quite superficial. The very concepts of the two battles were even different from the very beginning. Ichigo was attempting to show Byakuya he was at his level. Against Ulquiorra, the odds were always impossible, but still he tried desperately because he had to win.
"I just wasn't there fighting" was a flawless reason until this week.
Don't think of it from a story perspective, think of it from a presentation perspective. As the weakest of the Espada, he was always cannon fodder, especially now that he lasted so long and everybody else fought stronger adversaries. The main characters even talk of it in front of Yammy, which is why he revealed that twist. All in all, Yammy's recent revelation makes perfect sense in giving all of the Espada equal spotlight.
As for a story perspective. Ever since Aizen went to the real world, it has always seemed he's leaving his home base barely defended. Yammy's power boost rectifies this. Sooner or later Wonderweiss, who is an Espada level numeros, will probably also be thrown into the mix.
Aaroniero > Szayel > Grimmjow (well, not here) Zommari > Nnoitra > Ulquiorra > Now it's Halibel's turn)
That wasn't the order. Szayel lasted beyond Grimmjow and Zomari.
9 > 6 > 7 > 8 > 5 > 4.
0/10, 1, 2 and 3 are remaining. Not that orderly to me.
Hoping to get some answer in a hypothetical 'climax' or 'answers' arc is like confirming the pace of the plot has been poor, at the very
Kubo's pace is slow. But his work is best read in rapid succession, not in a weekly manner. It should not be judged by chapters, rather by the whole.
Besides, he drops enough hints for the answers to be figured out before he reveals it all.
I don't see these dramatic moments you speak of, by the way.
Every single major event that ever happened in the series? I'd use the word ep
ic too, but that's censored.