In the latest anime adaption of the final arc of Bleach aka the ‘Thousand Year Blood War’ arc, the Shinigami fought their arch rivals and even the strongest captains were fighting for their lives. After a fierce battle with heavy losses, the Soul Society was left in shambles and Yhwach successfully managed to steal Yamamoto’s Bankai.
As the Soul Society started to rebuild and the Zero Division took action, one of the one major developments to take place after the invasion was the promotion of 8th division captain Kyoraku Shunsui to 1st division captain and Captain Commander of the Gotei 13.
Being a badass character from the get-go, his first decision was to order the Central 46 & Unohana Retsu to teach Kenpachi Zaraki the Zanjutsu/way of the blade which also roughly translates to The ART OF KILLING.
Although receiving criticism and outrage from the Central 46 about the dangers of that very act, he seemed to be rather confident and asked 4th division captain Unohana to step in.
While referring to her as the First Kenpachi. This reveal comes as a shock since Kenpachi’s are chosen in a trial of combat to death, then how is Unohana still alive? Furthermore, her personality till now was of a soft spoken woman and a healer.
Then how is Unohana the first Kenpachi?
What is this new detail that Kubo has mentioned? Let’s find out more about this new revelation of our lovely captain Unohana and about the term ‘Kenpachi’.
How is Unohana the first Kenpachi?
As mentioned before, Shunsui refers to Unohana as the first Kenpachi and proposes the idea of her teaching the art of killing to our ‘current’ Kenpachi i.e. Zaraki to unleash his full potential. But first let me tell you about,
Why The Central 46 chambers were against Kenpachi Zaraki Learning Zanjutsu/Way Of The Blade/Art Of Killing?
The Central 46 were opposed to the idea as bringing out Kenpachi’s full potential would not guarantee him being under their control. They were afraid that an overpowered and out of control Kenpachi can easily overthrow the Soul Society and Central 46.
They also urged the previous Captain Commander, Yamamoto Genryusai, to stop teaching Kenpachi Zaraki, kendo, which is the art of fighting using a Katana, only after a day. Since they saw an immense growth in Zaraki’s power.
All of this, when Zaraki doesn’t even know the name of his Zanpakuto, let alone him possessing Shikai and bankai. Such was the fear of Kenpachi Zaraki in the hearts of the inhabitants of Soul Society.
However, Shunsui had done his homework before hand before coming up to this idea. He asked the Central 46 how are they planning to protect the soul society and themselves from the next Wandenreich invasion? To which, they had no answer.
Hence, Kyouraku orders Unohana to teach Zaraki, Zanjutsu.
Coming to Unohana’s past.
Kyouraku Shunsui is seen reading from a book that the greatest healer of the Soul Society i.e. Retsu Unohana, was once the most dangerous criminal and committed heinous acts of murder without hesitation.
She was so ruthless that people feared her and Unohana was called Kenpachi. Thus, becoming the first ever Kenpachi.
Now, the revelation of Unohana being the first ever Kenpachi may seem like an asspull to man. However, Tite Kubo had hinted this through her and Kenpachi Zaraki and Yachiru Kusajishi’s names. The following tumblr post explains it very well. I am copy pasting the explanation, kindly note, it is not mine, and will link the original post at the end of the article. However, it is a great read:
Nice easy one, actually.
The placename, Zaraki means Zara[更] = “New,” Ki[木] = “Tree.“ It’s got no deeper meaning, really, just a literal description of a place where the most notable feature is a newly grown or planted tree, which makes sense given that we’re told he’s named after the Rukongai district he came from, and the newer, outermost slums are the most dangerous.
There’s a little bit of room to argue that some interpretation of the kanji [更] could mean “to grow at a late hour*” in the extremely specific reference to an old Chinese timekeeping system(it broke the night into 5 shifts, each 2 of our hours) where [更] refers to what would be around 3AM-5AM. But you can see how something having only sprouted up at the last hours of the night is synonymous with “new.”
It could refer to Zaraki being a kind of latebloomer in terms of awakening to his sword and his true powers. Usually you’d give a surname broader meaning, and a private name more specific, but it might be that Kubo leaned on this name, because it would be the only one the attribute direct meaning to the character since…
…Kenpachi[剣八] has no real personal name; at least not one we’re ever told of. He inherits the title of Kenpachi[剣八] by defeating the previous one, who had taken it in place of his own name as per tradition with the 11th Squad. But as what functions as his personal name, Kenpachi means Ken[剣] = “Sword,” Hachi[八] = “Eight.” Which, by itself means very little, but we’ll clarify that in a sec…
Like Kenpachi takes her surname from the slums district she was found in.
Kusa[草] = “Grass/Lawn/Weeds,” and Jishi[鹿] = “Deer.” So “the grassland where Deer are.” It’s very literal, mostly unassuming, a vaguely characterizes the place as nice and safe. But there’s a second reading to this, because Kusa[草] can also be used as a suffix to mean “Fake/Mimic,” and describing her as a “Fake Deer” (or perhaps “Fake Fawn,” if we draw on her physical characteristics) matches the very early foreshadowing we got that she was more powerful than she let on and that her seeming harmlessness is a facade.
And the name Zaraki gives her, Yachiru[やちる] is just written in hiragana; it’s purely phonetic and has no meaning. Implication being that as a peasant, Zaraki can’t actually read or write, so while he can reference the name of a place that has a concrete writing of its own to figure out his surname, he doesn’t know what “Yachiru” means, just how it sounds…
…but as we know, he got that name from a different Yachiru[八千流], whose name means, Yachi[八千] = “8,000″ Ru[流] = “Style(s).“ The meaning here being that she’s named for having known/mastered “8,000 (sword) styles.” The number might not meant to be taken literally, but as a hyperbole, or even just read as something like “Many/Myriad.” It’s also suggested this isn’t actually her name, but a nickname, as it is clearly the basis for the title, Kenpachi[剣八], and put in this context, its meaning of “Eight (thousand) Sword (styles)” makes much more sense.
And since we’re right here, Uno[卯ノ] = “Early Morning’s” and Hana[花] = “Flower.” It has a delicate and refined sound to it, conjuring images of morning dew in the soft light of the sunrise and bulbs opening into bloom.
A curious detail here is that the U[卯] here references the Chinese zodiac, specifically the Hare; but because of how older Chinese cosmology worked it can also refer to part of a 12 ″hour” day cycle that uses the same cycle framework. It’s the “hour” in that system that co-relates to 5AM-7AM, hence my choice to translate it as “Early Morning.” BUT the weird thing is that this isn’t part of the same timekeeping terminology as the Zara[更] in Zaraki; That one’s specific to a system of nightwatches, not to the zodiac related 12 hour day. (The zodiac sign of the 3-5AM hour would be [寅] = “Tiger.”)
But it’s interesting that they have similar time and night/morning related names.
The name Restu[烈] is literally just a word meaning “Violent”/“Furious,“ or “Intense”/“Fierce.” In the latter case is describes her intimidating aura, even without hinting at violence like in most of her early appearances, but the former very obviously and literally references her persona as Yachiru and that whole twist that came much later in the story, but again, her name from the moment she was introduced was read as “Violent Morning Flower,” so really, we all knew what was coming.
Extra tidbit of Kubo’s wordplay: Both Unohana’s Shikai and Bankai are named “Minazuki.” But the Shikai, Minazuki[肉雫唼] means “Meat Droplett Suck/Eat” basically the image here is slurping that last drop of fat off the bone of a well cooked bit of meat; and the Bankai, Minazuki[皆尽] means “Everyone/Everything Deplete/Exhaust/Use Up,” which can be a little tough to make sense of by itself.
(But in the context of her one use of it fighting Zaraki, it seems like it exhausts the stamina of everyone it affects; hence the imagery of Zaraki and Unohana being stripped down to skeletons, and the explanation that to unlock his potential, Zaraki needs to be pushed to the point where he can’t make excuses to hold back.)
This amazing explanation, perfectly summarises how and why Unohana was the first Kenpachi and also Tite Kubo playing with words to build his story.
Coming back to our topic:
Originally known as Yachiru Unohana, the title Kenpachi was first held by her; a term given to the strongest fighter of a generation who has killed the most enemies. Also, Yachiru directly translates to “8000 (sword) styles”, referring to her mastery of countless styles of swordsmanship. Her bloodlust knew no bounds and a young Head Captain Yamamoto sought her out and recruited her into the Gotei 13, which was also mentioned by Yhwach to be just a group of criminals without any order.
As the Gotei 13 turned from criminals to the Soul Society’s protectors, Unohana sought out to completely change her demeanor. With the help of Tenjiro Kirinji, former captain and current member of the Royal Divsion, she mastered the healing arts and became the greatest healer of the Soul Society, although carrying a deep burden.
The idea of teaching Zaraki the art of the blade was to make him use his Zanpakuto.
He was not someone who relied on his Zanpakuto heavily like most of the cast, as his raw spiritual pressure is enough to melt enemies. That implies that he has been holding back heavily throughout the story and it is time for him to actually take a fight seriously. It was time for him to learn the name of his Zanpakuto.
During the fight, Unohana reveals that all this time Kenpachi has been holding back significantly, as his enemies would be destroyed easily.
He had been unconsciously limiting his own power and should have been able to win all the fights he had fought much faster had he not had this obsession of holding back.
Before we deep more into the mind of the two most dangerous criminals, let’s have a look at the released Bankai of the first Kenpachi.
What is the Bankai of Unohana?
She wields Minazuki, whose Shikai takes the form of a giant jellyfish type creature which heals and takes away the pain of the victims. She can also use it for various purposes, proving it to be versatile but during her fight with Kenpachi, she releases her Bankai of the same name.
Bankai Minazuki is the complete opposite of it’s Shikai, where now it can release all the pain towards a victim. Taking the form of a stream of blood, it has the ability to re-open old wounds and inflict fatal damage. She can also cause heavy mental damage where she makes Kenpachi see her and himself as skeletons fighting each other.
(It could also be a reference to the name Minazuki which means eating up everything entirely. Hence, the skeleton references, which would mean to get Zaraki to fight seriously he must be left with no other option than to be close to death or almost dead so that he can no longer hold back.)
Her surpirse change in demeanor and abilities proved to be so strong that she was able to kill Zaraki multiple times and continuously kept reviving him to keep fighting until he chose to fight with his full strength.
It is mind boggling to see the strongest captain getting killed so easily and a captain whose gentle nature was merely a facade. She also claims herself to be stronger than anyone except him and she wanted to make him use his true power before going out.
Let’s now talk about what actually happened in the fight.
What did Unohana do to Zaraki?
As they start fighting, Unohana talks about the stab wound on her chest that was inflicted by Kenpachi a long time ago, claiming it to be the only wound that aches terribly. She talks about a time when like Zaraki, she was searching for an opponent that would satisfy her bloodlust, not knowing about the huge pile of corpses forming behind her.
Although presenting a stoic personality, her eyes opened and gleamed with hope when a young Zaraki emerged in front of her and stabbed her into the chest.
They both fought hard and Unohana claimed that he was still holding back even being a child, which took her by surprise. They both had found a worthy opponent in each other but Zaraki didn’t want to kill her, stating that if he loses her he would also lose the inability to enjoy a battle.
So Zaraki started to hold back. He sealed away a majority of his power while bringing down his level to match with others, leading him to a very ‘weakened state’ than usual.
Unohana claimed herself to be stronger than everyone except Zaraki himself and her plan was to keep killing and reviving him continuously so that his true self would awaken. His true self where he can use all of his power, without holding back in order to fight the adversaries.
Zaraki kept on fighting and with each death, his senses felt sharper and his pleasure for battle seemed to rise. He realizes that he has been ‘fast asleep’ all this time as he fights and we also see a flashback where Unohana defeats the young Zaraki as she claims that he should be the one to bear the title of Kenpachi.
Not only that, but she also calls him the only man who could bring her pleasure as he stabs her wound on the chest again, killing her this time. As Zaraki begs her to come back life and she dies satisfied, a new voice calls out to him.
The voice that he had never heard before. The voice of Nozarashi, his Zanpakuto. Respectfully passing on the title of Kenpachi and fulfilling her duty to bring out his power, the Soul Society lost a great captain but in return gained more power to fight off against the invaders.
Unohana was tasked with the duty of bringing out Kenpachi Zaraki’s true potential and was forced to bring out her true demeanor of a ruthless and blood thirsty fighter.
In the past she met a young Kenpachi with whom she experienced the pleasure of fighting a battle and recruited him to the Gotei 13. As time passed, they both started sealing their power. Zaraki sealed his power in order to enjoy the thrill of battle and Unohana learnt healing powers so that she could enjoy the thrill of battle for a longer while.
But as they clashed now, they both went all out and while Zaraki was being overwhelmed, he finally managed to defeat her and gained the power to access his Zanpakuto.
Who do you think were other Kenpachi after her time? And do you think Unohana is as strong as she claims to be? Or is she stronger than Yamamoto? Leave a comment down below and do discuss about anything we have missed.
Source Of the Tumblr Post