Warning: SPOILERS for episode #9 of Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War
The epic and gruesome battle between two of Bleach‘s strongest Shinigami captains, Kenpachi Zaraki and Retsu Unohana, shows a twisted version of an iconic Dragon Ball power, the Saiyan ability to grow stronger after near-death injuries. In episode #9 of Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War, Unohana trains Zaraki to awaken his true power, and she does it by repeatedly killing and healing her fellow captain.
Fans of Dragon Ball are well aware that one of the reasons why Saiyans are so strong is that each time they recover from fatal injuries their power level increases. This is because the Saiyan genes evolved to make them the perfect warrior race, and it’s an ability that can be exploited by the most ruthless members of this race. For example, on Planet Namek, Vegeta let himself be fatally wounded by Krillin, so that Dende could heal him right after, to gain enough power to fight against Frieza. However, Bleach brings this cruel and almost crazy strategy to a whole new level.
In episode #9 of Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War, the newly appointed Head Captain of Gotei 13, Shunsui Kyoraku, orders 4th Division Captain Retsu Unohana to train Kenpachi Zaraki in Zanjutsu, or sword techniques. Zaraki is incredibly powerful, so the elders of Soul Society have always forbidden him to formally train with a sword, lest his strength would grow beyond control. Unohana complies, and she locks herself and Zaraki in the underground prison called Muken, where they begin fighting to the death. Unohana is much stronger than Zaraki, but thanks to her highly-developed healing techniques, every time she kills the other captain she can instantly heal him, trapping Zaraki in a gruesome cycle of death and rebirth.
Zaraki And Unohana’s Battle Makes The Saiyans Look Soft
The reason for Unohana behavior is that she is aware that, after their only previous battle, Zaraki unconsciously sealed his own power, giving himself a disadvantage so that he could enjoy fights more. As the most experienced Shinigami captain left, Unohana knows that, to fight the upcoming Quincy invasion, the Soul Society needs the real Zaraki, and that the only way to awaken him is to make him feel once again the thrill of a real life-or-death battle, as many times as needed. Unohana herself was once a ruthless warrior and killer, the first to hold the title of “Kenpachi” and a member of the original Gotei 13 captains, renowned as the most brutal killers in the history of Soul Society. She is the only one, then, who can perform such a merciless ritual, not least because Unohana herself originally learned healing techniques only so that she could enjoy fighting for a longer time.
This is very different from Dragon Ball, where the Saiyan’s unique ability was mostly a way to explain why they can become so much stronger in a short amount of time. In Bleach, Zaraki sealed his own power, so his repeated deaths are a shock therapy that he needs to overcome his mental blocks. The battle between the two Kenpachi, Zaraki and Unohana, is one of the most brutal in Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War, and in comparison, even Dragon Ball‘s most ruthless fights look like child’s play.
Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War is available on Hulu and Disney+.