BLEACH episode 10 will stand strong as one of my favorites from now if only because of how well it adapted the battle between Kenpachi (Zaraki) and Unohana. This was one of my absolutely most anticipated fights to see from the manga and, even from the introduction last week, it’s probably quite clear why. The characters both being battle obsessed, the constant thematic comparisons to their simultaneous positions as criminals and authority figures, the mugen-type setting, all of it is wonderful. This week’s episode continued the positive aspects of the fight’s beginning from episode 9. Even more, the addition of nice music and some stellar voice acting brought both Unohana and Zaraki to life. I personally would have preferred if their fight was given an entire episode to itself with additional scenes. Even then, what we got was fantastic and the brief focus on Renji and Ichigo following that was good too.
One quick note before you read on for the review (which has spoilers for the episode). BLEACH episode 10 was structured a bit different and has a sizeable amount of episode runtime immediately after the end credits. If you haven’t watched that part of the episode, be sure to go back and finish before reading any further from this point.
The Burden of the Strong
Unohana’s battle felt much stronger in the anime than in the manga, in part because of how the earlier episodes involving Yamamoto were directed and executed. A consistent set of dual themes in this arc of BLEACH have been duty and duality. Duality has been referenced many times at this point; the very beginning of the Quincy invasion saw a Soul Reaper telling his juniors that there is no real good and evil in war. Duty was a core of Yamamoto’s final moments as Yhwach reprimanded him for letting his pride as head captain prevent him for acting in his (and Soul Society’s) best interest at times. Immediately after that, Byakuya was shown setting aside his divine pride to ask Ichigo to save Soul Society. Unohana has been focusing on her duty to protect the sanctity of the “strongest” title with just as much fervor as all of them did.
It really adds some interesting color to the earlier parts of BLEACH. The revelation that Zaraki constantly suppresses himself. Someone who herself was known as the strongest finding someone more worthy of her title only to see him slip into weakness must have been incredibly painful. Unohana’s dedication to bringing Zaraki back to full power was even more detailed than their fight may have made it seem. She had to constantly make use of his zenkai-esque tendency to grow stronger after losing a close battle to continuously kill him, but not quite enough to make him impossible to heal. It would only be possible for someone close to him in power to bring him back to his best. It had to have been agonizing to realize your strongest contribution to the title of strongest was to nurture its true holder. But probably just as satisfying to die knowing that what was most important to you was done. Oddly enough, I think Unohana may have been the only person to die so far in BLEACH 2022 without many regrets.
Is BLEACH Turning Back the Pendulum?
Oetsu Nimaya is fantastic and I loved the energy his character brings. As I mentioned above I definitely would’ve preferred an entire episode dedicated to the main battle (perhaps with some more focus on Unohana’s bankai and some non-recycled flashbacks). The actual exercise we saw Renji and Ichigo go through isn’t quite as important as the fact that Ichigo failed. He’s never had an Asauchi, so it at least makes sense intuitively why he might struggle to connect with them. But there’s obviously more to this.
The end of the episode (after the credits) had the tell-tale sounds of a clock tolling over and over. BLEACH has used this motif in the past — especially in mini arcs like Turn Back the Pendulum which explored the origins of the Visored. And since Ichigo has returned home it’s likely we’re about to get a similar look into the past. If we do, I’m hoping the anime-introduced Uryu scenes also get a bit of love.
Featured image and screenshots via Hulu.
© TITE KUBO / SHUEISHA, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot