This week’s episode of BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War was yet another example of a strong adaptation with the best parts of anime meeting some of the most important aspects of manga. It’s always incredible to see strong BLEACH fights and even better to see scenes we’ve been waiting a decade for. Like last week’s episode, this one was a tad slower than previous ones. However, while episode 8 was almost entirely world building and dialogue based, BLEACH episode 9 was about half and half. Even then, the (amazing) fight this episode opened up plenty to the lore of the series. The remainder of the article will discuss that and the other details of the episode, so be wary of spoilers.
God Tier Recovery
BLEACH is certainly no stranger to weird rituals for building strength or recovering, but those of the Soul Palace have been incredibly different while much stronger than what we have seen across the rest of Soul Society. The hot springs where Ichigo, Renji and crew healed feels interesting when contrasted with the typical medical barracks in the prior episode. Those working directly under the Soul King are incredibly unconventional; they are all credited with having created something within Soul Society and yet they feel rigidly at odds with its tight bureaucracy and at times almost feudal structure. It seems odd that the strongest individuals are like that.
Personally, this implicit juxtaposition of conventional vs unconventional reminds of something this episode payed homage to as well: Ichigo’s initial training with Urahara in order to storm Soul Society and rescue Rukia from execution. Urahara made use of techniques in part inspired by Squad Zero members. Back then, a core of the shock-value to Ichigo’s victory over multiple captain-class Soul Reapers was that he achieved impressive strength through weird and rejected methods. It’s a continuation not just of that, but of BLEACH 2022’s constant theme of needing to abandon the usual in order to become more powerful. It might take a bit of thinking to get that much value from a bathhouse scene and a feast scene. Even so I think it’s worth keeping in mind.
Battle of the Best in BLEACH
Unohana’s reveal as one of Soul Society’s most storied criminals and the first Kenpachi came as a shock to many manga readers 10 years ago and no doubt felt the same to anime-only fans. Even more, her switch came in a wide variety of forms. In her gentle, captain persona, Unohana always spoke with considerable respect even to those serving under her or those she was fighting. She came across truly as a medic who was willing to stand by and heal others to the very last moment and fulfill her obligations as a captain. Throughout the series, BLEACH had an almost gag series of scenes wherein Unohana would close her eyes and intimidate others into listening to her.
BLEACH episode 9 showed us how incredibly badass that true persona is. Unlike the manga, which revealed that past at exactly this point, the anime showed us hints of Unohana in action as part of the flashback of the first captains (a flashback, might I add, that has been re-used about four different times now). Personally I felt this detracted from the shock of the final reveal. But, her fight against Zaraki will no doubt make up for it. If the fear of teaching him to use the sword is any indication, this will certainly be the kind of anime battle where Zaraki gets stronger and stronger over time. Since the purpose here is to refine his sword skill, we’re likely to see him fight with his true strength and focus as well. In the past, during the Hueco Mundo arc, just him using two hands to swing his sword completely changed the tide of an otherwise even matchup.
While seeing Ichigo and Renji have some bro time is great, this fight is clearly the focal point of the episode. What has been shown so far has been animated beautifully; multiple scenes from the manga retain their detailed art style and convey the mixture of emotions dancing across the two Kenpachi’s faces as they reconcile their conflicting identities as captains with duties to fulfill and sycophants toward combat itself. Next week is sure to be another collection of break-the-internet animation.
Featured image and screenshots via Hulu.
© TITE KUBO / SHUEISHA, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot