Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War heads towards the end of its first cour with a flashback, two tests, and at least one loss. The arc is moving towards its second act well enough; however the several layers of reveals are really starting to make the show buckle under its own weight. Even so, good performances and clean action carry “The Fight” into the higher rated tier of this cour.
Resuming with the training fight between Zaraki and Unohana, “The Fight” begins to fill in the missing details of these two’s relationship and fills in some holes in both character’s backstory. As revealed in “The Drop” last week, Unohana was once the original Kenpachi back at the formation of the original Gotei 13. Much like the Zaraki we know, she was once obsessed with the thrill of combat and just as bloodthirsty. The two actually met when Zaraki was a child and began a fight that led to a scar that Unohana has been covering the entire time with her hair braid this whole time.
This is a great example of the kinds of details that are neat on their own. Unohana is a character that has been around the larger Bleach canon for most of its run and there was only ever so much shown of Zaraki’s backstory as well. Since Thousand-Year Blood War wraps the series, it makes plenty of sense to spend some of this time showing us cool aspects of these characters before we say goodbye. Prior to this arc there was little indication of there being any kind of relationship between these two characters, and given we’re about to say goodbye to one of them it also can be kind of jarring.
That said, Unohana’s voice actress (Aya Hisakawa) is having a blast with being able to break out of the usually restrained character. As the fight continues we learn that during their first meeting Unohana actually was on the backfoot, which inadvertently created a self-restriction in Zaraki. This mental limit forces him to hold back right up to the moment of being killed; and she’s going to break it by killing and reviving him over and over again. That detail is another cool reveal, as it flashes us back to previous fights Zaraki’s had in past arcs and added context to them that we never had; even if it reduces down Ichigo’s victory over him down to “pretty convenient.”
We’re also treated to a look into Zaraki’s headscape, which gives us the episode title. In this new context and seemingly limitless time, he’s having a blast. He can finally have a real “fight,” finally. This all culminates in some of the same quality back and forth we saw back in “The Fire,” but in a much closer and intimate setting. This all culminates in Unohana’s Bankai, which is pretty simple but is animated to look a lot like a domain release from Jujitsu Kaisen; another advantage to having modern resources for this series. Ultimately, Zaraki ends up victorious as intended and his own VA (Fumihiko Tachiki) gets a surprisingly poignant set of lines when everything sets in. It’s a sad loss, though Unohana is pleased to have succeeded in unlocking Zaraki’s real strength as she fades away. As Zaraki grieves, a new voice enters the room only to be revealed to be there the whole time – the true Kenpachi can now hear his Zanpakutō.
Immediately we’re thrown to the story running parallel to this with Ichigo and Renji. They’ve now been sent to Hoohden and its master, Oh-Etsu Nimaiya. He’s the inventor of Zanpakutō and the best chance both have at getting theirs restored. Nimaiya is also all jokes, making “The Fight” a huge tonal shift. Ichigo and Renji get goofed on for a bit before being thrown down into the pit of Hoohden to meet their first real test. They’ll have to fight unformed Zanpakutō unarmed as an endurance test and effectively start over with their process. The explanation of how each Soul Reaper forms their own Zanpakutō from these proto-forms is another example of revealing details that can be interesting, but we’ve had a lot of this so far in this episode and it’s really piling up. The episode then abruptly ends with a bizarre hard cut to Zaraki leaving with his own sword while Renji and Ichigo dive in.
It turns out this is because we have our first post-credit scene that takes us to three days later, with Renji succeeding and Ichigo given a failing grade. Nimaiya sends a furious Ichigo back to the human world with a cold tone, telling him not to return. This is obviously to set up the real work Ichigo is going to do – which is going to of course be more revealing of what’s actually “going on.”
We’ll see if Thousand-Year Blood War falls apart under the weight of how much is about to be revealed, something manga readers have been processing for some time, next week. For now, “The Fight” manages to come off mostly positive with some cooler reveals and some more of that sweet action. We’re also through most of the humor segments for now, which are funny enough in the original manga but the anime has struggled with placing in episodes naturally, which is a plus.
“Bleach: Thousand Year Blood War” - 'The Fight' - 7/10