Fourth Division’s Captain Retsu Unohana was one of the most intriguing characters in the Bleach narrative. Calm and well-mannered, she was well-respected among the Shinigami, and for some reason, people were afraid of her when she smiled, even those like Kenpachi Zaraki. But, Unohana’s history made her character even more interesting, as it added several layers to her persona. Now, because of that, Unohana was the only character able to awaken Zaraki’s true potential, and that is why she had to fight him after the first Quincy invasion. Did she die in the duel? Keep reading to find out.
Retsu Unohana was, indeed, killed by Kenpachi Zaraki during their duel. Unohana knew that it was the only possible outcome because that was the only way to unlock Kenpachi’s true powers. The moment Kenpachi unlocked his powers was the moment he surpassed Unohana’s powers and also the moment he had to kill her. Of course, Kenpachi did not want it, and he did not want Unohana to die, but it was the only possible way.
This article is going to be all about the fight between Retsu Unohana and Kenpachi Zaraki. You’re going to find how the fight between Unohana and Kenpachi played out and why it had to end like that, i.e., why there was absolutely no possibility for an alternative ending. It’s promising to be a fun story so keep reading until the end, but be careful as there are going to be spoilers!
How did Retsu Unohana die in Bleach?
In order to properly understand how Retsu Unohana died in Bleach, we have to explain the circumstances that led to their fight, as well as how the fight played out. Namely, the answers we need are hidden in this segment of Kubo’s story, so it’s best to go over them because that is the optimal way to discover the answers we need.
After Kenpachi’s defeat against the supposed Yhwach, Royd Lloyd, Unohana is commissioned by the Central 46 to take charge of Kenpachi’s training in Zanjutsu, stating that as the First Kenpachi, she is the only one who can deal with him. After the meeting, Unohana leaves a letter for Lieutenant Isane, in which she probably says that she will not be able to return. Kenpachi leaves his eyepatch to Yachiru, as a symbol that he may not be able to return as well.
Already in the Muken prison, the only place where his powers will not cause a catastrophe, Unoahana is waiting for Zaraki. The battle begins while elsewhere, Shunsui Kyoraku affirms that despite the nature of both combatants, one of them will not come out alive. Zaraki launches an attack against Retsu Unohana with his Zanpakutō, however, it is stopped by Unohana’s own Zanpakutō.
After several thrusts, Kenpachi jumps on the Captain in a ferocious attack with the aim of killing her. Retsu easily dodges Zaraki’s attack, managing to land a blow on his shoulder; Kenpachi is knocked down for a moment but remains to stand, attacking Unohana again. The Captain jumps on Kenpachi’s arm trying to give him a fatal blow, but a kick from the latter takes her away for a few moments.
Again both Kenpachis collide their swords, however, Unohana sees that Zaraki is reaching his limit and proceeds to attack him, cutting his shoulder again. Retsu tells Zaraki that he is quite weak and that those who wield their swords with one hand and do nothing with the other don’t really enjoy the battle.
Zaraki berates her for cutting him by using a random dagger instead of her Zanpakutō and adds that such tricks show that she has changed a lot from the time he admired her. Retsu Unohana yells at him that he shouldn’t talk like that in the middle of a battle, after cornering him on a rock, him now being at the mercy of her will.
Unohana tells him that he hasn’t changed and that the last time they fought, Kenpachi didn’t have the need to use those cheap tricks. Zaraki asks if he is the one who became weak, stating that he had admired her from the bottom of his heart and that no matter what he cut, it was like swinging his sword in the dark. But when fighting with her, he felt true fear for the first time, adding that he enjoyed every second of that battle and that he had decided to fight like her.
Zaraki sheds tears of despair wondering if he really will die there before defeating her. Zaraki is pierced by Unohana’s Zanpakutō. After that, Zaraki realizes that it is the end, however, apparently, he was imprisoned by an illusion. Returning to reality, Zaraki continues fighting with Retsu Unohana, who asks him what happened a moment ago as, apparently, the latter lost consciousness for a few minutes.
Zaraki tells her to shut her mouth and continues fighting with the Captain. As the battle seems to turn on Retsu’s side, Zaraki is pressured more and more and loses consciousness each time he continues to fight, wondering how many times he has already fallen. Zaraki states that this battle made him quite nostalgic, remembering his first battle with Retsu.
Kenpachi manages to land a cut on Retsu’s shoulder and continues attacking the Captain without letting her react. Kenpachi is wounded in the chest, and while his blood flows with force, he seems to finally fall before Retsu, however, the Captain uses her abilities in the Healing Kidō to regenerate his wounds.
While they continue fighting, Kenpachi keeps falling one time after another, but Retsu Unohana continues to heal his wounds. Kenpachi manages to land a huge thrust on Unohana, turning the fight around. After receiving the great wound from Zaraki, Unohana continues tying him up, dealing a blow to his cheek.
Retsu regenerates the wound with great speed through her medical Kidō and asks Kenpachi if he really thought that she would die from such an attack. Retsu Unohana proceeds to release her Bankai as a large curtain of black liquid covers the place as Unohana utters her Bankai’s name, Minazuki.
Both Kenpachi fight while Zaraki falls, again and again, his flesh starting to detach from his bones. While Kenpachi wonders if he has been dreaming all along, everything returns to normal as they both cross their swords again. Both manage to land blows but it doesn’t come like anyone is ready to quit fighting.
Retsu Unohana thinks that Kenpachi found a way to suppress his power to enjoy the battle, while she found a way to heal wounds and thus make the battle last forever. Retsu states that there can only be one Kenpachi each time as she remembers her first fight with Kenpachi while telling him that he has been the only man who has made her happy through the battle.
Unohana says goodbye to Kenpachi while being pierced in the neck by his Zanpakutō, leaving Zaraki as the winner of the great battle and the only existing Kenpachi at the time. Unohana is defeated by being impaled by Zaraki’s Zanpakutō. However, Zaraki’s victory is bitter, as he pleaded with Unohana to not dare die at his hands. Unohana tells him that he was the only man to make her feel happy throughout the battle, while at that moment Zaraki manages to make contact with the spiritual side of his Zanpakutō, which is willing to tell him its name.
As you can see, Unohana knew that Kenpachi had more power than her and that he was essentially stronger than her, but a lot of his powers had been either suppressed or sealed, which is why such a duel was necessary for Kenpachi to unlock his true powers. Unohana basically sacrificed herself in order to allow Kenpachi to become stronger, knowing that he would be of much more use to the Gotei 13 at his best than her.
Will Retsu Unohana be back in Bleach?
Well, when the moment comes that Kenpachi’s blade pierces Unohana, that is going to be the end for her, at least as far as the Quincy War is concerned. Namely, we know that Unohana won’t be coming back and that she definitely died during the duel with Kenpachi. Now, what happened to her afterward is a mystery that Kubo has teased. We know that she is dead and that due to her immense Spiritual Pressure, she was sent to Hell along with the other late Captains; her Spiritual Pressure is simply too strong for Soul Society to take it in and allow her to be reborn, which is why all late Captains end up in Hell rather than remain in Soul Society.
But, during the “Echoing Jaws of Hell” one-shot, Ukitake’s Sōgyo no Kotowari was seen impaling Szayelaporro Granz from the Gates of Hell. This means that Ukitake is, seemingly, alive in Hell and is helping the Shinigami above. This would mean that Unohana is there, too. So, if Kubo decides to continue Bleach, there is a great chance that we will see more of Unohana in the future, but we’ll just have to wait and see what Kubo decides to do.