We all know that the duel between Zaraki Kenpachi and Retsu Unohana was one of the most emotional moments in Bleach. Not only was it pivotal for the evolution of Zaraki Kenpachi as a character, but it also revealed a lot of Retsu Unohana’s history, as well as the title of Kenpachi, the general idea behind which was revealed earlier in the manga. In this article, we are going to tell you about the first Kenpachi, but also about how the title evolved over the centuries.
Kenpachi is a title that is traditionally held by the strongest and most skilled Shinigami. The title was initially held by Yachiru Unohana, who was also the first Captain of the 11th Division. She gave up on the title at some point and became the 4th Division’s Captain under the name Retsu Unohana. Since then, the title of Kenpachi has been held by the 11th Division’s Captain, and that is Kenpachi Zaraki at the moment.
The rest of this article is going to give you some additional details on the title of Kenpachi, as well as Retsu Unohana’s role in the story. We are also going to give you a history of the title and reveal additional details about it. There are going to be some spoilers in this article, so be careful how you approach it.
What is the title of Kenpachi in Bleach?
Although it was initially introduced as a name, it was later revealed that “Kenpachi” (which means “Sword-Eight” in Japanese) was actually a title; thus, Kenpachi Zaraki was literally the Kenpachi from the Zaraki District, and not a name. It was later revealed that the title of Kenpachi was traditionally given to the strongest Shinigami (not necessarily the most powerful one, but definitely the strongest one) in existence.
The origins of the title, as well as the benefits it brings, are unknown, but there are some things we do know about this title. Firstly, it is an ironclad rule that there can be only one Kenpachi per generation, which makes sense since there can only be one strongest character at a given time. This means that in order to inherit the title of Kenpachi, one has to kill the incumbent holder of the title. This is a rule that cannot be changed, but something did happen that Kubo never explained; namely, Yachiru Unohana was never killed, but there have been 10 additional Kenpachi after her. This is a discrepancy that was never explained, but the transition was probably symbolic.
Namely, Unohana symbolically “killed off” the Yachiru Unohana persona when she became Retsu Unohana. She changed Divisions and became a healer, instead of Kenpachi. Now, we don’t know who the 2nd Kenpachi was so we don’t know how he inherited the title from Unohana, nor whether he was aware that Unohana was his predecessor, so we cannot say anything else about this fact but we hope that Kubo will clear it up at some point.
As for all future Kenpachi, it is known that the successor killed the predecessor, as it happened with Zaraki as well, save for the 9th Kenpachi, who inherited the title after Sōya Azashiro was imprisoned in the Muken, but this story was from the light novel, and not the manga so its canon status is doubtful.
As for the other thing we know, it is traditionally known that the title of Kenpachi is associated with the title of the 11th Division’s Captain. Now, we don’t know whether this is an ironclad rule, but all 11 known holders of the title have also been the Captains of the 11th Division.
Who was the first Kenpachi in Bleach?
While we did know that Zaraki was the 11th and current Kenpachi, it came as a shock when Kubo revealed that Retsu Unohana was actually the 1st Kenpachi. Unohana has been a Captain of the Gotei 13 since its inception. At that time, she was the commander of the 11th Division. Before Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto made her a member of the Gotei 13, she called herself Yachiru Unohana, and she was the biggest and meanest enemy Soul Society had ever faced.
Along with Jūshirō Ukitake, Shunsui Kyōraku, and Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto, she was the Captain with the longest term within the Gotei 13. Sometime between then and 110 years ago, she was tutored in medical Kido by Tenjiro Kirinji. A total of 110 years ago, she was present at a promotion ceremony held in the barracks of the 1st Division. She noticed the arrival of the new commander of the 12th Division, Kisuke Urahara. Back then, her Seinosuke Yamada was her Lieutenant.
All of this was revealed later in the story, with her violent history being a topic during her fight with Zaraki. As we have said, it is not known when and how Yachiru Unohana became Retsu Unohana and how the transition of the Kenpachi title was done, since Unohana was not killed, and it is an ironclad rule that the claimant must kill the current Kenpachi to inherit the title. We assume that Yamamoto and Uhohana agreed to keep her true identity a secret from most, as only a small number of Shingami knew her true nature.
This actually means that while Zaraki was said to be the 11th Kenpachi, he actually wasn’t a Kenpachi at all, since the first Kenpachi was still alive. So, it seems that all the other Kenpachi were that because Unohana allowed them to be by not challenging them. Only when Kenpachi actually killed Unohana did he succeed her and become the – formal – second Kenpachi, while, practically, continuing to be the 11th Kenpachi.
Who were the other Kenpachi in Bleach?
As we have said, in practice, there have been 11 Kenpachi in total, with Zaraki being the current one. Formally, there were only two – Unohana, who was never killed, and Zaraki, who succeeded her after killing her. But, as Kubo states, there have been 11 Kenpachi so far, some of which have been revealed, while others are simply known by their title. Here is a list of all the known Kenpachi:
|1st||Yachiru Unohana||1002 A.D. – ?||Deceased|
|2nd||Unnamed Kenpachi||? – ?||Deceased|
|3rd||Unnamed Kenpachi||? – ?||Deceased|
|4th||Unnamed Kenpachi||? – ?||Deceased|
|5th||Unnamed Kenpachi||? – ?||Deceased|
|6th||Unnamed Kenpachi||? – ?||Deceased|
|7th||Kenpachi Kuruyashiki (novels only)||? – ?||Deceased|
|8th||Kenpachi Azashiro (novels only)||? – ?||Discharged|
|9th||Unnamed Kenpachi||? – ?||Deceased|
|10th||Kenpachi Kiganjō||? – ?||Deceased|
|11th||Kenpachi Zaraki||? – Current||Active|
Now, we know who Unohana and Zaraki are, but we are going to give you some basic information on the three other Kenpachi whose identities have been revealed. Here we go:
Kenpachi Kuruyashiki was the 7th Kenpachi and the former Captain of the 11th Division 250 years ago, according to the novel Bleach: Spirits Are Forever With You. A total of 250 years ago, after fighting several Hollows, including an Adjuchas, Kuruyashiki organized a drinking party among the 11th Division, celebrating his victory, along with fellow 8th Division Captain and friend of his, Shunsui Kyoraku.
He had previously been promoted to the Zero Division, but he had turned it down since he said he was too lazy to guard the Soul King. It is told that in front of 200 soldiers of the 11th Division and Captain Shunsui Kyoraku, Kuruyashiki accepted Azashiro’s challenge to a duel to death. Kuruyashiki was killed in the duel, and Sōya Azashiro was elevated to Captain of the 11th Division and appointed as the 8th Kenpachi
However, the outcome undoubtedly would have been different if Kuruyashiki had utilized his Bankai during his battle with Azashiro. However, Kuruyashiki chose not to use it because Shunsui and the 11th Division were present to see the final battle of his life. He prophesied the appearance of someone like Zaraki just before he passed away.
In the Gotei 13, Sōya Azashiro, also known as Kenpachi Azashiro, served as the 11th Division’s captain. He succeeded Kenpachi Kuruyashiki as the eighth Kenpachi, taking the title from him. He belonged to the illustrious Azashiro Family. Azashiro seems to be a proud, courteous, and well-mannered individual.
He despises weakness, though, as evidenced by his mocking remarks to Sōsuke Aizen in the Muken when he tells him that he did not respect him for losing to Ichigo Kurosaki and that he is unable to comprehend how a loss can be advantageous. He also appears to possess a similar level of patience to Aizen, who waited 200 years while imprisoned before carrying out his objectives. He is also a tough fighter, as befits a Kenpachi.
Kenpachi Kiganjō was the Captain of the 11th Division many years ago and was thus a predecessor of Kenpachi Zaraki, as well as the 10th Kenpachi. He is the former Captain that Zaraki killed in order to become the 11th Division’s Captain. Not much is known about Kiganjō. But 110 years ago, he didn’t seem to have been particularly popular, as Shinji Hirako, commander of the 5th Division at the time, slandered him. He was always absent from various Captains’ meetings, even when the new Captain of the 12th Division, Kisuke Urahara, was inducted.