We all know that the duel between Zaraki Kenpachi and Retsu Unohana was one of the most emotional moments in Bleach. The duel between the two allies was carried out for a specific reason and it resulted in the death of Retsu Unohana, who was yet another Captain that died during the infamous war against the Quincy army led by Yhwach. But, unlike some other unnecessary deaths, the death of Retsu Unohana had a specific narrative point and in this article, we are going to explain why she was killed by Kenpachi in the story.
In order to activate his true powers, Unohana decided to reveal her identity as the first Kenpachi and engaged Zaraki in a merciless battle, killing him and reviving him repeatedly until he unlocked his actual powers that had been dormant for centuries. This was necessary for the Shinigami to effectively fight the Quincy, as Zaraki Kenpachi’s true powers proved to be a decisive factor in favor of the Shinigami.
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!
Why did Kenpachi Zaraki kill Retsu Unohana?
In order to properly understand why Kepnachi killed Unohana, 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 her 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 in 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.