Something unexpected has occurred, and not even The Almighty could predict it! I'm back after a five month delay!
Song of the blog: [To Believe] by Trivium.
Today, I'm going to write a bit about Kenpachi Zaraki, Soul Society's resident ultraviolent badass. No, this is not another bash-blog like when I wrote about Hitsugaya. In this blog, Kenpachi and his Zanpakūto, Nozarashi, will be used to discuss one of the greatest conundrums in anime and manga: the 'more-power problem.'
For the like three of you who are unfamiliar, Kenpachi is the dude with the eyepatch. Growing up on the mean streets of the Rukongai and taking his name from the district he grew up in, Zaraki was forced to kill to survive. Fortunately, for him, he was damn good at it. Zaraki cut a swathe through any who opposed him, honing both his killing instincts and an insatiable bloodlust. During one such bout of cadaverification, Zaraki found an infant girl, whom he named Yachiru Kusajishi, after the woman who defeated him in combat and the district in which she was found. At some point, Zaraki wandered into Seireitei and challenged the reigning 11th Division Captain, Kenpachi Kijangō, to a fight. Zaraki won, acquiring both the Kenpachi name and captaincy of the 11th division as a result. At some other point, Zaraki acquired, from noted psychopeth Mayuri Kurotsuchi, a power limiting eyepatch, which Zaraki would use to prolong worthy fights. After a draw/defeat in a duel with Ichigo Kurosaki, Kenpachi would become a stalwart ally of Team Deathberry, lending his considerable might to Ichigo's cause through battles with such foes Kaname Tōsen, Nnoitra Gilga, Giriko Kutsuzawa, Gremmy Thomeaux, Pernida Parnkgjas, and most recently, Gerard Valkyrie. He is also considered one of Yhwach's Special War Powers, due solely to his overwhelming martial prowess.
Herein lies the issue with Zaraki. We know he's strong, yes. We know he keeps getting stronger, yes. What we don't know is what exactly strong means. When he first appears in the timeline, during his Rukongai days, dude is already strong enough to literally pile bodies under him without breaking a sweat, duel competently with Yachiru Unohana, and defeat Ikkaku Madarame with ease, but we never know the upper limit of his power. After defeating the previous Kenpachi and becoming a Captain, he recieves one day of training from Captain-Commander Yamamoto, who ends the instruction out of fear of his student's sheer uncontrolled potential. We can assume, but not verify that Kenpachi as a captain, having access to sparring partners, safe rest, and regular, nutritious meals is physically stronger than Rukongai Kenpachi, though the eyepatch does bring this into question.
Entering into the series' present day era, our next benchmark becomes Ichigo Kurosaki (In his initial introduction at the end of the Agent of the Shinigami Arc, Kenpachi is shown restrained by Gin, though no fighting is shown in a way to judge the strength of either combatant). After being warned of his power by both Ikkaku and Renji Abarai, Ichigo faces off against the 11th Division Captain. Kenpachi trounces his foe during the early stages of the encounter, even cutting through the boy's 'Zanpakūto,' Zangetsu. Ichigo's focusing of his own considerable reiatsu is only enough to force off Kenpachi's eyepatch. This eyepatch operates as a limiter, consuming Zaraki's excess reiatsu in order to allow the man to 'play with his food.' Without it, the Captain becomes stronger as he gains access to his full potential at the time. This full potential is noted to be equal to Ichigo's own Hollow-augmented strength, as the two clashed at the climax of the fight in a struggle that left both unable to continue. Notably, this is the first and last time we receive a quantifiable upper limit to Captain Zaraki's power. The battle with Kaname Tōsen and Sajin Komamuradoes not showcase KEnpachi's martial skill to any great extent, as the fight relies mostly around overcoming Tōsen's sensory deprivation.
The next time we see Zaraki, in anime-canon, is during the Bount Arc, where he faces off against the Shinigami traitor, Maki Ichinose. (Note that this will be my only cross into anime-canon realms. This is not because I consider them inferior content per se. My issue here is the lack of context. Very few anime-canon fights feature battles where Kenpachi exerts himself in a quantifiable way, and the only one that does is against Reigai Kenpachi, which does not advance the point.) Zaraki is stated to have been training since his fight with Ichigo, so we know for a fact that this Zaraki is some undefined level stronger than before. He is certainly strong enough to easily beat even Ichinose's strongest technique, even though the light-user had proven himself to be Ichigo's equal at previous junctures (ichigo, too had received power boosts during his Bankai training). At this point, it is confirmed that Kenpachi is more powerful than Ichigo using his Shikai, though an upper limit is not identified.
Kenpachi's next appearance is month's later, during the Arrancar v. Shinigami arc. Here, he battles Nnoitra Gilga and his Fracción, Tesra Lindocruz. This fight is the last time we can use Ichigo Kurosaki as a benchmark for Zaraki's power. Prior to Zaraki's arrival, an admittedly injured Ichigo had scuffled with the two, but had proven unable to breach the Espada's Hierro even with his Bankai, Tensa Zangetsu, and was beaten to a pulp by Tesra. Zaraki dispatched a released Tesra with one swing, and proved capable of cutting Nnoitra and (after unwittingly having his eyepatch town) forcing the Arrancar into his Resurrección, Santa Teresa. Even after the release, Zaraki never truly lost the offensive until Nnoitra revealed additional limbs and his ability to instantly regenerate severed appendages. Even the, Kenpachi was able to outdo the Espada using the kendō technique Ryōdan, the one and thus far only instance of any technique or finesse in a Kenpachi fight. This battle establishes a lower threshhold for Kenpachi's power as stronger than an non-Hollowfied, Bankai-weilding Ichigo, and, through the introduction of kendō and technique, destroys any hope of an upper limit.
The next few fights do nothing to advance any metrics of Kenpachi's power. The tag battle between Kenpachi, Byakuya Kuchiki, and Yammy Llargo is not shown in detail and (again occurring after undefined training) the battle with Giriko Kutsuzawa ends immediately due to Giriko's accidental suicide. He does manage (again offscreen) to simultaneously defeat three Captain-level Sternritter, but is immediately sideliuned by 'Yhwach' (or in this case Royd Lloyd pretending to be Yhwach. He manages to fight and defeat Yachiru Unohana, who'd beaten him centuries previously, but without context of her abilities since then, that accomplishment means little. In his duel with Gremmy Thomeaux, in which he first unveiled his Shikai, Nozarashi, he demonstrates increased power but again, his opponent defeats himself. In this case, some of Kenpachi's might may have been a fearful Gremmy subconsciously inflating his power, and the specifics of Nozarashi and its abilities have yet to be directly revealed or quantified beyond 'making Kenpachi stronger'. In the battle with Pernida Parnkgjas, Zaraki is again sidelined quickly by the strange Sternritter's power.
The current (as of this writing) battle is pitting Kenpachi against Gerard Valkyrie, a Sternritter who's Schrift, 'The Miracle', makes him grown exponentially in size and strength proportional to his injuries, and who was already mountainous by the time Zaraki arrivedFaced with a foe of seemingly infinite potential, Zaraki continues to clash head on, with even Nozarashi being unable to cut through the giant's sword Hoffnung (simultaneously disproving the 'Nozarashi can cut everything' theory and casting doubt on what his Shikai actually does). This will likely change soon, as Yachiru Kusajishi, revealed to no ones surprise as Kenpachi's Zanpakūto spirit, has bestowed upon the Captain the power of Bankai (literally the same day as his initial reveal of Shikai asdkjfghw). This will likely propel Zaraki's power even higher, though only time will tell.
As you can see, Zaraki is plagued with the 'more-power problem', and has been from the start. The 'more-power problem', (coined as far as I am aware) by CinemaSins commenter Jeremy in reference to Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, deals with a character in a work of fiction gaining more power in a manner that does not define what this power boost means, what is specifically strengthens, or the limits of the power. Kenpachi is a particularly egregious example, as not only are his power boosts undefined, they are boosting already undefined levels of power! Perhaps the most readily as lies in his Zanpakūto, Nozarasi. The release of his Shikai gives Zaraki more power. That cannot be denied, as Zaraki saw fit to release it to cut Gremmy's meteor,or to clash against Gerard's Hoffnung. What exactly this power boost is is questionable. Upon release, it was thought that Nozarashi enabled Kenpachi to cut through everything. but this was proven untrue when the Captain failed to cut through Gerard's blade. So,we are left completely in the dark as tho Kenpachi's current powers, right as he is on the cusp of gaining more.
Though Zaraki is a particular example of this trend, he is far from alone. Within Bleach, nearly every character (with the exception of MAYBE Ichigo, who's power growth is the literal focus of the show and he is regularly tested against powerful foes that provide adequate benchmarks) fall victim to the 'more-power' problem. This also extends to other fictions. Within anime and manga alone, Naruto's various power-up forms (Naruto); the various tiers of Super Saiyan (Dragon Ball Z); Luffy's Gears and Haki (One Piece); Tatsumi's evolved Incursio armor (Akame Ga Kill); Lightning Fire Dragon Mode, Iron Shadow Dragon Mode, Fire Dragon King Mode and similar augmentations (Fairy Tail), and more all display this tendency for writers to provide boosts without ever explaining the precice capabilities they grant. This is something that just happens in fiction, whether we notice it or not. So, everyone, remember Kenpachi, and remember that you will never know exactly what he can and cannot do.
That's all for this one, guys and gals. I hope you enjoyed this look at the pile of broken that is Kenpachi Zaraki. Next time, whenever that comes, I'll be back to dissecting the Sternritter! Remember to vote in the poll, and be sure to comment your opinions on Zaraki and 'more-poer problem' examples below!