BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War — Renji’s Bankai, Explained

BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War Part 2 revealed that Renji’s Bankai was incomplete this whole time. How does it work?


  • Renji unlocks his true Bankai, Sō’ō Zabimaru, in “Rages at Ringside,” which is a vastly improved version of his previous Bankai, Hihiō Zabimaru.
  • Sō’ō Zabimaru allows Renji to access powerful techniques like Hihiō and Orochiō, which give him enhanced range and physical power.
  • The name Zabimaru, which translates to “Snake Tail,” doesn’t fully capture the significance of the “-maru” suffix in Japanese nomenclature, which symbolizes “wholeness” or “completion.”- So without the suffix, the Snake Tail is not seen as a complete entity by its wielder.



The following contains spoilers for BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War Part 2, Episode 5, “Rages at Ringside” available for streaming on Hulu and Disney+.BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War Part 2, Episode 5, “Rages at Ringside” was a heated affair that saw the unleashing of three Bankai against a single foe. 3rd and 9th Squad Captains Rojūrō Otoribashi and Kensei Muguruma were completely overwhelmed by the endless vitality and enthusiasm of Sternritter S – The Superstar, Mask De Masculine, who didn’t even need to push himself to take them out. However, the next challenger to step into the ring with him was 6th Squad Lieutenant Renji Abarai, who was sporting an almost uncharacteristic level of cool in the face of an enemy who defeated not one, but two of his superiors and other seated officers of the Gotei 13.

Revealing a brand-new Bankai, Renji was able to lay waste to the enemy with relative ease, but what exactly is this new and improved Zabimaru, and how does it compare to what used to be his Bankai?

No Shaking Throne

BLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War Episode 10 – Zanpakuto OriginsBLEACH: Thousand-Year Blood War Episode 10 – Zanpakuto Origins

To achieve Bankai, a Shinigami must train relentlessly for many years and gain the ability to manifest the spirit of their Zanpakutō. Such endeavours take a long time, and even upon achieving Bankai, the Shinigami must continue to hone their technique. As seen with various Captains throughout the series, the Bankai is something that can be improved by its wielder for various reasons, and given the uniqueness of every Zanpakutō and Shinigami pairing, the aspects that inform such an improvement vary greatly. During the early stages of the Hueco Mundo arc, Ichigo was forced to reckon with the Hollow within himself and underwent training with Shinji Hirako and the Visored, where he was able to confront “White Ichigo”, a manifestation of what was assumed to be a malignant aspect of his soul that was claiming to be his very Zanpakutō.

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At the time, White Ichigo was threatening to take over its host, asking Ichigo the famous question, “What is the difference between the king and the horse”? Evidently, the reason for Ichigo and Renji’s friendship is the number of parallels they share, including the mysterious agency of their own powers. Like Ichigo, Renji had his own Zanpakutō make decisions regarding his handling of its power, and manifested itself to him after his defeat against the Substitute Shinigami, and later after locating Yoruichi’s underground training area. There, he was able to achieve Hihiō Zabimaru and come a step closer, but only after acknowledging the two-part nature of Zabimaru – the calm baboon and the spicy snake, is Renji able to truly achieve his true potential.

Baboon King

renji vs byakuya bleach

The name of Renji’s Zanpakutō, Zabimaru, is written 蛇尾丸 and it translates to “Snake Tail”. Renji uses the activation phrase “Roar”, which changes its appearance from a regular katana to a segmented cleaver with multiple saw-like blades that have tooth-like protrusions on the sharp side. When swung, Zabimaru is capable of inflicting high amounts of damage from its ability to retract and harm the opponent with each blade. In this form, Zabimaru’s appearance matches the name. Initially, Renji’s Bankai was revealed to be Hihiō Zabimaru, 狒々王蛇尾丸 (“Baboon King” Zabimaru), a scaled-up version of the Shikai concept. Instead of interconnected saws, the segments are the vertebrae of a giant snake held together by Renji’s reiatsu, and the tip of the sword is now a giant snake skull, while his shoulders are adorned with a cowl of green fur.

The vertebrae maintain the tooth-like protrusions of Zabimaru’s Shikai appearance, and the main draw of this Bankai was its greatly extended range and ability to overwhelm opponents with its sheer size and physical power. With Hihiō Zabimaru, Renji used threads of reiatsu to hold up the form of the Bankai like an elaborate puppet. Given its durability and difficulty to destroy given how easily it can be pulled apart and reconstructed as needed, Hihiō Zabimaru was a safe option as a Bankai because it was less likely to undergo the significantly damaging experience of permanent destruction, but it lacked the power Renji needed to be effective in combat.

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The Two Thrones

So'o Zabimaru – BLEACH Thousand-Year Blood War Part 2 Episode 5So’o Zabimaru – BLEACH Thousand-Year Blood War Part 2 Episode 5

In “Rages at Ringside”, Renji is revealed to have found out his Bankai’s real name from Hyōsube and was able to prove himself and gain access to the Zanpakutō’s true Bankai: Sō’ō Zabimaru (双王蛇尾丸), (“Twin Kings” Zabimaru). This Bankai is dramatically different from the incomplete version in that it is mostly worn – the same cowl of green ape fur that adorned Renji’s shoulders before now drapes them underneath an armoured collar, and hangs off his left shoulder. A gauntlet with red fur at the forearm and the top part of a snake skull covering Renji’s hand now adorns his right arm, and a cleaver-like blade protrudes from the “mouth” of this snake gauntlet. A vertebrae sash connected to the gauntlet hangs at his waist. This Bankai has access to powerful techniques, like Hihiō, which manifests a skeletal ape arm from the cowl of fur that Renji can use to beat down his opponent, while Orochiō (Great Serpent King) unfurls the vertebrae sash, turning it into a tail, while his blade gets longer and the familiar saw-like teeth of his Shikai.

The ultimate attack of his Bankai is the Zaga Teppō, a Super Dragon Fist-esque attack that activates when Renji impales his enemy with sword gauntlet and twists it like a key, forming a giant set of snake jaws made from reiatsu that chomp down on the enemy, reducing them to ash. What the name Sō’ō alludes to is the two motifs at work in the Bankai – the baboon and the snake. Conceptually, there seems to be nothing in common between these two elements, however, Zabimaru’s manifested form resembles a large white baboon with tattoo-like markings on its arms, and a snake for a tail; a form said to resemble a mythological monstrosity known as a Nue. What’s conceptually interesting about Zabimaru is how the name itself is translated to “Snake Tail” in English; however, there’s significance in the “-maru” part that doesn’t translate well.

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Renji Learns About Zabimaru – BLEACH Thousand-Year Blood War Part 2 Episode 5Renji Learns About Zabimaru – BLEACH Thousand-Year Blood War Part 2 Episode 5

The prefix “-maru” (丸) comes up a lot in Japanese nomenclature, especially when it comes to the names of boy children. The word “Maru” refers to a round shape or a circle, and given the symbolism behind such shapes, “-maru” carries with it the implication of “wholeness” or “completion”. It has a long history, with Japanese commercial ships as far back as the 12th century being named something-maru and is thought to be descended from the archaic use of “-maro” to attach respect, auspiciousness or more importantly, affection to the names of various things, and apparently, it was passed into law during the Meiji era to attach the suffix to the names of commercial vessels.

Anyway, “-maru” isn’t easily translated and so what we get in English from Zabimaru is simply “Snake Tail”, which seems like it fits; however, it almost feels like without the suffix, what remains – “Zabi” actually gets pronounced “Dabi” – “snake tail”, the object, and quite literally, the baboon’s tail – not the complete entity known as “Snake Tail”. If we were to take Hyōsube’s words at face value, that “Zabimaru has only told half of its name”, then Renji would only really have access to the first half – “Dabi”, as in snake tail, which would explain the whip-like nature of Renji’s Shikai, and what used to be his Bankai. Given the previous Bankai – Hihiō (Baboon King), it might be worth noting that the abrasiveness of the snake aspect of Zabimaru during the Soul Society arc would also be reflected in this “half-name” conception: without “-maru”, the Snake Tail is not only incomplete, but it isn’t seen as a partner by its wielder – so it used to respond to this apparent disrespect in kind.

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