The following contains spoilers for Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War Episode 17, "Heart of Wolf," now available on Manga Monster.
Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War is the triumphant return of the original Bleach anime, which once fell from grace as one of shonen's "big three" anime series. In many ways, the TYBW story arc has fixed the original anime's problems, such as tightening the pace and improving the animation, but some old problems still linger. The original Bleach anime often gave its heroes contrived power-ups, and recent TYBW episodes did the same.
Captain Sajin Komamura of squad 7 had his bankai stolen when the Sternritter invaded the Soul Society, so he resorted to desperate measures to defeat Sternritter E, Bambietta Basterbine, who seized his bankai in the first place. Sajin may have won their fight in TYBW Episode 17, but his symbolic sacrifice was foolish, not noble, and he actually faced the same despair that his fallen hero, Yamamoto, did in earlier battles.
Sajin Komamura Wasted His Idealistic Sacrifice
Sajin Komamura was always an idealistic and selfless Soul Reaper throughout the Bleach anime. Back in the Soul Society story arc, Sajin even declared that he owed Captain Yamamoto his life, and if Yamamoto needed Sajin to lay down his life for the cause, Sajin wouldn't hesitate. In most of Bleach's battles, Sajin fought hard and often won without having to repay Yamamoto with his life, but the Thousand-Year Blood War arc changed all that – for the worse. In the wake of Yamamoto's death at king Yhwach's hands and getting his own bankai stolen via Bambietta's Quincy medallion, Sajin took drastic steps to make sure he won the next fight.
Sajin met with his wolf tribe's elder and willingly sacrificed his heart, his very essence, to gain an immortal humanoid form, which Bleach anime fans saw in Episode 17. After Bambietta was forced to discard Sajin's bankai thanks to Kisuke Urahara's science, Bambietta used her true power, and Sajin did the same. Sajin empowered his bankai with an offense-oriented, armorless form, successfully enduring Bambietta's counterattacks with his heartless, invulnerable human form, and emerged victorious. While he avenged his bankai's theft, he couldn't avenge Yamamoto's demise at the hands of Yhwach, despite his desperate desire to do so. Unfortunately, Sajin's power-up was only temporary, fading before he could locate Yhwach for revenge. The worst part was that Sajin regressed into a helpless wolf, rendering him unable to fight ever again. The price he paid was steep, considering the meager outcome, as defeating Bambietta Basterbine held little significance in the grand scheme of things.
The noble and selfless Sajin Komamura's choice to make a bold sacrifice was in line with his character, but his idealism played against him on this occasion. He foolishly pushed himself too far in pursuit of new powers, failing to recognize that it wouldn't be enough to locate and defeat Yhwach. This raises the question among Bleach fans why Sajin even bothered pursuing Bambietta when he should have prioritized going after Yhwach from the outset. Ultimately, Sajin's removal from the war means the Soul Society loses yet another much-needed Captain.
Ironically, Bambietta's assessment of Sajin's sacrifice being in vain holds true, as his victory and newfound power hold little value if he cannot survive much longer as a Soul Reaper. The irony also extends to Yamamoto, whom Sajin admires, as he died in vain, achieving little against the Sternritter. Yamamoto wasted his power battling Royd Loyd, who took on Yhwach's form, only for the real Yhwach to arrive and end his life. While Sajin looks up to Yamamoto, this shouldn't be a reason to repeat the same costly mistakes in battle and squander his strength on the wrong adversary.
Sajin's Contrived Power-Up Is Bleach at its Worst
Sajin Komamura's sudden power-up posed problems not just for his character but also for Bleach's combat system and narrative. The original Bleach anime faced criticism for frequently resorting to convenient power-ups out of thin air to rescue its heroes from tough battles, often without convincing in-universe explanations. This reliance on plot armor extended to protagonist Ichigo Kurosaki and even supporting characters like Ikkaku Madarame and Yumichika Ayasegawa, undermining the show's credibility compared to series like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and more recent anime like My Hero Academia, where characters train hard and employ creative strategies to make the best use of their powers.
The Thousand-Year Blood War arc initially seemed to reverse this trend, with the bankai-deprived Soul Reapers adopting shonen-style training and resourceful tactics to level the playing field against the Sternritter in the second round. This shift was for the better, as the formerly complacent Soul Reapers behaved more like My Hero Academia's UA students, avoiding complacency and pushing themselves to improve. Even Ichigo Kurosaki embraced this approach, seeking to understand and harness his true powers while training with the Royal Guard unit to attain his final bankai.
However, Sajin Komamura's actions represented a regression in Bleach's narrative and combat system. He exhibited a last-minute power with no foreshadowing in the story, using it once to win a challenging fight but never employing it again. While it may have been employed to defeat a formidable opponent like the Sternritter, such cheap maneuvers detract from Bleach's appeal and the efforts of its heroes. Given Bleach's mixed reputation among anime fans, the TYBW anime cannot afford to make missteps like this. While Bleach is making strides to catch up to modern successors like Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen, any more Sajin Komamura-style stunts from the Soul Reapers might make the show feel outdated and desperate to remain relevant, jeopardizing its triumphant return.