What is the Meaning of Bankai and Shikai in Bleach?

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"Shikai" and "Bankai" are terms that originated in the "Bleach" anime and manga series. These are techniques used in battles that excite all fans, becoming very prominent words, but what is the real meaning of Bankai and Shikai? 

In this article you will understand once and for all, how Bleach sword skills work, what is needed to reach that level, and especially the meaning of the word and etymology in the Japanese language. 

What is Bankai in Bleach?

In Bleach, Bankai is an advanced sword technique that allows characters to unleash the full power of their Zanpakuto (sword) to achieve exceptional abilities and powers.

To achieve Bankai form, a Shinigami must be able to materialize and subdue the spirit of their Zanpakutō. This usually takes 10 years or more to achieve.

Bankai is usually five to ten times stronger than the Zanpakutō's Shikai form. Those who achieve Bankai play notable roles in Soul Society's history, but there are downsides as well.

If a Bankai is broken, it usually cannot be restored, and the Bankai's disappearance without the user's permission could indicate the user's imminent death if not dealt with immediately. Additionally, the Bankai's form and strength depend on how well the Zanpakutō recognizes the user.

What does bankai and shikai mean in bleach?

The Meaning of Bankai in the Japanese Language

In Japanese, the word “Bankai” is written as “卍解”. The first part “卍” is a symbol that can be read as “manji” in Japanese, and it is a Buddhist symbol that represents harmony, peace and life.

The second part “解” is read as “kai” and means “release” or “unblocking”. Together, the two parts form the word “Bankai”, which refers to the advanced sword technique in the anime and manga series “Bleach”.

“Bankai” can be translated from Japanese as “final liberation” or “full liberation”. It is a technique that can only be performed by those who are able to fully master their Zanpakuto and unlock its true potential. It is considered the most advanced ability a Shinigami can have in Bleach.

The ideogram [解] also conveys the idea of solution, explanation, interpretation, response to the problem, thus showing Bankai as a blow capable of solving any barrier.

We recommend reading: Differences between Buddhist Swastika and Nazi Swastika

Does bankai exist in the Japanese language?

Obviously the word Bankai from Bleach does not exist natively in the Japanese language being created to address real meanings, and also refer to other words that share the same pronunciation. 

In the Japanese dictionary we have bankai [挽回] which means something like restoration and recovery. There may be other derived words or words with similar meanings. 

What does bankai and shikai mean in bleach?

What is the Meaning of Shikai in Bleach? 

Shikai [始解] is the first stage of releasing Zanpakutou, the holy sword of shinigami. When a Shinigami reaches the Shikai, they can release their Zanpakutō's special ability.

The Shinigami must be able to communicate and harmonize effectively with their Zanpakutō, which requires the ability to speak with the spirit within their world. Gaining access to the Shikai and releasing it for the first time is known as Manifestation (顕現, Kengen).

The attainment of Shikai is a sign of control of a Zanpakutō, and is a requirement for advancement within the Shinigami ranks, as most seated officers are capable of Shikai.

The word 始解 (shikai) in Japanese is composed of two kanji: 始 (shi) meaning “beginning” or “beginning” and 解 (kai) meaning “release” or “unlocking”. Thus, the word 始解 can be literally translated as “initial release” or “initial unlock”.

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The Meaning of the Bankai Manji

Although Hitler took inspiration from the Buddhist swastika and created an inverted version, this original symbol is nothing malicious but has deep connections with Buddhism, Hindu traditions and the Indian subcontinent dating back to over 500 BC.

The Manji [卍] present in the word Bankai brings a much greater depth than the literal meaning of “full release”. The four arms of the “manji 卍” represent the four directions, comets and constellations, therefore, they represent the entirety of heaven and earth.

In other words, the manji represents the universe as a whole and not just the universe as a whole in a spiritual sense, but as a whole in a spiritual perspective as well.

In addition, the manji also represents the auspicious footprints of the Buddha, serves as an aid to meditation and a way to "follow in the Buddha's footsteps" on the path to enlightenment. It can also represent 10000. 

We can say that Bankai means much more than a special attack, but it presents the essence of the character itself, their relationship with the universe and what they really are.

Characters who dominate the “bankai”, have a deep understanding of who they really are, coming to a form of enlightenment, the “bankai” names themselves reflect the “manji” symbol.

For example, Ichigo uses "Tensa Zangetsu", which translates to "Cutter of the Heavenly Moon", in reference to the Buddhist symbolism of the moon. Due to the deep meaning of “manji”, there is no proper translation for the term “bankai”.

We recommend reading: Manji - The Swastika in Anime, Manga and Japanese Culture

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