Science Vs. God
From the start of chapter 638 to the end of 643, Pernida vs. Mayuri can be accurately described as a battle between the concepts of science and the divinity. Mayuri is the premier scientist of the Gotei 13, and Pernida is the Left Arm of the Soul King, one of the closest things in the series that people can describe as "divinity".
Despite this, Mayuri looks down upon Pernida and sees it as merely a specimen to be captured and studied, as observed by their banter at the beginning of the fight. However, Pernida is quick to put Mayuri on edge from the very start, able to use "The Compulsory" to take control of even the ground and form it into hands to attack Mayuri with, which not only causes the self-destruct mechanism on his Sun Armour to activate, but also forces Mayuri to use the Hirenkyaku function he installed in his boots to avoid "The Compulsory" on the ground.
This is very impressive on Mayuri's part, as he showed himself capable of developing a technological-based version of the high-speed technique that Quincy use naturally. While this does stop "The Compulsory" laced in the ground from affecting Mayuri, Pernida itself has some secrets of its own, as shown when the pinky finger that Mayuri blew off as a sample revealed an eye of its own and struck Mayuri with "the Compulsory", necessitating Mayuri ripping his own arm off and re-arranging all the nerves and blood vessels in it at a rapid pace to counter it.
The Essence of the Godhand
According to Mayuri, there is apparently a book in the Soul Society's anthologies that talks about the Soul King and the abilities which he and his Arms possessed. The Right Arm governed "Stillness", while the Left Arm governed "Advancement". The latter is indeed a trait that is observable of Pernida throughout the entirety of the fight, both through its speech and mental faculties, and its ability.
The main means by which Pernida uses this power is through "the Compulsory", but that is for later; the immediate sign of this is how his pinky he lost (and the middle finger he deliberately pulls off) both grow into left arms themselves. I'll go into detail a bit later, but such an ability leads me to believe that Pernida's true essence is not as an "arm of flesh". What if Pernida started off like Mimihagi - an "arm of shadow" - but its "Advancement" ability led to it eventually developing a body of flesh over its original self?
That said, Mayuri was undaunted by Pernida splitting itself into three.
Demon Womb Wrapped In Disease
Specifically, he was undaunted because he "reconfigured" his Bankai to have an entirely new ability - rather than emit poison gas and possess the form originally had, Mayuri's Konjiki Ashisogi Jizo "Demon Womb Wrapped In Disease" now has the ability to "give birth" to a new Ashisogi Jizo based on the data he sends to it during battle. The initial form takes the appearance of a large, deformed, demonic looking infant with a cut in the middle of its chest, and it is from that area that it violently gives birth to a new Ashisogi Jizo - a black-eyed multi-limbed abomination tailor-made to counter "Compulsory", specifically by having 70,000 different epidermal layers of nerves spread out across its skin. This leaves Pernida's attacks initially ineffective, as "The Compulsory" simply peels away with each layer of skin it comes into contact with, and is thus devoured.
We do learn more about how his Bankai came to be later on, but it does show how twisted Mayuri is as a scientist. Not even his own Bankai, which is meant to be a reflection of his own self, is safe from his experimentation, and the demonic appearances of the aspects of his Bankai illustrate this quite clearly. It is a horrific device, even if it can be interpreted as one of the most dangerous abilities in the series, able to counter virtually any opponent.
But in this case, Mayuri forgot something as Pernida promptly blasts its way out of the Ashisogi Jizo using a Quincy Bow and Arrow, which it proudly states to Mayuri once free.
"I have always been a Quincy"
Although Mayuri confesses he didn't forget, he just simply couldn't imagine the Left Arm of the Soul King identifying itself as a Quincy. That is when Pernida's character changes completely for a moment, and makes this bomb-shell of a declaration:
Quote by BadKarma:
------How can referring to myself as a Quincy
Have always been a Quincy
A lot of people in the past were inferring the possibility that Pernida was likely enslaved or brain-washed by Yhwach (I think some cited the chains as evidence of this), but Pernida's statement here changes things.
First off, while it would not be obvious in the English language, Pernida's very style of speaking changed when he made that statement, which is more noticeable in the original Japanese raw. If I recall correctly, I heard it said that one of the ways Pernida refers to itself is in the same style that a person of royalty would refer to themselves. This would be why Mayuri surmised that Pernida may have been regaining its memories from when it was part of the Soul King, meaning it was effectively the Soul King's voice that spoke through Pernida.
Secondly, Pernida saying that it has always been a Quincy has implications for the Soul King itself. If the Soul King is also a Quincy, then it places the nature of the Thousand Year Blood War in an entirely new light, with this statement setting it up. This has been further building on what has been indicated ever since Yhwach called the Soul King his father - the Soul King seems to be less a ruler of Soul Society, and even less a figurehead monarch, and more like a prisoner puppet. A Quincy was imprisoned and used by the Soul Society and the Shinigami to act as the "lynchpin" of the worlds, and Squad Zero are less his "retainers" and more like his "wardens".
It raises more questions to the mysteries that are hidden behind the curtain of this war.
Pernida then continues its attack, using five arrows for each finger (including the two that regrew themselves), and fires a barrage of arrows at Mayuri that are laced with "The Compulsory", which actually tag Mayuri and managed to force him to sacrifice his left arm. Pernida was even able to use the nerves on the ground to bend an arrow back towards Mayuri. It would have actually struck him dead on as well, if Nemu did not step in to save Mayuri, sacrificing one of her own arms in the process and risking her life.
We've always known that Mayuri never treated Nemu very kindly ever since the Soul Society, and he shows the same mind-set here, scolding Nemu for acting on her own, and even revealing her true name - Nemuri Nanagou, "Sleeping #7), referring to how difficult it would be to raise the "next" Nemu in the same way as the current one due to all the events they've been through.
After finishing his scolding, Nemu then hands Mayuri the Hojikuzai to restore his lost arm, and Nemu does the same, who comments that Mayuri forgot to bring the Hojikuzai with him as he usually does. Writing it off as creepy, Mayuri then leaps into battle against all three Pernida again, activating the max-power of his Hirenkyaku to dodge the storm of arrows they fire at him, all the while relaying a plan to Nemu.
To simplify: While Mayuri spreads a concentrated narcotic anesthetic throughout the battlefield to dull Pernida's nerves, Nemu will inject a "Nerve Freezing Agent" directly into the nerves of "The Compulsory", thereby freezing Pernida's blood flow and killing.
Now to clarify one I've heard some protests thrown around: this is not one of those "conveniences" of story. A "nerve freezing agent" would affect any living being, and Pernida counts as one of those. Mayuri could use such an agent against any opponent, since it is also virtually perfect for capturing a specimen intact (which is what Mayuri sees Pernida as). So yes, Pernida is a specimen Mayuri wants to study, but he's made it clear that he will kill Pernida if that is what it takes.
The process is successful, and the nerve freezing agent spreads to the main body and freezes it completely, and proceeds to do the same to another Pernida, a process which seems to imply that all three arms are linked through Pernida's "Compulsory", rather than acting independently (unless there are three different arrows that Nemu injected with the agents).
With the agent beginning to work on the third Pernida, Mayuri declares victory...
Only for the remaining Pernida to break off its thumb before the nerve can take affect, and Pernida responds in a manner that is quite similar to Zaraki's own manner of speaking. It is then that Mayuri realized too late - Pernida's "Advancement" is directly linked to "The Compulsory", as his nerves collect information from anything its nerves attach themselves to and matures through that method. This causes Mayuri concern, since it means that Nemu's reflexes and speed won't be enough to keep up with nerves that have reached Zaraki's level, and he orders her to retreat.
Behind him, Pernida sheds its skin like the "Demon Womb Wrapped In Disease" Ashisogi Jizo, and prepares to strike down Mayuri.
This is how Pernida has been able to "advance" throughout the fight, but Zaraki is not the only character whom Pernida has affected with "The Compulsory" and most likely has gained information from. The other two are Mayuri and Nemu. As of the most recent chapters, we don't know if these instances will have an effect on the battle (I'll address it later), but Pernida could end up being all the more dangerous if it gathered enough info from Mayuri and Nemu to mature itself further - gaining an intellect like Mayuri's and Nemu's abilities. .
As the events of chapters 641 and 642 play out in the Wahrwelt, we cut to flash-backs of Nemu's childhood as she is speaking with Akon, inter-linked with events in the present where Akon explains to a Squad 12 member named Kuna the nature of the project that created Nemu - "The Nemuri Artificial Soul Project". Mangapanda called it "Godly Soul", whereas Mangastream and CNet128 @ MangaHelpers translated "Artificial Soul". Given that we already know that Nemu was created with a combination of Artificial Soul and Gigai technology, I'll go with the "artificial soul".
As with all things, science doesn't start off "perfect". The first three Nemuri were failures, only stringy masses being the result of the first three projects. While the Fourth and Fifth were also failures, they progressed further along to a point that Mayuri could exploit the remains. The brain of the Fourth was used to fix the mind of another 12th Division member.
The Fifth was used by Mayuri to modify his Zanpakuto and to become a Captain. This definitely explains a lot about Mayuri's Bankai. We know that it was split in half by Uryu in the Soul Society arc, and that Mayuri self-destructed it when Szayel took it over in the Arrancar saga, yet it was able to be restored both times, despite Mayuri's assertion that "Bankai" cannot be restored to the way they are. This puts what Mayuri said by "modifying" his Bankai into clearer context - technically speaking, Mayuri never attained his Bankai in the proper manner, and so his Bankai would not follow the rules of other Bankai, given that it is essentially made from the fetus of Nemuri #5.
They eventually got all the way up to a living infant with Nemuri #6, but that one died at the age of two because of the life-span of artificially created soul cells.
But Nemu was successful. She surpassed the two year life-span, and became Mayuri's dream and masterpiece - an Artificial Shinigami, the creation of a new soul out of nothing. Some translations attribute that line of dialogue to mean "to create in the same way God creates". But it also gives the reason why he called it "Nemuri" - it was essentially his dream despite him being awake, and every day Nemu was alive he was living out that dream. As Akon says, Nemu was Mayuri's masterpiece, and her evolution throughout her childhood and into the present day was proof of that.
The Fruits of Sacrifice
Back in the Wahrwelt, Nemu has sprung to Mayuri's aid, saving him while obliterating the main hand at the same time. The reason why Nemu is now displaying enough power to decimate the body of a Schutzstaffel is because she is pushing her body to within 0.8% of what her body can handle before it collapses. While Mayuri is angry that Nemu is acting on her own again against his orders, and reiterates her purpose to grow and evolve, Nemu responds by saying that she can best show that by protecting Mayuri, claiming it is her purpose.
She thus deposits Mayuri on a nearby building, and Mayuri comments on the humiliation of having to entrust a battle to Nemu. She confronts the remaining Pernida (the third one might actually be dead or still recovering), shaves off 6% of her soul, and fires it as a technique called Gikon Jurrinjuu ("Artificial Soul Heavy Ring Cannon"), and blasts it right into Pernida's eyes.
Now, I'll make it clear - I was deeply moved and amazed by chapter 642. I was in awe of the end result of what Mayuri created in Nemu, the power she displayed, and on one forum I even called Mayuri a God in my excitement. More than that, one could be led to believe (as I was) that there was indeed a Human side to Mayuri's monstrous character, to have worked so hard to create Nemu and raise her.
But what truly amazed me was the power Nemu displayed. Pernida easily defeated Zaraki, one of the Special War Potential, while nowhere near as developed as the current Pernida. Yet Nemu seemingly obliterated it, one of the Schutzstaffel who defeated Squad Zero after Yhwach's Auswahlen. I even made myself think that Nemu could be confirmed as one of the Special War Potentials with such a level of power.
True, I will admit that I fully expected Pernida to come back even from that (in a new form, I might add), but I was still in awe all the same, and was expecting the possibility of Mayuri sacrificing himself for Nemu in later chapters.
But this is not the standard Shounen. This is Bleach, written by Noriaki Kubo, and this man doesn't play by the house rules.
The Eldritch Hand of God
Which finally brings us to the most recent chapter.
At the beginning, it is shown clearly that Nemu's exertions did take a toll on her. She not only pushed her body to close to its absolute limit, but she also cut off 6% of her soul as a final attack to destroy Pernida, and virtually all souls in Bleach do not recover from having a substantial piece of their soul taken away from them (Starrk's wolves and Yhwach are likely the exceptions).
But it genuinely does look like Pernida was destroyed. Its body was blown apart, and it appears to be disintegrating and falling to pieces, as Nemu falls down to the ground alongside Pernida's remains and lays her eyes on her father and creator, Mayuri.
Then the pieces of Pernida's falling all lay eyes on her.
This is what I mean by Pernida originally having a form like Mimihagi. Nothing living does not simply recover from an attack intended to obliterate their body like that. One of the closest things I've seen to this in another series was Majin Buu, and he was literally made of magic and a personification of evil.
Hell, the last time we saw anything in the Bleach series with regenerative powers like this, it was James, the manifestation of Mask De Masculine's "The Superstar", who I would not be surprised to find that he was a physical manifestation of Yhwach's soul fragment in Mask - the Schrift "S". After all, Yhwach did talk about James returning to him in chapter 565.
But this reminds me more of the torrents of the Soul King's power than anything else. I think it is the eyes that do it for me. Just as the Soul King's power manifested itself as those little shadowy Cyclopes, Pernida is now replicating itself through any limbs that are taken off the main body, even if the main body was blown up.
Every one of these pieces of Pernida's body contains its will - and most likely the will of the Soul King as well - and they are all linked to Pernida's one mind. That is why I do not believe that what happens at the end of the chapter will kill Pernida.
But that's for later.
Immediately after laying eyes on Nemu, the pieces of Pernida's body generate fingers, and send out "The Compulsory" to rip through Nemu.
With one last look of fear at Mayuri and a soundless scream, Nemu is then ripped apart into a torrent of blood by Pernida.
That remains are an arm and her cerebrum.
A Monster Reborn
Mayuri can only look on in disbelief at the scene, his daughter's blood splattered around and upon him, Pernida reforming itself, and Mayuri can only think of Nemu's name in despair.
Which his subconscious, taking the form of Szayel Aporro Granz, picks up on and begins chastising Mayuri for it.
Now this was a brilliant narrative device on Kubo's part. I watched other reviewers before making this one, so my perception is slightly influenced by them, but I definitely agree on how Szayel is used here. It really does show us that Mayuri's fight with Szayel had a greater impact than beyond Mayuri looting his lab to find Arrancar to use for his "Revenant Experiments" (felt like using something other than "zombie"). We are seeing that Szayel's fight with Mayuri definitely did leave a mental imprint upon Mayuri, manifesting as the Arrancar itself.
Szayel then breaks down the current Mayuri, piece by piece, by reminding Mayuri of what he said to Szayel - Perfection is meaningless, despair is inherent in perfection, "I myself despise perfection". In other words, because Nemu died in such a manner, it meant she was far from perfect, and that left Mayuri room to go back to the drawing board and make another Nemuri better than her.
Then Mayuri's Szayel delivers the final blow - "Now I get it. It's that good-for-nothing flesh marionette...You actually fooled yourself into thinking that thing was "perfect"." He then tells Mayuri that he should be grateful to Pernida for destroying Nemu, since it removed the air of hubris that Mayuri had been breathing. Szayel ends by claiming to not know whether or not to laugh or cry, and Mayuri "grabs" Szayel and dissipates him, Mayuri fully agreeing with "Szayel's" words, because he himself doesn't know whether to laugh or cry because a scientist of Szayel's ilk - one that believed themselves to be perfect because they developed the ability of rebirth ("Gabriel") to make themselves immortal.
This is where Mayuri returns back to those cold, amoral, monstrous roots that we first saw of him in the Soul Society Arc. People may claim that Szayel manifested because of the narcotic anesthetics that Mayuri was also exposed to, but that does not ignore one fact - that "Szayel" is Mayuri. This "Szayel" was to Mayuri's mind what the "Zaraki" that appeared in Ichigo's Inner World during his fight with "White Zangetsu" was to Ichigo - an innermost representation of an aspect of their instincts and themselves as reflected by an individual they fought in the past.
In Mayuri's case, "Szayel" reminded Mayuri of his core aesthetic as a scientist, what makes Mayuri so dangerous. However, with it comes the loss of attachment he had to Nemu, as he reminded himself through "Szayel" that Nemu was not "perfect", and that he could simply create another Nemuri.
That is what brings about Nemu's tragedy, and also the tragedy of her name, Nemuri. To Mayuri, Nemu was nothing more than the substance of a dream to him, one he can simply recreate anew. For Nemu, the dream was the 'purpose' she made for herself - to protect Mayuri - a man who could care less now if she were to lose her life in the process of that.
To Consume to Advance
With Mayuri coming to the realization that returns him to the monster he has always been, Pernida then assails Mayuri with two separate hands - one presumably being the other Pernida that was affected by the nerve agent, the other being the one that recovered from Nemu's attack. However, the one that recovered now has multiple eyes covering its entire hand, and its original eye was replaced by...a mouth and a tongue, and both hands proceed to use "The Compulsory" or that tongue to devour Nemu's corpse.
Mayuri lets Pernida do so, but he takes the cerebrum for himself, and keeps Pernida away with a last-resort electrical discharge from one of the head-rings that are in place of his ears (count on Mayuri to always have functional fashion), and tells Pernida to hurry with devouring Nemu, because he will die before he finishes digesting her.
As Pernida's body starts to suffer the effects of what Mayuri implied, the scientist explains what happens: in order to surpass the life-span of artificially created soul cells, Mayuri installed a special organ into Nemu's pituitary gland, a function that accelerates the cellular division and growth of cells within the body. Nemu's brain was modified to regulate these processes so they do not run out of control.
Without the cerebrum, there is nothing to slow the accelerated cellular division of growth and cells in the body. Essentially, by devouring Nemu's pituitary gland without the brain, Pernida is now afflicted with cancer that affects the whole body, and his physical body will keep on "regenerating", dividing and replicating cells until it self-destructs, and the chapter ends with just that happening to Pernida (or at least one of them).
Now, I've heard people complain how Pernida wanting to devour Nemu was just a device used by Kubo to get Pernida to kill itself through the method seen in the chapter, but I think they are too quick to do so. Pernida's ability is "Advancement", and it used its "Compulsory" to gain information for the sake of advancement. It makes sense that Pernida would want to consume Nemu's corpse because it wants to "advance" further, and what better way of "advancing" than to devour the corpse of the enemy that did so much damage to it in the first place?
It is also akin to what Mimihagi attempted to do against Yhwach. Yhwach stated that Mimihagi was trying to "consume" him when it lashed out in its final attempt against Yhwach, so Pernida simply shares an ability its counterpart possesses, and possibly the same ability Yhwach used when absorbing both Mimihagi and the Soul King's body.
But as I said, I don't think this will be enough to finish Pernida off. Even if both hands are affected by the pituitary gland, Pernida is still the "Left Arm of the Soul King". Part of what "Advancement" means is also to adapt and evolve to counter threats to its life, not simply "gain information and mature". Who is to say that Pernida will not eventually "advance" to a point where it too can control the cell division, since it has not only consumed Nemu's body but it previously used "The Compulsory" on her arm once before?
But if that is not the case, then I think that Pernida will survive its body self-destructing due to this cell-division. I suppose we will just have to wait and see.
Yes, I know that people would likely want this fight over and done with, but it'd be anti-climactic if Pernida went out this way without us learning all there is to know about it, and what its behaviour implies of the Soul King himself.