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Jujutsu Kaisen 0

By | March 23rd, 2022
Posted in Movies, Reviews | % Comments

Based on the manga “Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical School”, later known as “Jujutsu Kaisen” Vol. 0, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is a feature length prequel to the anime series, Jujutsu Kaisen, produced by Studio MAPPA, based on the manga “Jujutsu Kaisen” by Gege Akutami. If that sounds confusing, that’s because it kind of is if you stare at it for too long. That friction is also what makes the film an interesting example of shifts in the transmedia manga-to-anime game as well as capturing the sense that 0 didn’t need to be as good as it is. Spoilers ahead.

With a runtime of 105 minutes, it would be the equivalent of just putting someone down and saying “watch the first five episodes,” which sounds daunting and evokes binge watching. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 has a singular purpose and story to tell, allowing it to be the better entry point into the property as it effectively introduces the world of Jujutsu sorcery through the story of Yuta Okkotsu.

In “Jujutsu Kaisen,” negative emotions have a way of rolling around and eventually manifesting themselves as curses. These curses appear as a cocktail of Yōkai by way of Francis Bacon, Edvard Munch, and a good dose of surrealism in general. Fans of the Persona/Shin Megami Tensei property should be familiar with these design sensibilities – though so far, no explicit penis demons. It’s to the animation and sound teams’ credit that they manage to make these outlandish designs function as palpably horrifying. One of the animation techniques MAPPA has been able to do in this film versus the series is give some curses a kind of programmatic CGI texturing that creates an ethereal movement that doesn’t fit how the rest of the frame is animated. Hopefully they’ve figured out how to make that work at scale for the second season.

To combat these curses, sorcerers also channel cursed energy to exorcize them – it is a Shōnen anime after all. In this conceit lies the real charm of this series as it effectively allows for the manifestation of negative emotions and other feelings to be worked through via AWESOME violence (not too dissimilar to Persona.) Despite the heavy amount of violence in this series, it does a good job of being violent without being hyper gory when it doesn’t have to. Why make demons spurt blood red when the squishy sound and dripping purple looks cooler? The opening chase sequence in My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission is probably a better overall sequence but the action in Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is more consistent and purposeful.

As a property, “Jujutsu Kaisen” is a dark fantasy tinged with horror, but it isn’t some pure edgy darkness. At the center of this film, and the series that follows/preceded it, is a sweet story about the power of friendship with heart and a fair amount of comedy; these comedic turns can be whiplash inducing at times, being one of the few places I thought the original voice cast with subtitles played better. It doesn’t take things a thousand percent seriously, but it isn’t MCU bathos wherein Fegie and company are afraid of sentimentality. Director Sunghoo Park and writer Hiroshi Seko find a balance because at the core of Yuta Okkotsu’s story is this sentimentality.

Yuta Okkotsu is a depressed teenager who appears to be cursed by his childhood friend, Rika Orimoto, after her sudden violent death. After he appears to kill four school bullies, Yuta comes to the attention of the jujutsu community who plan to execute him until Satoru Gojo steps in and transfers him to the Jujutsu High School. If this sounds similar to the setup of Yuji Itadori in the main series, that’s because it is, with the film actively repeating the framing of that sequence. Watchers of the anime will recognize Maki, Toge, and Panda, as the second years from the anime. One of the charms of this was getting to see more of this crew of characters.

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 and Jujutsu Kaisen ask similar questions about living and life from different angles. Yuta is looking for reasons to keep living; 0 is the beginning of that process of becoming. If there is one area where the original voice cast outshines the English dub it is Megumi Ogata’s performance as Yuta. There’s a sensitivity and vulnerability to her that works in collaboration with the animation better. English voice actor Kayleigh McKee is OK but comes off more like she’s doing the Shōnen dweeb whine ala English Deku.

Continued below

Yuta’s story isn’t a paragon of portraying mental health “well,” but correctness and good storytelling rarely go hand in hand. For their part, the film elicited a feeling of understanding from me as someone who deals with depression. The way the animators capture a sense of invisible weight to his movements as he gets up and ready for his first day of school, or the litany of other subtle moments that show his changing demeanor and body language as the film progresses. There is something affirming in his declaration that he wants to keep living and being around his friends as he faces down the villainous Suguru Geto. That in order to do that he’s going to have to murder him! All of this works on a supremely affective level and is the kind of melodramatic emotion driven storytelling that animation does so well.

Earlier I mentioned how in the same amount of time you could watch the first five episodes of Jujutsu Kaisen the anime. 0 itself has an episodic structure as Yuta is paired off on missions with Maki and Toge as a mysterious antagonist pulls strings from the shadows as well as the consistent use of flashbacks to his childhood and relationship with Rika, which is why the third act can feel a bit sudden. As, speak of the Devil, Suguru Geto appears, declares war, and the 1000 Demon March is set for December 24th. It maybe isn’t the cleanest bit of structure, but the storytelling still works. This showdown in Shinjuku and Kyoto also allows for some excellent fanservice cameos from the likes of Nanami and students of Kyoto Jujutsu High.

It took the pandemic for me to get into Jujutsu Kaisen, the anime and the manga. That likely isn’t all that uncommon as the franchise, despite only having a single season and 18 collections, has become one of the more popular Shōnen properties to break out in the last half decade – a class that also includes “My Hero Academia” and “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba,” which is why Jujutsu Kaisen 0 intrigued me so much – besides the obvious of offering up more Satoru Gojo.

Crunchyroll, nee Funimation, along with distributor GKIDS have shown theatrical anime can be a strong niche even in COVID times. This success is one of the factors in the shifting the value of these feature length narratives as the manga-to-anime transmedia pipeline matures for the publishers, studios, and streaming outlets. It used to be the anime series movies like the old Dragon Ball Z or Naruto films were non-canon B-films produced for the Japanese audience and released during the summer period when schools were out. These films were given scant release in the States, often airing as television specials on Toonami. They were products made for the preexisting audience, not as opportunities to grow and reinforce the audience.

That started to change with the revival of the Dragon Ball franchise through a series of feature films, eventually being adapted in to the Super anime and manga. A similar process occurred for Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train which was a canonical continuation from the first season before eventually being re-adapted into the series as season 1.5 effectively prior to the start of the latest arc Entertainment District Arc. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 offers a new twist on this ouroboros as it is based on the lesser-known original incarnation of the manga series, which only gained relevance after the reboot took off.

It becomes an opportunity for anime watchers to see the story of Yuta Okkotsu, who they’ve only heard about and briefly glimpse in the second opening. For manga readers, it becomes a chance to see that story realized in a new medium. And most importantly for Toho and streamer-film distributor Crunchyroll, it becomes a chance to grow the audience by supplying a product that is an appetizer to the tone and storytelling of Jujutsu Kaisen. And I would show this to people before the anime, as watching a movie is an easier sell and the singular narrative it presents is plainly more engaging versus all the setup Jujutsu Kaisen must do in the first episodes as TV series often do.

The stakes and opportunity for these products is increasing. Season one director Sunghoo Park and writer Hiroshi Seko do not miss their chance with Jujutsu Kaisen 0, turning in an excellent adaptation of the manga and a film in its own right.


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Michael Mazzacane

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