Title: Jujutsu Kaisen
Length: 24 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Action, comedy, thriller, horror, shounen
Year of release: 2021
Before this review veers into the negative, let’s get this out of the way quickly: Jujutsu Kaisen is cool. Really, really cool. It slides between battles with that special pizazz, and its staggeringly well animated. The music, too, often brings in rock and hip-hop undertones to orchestral highs, and has that right amount of style to fire the adrenaline. Sure, it sacrifices depth one too many times, and it’s maybe a bit too hasty moving moving between its arcs, but who cares? It’s cool.
I edited this clip to get the major action sequences, cut up by a brief bit of exposition on how Nanami’s technique works, an ad-break and a check-in with the other characters leading the story. That’s right – this is a battle far away from the main story. It could have been skipped. But here it is, thrilling as hell, looking ridiculously gorgeous,, and even fitting in some of the series’ darker humour. This is a high effort anime.
Even the premise manages to be a good mix of funny and… really, really cool. Ya boy Yuji Itadori is something of a class clown with incredible natural fitness, and after his gramps dies, he gets motivated to try and save people – problem is that he doesn’t have any power to fight the supernatural curses of the series, so, with a curse moments from killing him, he eats a special grade cursed object to find a chance to survive, fight back, and save people. Normally, ingesting cursed objects takes over your body or kills you, but Yuji is special and can harbour this cursed finger – which happens to be from one of the most deadly special grade curses called Sukuna.
Now, curses. Oh lord, curses. Curses in this series are deadly. They’re Lovecraftian abominations, often mangled-up humans wishing for death, that have immense power and special abilities. Most can’t talk or think beyond survival (though we obviously end up getting a lot more special grades because this is an underdog story, and thus more of the special variety), and kill indiscriminately with their specific powers. This is generally a great thing as it creates brilliant tension and thinky-tactical fights beyond Hitting Things Harder, but sometimes it creates scenarios where the light-hearted comic tones can’t handle the full-extent of how dark it can get. In short – it can get ‘teenage edgelord edgy’, like that time when a Curse burns down a whole restaurant or when a character’s mum gets splattered and there’s just not enough reflection to let it get away with it beyond shallow shock value.
The mixture of tension and comedy can also be really well matched in this series, though. You’ve got Yuji who is a lovable idiot with the best intentions, and that just means he can be confused at the right moments and heroic at others. He goes pretty undeveloped, with his mysteriously athletic backstory not given any story hooks to unfurl, but that ain’t that point of the series. It’s shounen action – you came to see an underdog story, and Jujutsu Kaisen delivers with glee.
After ingesting the curse and gaining minor supernatural powers, Yuji joins the mysterious but-so-damn-cool Gojo Satoru and his school of Jujutsu Sorcerers… of which there are 2 other people in his year. We were acquainted with Megumi Fushigoro from episode 1 – a fellow sorcerer who summons cursed familiars to fight on his behalf and who can be extremely cold to hide his idyllic side – and we meet Nobara Kugisaki a few episodes later – a girl from the boonies who uses a hammer and nails to fire supernatural bullets, and can curse curses by smashing parts of their bodies into voodoo dolls. The series gained a lot when Nobara came in, because it showed that Jujutsu Kaisen isn’t just a ‘boy’s club’ shounen anime – it’s equally as competent at writing male and female characters, and never leers at its women.
It even challenges sexism later in the series, when we meet the second years where there’s another well written female character in Maki, a master of multiple forms of weaponry who was essentially cast aside from her family because she was too ambitious for a woman. You love to see it, and you love to see the respect that Nobara and Maki gain (and how well they ship omg).
Yet at the same time, I don’t wanna go giving too much credit for writing women in the correct fashion – it still, ultimately, falls into the same trappings of lacking depth and punch that the male characters suffer from, so Nobara and Maki never become ‘great female characters’.
This is Nanami at probably the most fanservicey the series gets. Her top button is undone. Her jacket opened. You can’t see it, but she’s wearing a knee length skirt, too. Seeing a girl get this badass without peaking into her cleavage or at her panties really shouldn’t be as much of an achievement as it is – but golly gee, she is fucking badass.
But this excellent treatment of its female characters contributes to Jujutsu Kaisen having very few of the tripping blocks that relegate shounen action to the ‘boy’s club’. It’s slick, it’s cool, it’s respectful and it’s a lot of fun. There’s sequences of Itadori chasing small leads and turning into something too big that he can’t solve alone, and he has to tag-out with other characters, and the way that teamwork happens in action scenes is great and makes the cast feel ‘full’ without feeling like a one-man-superhero affair,. No wonder it’s selling bombs in Japan, because it has such a large demographic pull and, really, you might not walk away calling it your favourite, but I can almost guarantee you’ll crack a smile watching it because it just doesn’t trip on landmines. Other than, potentially, having too wider tone and not giving its transitions between arcs enough take-up time.
The tonal width is something I wouldn’t want to sacrifice for the world, though, because whatJujutsu Kaisen absolutely excels at is comedy. Goddamn this show is funny. It keeps up the cool aesthetic despite turning all its characters into dorky goons. You got Gojo Satoru, who is a teacher at Jujutsu Tech, and is ridiculously overpowered. At one point he finger-guns a magical bullet that destroys scenery, and the curse that the gang were barely able to go toe-to-toe with… is assumed absolutely decimated – but at the same time, this guy posted a series of letters for another teacher to follow, leading them to an envelope with a picture of a crudely drawn penis inside. Or, take Todo, a 3rd year from the Kyoto school, who has immense physical strength and is purported to have the same sort of potential as Gojo – and he opens the fights with other sorcerers by asking what their type of women is (or men, which just made me love him more because everybody’s so nice and respectful!). Everybody’s a dork, and the comic scenes are given such dedication via the series’ astonishing animation chops, slick fast direction and terrific voice acting that it’s a hoot. I fell about laughing constantly… though… even aside gimmicky characters like Panda and the boy who talks only in food, I had this nagging the comedy was just scene-setting stuff with very few ties to developments, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s 110% effort and exhausting my ribs. Bonus points to the after credit ‘Juju Scrolls’ – brief sketches that are pure sillies and I never missed one.
The action is pure spectacle. Gob-dropping stuff. Even small skirmishes are extremely passionately animated. I couldn’t believe they kept it up all series, and even if there were some shortcuts taken outside of action sequences, there was never once a degradation. Watching the characters zoom around battles could be matched by slower, more methodical high-frame-rate sequences, and even scenes with Maki and her assortment of weapons had a great sense of choreography behind them. Cursed magic would enter in a thick lined, jarring art-style, but that made it really stylish and cool, and reminded me of Demon Slayer’s water effects. Very cool stuff.
Itadori keeps getting into situations, and I love that everybody gets a chance to shine, but if you look at the backbone, these are basic shounen formulas. There’s even a tournament arc – though it culminates in a baseball game between the schools and is comedy gold, it doesn’t change the fact that it ‘goes wrong’ when the scheming Curses turn up with their plans. It’s got hype moments and has the artistic chops to make them hype as hell, but there’s just not too much sticking. Jujutsu Kaisen is so close to greatness. So, so, so close. But it falls short because it just doesn’t have depth – anywhere. It’s cool as hell, but shallow; shall we call that ‘all style; no substance?’ I don’t want to rely on cliches to insult it, though, because its heart is in the right place (other than the gimmicky characters, but even they’re cool too).