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Jujutsu Kaisen 0 Spoiler-free Review

Nope, no matter how much you stare, you won’t find any spoilers here.

2022’s been a pretty good year so far for cinematic anime releases in the West. Not long ago we received the double-musical-whammy of both Belle and Sing a Bit of Harmony, now we’re blessed (or should that be cursed?) with MAPPA’s Jujutsu Kaisen 0, a movie prequel to Fall 2020/Winter 2021’s excellent, spectacularly violent, 24-episode anime TV series Jujutsu Kaisen.

You can tell it’s a sequel because it has a big red “0”.

Long gone is the time when anime TV show spinoff movies could be discounted as mere filler, or lazy compilations. With the advent of The Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie, Psycho-pass: Sinners of the System, Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul and Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, we’re witnessing a new paradigm in movie and TV integration. If you’re a fan of any of these shows, then you must also see the movie to fully comprehend the ongoing story. Once upon a time, this would be frustrating for Western anime fans, because we wouldn’t often get easy access to such movies. Now, however, Tanya’s and Demon Slayer’s movies stream on Crunchyroll, while the Made in Abyss movie streams on HIDIVE. (You can buy Sinners of the System on blu-ray in the UK, but I don’t think it’s streaming anywhere, unfortunately…) With the prominent Crunchyroll branding attached to Jujutsu Kaisen 0’s cinematic release, I expect it will eventually turn up streaming on Crunchyroll sooner or later too. So don’t despair if you can’t catch a showing near you!

This is a movie with gross, toothy monsters, not suitable for kids or those of a nervous disposition.

Set about a year prior to the events of the TV show, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 stands mostly alone (at least in relation to season one, though if the manga is anything to go by, the upcoming season two will build heavily on plot details from the prequel), and is therefore perfectly accessible to anyone who has never seen the series. It has a different main protagonist, and although many of the supporting characters do feature later in the franchise, they are given coherent introductions in the movie that quickly and efficiently establish their personalities and abilities.

Cute Anime Girl. Yeah… She doesn’t stay this way for long…

Yuta Okkotsu is a miserable 17-year-old high school student. When four of his bullies are found mangled beyond recognition, stuffed into a classroom cabinet, he comes to the attention of Jujutsu sorcerer Satoru Goju. When Yuta was a child, his best friend Rika proposed marriage to him (for when they were both grown up), and he gleefully accepted. Then Rika was gruesomely killed in a horrific road traffic accident before his eyes, and became a powerful cursed spirit that haunted him, murdering anyone who threatened him. Cursed monstrosity Rika even prevents Yuta from committing suicide, so he cannot escape from his living/undead nightmare.

Jujutsu High’s 2016 Year 1 class.

Goju offers Yuta a place at Jujutsu High, where he can be trained to use his cursed dead girlfriend for the good of humanity, to fight other curses. In Jujutsu Kaisen’s world, the majority of the 10,000 people who go mysteriously missing in Japan every year are due to the existence of invisible curse monsters that devour them. Jujutsu sorcerers are either cursed themselves, or have the ability to see and therefore fight curses. Yuta reluctantly agrees, and meets his three new first year classmates, who should all be familiar to viewers of the show, but are still so strongly introduced that newcomers will quickly become endeared to them too.

Toge Inumaki detonates things with his words. It’s so cool.

Maki Zen’in is the kick-ass, green-haired, somewhat aloof rejected daughter of the Zen’in clan who cannot see curses without using her cursed spectacles, but has great skill in beating them to a pulp using cursed weaponry. Toge Inumaki speaks only in Japanese rice ball ingredients, because otherwise his “cursed speech” imbues any other word with catastrophic destructive potential. Panda… is a panda, and his origins go hilariously unexplained to the bewildered Yuta, as usual. It’s great that all of these previously more peripheral characters get ample screentime and development that the TV show was not able to spare them. Their interactions with one another really sell them as friends and battle-worn comrades.

Yuta and his dead girlfriend get ready to kick some ass. Nice dental work there.

Yuta’s main desire is to somehow lift Rika’s curse, though in doing so he believes he’ll lose his place with his new friends, as he’ll no longer be a “curse-user”. That he also has to be careful not to unleash Rika’s full power adds another complication — if he does, the Jujutsu Sorcerers’ ruling body will have him killed. (This setup is quite similar to the situation the TV show’s main character Yuji finds himself in.) Such tension in Yuta’s motivations makes him an unusual main character, and his growth and development throughout the movie is a delight to watch. Sometimes with shonen shows, the characters barely change from one episode to the next, other than “getting more powerful”. Yuta has a strong character arc, refined through suffering, empathy, love… and astonishing violence.

You know Goju’s serious when he unleashes his Beautiful Blue Anime Boy Eyes (tm)

One of the standout aspects of Jujutsu Kaisen’s first season was its frequent, stunningly fluid and incredibly choreographed fight scenes. Director Sunghoo Park works his bonkers magic once again, proving that when provided with strong material to adapt (unlike with, say, the execrable God of High School), he produces the most amazing animated action that complements and enhances the story. Watching Jujutsu Kaisen 0, I was reminded of the sheer insane spectacles that drew me to anime in the first place, of the blood-spattered, colour-drenched, camera-spinning, giddy delight of watching crazy animation, the like of which exists in no other country’s film output. I loved anime for its freshness, its creativity. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 evokes that almost painfully in its frequent, visceral battles. Only the recent penultimate episode of Demon Slayer season 2 comes close, and Jujutsu Kaisen’s story and characters are miles better.

Panda is Best Panda

It’s not all hideous malformed monsters, spewing viscera and severed limbs though. Yuta’s relationship with the cursed Rika is twisted and creepy, but also sweet. His gradually thawing friendship with Maki is a highlight, as are his interactions with the unintelligible but kind Toge and best-bro Panda. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 understands that spectacular action scenes are all well and good, but they might as well be soulless puppets being mashed together without strong character work to make the viewer invested in the frenzied bloodshed.

Is Maki best girl? (Apart from Monster Rika, she’s essentially the only girl…)

Fans of the show can rest assured that most other fan-favourite characters make (very brief) cameos later, towards the climax of the movie, that may make new viewers go “Eh? Who are these people?”, but their presence is for fanservice purposes only. They contribute almost nothing to the plot. My daughter was one of these people (she’s never seen the show), but she was perfectly able to understand the movie, and had only a couple of minor questions afterwards — about the cameos, mainly.

Never ever trust smiley monk dudes. They’re always evil.

The climax itself is suitably overblown, and a little unfocused, jumping between different fronts in a massive battle, but it’s always clear what’s happening and why. There’s several fantastic punch-the-air moments to get the adrenaline flowing. Main antagonist Suguru Geto is a fairly typical extremist/supremacist type, two-faced and manipulative, but he has an interesting relationship with blindfolded teacher Satoru Goju that adds a little depth. I hope that some of his more intriguing minions make a comeback at some point later in the show.

Overall, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is a great popcorn flick, regardless of whether you’ve seen the (chronologically subsequent) TV show or not. As an entry point to the franchise, I wonder if it may be even better than starting with the first episode. The one-volume source manga was written first, after all. Definitely take the opportunity to see this on a big a screen if you can, though I hope and expect it will be widely streaming on Crunchyroll later in the year.

The ending song is the very definition of “a banger”

Jujutsu Kaisen 0
Directed by: Sunghoo Park
Screenplay by: Hiroshi Seko
Based on: Jujutsu Kaisen 0 by Gege Akutami
Production Company: MAPPA
Japanese cinematic release: December 24th 2021
US/UK cinematic release: March 18th 2022
Language: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Runtime: 105 minutes
BBFC rating: 15

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DoctorKev

DoctorKev

Physician. Obsessed with anime, manga, comic-books. Husband and father. Christian. Fascinated by tensions between modern culture and traditional faith. Bit odd.

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